“Games writing has a chequered history,” said Rhianna Pratchett, writer of the latest Tomb Raider reboot, Overlord, Mirrors Edge and Heavenly Sword.
“It wasn’t usually done by a professional writer, it was usually someone who just fancied a go or someone who drew the short straw.”
The last fifteen years has seen videogames bring more focus onto narrative, Rhianna Pratchett listed Portal, Half-Life 2, Bioshock, Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Dishonored as proof of this.
So when I met her at the Animex festival at Teesside University, I asked her what she considered when writing a game:
“It’s important to know how gameplay and story fit together, and how one informs another.
“With Tomb Raider we didn’t want the case that the story and gameplay were each created in a vacuum, we wanted it seamless and appear as a cohesive whole. It was important that both disciplines talk to each other to get this done.
“Tomb Raider’s not a story led game, it’s not a gameplay led game, it’s an experience led game, it’s a journey led game, so gameplay and story both come together to support that journey, to support that origin story of Lara.”
Overlord was a comedy-fantasy game, something not often seen, so I wondered why is videogame comedy not as big a thing?
“What worked with Overlord is that the humour was saturated throughout, it wasn’t just down to script, it was down to the overall premise, the animation of the minions, the voice acting and the level design. It was all very cohesive, it all kind of worked together. We had some really great voice actors.
“We sort of built the humour in from the ground up, through everything, and I think that’s kind of what you really need to do.
“If you look at something like the Monkey Island games, they take a similar way of doing things, they sort of built kind of comedy into the animation as well as the writing and the gameplay premise.
“I think comedy is hard to do in games because you can’t control the scenes in the same way as a film can. You can sort of control timing a little bit but because it’s an interactive medium you never quite know if the player is going to hit something at the right time.”
When creating stories, communication between divisions is important according to Pratchett.
“You really have to work closely with gameplay departments and level design, particularly with something like Overlord where I worked every day with the level designers.
“That meant that although it was my script, they had an input into it, it was shaped around what they wanted for their levels.
“On something like Tomb Raider which had a much bigger team, I drew reliance on creative director Noah Hughes and narrative designer John Stafford to be a conduit between myself and the team and make sure that I was aware of when things needed to change
“That’s quite a good way of working and it tends to work well.”