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Games writing "doesn't always get recognition it should"

"A game story is written by everyone on the team," says Deus Ex writer

The narrative designer on Square-Enix's upcoming reboot of Deus Ex believes that the industry's recognition of game writers needs to improve.

In an interview published today, Deus Ex: Human Revolution lead writer Mary De Marle told that "a lot of times people always think that all you have to do is sit in front of a keyboard typing and you'll have a dialogue in an hour. And that's not it.

"So, no [writing] doesn't always get the recognition from the other departments that it should. I think a lot of people think they're all writers and they're not, so there's that. But I also think that the writers often have to realise that they're not the only ones writing the story."

De Marle observed that writers shouldn't think themselves the sole voice in a game, because "A game story is written by everyone on the team... The artists, the level designers, the animators, the voice actors... It's to kind of ensure that the story, with all its richness, is being told in more than just dialogue.

"The biggest mistake a game writer can make coming in is to say 'they hired me as a writer to come up with the story so they have to listen to everything I have to say.' The truth is they don't, because other people have valuable ideas, they're the ones bringing it to life."

De Marle was also critical of the apparent importance bestowed upon the Writers Guild Of America's games writing award. "I kind of get mad about the WGA writing awards because, rightly so, to be a part of that guild you have to pay membership fees... If you have worked on a game and you want to submit for a writing award from the WGA, your writers have to be members of the WGA. And if they're not, then you can't be considered.

"They have a right to do that because they are a guild and they are recognised in the work of their members. But to tout themselves as "this is the award that you want to get if you write in games, that is not true, because they're not recognising all the games that exist."

For the full interview with De Marle, in which she also discusses whether preorder exclusive content can negatively impact games and the issues inherent in rebooting the Deus Ex brand, please click here.

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Latest comments (10)

Kim Soares Lead Designer, Nitro Games10 years ago
I couldn't agree more. You often hear designers making remarks like "everybody thinks they're a designer" and unfortunately they are right. And that goes for writing too. I mean, what can be so hard in writing some words on paper and coming up with a cool character? Just name him sonne, give him a scar on face and big gun and you're all set, right?

I do not understand why people of other disciplines feel the need to be a designer or writer? I mean, I cannot draw shit and cannot program one line of code, but I'm not trying to do those things either. As De Marle said, everybody takes part in making the game as a whole.
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Geraint D'Arcy Writer / Poet 10 years ago
There is a trend that writers are often only hired at the end of the game making process, that they think they have to come up with a story is not really surprising considering most of the visual work is done and the impression is that they have to make some sense of it. There are obvious exceptions, but there are arguments around that games should be considered and criticised in the same way as films, literature and theatre; combined with recent arguments for a bettering of the standards of eductaion for careers in the games industry (which embrace sciences and computing but ignore liberal arts entirely) I wonder if there will ever be any truly collaborative creations that are as strong in gameplay as they are in game narrative.
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Kim Soares Lead Designer, Nitro Games10 years ago
Good point Geraint. The resent news about game industry related education (in UK) have all concentrated on the programming. Kind of like if in case of movies, the only concern in education would be CGI.

And yes, writers should be part of the development process from day one.
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Geraint D'Arcy Writer / Poet 10 years ago
Thanks Kim. I think in particular the ways in which experimental theatre is devised would be beneficial to gamesdevelopers as a holistic "writing/designing/creating" process. All parties invloved -- techies, dancers, designers, writers and actors -- come together and begin to build interesting, entertaining and challenging theatre as one group of collaborative polymathmatic people. The same could be done with writers designers artists and programers etc. in games development.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Geraint D'Arcy on 3rd February 2011 11:05am

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Nowadays, though, it feels harder and harder to respect game writers as a whole. The instances where their work is respectable and memorable seem to become more and more rare exceptions and many a franchise has suffered to some extent by having an instance with a story that seemed to have been put together by a 4-year old (a very good example would be Soul Calibur 4).

To me there's the feeling that writing is being relegated as an added bonus that is utterly dismissable in the face of graphics, multiplayer capabilities and the existence of either double jump or its "spiritual successor", a "grav gun kind of thing". As a writer myself (though not professionally) that is very sad, particularly when there are quite a few games which derived a good part of their success from having very well written stories (and the undying example here is possibly Baldur's Gate)
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Cal Mackendrick Founder, Bamboo Raven10 years ago
Only slightly off-topic. Why was Sheldon Pacotti not tapped to do follow-up writing for DE3? Isn't he commonly regarded as one of the driving forces behind DE's success?

I am not familiar with Ms. De Marle's work, although I'm sure it must be excellent.
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Samuel Chay Mottershaw Studying Scriptwriting, Staffordshire University10 years ago
It's a difficult balance I'm sure. But I'm glad to see that a lot of companies include writers in the entire process so that everyones ideas blend much more effectively.
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I swear I remember reading that Sheldon was a story consultant on the game - that he helped write the initial outline/story arc. Anyone?
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 10 years ago
Kim asks, "why [do] people of other disciplines feel the need to be a designer or writer?"

The main issue there is that game design and writing don't have as many things that are obvious when you don't do a good job at them. When examining something supposed to be figurative illustration it takes relatively little talent to distinguish a scribble from technically competent work, and that criterion can be used to remove a large class of attempts from the category of "good work." Particularly key, this can in the average case be used to remove one's own attempts.

Writing and game design don't have such easy (for the average person) distinctions when it comes to seeing that something is obviously bad. Thus, people can produce stuff that's just as bad as the scribble above, but can't tell that it is.

The risk of this happening does tend to be mitigated with expertise in other fields. I'm a pretty good writer, and an even better programmer, and being able to see nuances there that others can't say (well, and even huge distinctions that others can't see) let me understand that I don't have that level of critical facility when it comes to level design, for example. I know what's fun to play, but I can't go through a level pointing out how doing this and that would make it better and worse in various ways, the way I can with a computer program or essay.

Anyway, that's why writing in general doesn't get the recognition it should: it's got fewer "critical handles," as it were, available to the non-specialist.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Curt Sampson on 4th February 2011 4:22am

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It's my goal to become a games writer one day even though I know it is brutal and unforgiving, sometimes frustrating and sometimes boring. But what job that's worth isn't, really?
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