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Rant – Stealing from writers? Why not pay them…

The tale of Robert Crais suing Activision over similarities between his books and the game True Crime begs the question: If Activision didn’t do it, why the hell not?

No, I’m not advocating plagiarism in the gaming industry. I’m merely suggesting that if the game does bear a certain, er, homage to Crais, why not actually hire the writer to develop dialogue and story elements? Videogames are big business, and they have a few bucks to devote to their marquee titles.

Sure, “real” authors don’t understand that cut scenes need to be short and convey multiple goals such as story progression, character and hints/foreshadowing in very few words. They can learn, though, and most screenwriters already have these skills. And many game developers still haven’t mastered them. See Blood Omen 2 for an example of cut scenes that go on for freakin’ ever! Oh, and you can’t skip them…

There are exceptions. Fantasy/sci-fi author Eric Nylund works at Microsoft on many games, including the upcoming Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge. But that’s an anomaly, even there. My point is that the writing in videogames is still mostly amateur hour. Many companies (including the big M) employ temporaries and treat writing as scut work, and it shows. Or worse: Game designers and developers, skilled at play mechanics and code but not much else, write it themselves.

There’s a mistaken belief that writing is easy probably because anyone can put words down on paper or type them into a Web page or Word document. But it takes a professional writer — an artist in his or her own right — to assemble compelling character and story arcs in neat, succint packages and select the best words that develop characters and engage players.

Games that have become successful franchises often have the best stories and cinema-quality dialogue. Look at Jak & DaxterHalo, heck, even Grand Theft Auto. If you’re producing Max Payne and you’re going for a dark noir comic book flair, why not employ the skilled pen of graphic novelist Alan Moore? Sure, Max Payne 2 will make a few bucks based on its name and style of gameplay, but invest some dollars where it matters and who knows what kind of hit you’ll have?

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