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Editorial RPG Codex Editorial: Without Map, Compass, or Destination - MRY on RPG Writing

Discussion in 'RPG News & Content' started by Infinitron, Feb 13, 2019.

  1. IncendiaryDevice Self-Ejected Village Idiot

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    Indeed. Jeff Vogel also joined in the Pillars of Eternity words debate as well if anyone remembers & Vogle's games are also a good example of what's being discussed here. Vogels' games are extremely word-heavy:

    And yet no-one brings up Vogel's games as either storyfaggotry games or pretentious tosh. And you will read a lot of text if you play a Vogel game, either from dialogues (mostly) or descriptions, but you rarely ever feel overwhelmed by any single NPC or lore description. Of course, he doesn't have much in the way of choices in dialogues and only limited C&C, but that's a different topic to the basic conversation of number of words versus what those words are doing in the game and how they are affecting the game.
     
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  2. AwesomeButton Cut a deal with the authorities Patron

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    PC RPG Website of the Year, 2015 Make the Codex Great Again! Grab the Codex by the pussy Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
    I should come up with an article about why my job is hard. I'll list a bunch of excuses and then, having explained the situation, ask people to still appreciate me next time when I deliver bad quality.

     
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  3. VentilatorOfDoom RPG Codex Staff

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    I wonder how those Russian guys at Owlcat managed to produce normal, functional, servicable writing not filled with exorbitant amounts of purple prose and verbal diarrhea. Must have been a monumental effort.
     
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  4. ghostdog Prestigious Gentleman Arcane Patron

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    Cool read MRY

    :excellent:
     
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  5. Zer0wing Arbiter

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    Thumbnails in the article have messed up links, almost all lead to the wrong pics in the gallery.
     
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  6. StaticSpine Arcane Patron

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    I didn't play myself but I listened to a podcast with one of their narrative designers. The guy said that walls of texts are cool because even if the player doesn't read them he still thinks "wow, guys did a great deal of work writing it":lol:
     
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  7. Nifft Batuff Learned

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    I think it's worth mentioning the recent computer iterations of Shadowrun as examples of good writings in RPGs.
    If you skip the long-winded intro, this video arguments nicely why Shadowrun has a better writing than PoE:

     
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  8. Roguey Arcane Sawyerite Sawyerist Sawyer's Bride No Fun Allowed

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    MotB certainly has some lengthy trees, however it helps that the number of characters you meet is much lower than the average RPG on account of it being an expansion-sized sequel, and it's pretty good at pacing the dialogues with exploration and combat so that you don't have to endure a bunch in a row (like Tides of Numenera or the beginning/between-mission parts of Hong Kong).
     
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  9. Haba Harbinger of Decline Patron

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    [​IMG]

    TL;DR

    The key lesson I learned from my literature teacher was to always remove unnecessary words. A lesson too many writers have clearly not received.
     
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  10. StaticSpine Arcane Patron

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    BTW I recently replayed SRR (DMS) in English and paid attention to the quality of texts. I really liked them but I am not a native speaker. Is it considered good?
     
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  11. Darth Roxor Prestigious Gentleman Wielder of the Huegpenis

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    Yah, this, I knew I forgot to explain one of the Big Writung RPGs that I've quoted.

    Granted, my memory of MotB might be a bit hazy because I played it like 10 years ago and at the time I was under the effects of what could easily be called brain fog, but I'm pretty sure that though its dialogues were big, it didn't have a very big cast of characters. Furthermore, most of those characters were connected to the story (because it was an expansion, so Obsidian probably couldn't afford to stash too much ballast in there), so their long-ass dialogues could be seen as "critical" to what was happening in the game itself, and not just as rambling about the menstruation of penguins in Rashemen. This makes it pretty much in line with all the other things I highlighted in the previous post. Big dialogues that matter = gud. Big dialogues that are filler = bad.

    To draw a parallel: Take Child in Time by Deep Purple, which lasts over 10 minutes, and each second of that song is there for a purpose. Child in Time is pretty damn great, and its length isn't much of a factor when it comes to the enjoyment of the song.

    Now take something like any B-side from any late Iron Maiden album, where the songs also tend to last for 10 minutes, but they are mostly composed of repeating the chorus ten times over (♫ MAYBE LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE ♫). It's filler, pure and simple. And while the chorus is catchy and there might be a cool solo in there, that fucking song should have been four minutes tops.
     
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  12. Zer0wing Arbiter

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    I take it you never listened to Edge of Sanity's Crimson (the 1st one). Repeating 3,5 "KoЯn-y" pseudo-heavy riffs with synths which serves as awkward transition from one block to another, awkward clean vocals, lyrics based on Children of Men featuring baby Jesus and this mess lasts 40 fucking minutes. Of course lyrics and music are not connected with each other in any meaningful way.

    This is alot closer to the content of modern RPGs.

    At least Iron Maiden makes good songs.
     
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  13. Darth Roxor Prestigious Gentleman Wielder of the Huegpenis

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    I have. And though I love Edge of Sanity, I find Crimson pretty overrated.
     
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  14. Kyl Von Kull The Night Tripper Patron

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    Darth Roxor Bloodlines and KOTOR2 are both pretty damn dialogue heavy, too, and unlike MOTB, some of the best stuff comes from lengthy interactions with side characters who have little relationship to the central story. Bloodlines is really at its best when you’re just talking to people and there are lots of long conversations. KOTOR2 is also much closer to the PS:T side of the spectrum.

    But, as has already been mentioned, the cinematic nature of those conversations makes them go down a lot easier than if they were walls of text in an isometric game.
     
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  15. jewboy Savant

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    Some have argued that story heavy cRPGs like PS:T and MoTB are not really RPGs at all. I have some sympathy for that view: that they are something else. Their own thing really. Of what I consider to be my favorite cRPGs certainly PS:T and MoTB are the only ones that have not had truly awful writing at least in my opinion. I enjoyed the combat in PS:T more than most, but it could certainly be seen as a tacked on element to the experience that was really only there for what? To qualify as an RPG?

    For me it did increase the enjoyment and I would probably have ignored the game if it had only had stories and puzzles but no fighting. I guess because the fighting and the roll playing is more essential to me as a gameplay element. It is only because PS:T built so much suspense and curiosity that the writing became the primary element of gameplay for me. I was genuinely intrigued and enthralled by the storyline of the immortal amnesiac with a history and I enjoyed the combat too except that I could be annoyed at how it seemed to pause the storyline which I longed to move forward again.

    The problem is that that sort of writing is rare and difficult even when it doesn't have to work in the context of a game, particularly in the fantasy genre. I mean how compelling can a sword and sorcery environment really be made to be? I think such settings are more fitting as a mere backdrop for the main event which for me has always been the puzzle-like and minmaxed battle chess like combat that certain games have done so well. The story is just something to put the strategic, varied, and well planned combat in a wider context. So the writing can be very bad indeed or even annoying as in BG2 and yet the game can be almost endlessly replayable and great fun.

    I love the sort of suspense filled writing that pulled me through PS:T, but it isn't at all essential to what draws me to the overall genre or to computer games in general. I still prefer a badly written story to no story at all for some reason though. I don't quite understand why that is. I certainly would never want to read such stories on their own. Even the MoTB story which is far superior to most is not something I could ever have interest in on its own. Only PS:T had a sufficiently compelling story for that, but then I don't read Fantasy. It's just not my thing.

    There is an essential element of any computer game which is something that makes you enjoy playing it and keeps you coming back, something that any well designed game must always have and that is 'fun', but how does one design that? It seems like an emergent quality of many different aspects of the game. In my view the best recipe for success is to center the play on difficult and strategic combat with lots of interesting variations to replay and to just try one's best to make a story with at least some compelling elements to it to give the fights some wider context and meaning in the world.

    When I played GTA4 one of my favorite ways to play was to steal a gun from a cop and then use that gun to steal an assault rifle from SWAT and then to barricade myself in one of the hospitals and see how many cops I could kill in a massive pile before dying myself. To me this showed some serious flaws in that game format. The game would have been a lot more fun as a police murder simulator. It's just so much fun for me to kill cops in a scenario where you are supposed to lose, where the odds are against you. That game had that aspect of firearm fun that Alpha Protocol so sorely lacked. If Alpha Protocol could have figured that out it might have been a great game or at least a good one. The problem with playing GTA4 like that is that the story won't track your actions and it gets boring after a while and of course the shooting is all player skill without any character planning or progression.
     
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  16. SausageInYourFace Codexian Sausage Patron

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    Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech Bubbles In Memoria A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
    I tend to get much less upset about allegedly bad writing in video games than others, perhaps I expect something different from my gaming experiences or I apply different standards of writing to a game than to a book. Maybe that is a mistake. I'd still like to add one observation:

    I agree that 'systemic failiure' is a much more plausible key point in the debate than lack of proper talent or even good-will on part of the writers. I am not sure I agree with the three central points of how this systemic failiure is defined, though.

    Instinctively, I agree with the third point the most, the lack of proper editing. I stated the same thing in the past, I think Vogel pointed that out as well in his blog post about writing.

    However, reading the editorial, I can't help but notice that all the games that are given as examples and considered well-written by most people on the Codex are games which had just one auteur primarily responsible. PST is recognized as MCAs baby, AoD is VDs baby, Betrayal at Krondor is Hallfords, Geneforge is Vogels, and so on. And I doubt any those guys had professional editors nor did they need them. Much more important seems to me a clear vision for the game as a whole.

    MRY talks about the compromises that have to be made to get a game done in a great collaborative effort every step of the way.

    Movies once were not considered art because they were seen as primarily a collaborative effort. Today the role of the director is emphasized as the one primarily responsible for the movie, and while certain other steps my be regarded on their own (the writing, the editing, etc.) the director is still heavily involved and ultimately responsible for the decisions in every relevant step of the process. I am not sure that is the case for video games, even when titles such as game director or similiar one might give that impression.

    Video games have become incredibly complex products that have to involve an huge number of people on every level, a huge number of staff meetings and the resulting frictions, of conflicting ideas and compromises. I'd imagine putting out work in that kind of environment that holds on to a single creative vision must be very hard. Hence why Vince, sitting alone in his office, sipping whiskey, can produce something like AoD; and hence why a whole room of (probably more or less) competent writers in a conference room will produce something like.. well.

    the tl;dr of this post is probably 'too many cooks'.

    Coming up with a game that has a clear and consistent vision behind it appears to require either a strong guiding hand of a singular mind or it requires some extremely tight (and perhaps improbable) level of collaboration and converging creative ideas. The former might be impossible today for anything beyond smaller indie games, the latter must be incredibly difficult and thus incredibly rare.
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2019
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  17. pomenitul Learned

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    Excellent piece, MRY, as expected. Even your criticism embodies the kind of exigent writing – not necessarily the pared down, stoic tedium that virile 'dexian minimalists are clamouring for – that will always struggle to commercially impose itself for all the reasons you enumerated. What's required is an awareness of the impossibility of producing quality work, then the willingness (or Kierkegaardian madness) of going ahead and doing it anyway. Any writer who isn't acutely aware of the countless undecidable burdens weighing down on him is useless. And while it is indeed easier to push back against this insuperable lack of guiding criteria when you write fiction or poetry or indulge in any activity that doesn't fundamentally require you to design collectively and hence architecturally, interactive fiction would have a far better shot at aesthetic success if it were properly theorized by its front-liners. The few flukes that we hold up as representative of the CRPG canon, no matter how risible such a notion may appear, should not lead us to settle for sheer chance or accident. I have no personal stake in this whatsoever, as I tend to play video games because I want to be plunged into a dumb, childish stupor (which is distinct from stupidity), but were I involved in the business of making them, I would avoid working with anyone who hasn't mulled this over – and not just post hoc or a posteriori, upon having experienced the hindrances that the task implies first-hand. There are no absolute rules, which is why they are to be posited and posited anew, again and again, even as we know that they ultimately miss the mark. Sweeping statements of the 'why CRPGs suck in the 2010s' type are little more than polemical, agitprop fluff (except perhaps for the age-old answer, 'it's the money').
     
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  18. BlackGoat Savant

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    Bloodlines has a lot of dialogue, but it always felt very direct and to the point, and characters all reacted and conversed in their own way. There wasn't some kind of template where every NPC I could mine their brains for all the tedious particulars of their existence.

    I was just playing a bit of Tyranny after having gotten it in a bundle, and I was talking to that first NPC Verse shortly after she joined me and I swear they could've added *sighs* before every single line of dialogue and it would fit perfectly. She seemed more bored than I was to be talking about the gameworld.

    And then it seems to be a trend with these sorts of games to allow the player to ask NPCs the very same question again and get a slightly different response. So you end up clicking on all this boring shit twice just to make sure you've thoroughly cleared that particular option and there's no more information to be discovered. All seemingly in an effort to make these dialogues "flow naturally". Or the devs are imagining that the player is like "Oh shit, what did that one NPC say about her upbringing on the farm? Better go back and ask her again."
     
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  19. Popiel Erudite Patron

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    I don't know what are you on about but writing in this game is fucking terrible. Have you actually talked with people there, in the first location...?
     
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  20. Zer0wing Arbiter

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    I believe, Arsenii said alot more useful stuff in relevance to the article than this in one of those 'how to make games' podcast.
     
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  21. Shadenuat Arcane

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    Because VO costs moneys.

    That sort of to the point writing and charismatic NPCs was always somewhat of Troika's thing. Somehow they managed to distribute content in a golden ratio, which made finding unique dialogue and NPCs so much more exciting. Maybe it was intuition; or maybe they used cattle prods on writers moment they went off the rails.
     
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  22. BEvers I'm forever blowing

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    Bard's Tale 4 was 99% Nathan Long's writing, with no other writers credited and Long also in charge of casting and direction of the game's 60+ VO artists. So it definitely is still possible.
     
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  23. StaticSpine Arcane Patron

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    Sure, but neither of it was that memorable.
     
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  24. Mustawd Arcane

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    That was an obscure reference to his broadcasting career. Theisman was a known QB apologist.

    [waits for groans]
     
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  25. MRY Prestigious Gentleman Wormwood Studios Developer

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    Man had a Super Bowl ring. I’m happy to be tarred with a brush like that till kingdom come.
     
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