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Author Topic: The writing/scripting topic.  (Read 1557 times)
Dincrest
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« on: January 06, 2007, 09:45:33 PM »

If it's one thing I can assume about the populace here at RPGfan, it's that we appreciate good writing in our media.  We play RPGs, graphic adventures, visual novels all of which contain more story-oriented elements than your average platformer like Super Mario Bros.  In addition, many of us are avid readers, avid moviegoers, and even aspiring writers.  

There have been discussions here and there about how poor writing/scripting can ruin an otherwise darn good media experience.  There have been many times that I've read books that had great stories, but the writing was so cumbersome that I lost my appetite.  There have been times I've seen movies that had great concepts and solid plotlines, but the dialogue and scripting was cheesy, cracker thin, or generally subpar.  

I think that scripting/dialogue can make or break a game like an RPG or graphic adventure, since they are much more story oriented than, say, a platformer like Mario.  

I love Tales of Phantasia.  I think it's one of the best console RPGs ever.  However, the GBA port that US gamers got had some of the most stale writing I had seen in a while.  It was devoid of technical errors, but it was so bland that it absolutely sucked dry the great distinct personalities of all the characters.  In contrast, the English dialoge in Tales of Destiny and Tales of Symphonia was really good and really brought the characters to life.  This is really too bad, because the characters in Phantasia are really cool and have distinct personalities, but it doesn't come across due to the poor scripting.  

On the other hand, Phantasy Star 3 had writing as absolutely dry as you could get (whenever you did get it) but somehow, I was able to overlook the horrendously dry writing (among other things) and enjoy one of the most epic and original storylines I'd ever experienced in an RPG.  

In movies, one need only look at something like Star Wars Ep. 2: Attack of the Clones.  The concept and story are actually pretty good, but the dialogue is so laughably bad, especially that between Anakin and Amidala.  But I'll still watch the film every time it comes on the tube, because Star Wars is always fun and I dig the visual effects.  It's pure eye candy.  

Books are a different story entirely.  I mean, it's 100% writing and the storytelling can make or break it.  Even when the writing is really really good, one author's style may not click with you.  But if an author's writing style is really dry and cannot engage ANY reader... yeah.

So to reiterate, what are your thoughts?  Is subpar writing/scripting a dealbreaker for you?  Is it possible for you to look past it and allow the other redeeming qualities of the game to drive your progress?  Why or why not?  What about books and movies?  Are there other redeeming factors in those mediums that would allow you to overlook subpar dialogue/writing/scripting?  Why or why not?
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« Reply #1 on: January 06, 2007, 11:17:30 PM »

The best script in the world doesn't mean shit to me if there isn't a good game to go along with it.  Compare Xenosaga II to its sequel and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about.

However, nothing irks me more than to see a typo of any sort.  It's the trained editor in me.  If you're gonna pretend to be a professional company, then hire trained professionals who help you put out a professional product.  Many of the Harvest Moon games have gotten on this particular nerve in the past. :P
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Dincrest
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« Reply #2 on: January 07, 2007, 01:57:12 AM »

I can sometimes be sensitive to technical errors.  I mean, I did work professionally as a proofreader for a publishing company at one point in my life (heh, and now I help proofread for the site:P)  But I've learned when to leave my job at work.  

But there are times when I can overlook the technical errors when the dialogue, scripting, and story are so good like in Hirameki's English translation of Ever 17: Out of Infinity.  That's become my favorite video game of all time.  It was *that* good, but the amount of technical errors present in that game would make editor types go insane.

Hirameki's gotten a lot better, though.  They really tightened things up for their localization of Yo-Jin-Bo: The Bodyguards.  

On the other hand, Working Designs did some of the most acclaimed localizations, but I couldn't stand all the stupid shit that Victor Ireland would insert into the English script (like the fart jokes or out of place pop culture references).

One way I see the whole thing is that all forms of media have limitations in terms of how they can convey a story, so storytelling becomes even more important than the story itself.  A monotonous storyteller can easily kill a dynamic story whereas a skilled storyteller can make a familiar tale seem fresh and sexy.
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« Reply #3 on: January 07, 2007, 05:02:53 AM »

I think dialogue and story is the most important part of any game I play. I can pick up a game with amazing combat, but if the characters and story doesn't compel me, I usually drop it after a couple of days. Though, even if a story is amazingly told, if the characters don't feel plausible or their reactions are...cardboard cutouts, I also have to put the game down.

The more I've played games, read books and watched movies, the more I've come to hate the RPG genre as a whole. So few games in this genre truly understand the magnitude of storytelling. The industry constantly tell their designers that story is only a means of getting a gamer from point A to point B. That it isn't an important key element in a game's construction. That's why you see a lot of boring, generic and often times, overused themes in any given game. Very few would dare do anything as innovative or dark as say The Machinist.

There's also the problem of Japanese storytelling being conformed and localized to a North American style for our shores. The few that are brought to our side of the world tend to be bastardized to fit into the culture that they deem suitable for our populace. This is one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to go into the game industry as a designer. To emphisize the importance of story and characters in the games I created and I hope to bring more of the RPG world into our very capable hands here in North America. Instead of stripping Japanese RPG stories to fit our culture, I think its about time we stood up and made RPGs ourselves. KoTOR is a good example of an amazing story told in a very NA fashion and I think our industry needs more of it.

On the subject of books and movies...I can sit through a really bad movie just to laugh and take notes on what not to do. Usually these are the movies like Bloodreyne and Doom...I just have to laugh and watch through it at least once.

Books...I will not do more than read 10 pages. If after these 10 pages I am not engaged and want to know more, I put the book back or just through it into a corner. Writers like Tad Williams and Terry Brooks are often showered with praises, but I can't digest their style. I love an author who has a vocabulary diverse and verbose, but when they bog you down with how many rocks are in the stream, I think that's a little much. When half the book is just them flexing their literary muscles...I don't have time for it.
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Dincrest
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« Reply #4 on: January 07, 2007, 12:06:12 PM »

Kiem, do you play point-and-click adventures or visual novels at all?  Those games IMO have more involved and better stories than any RPG and always better writing IMO.  RPG tales are limited anyway because of their gameplay mechanics (there has to be physical combat), but some of the most amazing stories I've experienced in video games are in point-and-click games like The Longest Journey (the dialogue was incredibly good) or visual novels like Ever17 or Hourglass of Summer (again, excellent writing.)  

Thing is, those kinds of games rely on their stories to anchor them more than gameplay.  If the story sucks in a point-and-click, then even the most clever puzzles won't save it.  Case in point: Normality for PC.
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« Reply #5 on: January 07, 2007, 02:50:21 PM »

But I don't see why we can't do that for RPGs...there's always a way to make story engaging, even if you /must/ have some form of combat. I just think that story-telling is an art that must be enforced in ALL games.
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Dincrest
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« Reply #6 on: January 07, 2007, 04:31:53 PM »

Maybe not sports or puzzle games, though.  I don't think those types really need much of a story.  

Although the story mode in Ridge Racer R4 was pretty cool.  Namco did a good job with the writing in that one.  And I will admit that among fighting games, Soul Blade had the absolute best story mode.  

I agree that there is always a way to make stories engaging.  After all, given the limits of the human experience, one can only tell so many types of stories in so many ways, but we still get really engaged by movies, books, games, etc. that may tell a familiar story in an engaging way.  

Either way, I think the conclusion we can draw is that bad scripting/dialogue can have a negative impact on the media experience.  It's just how much of a negative impact depends on personal factors.
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« Reply #7 on: January 08, 2007, 01:29:36 PM »

Book example:
Right now I am reading Dragons of the Dwarven Depths. This book is horribly written, and has had countless typos. The only reason I will continue to read the book is because it has characters in it that I hold in high regard from books I read a long time ago. Reading this makes me wonder if those books were truly as good as I thought they were at the time.

Game example:
Dragon Quest VIII - For the most part this was a pretty ordinary game. The translation, on the other hand, was outstanding. As a result, the game was elevated above the norm.


Good writing makes everything better.
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« Reply #8 on: January 08, 2007, 06:26:14 PM »

As a man with a high degree of art appreciation in many aspects, one of them is writing style and quality. Because of this I am highly cynical and bitter toward bad writing since I consider my own style to be pretty sassy, and know I could do a better job myself most of the time.

Whenever I think "Hey this is good writing, I couldn't come up with some of this shit." I consider it to be very good. Tales of Symphonia is definitely one of the best games I've played that fits in that category. I mean, what the fuck, "What's a philanderer? Can I eat it?"

Lloyd was badass.

All of FF6's cast was as stale, and as deep as cardboard.
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« Reply #9 on: January 10, 2007, 12:30:52 AM »

Having great writing in a role playing game can help but it isn't the most important part. I say this because just looking at most of the RPGs I've played its obvious that most of them have either shitty or average/sub-par stories. Even so the stories in many of these games are still good enough to keep my interest. I believe the reason for this comes down to two words: drama and emotion.

If you design some cool looking villians and heroes and build them up to be really evil or really good throughout the game using cutscenes and then maybe throw in a love interest and some comedic relief and you have a good story. I believe this is why I can still stand so many rpgs and why some people can watch crappy anime that I can't stand. Bad writing could still screw this up but you'd have to suck pretty bad to do that, in which case you shouldn't be getting paid to write. At least that's my opinion.

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KoTOR is a good example of an amazing story told in a very NA fashion and I think our industry needs more of it.

I don't want to get too off topic but I just have to say I hated Kotor as a game. I'd say Diablo and similar games are better examples of good North American RPGs.
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Angelo
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« Reply #10 on: January 11, 2007, 03:10:47 PM »

I guess what's most important in a game is the fun factor, which sometimes necessitates good storytelling, and sometimes doesn't.

I would've declared Xenogears a total piece of shit without the excellent story, so I'd consider it pretty important there.  But I enjoyed playing Grandia 3 even in full recognition of its awfulness at storytelling.  Grandia 2 had both fun gameplay and good scripting, so of course a good story will boost the fun of a game that's already good.  Shadow Hearts is the same, though I'd say it depends on its story to sustain the creepy setting.  In summary, importance is not an easy thing to qualify.  Also, we'd be screwed if story were important to every RPG.  :-P

On a related note, games are a good gig for a fantasy author.  Instead of trudging through pages upon pages of text describing some creature or landscape, we can really see it.  Crafting a setting is one area where graphics improvements really do some good.  Grandia 3's landscapes are so excellent that I really felt as though I were there.  However, it can be a double-edged sword for the author.  With the setting fully-rendered, what's left?

I think a lot of game authors tend to write themselves into a cage, by working out where characters will go and what they'll do before figuring out who they are.  In Grandia 2, the personalities carry the story, and Grandia 3 is what you get when you take that away.  In Xenogears, the circumstances are nigh insignificant to the Fei/Elhaym relationship, which is exactly how it should be.  When you let circumstances dictate who your characters are, you wind up with nothing of value out of the lot of them.

There's a distinct lack of meaningful conversation in a lot of these stories.  Instead of real thoughts or feelings, it's more often like so:

Lawlbeer: You were just lusting for power right then, weren't you?
Rashe: Was not!  I....wasn't....just....thinking about how I want power so much I could explode and disintegrate these tiny shorts that're barely hanging on my body....no, I'm not lusting...
Lawlbeer: Are too!
Rashe: So what if I am?  Can't a girl blow the clothing off her body now and then?
Redass: If you do, your woe will be your own.
(Disclaimer: this is a dramatization.  The real thing is more ridiculous.)

Call me old fashioned, but I like my characters to act like real persons, not embodiments of some textbook concept.  I've come to appreciate the games that get this right.

Wait, what were we talking about?  :)
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Dincrest
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« Reply #11 on: January 11, 2007, 03:19:26 PM »

I wonder if a game would be a better medium for a fantasy playwright than a fantasy novelist.  I think in many ways, the games seem to function more like plays than novels in various ways.
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« Reply #12 on: January 11, 2007, 03:53:19 PM »

Final Fantasy Tactics is a good example of a plot that played out like a stage drama, especially the whole Delita/Ovelia thing.  I think a lot of dramas play on the chaos of human interaction and let people draw their own conclusions.  But a number of RPGs build on each experience to form some sort of message, which is more what novels do.  What causes problems is when the author uses the characters to that end, effectively reducing them to parts of a machine.

I think an RPG benefits from both the drama and the journey.  They have to operate in the same world, but neither should depend too much on the other.

(btw, isn't 'fantasy playright' an oxymoron?  Those authors usually invent other races and creatures in order to talk about humanity as a high-level concept and escape the whole 'human interaction' thing.  :-P)
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