Saturday, 29 October 2011

Player vs Character

BAFTA Games Writers Panel supported by The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain

Welcome to BAFTA, it’s all nipples and grenades.

A fascinating 90 minute panel debate between four of this countries finest video games writers; Jim Swallow (Deus Ex Human Revolution), Rhianna Pratchett (Heavenly Sword), Ed Stern (Wolfenstein) and chair for the night was Andrew S Walsh (Prince of Persia) who between them have shipped over 80 titles into our lives and tonight explored the huge question of Players vs Characters. Structure for the night, there were three anchor questions posed to each panel member alongside a smattering of questions from the floor. First up…

What is a games character?
Jim and Rhianna made the differentiation between character types with Jim going for the “characters are empty vessels that you fill” (in Deus Ex, he tried to create a backstory and narrative for the character Adam Jensen before empowering the player to let them choose one of the four possible pathways and approaches through the game) and Rhi coming back with “but I like to play games with full characters like Max Payne or Alan Wake as you get a certain agency over them”. Ed popped in with the crucial addition “the best character in most games in the environment”. This sparked a bit of gush fest over the Bioshock and the environment of Rapture.
For me, the success of Bioshock is how it looks and sounds, how the NPCs and audio diaries help you construct the back story and aid you in a process of information discovery, it’s not spoon fed to you in a dirty little cut scene, like the recent barrel of bilge The Cursed Crusade. Round two.

Player vs character
Jim came in with the ultimate writers’ aim of immersion: “It’s the holy grail, trying to suck you in. We want to bring a story to you and offer you a beginning, middle and end.” For me the crucial word in that was offer, the choices that a player can or cannot make enhance their own personal experience. He also pointed a finger at overly long cut scenes “I’m looking at you Metal Gear Solid” which Rhi added to “If you see your character doing something brilliant in a cut scene but then can’t do it in game, that creates a gulf between player and character and breaks the invisible link”.
There was a consistency of opinion that writers are often brought into the process too late, never get the chance to work with actors when the lines are recorded and so a line that could have been laced with comedy at the very beginning because of the intricacies of pauses, intentions and inflexions are often lost in translation. In a startling revelation, Ed stated that “most actor scripts are written in excel”. Imagine having to read 100,000 lines of text from a spreadsheet, it certainly cannot aid the content and context of the game.

What else shapes and defines a character?
Ed came straight off the bat with “genre expectations are usually tough and conservative”. Rhi added that platform has something to do with it, she created Overlord 1&2 on the Xbox and PS3, but it also had different iterations on the Wii and DS, so the world of Overlord existed on all those planes, but the restrictions of age groups for the Wii and DS versions meant that some of the characterisations of the minions having to be altered. A vital point made by Ed was you should be able to give the 5 second, 30 second and 2 minute pitch to different audiences, because “someone else will be making your character move, someone else will be giving him a physical dialogue”, the implementation is being given to different teams. Jim answered one of the floor questions about “would a writer ever have a great idea and pitch that to a studio?”, the answer was a resounding no, it’s about what will sell, not what’s the idea? Andrew added with great timing, what sells is nipples and grenades. Film/game tie ins were mentioned and some brutal truths exposed again where studios spend all their money on acquiring the licence and so have less money on the game, other times including Blade 2, where the games developers were given absolutely no access to the script, artwork, scenery or even the crumbs from their dinner, yet still had to create a game which launched on release of the film.

It was a very stimulating night with 4 very different personalities, all thoroughly warranting their place and each adding something to the debate in their own unique style. Coming next at BAFTA Games is an evening with Bioware in November, Mass Effect 3 anyone?

Friday, 14 October 2011


The B3063, aka Charminster Road in Bournemouth, is home to many a good eatery and restaurant (Nippon Inn and Starz Bar are well worth a visit), but the culinary highlight for me is a small, independent, no nonsense Turkish bakery called Pasha.

Bread is often at the forefront of my mind, it being my favourite foodstuff by a country mile; it has such variety in shape, taste and texture. There is nothing better than a hollow sounding, soft centred warm crusty cob which fills your nose and belly with doughy happiness. We don’t need any butter here, just dry and crusty bread.

Pasha make the best Pide ever – a deliciously day fresh stone baked Turkish flat bread, often consumed within 10 minutes from time of purchase. It’s a rare day if Mr Pide makes it off the B3063 complete because he is just so irresistible.

I offer a small insight into my devotion to this delightful foodstuff. It was a Christmas day, in the last year of the 1980s and I asked my Auntie for a fresh crusty 800g bloomer for my present. Opening up my bready package, I was so happy to have a whole loaf to myself to tear and carve up in giant doorsteps; the joy I felt was unbridled. A recent personal surprise for me was the introduction into the market of the 1kg Tiger loaf, an absolute monster, fun for all the family and costing less than for 152 pennies.

Along with fishes, if it’s good enough for Jesus and can feed the 5000, it’s good enough for me. Bread – I wanna make it with you.