Writing for the LCD: FPS games

Written by Joe Martin

July 23, 2007 | 12:57

Tags: #clive-barker #crysis #doom #episode #episodic #fps #free-radical #half-life #haze #lancaster #martin #prey #rob #write #writing #yescombe

Companies: #game

Games have writers now?!

Sigh. Yes, games have writers now – or at least most of them do. It's an unusual position to be in, that much is sure, as the writer could essentially dictate the entire game and take over the position of the lead designer, or they could write only a little of the stock dialogue.

There isn't even a standardised job title for game writers and titles vary from 'Plot Director' to 'Staff Writer', the latter of which implies that half of the staff at bit-tech should have a game or two under their belts and, though some of us have a few game ideas, that certainly isn't the case.

We put the question of titles and roles to Rob to get an overview of what exactly a FPS game writer does with his time;

"I’m the in-house Screenwriter at Free Radical. I write everything from pitch documents to the screenplay; signposting dialogue and A.I strings to the manual.

It’s a pretty unusual position to be in because if – and it’s a big if – a developer gets a writer involved in a project, they’re usually freelance. So, they might write the screenplay, but a designer or programmer could end up writing the additional dialogue. Being full-time means I can ensure that there’s a consistency throughout the writing for the entire game."

So, it seems there isn't even a constant job description and a game writer, or screenwriter in Rob's case, can end up doing a bit of everything. A lot of game direction is actually dictated by the art department as well, piling on extra confusion in the matter;

Writing for the LCD: FPS games What writers do
Rob Yescombe is the in-house screenwriter for Free Radical Design, the maker of TimeSplitters and Haze.

"When I joined the project, the Art team already had very strong ideas about how they wanted the game to look, and particular locations that they desperately wanted to realize. Fortunately, the story that we were gunning for was a perfect fit for their aspirations.

One of the coolest things that working with such a great Art team has allowed, is that the ‘mood’ of the environments actually matches the mood of the narrative: if things are going bad, it might start raining; if you’re finally turning things around, the sun could be rising over the horizon. It’s the kind of thinking that has been around in movies for a long time, but it’s a new thing for a game."

Unfortunately, the idea of what a games writer does only got more complex when we asked Martin how writers are organised over at Crytek;

“We’ve had several writers working on Crysis at various stages of its development, some of them in-house and others externally contracted. Creating the story for Crysis has been an evolving and truly collaborative process. While the script has been through several iterations, the core premise has remained the same from day one... The story was developed in tandem with the design and we worked closely with the design team to ensure that the narrative is seamlessly integrated into the game.”

Writing for the LCD: FPS games What writers do
Martin Lancaster works as a writer and designer on Crysis.

So, at Crytek things are done a little differently, with teams of writers laying out dialogue and exposition along a theme already defined by a design team who develop an idea before hand. If nothing else it goes a way to explaining what was considered to be the main fault of Far Cry – that while gameplay and graphics were without flaw, the story felt tacked on and flimsy.

Still, now we're clear (or as clear as we're likely to get) on what exactly a game writer does over the development of a computer game and how they influence the shape of the final product, let's have a look at some of the issues which present themselves to writers working on a FPS title.
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