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1059529 Posts in 43086 Topics- by 35044 Members - Latest Member: raxter

November 01, 2014, 05:18:43 AM
TIGSource ForumsDeveloperCreativeWritingWritten text in games
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mysteriosum
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« on: February 19, 2013, 07:29:23 AM »

Sort of a continuation of this topic, which was in danger of going off-topic.

I've always felt a strong attachment to written text in games. When done well, it can be just about the best thing since sliced bread. However, done badly... ech.

I'm just going to quickly talk about one game where I think the writing was both good, and contributed to the game in a very positive way. Paper Mario!

Paper Mario has arguably the best narrative in a Mario game. Intelligent Systems took the 'Bowser kidnaps Princess, Mario must save her' narrative, and does wonderful things for it.

For one thing, Mario dies in it. Right at the beginning, he's legit dead. The Star Spirits need to use the last of their magic to bring him back to life. I didn't realise how shocking that was until the 2nd or 3rd time I played it.

The dialogue is magnificent, and gives each character a lot of dynamic. Everyone in the whole game has his own motivation. Even typical enemies are often seen talking amongst themselves, which gives a richness of character so rarely seen in Mario. Speaking of which...

One of the most poignant spots for me in my most recent playthrough was actually after I'd beaten the game. Once you beat Bowser at the end, if you go back into the world and check the back of the Bulletin Board next to Merlon's house, you'll see something to the effect of:

"Dear Bowser,
We just wanted you to know that... we tried our best. Please don't be mad!"

A message to Bowser from his troops. When I read this, my heart broke. You ruined their dreams! All those koopas you beat up, they feel bad about having disappointed their boss, who they clearly love. Not only that, but it also implies that the previous times this has happened, Bowser does get mad, and presumably takes it out on his henchmen to some degree.

I'm still getting goose bumps...

What I'm interested in as a writer and as a game developer is what new things writing - text, that is - can bring to games. We know from 'Interactive Fiction' and adventure games that it can be a powerful tool, but there's so much left unexplored... do you have any ideas about how to push this interaction? How can we write for games in a way that is new and interesting, and maximises on the interactivity of games?
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sebaslive
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« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2013, 11:12:07 AM »

but what if you plan to greenlight your game and everyone tells you to localize the text into their language?  No No NO

How about using text in a more literal sense to tell the story? Kinetic typography is a some what new form of graphical media and maybe something like this can be explored in a game form. An idea for this method would be moving a player in which every action he does produces text of that action. If you jump, text of the word jump shows up and you can now double jump on your own text or as you are running down a slope the word running is chasing you down that slope as well literally writing yourself into a corner. Another example of literal sense would be if the words are already positioned throughout the room and you can only use the action of that word to solve the puzzle... you can only jump on the words that say jump or climb on words that say climb to reach the big ol (written out)Door at the end of the level.

An interesting story can also be done this way in sort of a mad libs type set up. "I _ the gap of text." Imagine the player running along the text and jumps the gap. I jumped the gap... or if the player didn't make the jump between the gap. I missed the gap of text and (player lands on the word landed) and landed somewhere else.
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Christian Knudsen
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« Reply #2 on: February 19, 2013, 11:29:01 AM »

There was a platformer recently that did exactly that, but I'll be damned if I can remember its name now... Sad
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Evan Balster
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« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2013, 02:34:37 PM »

Hahah, I'm gonna speculate that that's a bit more of a mechanical idea and a bit less of a writing idea.  Probably tangental to the topic at hand.


So as I mention in my topic "The Language of Action" I've been trying to avoid the use of text in a project of mine.  The reason for that is best explained as aesthetic -- I want people to be immersed and maybe a little cognitively disengaged as they play.  I failed to arrive at a good means of eliminating it entirely, so my goal now is to use it simply, tersely, eloquently, and as rarely as possible.  My hope is that by using language only occasionally, what is said will hold great weight and the player will ruminate upon it as they continue.
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sebaslive
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« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2013, 03:28:21 PM »

Nooo Evan don't give up, Journey did a great job in narration without words.

Christian: was the game any good because the idea sounds great haha

Anyways a recent example of text in game, like described in the mario game, are the writings on the wall in the portal series which is left more for those who seek background story without feeling intrusive to the main game. This would also go hand in hand with another thread Mysteries and loose ends where like Paper Mario it leaves you wondering as to the fate of the poor Koopas. This way works great and if it ain't broke... The new way of expressing it would more likely be independent to the game and how it is meant to be played.

Also forgive me for going into another tangent which is why this thread started in the first place but just going into the topic of new and great ideas I want to put a reminder here of citizen kane. What does citizen kane have to do with anything!? Well, citizen kane is referred to as using what is known today as modern techniques in cinema and also known as the first feature length film of Orson Welles. Even though he did have some help much of it came from "sheer ignorance" in the rules of film making. "It's only when you know something about a profession that you are timid or careful." So let's all just forget the rules of writing and design and just make the citizen kanes of video games!
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Evan Balster
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« Reply #5 on: February 19, 2013, 07:45:22 PM »

Hahahah, well, we have a solution for that.


As for giving up, it took me a while to reach a solution -- the one I mention -- that didn't feel like "giving up" on my goal with language in Wreath.  The majority of what my game says will be wordless, and the words I do use will be more evocative than explicit.

There's a certain beauty to the fact that the simplest expression of an idea is often indirect.  Some ideas are so hard to articulate that they can only be easily approached with a measure of metaphor.  Others can be put bluntly.  I've been refining that art form, in little moments of contemplation.  Compressing important ideas and life-lessons I could write pages about into sentences a child could understand -- but as with any beautiful idea, they need to be heard by someone in the right state of mind, dealing with the right sorts of conflicts, or they won't really carry the meaning they're meant to.  My game, perhaps, could create such states and conflicts.

Here are some proverbs I've made in this style:


Speak little, tell much.


What we can name, we meet with thoughts.
What we cannot name, we meet with intuition.
In the valley of the nameless, our mind is clear.



A mind stirred opens; a mind steered closes.


Creativity births expression.  Curiosity births exploration.
Our work is as soil to these seeds; our art is what grows from them...



Beauty sought is beauty born.


Many of the above don't yet feel complete and will probably be reduced further.  As an example, the last (which feels complete) is a broad statement that more purely expresses the assertion above it, which is specific to game development.  An earlier version was "We find meaning where we look for it".  That one is perhaps better because it's spoken less poetically and more naturally, but almost enough that it seems too easy to overlook, haha.

The game itself isn't exactly meant as a vehicle for manifestos, though.  My use of terseness within it takes a different form -- communicating as much as possible about the story with as little as possible, and leaving the words to resonate as events proceed.

As a case study, take Luka, a quiet person with detached mannerisms and one eye which looks a little different from the other -- the protagonist makes this observation:

Luka sees more with one eye than others do with two.

This implies a few things (which I find it inelegant to list) about Luka and the relationship between the characters.  In the context of the game, which I hope to include a lot of subtle body language in, it should imply still more.
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Creativity births expression.  Curiosity births exploration.
Our work is as soil to these seeds; our art is what grows from them...


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Christian Knudsen
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« Reply #6 on: February 20, 2013, 08:21:37 AM »

Christian: was the game any good because the idea sounds great haha

I think I may have been thinking about one of the sequences in Run:

http://www.tigsource.com/2012/06/29/run-2/
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« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2013, 09:40:08 PM »

I'm just going to quickly talk about one game where I think the writing was both good, and contributed to the game in a very positive way. Paper Mario!

Oh dear. I have gushed about this game before, I think already in this very forum--it is my favorite. You're spot on about how writing gives the game character. Perhaps my favorite thing about it is how it maximizes the universe' (Mushroom Kingdom and it's inhabitants') potential for that character, in a way that Nintendo has apparently forgotten the importance of (R.I.P. Intelligent Systems, I miss thee).

Bowser is the brutal, malicious, and literally draconian entity that he was originally supposed to be--capturing a force of dread, and the ultimate goal of battling it. While still having a head full of lead, and his dialogue having several moments about that, he's actually a villain! Think about the last mario game with a truly villainous antagonist. With Bowser now gone kart-racing, being the butt-monkey of the series, or even teaming up with Mario on his quest for the lulz, that's something that's been completely lost. In contrast, in the first ten minutes of the game, he steals the hopes and dreams of everyone, uses it to kill the protagonist, gloats about it, then kicks his lifeless body out of a window at altitude x000 feet. Seriously. Think about that.

There's so much thought gone into exactly how each character and their dialogue is supposed to make you feel. It gives depth.

Whew. Back on topic.

So, wrapping that to point, writing serves to give a game depth however it can, just like any other facet of the experience. Ideally, they balance the other mechanics to give them more strength, like how (in Paper Mario also, although mostly it's sequel) I wanted to see the tattle text for each enemy because I enjoyed what Goombella had to say. Tangentially this taught me tactical information as well, sometimes without me even noticing, even though that's the primary use of the skill. It reinforced the message to do with the combat, with interesting dialogue.

Or how in the Metroid Prime trilogy, I was compelled to do that with the logbook, craving the scan information of each enemy to learn more about the biological diversity of Tallon IV, and just possessing that wealth of knowledge.

A less similar example would be how the notes in Thief 2, scattered everywhere in the sprawling levels, often can lead to extras, secrets, loot, what have you, or just establish setting. Digging through trashbins taught me about characters and setting, but was equally effective at provoking me to explore more of the game, acting on potential leads or even just mundane curiosity.

I think that game devs. often miss out on tapping into that potential, for writing to make dynamics more compelling, and it's definitely a sign of doing it right if the player doesn't even realize how much motivation it gives them to play and learn more--again, unconscious.
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mysteriosum
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« Reply #8 on: February 26, 2013, 07:21:29 AM »

In contrast, in the first ten minutes of the game, he steals the hopes and dreams of everyone, uses it to kill the protagonist, gloats about it, then kicks his lifeless body out of a window at altitude x000 feet. Seriously. Think about that.

...and yet, they still paint him as having deeper feelings about the matter, by way of his journal! And his dependency on Kammy Koopa! The whole thing is wonderful.

Quote
Or how in the Metroid Prime trilogy, I was compelled to do that with the logbook, craving the scan information of each enemy to learn more about the biological diversity of Tallon IV, and just possessing that wealth of knowledge.

I had the same experience. Metroid Prime is very special to me, and that's one of the reasons - it was so interesting to read about its history all the while. "New area? Scan everything!"

One thing I've been tossing around in my head is how to improve branching dialogue in games.

I'm a playwright, see, and so dialogue is something that comes pretty naturally to me. There was a while where I wanted to write basically irc chat plays. It's a browser 'play' where each actor is just scripted into inputting a line after a specific period of time. This allows me to play with the subtle emotions we try to hide while IM-ing, which is a very unique form of communication.

One of the projects I'll be doing at some point after Chromatose is a Megaman-style platformer where you have to interact with girls to continue. They'll allow you to do cool things like double jump, wall jump, slide, attack, etc. (I've had a girlfriend for the majority of my adolescence and almost all of my adult life, so at this point, I've got a lot of life material.) Something I find lacking in dialogue options in video games is, essentially, the effort to make it really realistic - how there's rarely any consequence to what you say.

In this game, dialogue is the main way you interact with whoever your 'partner' is at the time. It will determine, in a large part, how you two feel about each other. Each girl will have her own quirks, and ideally, each player will find something they like about one girl, and something they hate about others...

It's going to take a lot of work, though, since what I want is, each time you have 3 dialogue options, each one will take the conversation in a different direction. Sometimes it may be inane, but certain options will have you building toward a natural climax within the conversation. The program will help this by reading what options you're choosing, and giving you more like it to continue the conversation (but always with the option to try to 'diffuse the situation' if it should come to that).
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