Monthly Archives: February 2013

Eight Ways to Accommodate Violence in Action Game Stories

You’re making a first-person shooter or a third-person action game. Your gameplay centers around combat, but you don’t want your protagonist to come across as the sort of person physically and psychologically capable of massacring hundreds over the course of a day.

That’s okay! I’d love to see more nonviolent games, but violence is exciting, dramatic, and we know how to support it with solid game mechanics. Here are eight simple options to help keep your protagonist from coming across as a monster–just the first eight that came to mind, but I’m sure you can think of others. Some of them can work in combination while others stand alone. Some focus on game mechanics, some focus on art, and some focus on writing. But most–so long as they’re considered early on–are pretty easy to build a game with. Continue reading

Forthcoming Project Roundup and Convention Appearances (February 2013)

A few folks have asked what I’m working on currently. Unfortunately, non-disclosure agreements prevent me from saying much–I’m actively doing more video game writing and having a grand time of it, but I can’t go into details yet. Non-video game projects (some creator-owned, some not) are in a similar boat or still in the exploratory phase, and I’d rather not announce anything without a firm publisher commitment.

But I’ve still got some items in the pipeline. Here’s a handy list of things that will be out shortly: Continue reading

Why It Worked: Wing Commander II

Will I drive off my newly forming audience by waxing nostalgic and overanalyzing a twenty-year-old game? Or are there insights to be gleaned here about the simple interactions between story and gameplay? Consider this a beginner-level essay on game narratives.

At the start of his 1991 review of Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi, Alan Emrich wrote in Computer Gaming World #88:

For several months now, Wing Commander has reigned as the number-one game, as rated by this magazine’s readers. Clearly, there must be a lot “right” with this game. Even though Wing Commander is, at least at its most basic level, something of a glorified arcade game, there is also something that sets it apart. Perhaps it is the inclusion of a believable, evolving storyline, full of sympathetic comrade characters and vain, vile villains that bring a certain je ne sais pas.

He was absolutely right. Wing Commander was a fantastic game by any measure, but it was an attention to narrative that propelled it into its position as a multimedia franchise. The game would spawn numerous sequels, expansion packs, spinoffs, novels, an animated series, a feature film… some better than others, admittedly, but the quality of the core series started high and remained so.

In 1991, Origin Systems (shortly before the company’s acquisition by Electronic Arts) published Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi, which would prove to be one of the franchise’s high points. With the exception of adding then-rare voiceover content in a limited number of places and the sheer¬†quantity of cinematic sequences, it is not an especially innovative game from a standpoint of storytelling mechanics. The dialogue, while more than acceptable for its time, reads as less-than-stellar today. But it is a game that excelled at the execution of its story, particularly in how its narrative elements supported and bolstered the game’s mechanics–and how the mechanics and mission design, in turn, supported its story.

It is, in short, worth examining as a case study. Let’s talk about why it worked. Continue reading

Dragon Age, Comics, and Writing Collaboratively

Those-Who-Speak

In March, the first issue of Dragon Age: Until We Speak will be published by Dark Horse Comics. Until We Speak is the final part of the trilogy that David Gaider and I have been working on since Dragon Age: The Silent Grove began in February of 2012; the trilogy tells a story set in the Dragon Age video game universe revolving around the familiar game characters of King Alistair Theirin, Varric Tethras, and Isabela the pirate. Dragon Age: Those Who Speak–the second part of the trilogy–has just been collected in a lovely hardcover edition.

That being the case, I thought now was a good time to talk about how we put the story for these comics together. All three series have been a collaboration between myself and David Gaider, Lead Writer for the Dragon Age video games (and author of several Dragon Age novels). It’s been different than my usual work and an intriguing challenge… Continue reading