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More topsoil. Videogames discussion with leading UK comedy writers
November 16, 2005 2:31 PM   Subscribe

This is what happens when you put some of the best writers in UK comedy around a table to discuss videogames. Needless to say even the above average videogame writing gets a deserved hard time. Via the Spaced Out forums.
posted by nthdegx (49 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Edge is uniquely top and I crave it.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 2:33 PM on November 16, 2005


I don't agree with all of Linehan's points. He seems to be pushing videogames toward more mainstream media in terms of their sensibilities. For me, the hammy accents in Fable fit perfectly. I think they can and should retain some of their quirkiness and kitschness, but I agree with him entirely on the matters pertaining to simple quality.
posted by nthdegx at 2:41 PM on November 16, 2005


Edge went downhill when they redesigned it and put the price up.
posted by fire&wings at 2:41 PM on November 16, 2005


The writiers want a cut of the action.
posted by IronLizard at 2:43 PM on November 16, 2005


Edge went downhill when they redesigned it and put the price up.

Viz isn't as funny as it used to be either.
posted by influx at 2:44 PM on November 16, 2005


I see a lot of shots taken at the obvious culprits, which is well and good - but I have to question how an article can purport to be about writing in videogames without mentioning Planescape: Torment.
posted by Ryvar at 2:46 PM on November 16, 2005


What a great read -- thanks. And I still rather like Viz, honestly. 8) I think it might just seem less funny as you grow older and have more or less seen the jokes before. But Mr. Logic still gets me every time.
posted by undule at 2:58 PM on November 16, 2005


That particular brand of criticism always gets my goat, Ryvar, and yours is a typical MetaFilter response. x is fatally flawed because it doesn't mention y. y is almost always the favourite thing of the particular poster, and because it dominates their particular worldview, it should also dominate everyone else's. This comes with no reason why, of course.

A discussion on videogames writing doesn't have to mention *any* videogame in particular, even if it were written by videogame experts. This is a transcript of comedy writers and gamers, not a comprehensive discussion of videogame writing.

What element of Planescape sheds new light on a discussion of writing in videogames?

On a side issue, if we want to talk about Edge sucking harder lately let's start with the soft reviews. How many 8/10s in the last issue? And since they gave XBox Far Cry 8/10 (if memory serves), it doesn't count for very much any more. That said, Edge really only took the minutes of this particular meeting, so I don't accept that Edge's superiority and/or suckiness has much to do with the merits of this particular article.
posted by nthdegx at 2:59 PM on November 16, 2005


A discussion on videogames writing doesn't have to mention *any* videogame in particular, even if it were written by videogame experts. .

Well and also because video game writing does suck in the general sense. There are certainly exceptions to the rule, but the rule nonetheless applies. This particular article tackles the issue quite nicely, with humor and a refreshing lack of stentorian flak-a-jak.
posted by undule at 3:14 PM on November 16, 2005


To be fair, Edge have already analysed Planescape: Torment to death - rightly so, but I don't think it needs paying lip service every time you discuss narrative.
I'm sooo glad someone else mentioned the shitty voice acting in Fable. Maze was so bad I think my ears actually tried to commit suicide. I was lined up to be a writer on that game but things kinda fell through - I ended up doing the dialogue for crappy golf sims instead.
posted by RokkitNite at 3:34 PM on November 16, 2005


They're spot on about Half Life.

Call me an amoral sociopath but I really don't get all the wibblyness about GTA...
posted by Artw at 3:34 PM on November 16, 2005


Ryvar : Perhaps the writers / actors in the article weren't among the 25 or so people in the UK who have actually played Planetscape : Torment.

OK I'm being facetious. But - Charlie Brooker accepted - none of the other interviewees have ever made a living writing about videogames, and only Linehan is - strictly speaking - a writer. They're all primarily console gamers too, I'd guess.
posted by coach_mcguirk at 4:01 PM on November 16, 2005


Simon Pegg has writing credits for Spaced, Big Train etc... on IMDB.
posted by Artw at 4:04 PM on November 16, 2005


They're right about Half Life II. Man, that game was the shit.
posted by Decani at 4:16 PM on November 16, 2005


Half Life made me realize games didn't have to be the vulgar cousin of more "respectable" media.

This isn't a snark, merely an honest question: is it so difficult to "show not tell" with game writing?? Abuse of exposition is symptomatic of the average level of writing in games these days. Point this out was probably the most useful thing to come out of the interview.
posted by basicchannel at 4:49 PM on November 16, 2005


Loom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, The Secret of Monkey Island, The Secret of Monkey Island II: LeChuck's Revenge, Full Throttle, Sam & Max Hit the Road, etc. etc.

LucasArts had amazing writers. Then they all left.

I also lament the extinction of manuals the size of tomes, like the ones that came with The Sword of the Samurai, Red Baron, BattleHawks 1942, and The Battle of Britain. Good reading in those.
posted by linux at 4:51 PM on November 16, 2005


Oh snap, you're so right linux... forgot about all them games I loved.

The Secret Weapons of The Luftwaffe manual was pretty neat, if I recall (it had me going to small community airports to look at their ME-262's and stuff).
posted by basicchannel at 4:54 PM on November 16, 2005


People read manuals? :-)


Actually, I kind of miss the old Infocom bumf.
posted by Artw at 4:55 PM on November 16, 2005


This isn't a snark, merely an honest question: is it so difficult to "show not tell" with game writing?? Abuse of exposition is symptomatic of the average level of writing in games these days.

'Thank you, Mario, but your princess is in another castle!'

No Mushroom Retainer would ever react like that in real life - they'd be like, 'Holy shit, Mario! That shit you just pulled was like the raddest most bad-ass shit I ever saw! You like totally fuckin cleared Bowser's head! I mean, man, what kind of whacked-out fuckweed leaves a fuckin axe right next to the bridge they're standing on? Jesus Christ, man... just give me a minute will ya? I'm hyperventilating here... What's that? Princess Toadstool? Fucked if I know.'
posted by RokkitNite at 4:56 PM on November 16, 2005


Ah, SWOTL. Yeah, same people who did BOB:TFH and BH1942.

You know, I even have a soft spot for the Tex Murphy adventures, even the live action one that had a Margot Kidder cameo.

The Sierra barn had a good writing staff, as well, if a but "schticky", giving us Space Quest for zany fun and Police Quest for a more dramatic turn.

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father and Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within were also good.

You can tell I miss adventure games.
posted by linux at 5:00 PM on November 16, 2005


RokkitNite: And obviously Katamari Damacy suffers from a lack of a cohesive, three-act conflict-driven story arc.

I think you pretty much have to exempt Nintendo from my rant entirely. God bless 'em.
posted by basicchannel at 5:08 PM on November 16, 2005


This interview must have been done before RE4.

If not, their RE comments are profoundly odd.
posted by Frasermoo at 5:11 PM on November 16, 2005


Snakes on a Plan indeed...
posted by blue_beetle at 5:13 PM on November 16, 2005


Every snake should have a plan.
posted by Frasermoo at 5:21 PM on November 16, 2005


Gabriel Knight 1 had such great voices. Solid dialog, and good story, but it was totally the voices that made it happen. That old Cajun lady doing the narration was awesome.

"It's a picture of Moseley. Hah! He had hair 'den."
posted by Malor at 5:24 PM on November 16, 2005


Coincidentally I just recently played the first Max Payne, and am currently playing Planescape: Torment (and loving every second of it, although it's not perfect - that modron maze goes on for waaay too long).

I thought the comments about the writing in MP were fair: the narration is a bit overwrought at times.

I'm also reading David Freeman's Creating Emotion in Games: The Craft and Art of Emotioneering™ (also available on Safari). I haven't gotten far enough into it to make a critical assessment of it, but it is undeniably interesting and covers many of the same points as this article, but in more depth.

Lastly, the writing in Trogdor the Burninator was funny enough to keep me going for fifteen minutes longer than I thought it would.
posted by Ritchie at 6:04 PM on November 16, 2005


Insider secret: the reason Peter Serafinowicz is down on the voices in Fable is political. In the UK, Peter does a lot of voice-over work for TV and radio: adverts, movie trailers and so on. Fable features the voices of several big-name UK voice talents including the likes of Colin McFarlane -- who looks exactly like one of the characters he plays, the huge muscled dude from the training sections -- but not Peter. My bet is that he's pissed he wasn't asked.
posted by Hogshead at 6:22 PM on November 16, 2005


That's horse-sh*t without some sort of link. More! Or own up how you know that inane bit of trivia.
posted by Frasermoo at 6:30 PM on November 16, 2005


You can tell I miss adventure games.

Beyond Good & Evil, if you haven't played it, is what happens when you combine console game elements with an adventure game. Definitely worth your time.

Indigo Prophecy is also a glimpse as to how the genre might be reborn and is worth your time even though the story goes off the rails at the end. Check the demo, see what you think.

What element of Planescape sheds new light on a discussion of writing in videogames?

Because Planescape is video game that is, amongst the people who have played it, widely considered the best writing of any computer game. Because the basic plot does not conform to classic storyline archetypes - an immortal protagonist who is afflicted with amnesia each time he dies seeking a cure for his immortality. Because there is little to the gameplay outside of the writing, and the experience fundamentally would not work in another written medium despite consisting largely of text.

'Humorous' commentary on the poor quality of videogame writing in general is masturbation at this point. Masturbation's all well and good and gets plenty of ad revenue when delivered with a pinch of oh-so-sassy humor and pseudo-intellectual irony, but asking questions like "why can't more video games show rather than tell?" that were trite before the original Half-Life was released does not further the dialogue. If you can't be bothered to seek out the diamonds in the rough than why should anyone pay attention to your played out advice and lame jokes?
posted by Ryvar at 6:35 PM on November 16, 2005


Until recently I worked for a company that made film trailers and radio and TV ads. Peter and Colin were both regulars in our recording studio, and there was usually some breeze-shooting before and after a session. I am only guessing that Peter was pissed, but there is some competition among the talent to get the good jobs -- and if you were a solid gamer and knew there was a general call for people in your line of work to contribute to Peter Molyneux's next game, and you didn't get it, wouldn't you be pissed too?
posted by Hogshead at 6:36 PM on November 16, 2005


and am currently playing Planescape: Torment (and loving every second of it, although it's not perfect - that modron maze goes on for waaay too long).

Agreed. About half of the Clerk's Ward quests should've been chopped, too, in favor of some quests to perform in Sigil post-planewalking - you should have some time to play with all your cool toys before the final confrontation. I've found that nearly every person who doesn't finish playing Planescape stopped because of the Brothel quests.

It isn't a perfect game by any means - it's just the writing is the only thing I've seen in the past ten years that wasn't an embarrassment to the medium.
posted by Ryvar at 6:41 PM on November 16, 2005


ut asking questions like "why can't more video games show rather than tell?" that were trite before the original Half-Life was released

I very strongly disagree with this sentiment. As someone who has been in the game industry for some time, the level of debate doesn't necessarily need to get deeper, it needs to get wider. Game developers talk about this kind of shit all the time and nothing ever happens -- I'd like to see more critical appraisal on behalf of the consuming public and I think articles like this fit that bill pretty nicely.
posted by undule at 6:57 PM on November 16, 2005


Game developers talk about this kind of shit all the time and nothing ever happens

I'm aware. Best of luck to Greg Costikyan, but I don't think the industry will let this change anytime soon.
posted by Ryvar at 7:01 PM on November 16, 2005


There is a related quote by John Carmack quote:

Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It's expected to be there, but it's not that important.
John Carmack

Which is completely correct for his games. Is story and writing that important in a game? In some it may be, as in adventure games, but in many action games and many strategy games the story or issue is the skills developed.

How can you write for people when some gamers will have cruised through a section and others will have struggled. They are at completely different points.
posted by sien at 7:21 PM on November 16, 2005


Gabriel Knight 1 had such great voices.

Tim Curry as Gabriel Knight, Mark Hamill as Moseley. Efrem Zimablist, Jr. as Wolfgang, Michael Dorn as Dr. John, just to name names people'd recognize.

Beyond Good & Evil, if you haven't played it, is what happens when you combine console game elements with an adventure game. Definitely worth your time.

Have it on the GameCube. Great game... too bad the hinted-at sequel will likely never come to be.

Indigo Prophecy is also a glimpse as to how the genre might be reborn and is worth your time even though the story goes off the rails at the end. Check the demo, see what you think.

I'll check it out.
posted by linux at 7:42 PM on November 16, 2005


The article was a good read. Still...wasn't Max Payne the way it was as a stylistic decision?

Man, I really have to replay Planescape. Sweet game.
posted by graventy at 8:18 PM on November 16, 2005


Thanks for expanding a little, Ryvar. I will definitely check this game out, but once more "it's just the writing is the only thing I've seen in the past ten years that wasn't an embarrassment to the medium" is an utter contradiction to what you said about seeking out the diamonds in the rough. If you truly believed that then you can't have played Half-Life 2, which gets *everything* right. If you're on the subject of missing canonical titles, then...
posted by nthdegx at 8:45 PM on November 16, 2005


nthdegx: I'm outting myself a bit more here than I'm entirely comfortable with, but . . . on a whim about six months back I went through GameFAQs and just started typing down all the titles I'd played significantly (beaten, mastered, got my epic mount, whatever). The result was about 450, 400 of them PC games.

I may not have a life, but I think I've earned the right to say that I have been searching for diamonds in the rough. I have played Half-Life 2 through twice now, and sadly I don't hold it in the esteem you do. It's a great, even amazing game, and I think that as a total package it is a more enjoyable game than Planescape (both share significant pacing flaws in the middle, though). But in terms of game writing - and I don't mean text but rather narrative, dialogue, and characters - I have yet to see Planescape's equal within those 400 games.
posted by Ryvar at 9:26 PM on November 16, 2005


Fair enough, Ryvar. I am really looking forward to tracking down a copy of Planescape.
posted by nthdegx at 1:05 AM on November 17, 2005


Hello visitors from MetaFilter ( www.metafilter.com/mefi/46731 ).
Next time it would be nice before you hard link to these pics,
especially when i've now done 10gb of traffic in one night!

[files removed]

You can buy EDGE from http://www.myfavouritemagazines.co.uk/home/mpurchase.asp?m=780&src=W005
or from http://www.edge-online.co.uk


Probably not the happiest bunny in the warren at this particular moment.

It's a shame, too, as I was curious to read what people I respect have to say about a medium I find somewhat... nursery-rhymish.
posted by Grangousier at 2:00 AM on November 17, 2005


Sorry about that, that was needlessly pompous. Not that there is such a thing as necessary pomposity.
posted by Grangousier at 4:02 AM on November 17, 2005


Next time *what* would be nice before I "hard link" to any images?
posted by nthdegx at 7:42 AM on November 17, 2005


Also, it was in a subdirectory called "public". Ah well. I'll email an apology all the same.
posted by nthdegx at 7:45 AM on November 17, 2005


Oops.

I don't suppose anyone OCRd it?
posted by Artw at 7:55 AM on November 17, 2005


Only 10gb? Shocking.

Compressed and uploaded here in case anyone still wants to see.
posted by dickasso at 10:47 AM on November 17, 2005


Thanks, dickasso.
posted by nthdegx at 11:38 AM on November 17, 2005


Ah..Charlie Brooker. I miss TV Go Home.
posted by movilla at 12:12 PM on November 17, 2005


Tetris AND Monty Mole... class!
posted by Artw at 12:49 PM on November 17, 2005


LucasArts may have cancelled, but they will not be denied!
posted by linux at 2:58 PM on November 17, 2005


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