Getting to know you

Before we go charging in though, it’s probably best if we look at just what it means to be an adventure game writer. In the last instalment of this series we looked at FPS games and how they have matured so that writers are now an integral part of the development team, but we have to bear in mind that different styles of games need different types of writers and approaches.

It’s the same in the world of what many think is ‘real’ writing – writers like Harlan Ellison and Danielle Steele aren’t at all comparable and will use different styles and approaches. You wouldn’t expect to catch Danielle Steele hanging around with Brooklyn street gangs to research her latest stories, would you?

So, how did our two experts get into this fabulous line of work? Well, as you may or may not expect, the pair had completely different experiences. Dave Grossman was the first to explain to me how he got involved in adventure game design;

I was a 24-year-old geek with a computer science degree, looking for an interesting job that didn't involve missile guidance systems or anything similarly reprehensible, and LucasFilm (as it was called back then) happened to be looking for people to make games at the same time. That sounded pretty fun to me, so I answered the ad. In 1989 the computer game industry was not one that you needed to "break into" the way it is now.

The writing, which is something that seems to run in my family, fortunately turned out to be a significant part of my role at Lucas, because there were lots of characters who needed engaging things to say. Writing and story and how they relate to game design is the part I find most interesting, and that's what has kept me making games all these years.

How to write... an Adventure game Introducing the experts How to write... an Adventure game Introducing the experts
Dave Grossman has worked on some of the classic games in the genre

While Dave Grossman had a painless transition between university life and the job most of us would kill to have, David Cage had more of a struggle on his hands and had to found his own company in order to make the games he was dreaming of;

I worked as a professional musician and composer from the age of 15. The idea of merging the two things I knew the best, music and games, came quite naturally. So I started creating music and sound for different video games and discovered what developing a game meant... I saw 3D games as a new way of creating emotions and inventing a new kind of experience.

I started working on the game I was dreaming of, which was called ‘Omikron: The Nomad Soul’. I did it in a very naive and candid way, without really knowing all the technical constraints that I would have to face. I used up all the money I made making music to hire six friends for six months to develop a prototype. I sold it to Eidos Interactive, founded Quantic Dream, and developed what would become the full version of Omikron.

I knew from the beginning that it would make my life more difficult because interactive storytelling hardly exists at the moment and was not even considered as a genre. I guess this is also why I was excited about it. I thought there was an unexplored and exciting space here.

Part of me thinks that this could be a reason behind the different styles used by the two writers, with Dave Grossman having a strong history in comedy adventure games and cartoony presentation partly because he was working alongside characters like Tim Schafer, Steve Purcell and Ron Gilbert. David Cage meanwhile, who came to the industry with the specific aim of invoking powerful emotions in players, is known mainly for creating serious games with thriller-like themes.

How to write... an Adventure game Introducing the experts
David Cage is currently hard at work on Heavy Rain, a more mature and dark adventure game

David Cage was clear that he didn’t just want to scare or stress players out though and that he was drawn to adventure games as a genre because they allow writers to play with a broader scope of emotions.

Interactive narrative seems to be the ideal format for that, giving me more space and freedom than if my hero always had to carry a bazooka on his shoulder and shoot at enemies.

Of course, creating fear and panic in gamers is still something David managed to do in his last game, Fahrenheit. By fusing elements of arcade action and timed sequences where players must find one of any number of solutions before the timer runs out, David was still able to keep players on the edge of their seats while at the same time staying within the boundaries of traditional adventure games.

The opening to Fahrenheit, which casts players as Lucas Kane, a man who has committed a murder whilst in a mystical trance, is a perfect example of how David is able to create fear and stress even without time constraints though. Players are plunged straight into an extraordinary situation and are forced to react and find a way to escape the scene. There are a number of ways to do it and players can play it coolly and calmly if they want – but I remember playing the game for the first time and how the panic gripped me, making me run straight out the emergency exit without a thought for the evidence left behind.

The developers at Quantic Dream then turned this situation on its head a minute later – casting players as the investigating police officers who are tasked with going over every inch of the crime scene.
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October 14 2021 | 15:04