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Brian Mitsoda Interview at The Critical Bit

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Brian Mitsoda Interview at The Critical Bit

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 15 August 2012, 20:17:26

Tags: Brian Mitsoda; Dead State; DoubleBear Productions; Obsidian Entertainment; Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

The Critical Bit has interviewed Brian Mitsoda - no, not just about Dead State, although it is there too, but also about game writing and his past projects (which, as you know full well, include Troika’s classic Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines). Have a snip:

A great deal of the work you’ve done in the game industry has never seen the light of day. Some of this is just the nature of the business – projects get cancelled, the goals of a project shift, and your work gets left behind. But it seems as though you’ve had some especially bad luck with this. Do you harbor resentment about the work you’ve done that never shipped? Which cut project hurt the most, and what did you take away from it?

Yes, some of that resentment is responsible for me starting DoubleBear. Because really, who likes getting years of work thrown out? This was mostly painful for one particular canceled project at Obsidian, which I think most of the team was really excited about. Although, I was pretty upset when the first project I worked on professionally was canceled too. The thing you really take away from it is that unless you are in charge of the project 100%, it’s completely out of your hands whether the project gets torpedoed. The team could think it’s the best game they’ve ever created, but the business side of things changes all the time and it’s one bad quarter or new CEO away from being sunk. The money is good (sometimes) in triple-A development to make up for the inherent unpredictability, but I (and others) can’t really live with years of good work never seeing the light of day.

Troika is a pretty legendary studio. People like Tim Cain, Jason Anderson, and Leonard Boyarsky are still doing amazing things in games. Talk a little bit about Troika and what made it a special company. What were Troika’s greatest strengths and what were its most debilitating weaknesses?

Troika was an RPG company for people who loved RPGs and storytelling, but more than that, it was a tiny studio with a lot of passionate people working at one of the last of the “garage developer” type studios. It really wasn’t that rigid of a command structure and devs took a lot of the responsibility on themselves to get things done. A lot of people had come over from Interplay which had become more corporate with lots of levels of management, while at Troika, the bosses were working on the game alongside everyone else. The real problem at Troika was a lack of a dedicated business person/executive producer type that could handle securing new projects and sources of income – a lot of that fell to the founders who were already busy developing the game, leaving them little time to find a follow-up project. I’ve said it before, but if Kickstarter had been around back then, Troika would probably have been able to stay in business. PC RPGs became a hard sell, and Troika couldn’t keep us around very long after Bloodlines shipped. Had Troika been able to own their licenses and profit from their games indefinitely, they would have been in a much better position.

What are some common mistakes you see in the narrative design and writing of video games? How do you think writing in games will evolve in the next 10 years?

There are so many. Hyping your story too much and then delivering the same old good and evil, hero’s journey bullshit as every other game and then pulling out some homage to literature excuse to justify the fact that your story is a retread. Not having internal consistency is another – like when a realistic game brings in some fantastic tech like magical bullet-deflecting swords. Unnatural spoken dialogue is a big problem I see – if dialogue goes on for paragraphs and the VO actor sounds like they’re having a hard time with it, it’s probably being written to be read, not acted. Can I say good and evil again? I’m so tired of good/evil meters and good/evil choices – I’m really looking forward to games with more complex character motivations and reactivity.

We’re still kind of in the age of early talkies – the writers don’t really have the experience or tools to truly do amazing stories and characters, and in many games this isn’t a problem as long as the game is fun. When people start playing games that have incorporated gameplay and GUI so tightly that players are concentrating on the story and outcomes of their experience, that’s when story will make or break a game. For games that focus on a story-based experience and detailed characters, I would like to see games truly tell a tale that people remember vividly – one that doesn’t just feel like your favorite action movie was redone in game levels, but that feels like an experience that cannot be replicated in any other format. Just like films went from Flash Gordon to 2001, it’s going to take time, experience, creative people, and tech to allow us to understand what is fully possible in game storytelling.​

For the full interview, click here.

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