Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Writers' Guild Award For Video Game Scripts

Did you know the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain gives awards for best video game script? Well they do. I don’t know why I was surprised to find this out recently. The average video game script has about 7000 lines which, when you think about it, is a mind blowing amount of dialogue. To give that figure a reference point, the average film is only 600-1000 lines long. Writing a script of such magnitude and trying to keep it engaging, while not making a game become disjointed is an achievement that deserves a great deal of praise and recognition.
Seriously, who watches the VGAs? Not on Neil Patrick Harris’s watch.
It’s a shame that I’m questioning the first decision I heard from the Writers’ Guild. The winner this year was Paul Crocker, one of the writers behind Batman: Arkham City. Don’t get me wrong, I love Arkham City. It’s well paced, incredibly designed and has a lot of depth to it. However, in terms of its dialogue, my only description really is that it is functional. Batman says he needs to go to a place. Batman comments about the indirect route he needs to take to get into a place. Batman questions a guy about which place he needs to go to next. Repeat until you’ve got about 10 hours of gameplay.

Because Violence doesn’t solve everything.
There isn’t one character interaction in the whole game that I would call exciting. The overall story was okay but it didn’t really get much further than “What’s protocol 10?” and that’s pretty much forgotten an hour in to the game in favour of Batman doing a convoluted series of fetch quests. In fact, the game has to keep telling you that Protocol 10 is happening by means of a really unsubtle reminder by Hugo Strange’s countdown. The only parts which I think could even be called a stand out piece of writing is the Hugo Strange tape to Batman, a few inmate interviews and possibly the Joker voicemails; and even then I can’t be sure how much of that can be put down to the sublime quality of voice acting.

The game still manages to be exciting but on reflection, I find it’s because of the things that Batman does cool rather than anything he says. The engaging things I recall are moments such as Batman leaping from a bell tower to avoid an explosion; Batman drifting in and out of reality when fighting in a drug induced state; and who could forget the simple pleasures of Batman beating up a shark.

It’s like this, except the shark repellent is his fists.
Maybe this is just an inherent issue with the character of Batman. He doesn’t really get emotionally involved in anything he does. It’s like watching an accountant in the hope he’ll have a breakdown and reveal his true emotional colours when performing an audit or contemplating his tax returns (in this simile, “performing an audit” means “beating the misguided, criminal underclasses into submission” and “contemplating his tax returns” means “contemplating the time he beat up a shark” ). The whole Writers Guild award thing seems that is was due to game sales and by the numbers reviews rather than overall writing merit. I mean last year saw the release of Bastion, one of the best narratives I’ve played through since Portal and far more deserving of the award. Now the voice over from Bastion over a Batman game, that is an award winning game right there.

Side note:
My other two main pleasures from the game come from:
1) making some kind of pun, turning detective mode on and singing The Who to emulate CSI Gotham.
2) Getting in a fight with a group of thugs and playing this playing in the background:

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