Interviews

Plot is Gameplay's Bitch

Interview: Script writer Tom Jubert tells it how it is

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I should probably say 'You'll have to play the game to find out more!' But I won't, because that would be shameless.

Are there any videogame script writers you particularly admire, or game scripts/storylines that make you think, "Man I wish I'd though of that first"?

Jubert: There's a few games so well written they make me feel warm and fuzzy, but at the same time nauseous that they got there first. Things like Fašade and Fahrenheit are doing fascinating things with interactive storytelling.

Giants: Citizen Kabuto didn't advance the formula much, but it's the funniest game I've ever played. Top of the list is the Malkavian player character from Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines - his dialogue is pitch black comedy, and absolutely unique. He certainly helped to inform Red, my lead NPC in Overture.

Warren Spector has said that game narrative is vital to the future of the industry. Do you agree?

Jubert: It's a fun topic. Someone told me once - in not so many words - that as a writer, your plot is essentially gameplay's bitch. Games will always centre around gameplay, and everything else is secondary.

I think that's very true, but also a little myopic - the idea is that at some stage gameplay and story will become indistinguishable, as opposed to the game, cutscene, game, cutscene approach most games take today.

You could argue something like Fašade is already there. It's certainly true that strong writing is a relatively affordable way to distinguish your game from the crowd. It costs Crytek millions to make their games the prettiest. A half decent games writer costs... well, significantly less than that.

Slightly off topic, but what are your thoughts on the writers strike over in the US?

Jubert: I wish we had the balls to do the same. Well, perhaps that's a little extreme, but they certainly seem to get a relatively good deal. They have royalties, buy-out clauses, things games developers just aren't into quite yet.

I suppose it comes back again to being gameplay's bitch. The writers are integral to almost any film, but in gaming we're just another cog in the machine. I'm happy with that. I'd never trade places, no matter what royalties were on the cards.

Finally, what advice would you give anyone wanting to break into videogame script/story writing at a professional level?

Jubert: Unfortunately, the best way seems to be to publish a couple of sci-fi novels, write a comic, maybe script a blockbuster - just a small matter of finding massive success in another medium.

If, like me, you're convinced you're a games writer, and don't understand why you should have to prove yourself at something else first, you'll have to rely on the usual: practice, perseverance and luck.

Devour as many games, films and books as you can; practice writing every day; and get yourself out there meeting potential employers.

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