BioWare: Good writing in games is 'essential'


Writing in videogames is something we've been discussing with industry figures for a while. Chris Avellone says it's important, but not that important. Dragon Age writer David Gaider agrees. However, fellow BioWare member Mike Laidlaw, lead designer of Dragon Age: Origins, has a different take. He believes that good writing is "essential."

"I think good writing is honestly essential, because as we see the technology curve start to slow down, we're kind of past that exponential two-year gain that we used to have ... we're wrestling more with the uncanny valley than the number of pixels," argues Mike. "I think a good story is what makes [a game] linger.

"So in terms of how important it is I'd say it's vital, and I think where certainly there's been huge successes are games that embrace the understanding that ultimately the gaming medium is defined by interactivity and reactivity, as opposed to narrative. A game that forces me down a single path and has no options or any sense that I'm actually affecting the world leaves me a little bit colder than a game that actually has some sort of interaction.

"... Maybe there's only one path to do that ... That's where I see a game like Splinter Cell succeeding. Sam Fisher's got a got a cool, strong character but at the same time he's also pulled in to do stuff that no one else can do, and as the player I get to adopt some of that coolness and what I'm doing is guiding how he achieves his objectives. The story itself can be linear, yet I'm still immersed in the gameplay."

So, it's Mike Laidlaw's belief that story needs to be relied on now because graphics are hitting a ceiling. By the same token, however, a story needs to take advantage of the interactive medium to make sure players feel like they're part of the story, so that even a linear plot gives the illusion of the gamer driving the narrative forward. 

Fair enough, I say, but it's very interesting that Dragon Age's lead designer thinks this, when the actual writer doesn't think writing is that crucial. Where do you guys fall in this debate?

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Jim Sterling
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