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Who writes the game?

Yesterday we mentioned how teamwork imposes limitations on the videogame writer. Today we’ll explore the topic.

We can understand the issue by looking at how movies are made. A script needs many pairs of hands to make a writer’s ideas become real settings, costumes, sounds, colours, performances, camera angles, cuts, soundtrack and so on and so forth. Along that path, depending on time and budget costraints and the wishes of the director and producers, the result may largely depart from the original script. In fact, as we said yesterday, quite often a movie’s production is decided upon marketing reasons (remakes, franchises, etc.) and then the script is not so much the spark of the project anymore as just a cog in the machine. Do you remember that story about Kevin Smith being forced to include a giant spider in his script for Superman Returns? The video is long but worth every second.

Something similar happens with videogames, only worse, because the writer often works in parallel to the development team, or even joins the project in its later stages. There were cases when an author was approached with a fully-finished game (level 1 takes place in a mine and the final boss is a zombie, level 2 is on the moon and the final boss is a yellow octopus…) and then asked to write a story that brought it all together.

We must take into account that the game industry is so young that the figure of the writer didn’t even exist until rather recently. Stories and texts were written by the (small) development teams themselves. As the teams grow, tasks get specialized but still today, a small indie developer, say 3 to 8 people programming for iPhone or Wiiware, won’t have a writer in their ranks. The bigger the project, the more likely they’ll have some people devoted only to writing, but also the more tensions they’ll suffer regarding budget, schedule and even intentions. On the top of the scale you have the latest issues of sagas like Metroid, GTA, Metal Gear Solid or ScarCraft, which will have their big creative star on top and a small team of writers to fill in the gaps at his orders.

So if I want to write videogames, where do I fit in all of this? Let’s talk about it tomorrow.

Satoshi Kon passes away

I had prepared a different topic for today, but there are bad news. I was sad went I went to bed last night after reading of the decease of Satoshi Kon. Curiously, his appearance on the blog this week follows nicely after Alan Moore y David Lynch (he’s often compared to the latter) though I wish the circumstances were happier. Kon was taken away by a pancreatic cancer at the age of 46.

Anime fans will undoubtedly know his works, which include the script for “Magnetic Rose” (the first segment in the popular Memories) and the feature-length films Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers and Paprika, each of them a masterpiece. To round it up, he’s also the creator of the television series Paranoia Agent, one of my favourite animated shows ever.

As so much Japanese fiction, his works are not as focused on telling a story as on taking the viewer on an emotional journey, but Kon was a master in taking both approaches several steps further than the rest, with simple concepts and outrageously original developments. The most repeated lines today beautifully summarize how his death will affect Japanese fiction:

It’s not that anime will never be the same with Satoshi Kon gone. It’s now much more likely that anime will always be the same.

I had the pleasure to attend his press conference at Sitges 2006 where he presented Paprika. He announced there that it would be his last movie about the subconscious and that he would open a new cycle in his career. Unfortunately now we will never know what he could have come up with. If anything, we’ll get to see a finished version of the project he was working on, The Dream Machine (second picture). The film’s characters are all robots and it’s intended for family audiences.

Today more than ever I invite you to follow the link and get your hands on some of his works. They are bound to surprise you.

Lynch (One)

The Landscape of Alan Moore, which we discussed yesterday, awoke in me the interest to see another documentary on one of our scarce mad geniuses alive, the ever original David Lynch.

Lynch (One) covers a period of about two years (2005-2006) and witnesses the recording of some videos for DavidLynch.com affiliates, the creation of some of his pictorial works and the shooting of scenes for his most recent feature film Inland Empire. Unfortunately, the selection of rather unsignificant moments tells us very little about the character or his creative force.

Forget being the best of anything. That’s the fruit of the action, and you do the work -they say- for the doing, not the fruit. You can never really know how it’s gonna turn out in the world but you know if you enjoy doing it. And ideas start flowing and you start, you know, getting excited about stuff. Then you’re having a great time in the doing and that’s what it’s all about. If you don’t enjoy the doing, then do something else.

Lynch praises the virtues of meditation, as he did in Catching the Big Fish -which we can discuss some other day-, and invites all artists to medidate in order to -according to his words- reach a state of pure creativity. He then refutes the theory that the artist must suffer in order to create, and claims that artists will be more creative the happier they are. Beyond these claims, the apprentice genius -or even the Lynch fan- will get very little out of this boring documentary.

Empathy and resemblance

Un libro es un espejo
A book is a mirror?

On sesion 17 of our Spanish-language podcast we discussed how resemblance generates empathy, while difference creates curiosity: two opposite poles that we can use to attract the attention of readers. Today I’d like to emphasize the first idea with several examples.

For example romantic novels have a mainly female readership, and indeed their protagonist is most frequently a woman. Of course there’s also always a male main character to complete the couple, but the true heroin is, in 99,9% of the cases, the girl.

Similarly, tipically masculine genres like trial or spy novels are always populated by cops, lawyers and soldiers – of the masculine gender.

But we find the most evident examples in cinemas. Aren’t the protagonists in children’ movies always children? Aren’t teenagers, in horror flicks? Or women, in romantic movies? There are exceptions -as with everyhing else in life- but the standard is clear, right?

I am aware that most of my readers don’t write genre fiction or with a specific audience in mind, but rather follow literary fiction and write for themselves. That’s why I won’t advice anyone to “think about your objective audience and try to bring your protagonist as close to them as possible”, even though I could say it – in fact I just have. Instead we can also apply the rule backwards: from your main character you may infer the main body of your potential audience. Such information can be quite useful, for example when deciding what contests or publishing houses to send the work to, or who among your friends and contacts can give you an appropriate opinion, similar to your potential real readers.

As often, just a topic to think about.

(Español) Criticar por criticar

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