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 Post subject: Why is writing so bad these days?
PostPosted: Wed May 19, 2010 9:20 pm 
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There has been a trend since the early nineties that I perceive has been getting worse every year and now has reach a point that is almost unbearable, which is the worrisome lack of quality plots in mainstream media, not only in literature works, but also in theater plays, movies, and specially videogames. It's as if the art had been lost with the advent of photorrealistic special effects, and I deem it important to give an outcry about it.

I always considered that creating videogames, shooting movies, drawing cartoons, even writing a novel were long, arduous tasks, and prohibitely expensive; and from the data I gathered, it seems this still holds true: the medium becomes more expensive every year. Games and movies constantly rise budgets as a way to keep entrance costs high and the competition as marginal as possible, and they have succeeded at that.
I also used to think that long and expensive projects acted as natural barriers for mediocrity, because there was plenty of time to keep refining and polishing details, while the commitment required to finish a project selectively discarded the lazy and flawed ideas. However, while production and design values have indeed raised espectacularly, the writing in movies and games has gone in the opposite direction. Seriously, developers seem to have some kind of blindness in that they are no longer able to differenciate a poor script from a good one. Why is it so difficult? They don't seem to have problems with the other arts, though, because graphics and music are at their highest point these days.

Just take a look at Avatar. Can anyone honestly think that one competent writer can spend 16 years of his life to basically mimic Pocahontas? The entire plot of Tim Burton's Alice fits in one page, and it doesn't even get a proper ending. I also spent the 118 minutes of the remake of Clash of the Titans wondering which kind of barbarian committed the sacrilege of writing that script. Is it justified to dumb down your message so bad, when the original was so succesful as it was? I think it's the fault of the writers, that don't care to learn their medium the same way a musician or painter would.

Which brings me to my main point: The writing in videogames, specially indie titles, is below par with very few exceptions. It doesn't matter if they are free releases or commercial ones, the poor writing is widespread. When you look at game developing communities, people keep asking advice about music, coding, and arts, but I've rarely seen anyone asking about how to strengthen their writing, and more importantly, I rarely have seen an answer going further than "ask someone to check your spelling". Even great AGS titles like Apprentice have the plot as their weakest point.

This is specially tragic with indie adventure games. I've played the demos from Indiana Jones and the Fountain of Youth, Hero6, and the Silver Lining. I've also played a bit a Tale of Two Kingdoms. These are very ambitious titles, they have been in development for years, a great deal of care has been put on the graphics, music, puzzles, and details, and yet... I think I might be too harsh here, I know that opinions are subjetive, and that I shouldn't criticize without giving constructive feedback, but the writing in the sections I saw on all these works was definitely bad. Not utterly bad, but bad enough that I couldn't get past the first screen in those games and demos!! I spent the first minutes staring at huge walls of text with intrincate stories, names and made-up mythology as if I had to study a history lesson, with hollow and bland characters that didn't sound natural at all. Note, however, that I have no problems getting past other games with lots of spelling and grammar mistakes as long as the content is at least pleasing or fun to read, but that wasn't the case with those games: the characters simply hadn't fleshed out personalities. I felt bored, which is the greatest insult I can say to a writer. Writers everywhere, stand up and do something!! Writing should be the BEST part of a work, not the worst!

Learning is not that hard, really; there are a few rules of writing. I know some from listening to other writers, and some I could infer from reading good stories and using common sense. Things available to everyone. I'm not the best writer in the world, but I don't pretend to be one, either, and I don't understand why people writing for games don't bother in learning their art, and keep ruining games and movies that would otherwise be brilliant.

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 Post subject: Re: Why is writing so bad these days?
PostPosted: Thu May 20, 2010 1:48 am 
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DrJones wrote:
This is specially tragic with indie adventure games. I've played the demos from Indiana Jones and the Fountain of Youth, Hero6, and the Silver Lining. I've also played a bit a Tale of Two Kingdoms. These are very ambitious titles, they have been in development for years, a great deal of care has been put on the graphics, music, puzzles, and details, and yet... I think I might be too harsh here, I know that opinions are subjetive, and that I shouldn't criticize without giving constructive feedback, but the writing in the sections I saw on all these works was definitely bad. Not utterly bad, but bad enough that I couldn't get past the first screen in those games and demos!! I spent the first minutes staring at huge walls of text with intrincate stories, names and made-up mythology as if I had to study a history lesson, with hollow and bland characters that didn't sound natural at all. Note, however, that I have no problems getting past other games with lots of spelling and grammar mistakes as long as the content is at least pleasing or fun to read, but that wasn't the case with those games: the characters simply hadn't fleshed out personalities. I felt bored, which is the greatest insult I can say to a writer. Writers everywhere, stand up and do something!! Writing should be the BEST part of a work, not the worst!


Wow, what a great post! I completely agree. I am not a writer, and don't pretend to be able to write well; however, I can often tell what's good and what's bad. At the very least, indie game designers (especially those spending YEARS working on projects) ought to employ the services of experienced copy editors to ensure proper grammar and punctuation. I have seen major indie projects with shoddy grammar and punctuation throughout.

As for the content of the writing, I think sometimes there is a tendency to put in too much unneeded detail or, in the case of comedy games, to give a laugh out loud-seeking punchline to almost every bit a dialogue and narrator description. As they say, less is often more. Subtle, understated humor in unexpected places sometimes works better than game approaches which eventually lead the player to expect some silly pun or gag at every mouse click throughout the game. It's possible to get gag-fatigue in some adventure games.

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I spent the first minutes staring at huge walls of text with intrincate stories, names and made-up mythology as if I had to study a history lesson, with hollow and bland characters that didn't sound natural at all.


YES!

Some people have writing talent, others don't. We all have different talents. Adventure game developers should place the highest priority on finding fresh, clever, interesting writers who understand what works in interactive fiction. There are many talented writers out there! A couple major indie adventure game project demos I played were pretty much sunk by bad writing, in my opinion, even though the art and music was beautiful. Conversely, games with very basic, passable graphics but which have compelling or effective writing are still often VERY worthwhile and enjoyable games. Please, don't overlook the writing!!!


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 Post subject: Re: Why is writing so bad these days?
PostPosted: Thu May 20, 2010 4:41 am 
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I agree -- I think part of the problem is that as games have grown more violent, the plot of games has taken the back seat. But some of us are plot-lovers and that makes these games unbearable.


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 Post subject: Re: Why is writing so bad these days?
PostPosted: Thu May 20, 2010 6:29 am 
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crayauchtin wrote:
I agree -- I think part of the problem is that as games have grown more violent, the plot of games has taken the back seat. But some of us are plot-lovers and that makes these games unbearable.


I don't think violence has anything to do with it. Gabriel Knight series, 5 days a stranger (which is a free title), even Bioshock (which i think is more of an adventure than a shooter) have their share of violence, nevertheless they have a very interesting story to tell for all of us plot-lovers.
I think writers are just getting lazy as nobody anymore have new creative ideas but instead try and use things that have already been used extensively over and over in the sake of quick profit.

I just hope Jane Jensen will not take this path with her upcoming Gray Matter game but will instead give us a plot as interesting as her Gabriel Knight series.


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 Post subject: Re: Why is writing so bad these days?
PostPosted: Thu May 20, 2010 8:22 pm 
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papste wrote:
I just hope Jane Jensen will not take this path with her upcoming Gray Matter game but will instead give us a plot as interesting as her Gabriel Knight series.

According to those involved in the beta-testing at the fan site CORT-X, you need not worry.

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 Post subject: Re: Why is writing so bad these days?
PostPosted: Fri May 21, 2010 6:02 am 
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papste wrote:
crayauchtin wrote:
I agree -- I think part of the problem is that as games have grown more violent, the plot of games has taken the back seat. But some of us are plot-lovers and that makes these games unbearable.


I don't think violence has anything to do with it. Gabriel Knight series, 5 days a stranger (which is a free title), even Bioshock (which i think is more of an adventure than a shooter) have their share of violence, nevertheless they have a very interesting story to tell for all of us plot-lovers.
I think writers are just getting lazy as nobody anymore have new creative ideas but instead try and use things that have already been used extensively over and over in the sake of quick profit.

I just hope Jane Jensen will not take this path with her upcoming Gray Matter game but will instead give us a plot as interesting as her Gabriel Knight series.


I didn't mean for that to sound like "violence = bad writing" but it did come out that way, didn't it? I meant, that video games have become more violent, the focus of game players has shifted from storytelling to slaying, from puzzle-solving to PvP, from plot to combat -- and as a result, that's where the focus of most game-makers has shifted.


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 Post subject: Re: Why is writing so bad these days?
PostPosted: Fri May 21, 2010 8:45 am 
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I also think that just because someone is a good writer it doesn't mean they'll know how to write a game well.

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According to those involved in the beta-testing at the fan site CORT-X, you need not worry.


Yeah, I saw some of those posts. It seemed like there was more back-patting about their own potential contributions to the game than there was gushing about the product. A couple posts said the story and characters would not disappoint, but another seemed to suggest it lacked some "wow" or "awe" moments in the initial beta version. Saying "won't disappoint" is different than "will blow you away!", but maybe I'm just worrying too much. Someone even thought another beta version might be necessary. I'm nervous... because it seems like this is a game whose performance will be watched closely. Isn't this the highest profile new "adventure" game nearing release? That is, the highest profile new adventure game in many years that is not based on an existing series or franchise? If the story is great and something special, then I think it would have the ability to attract people outside the "serious" or "traditional" gamer category. A hit would show that these kinds of products can make money. I just hate how "adventure games" can be lumped in with other kinds of games... they're really nothing like action, strategy or RPG's... I think a lot people who wouldn't be into any of those categories might still love the "adventure" games.


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 Post subject: Re: Why is writing so bad these days?
PostPosted: Tue Jun 22, 2010 11:16 am 
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DrJones wrote:
I spent the first minutes staring at huge walls of text with intrincate stories, names and made-up mythology as if I had to study a history lesson, with hollow and bland characters that didn't sound natural at all.


I completely agree DrJones. It's what we call "verbal masturbation" over at IA. It's not that what they're trying to get across is bad, it's probably necessary to enjoy the story more, but it's so long and convoluted and is filled with things that we don't know about (that mythology and names etc you mentioned) that you just lose interest. A Tale of Two Kingdoms is a great example. It's a great game, the graphics are top notch, the music is great, and it's a good story. But the introduction is tedious. It's so long and boring it almost stopped me wanting to move on and play the game. I think a better option would have been to involve all that back story within the game somehow.

I think it's fair to say that just because someone has a brilliant idea, doesn't mean they can get it out on paper / screen.

Of course, these views are subjective.

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