Faint Praise

Or, what I’ve been reading (in a way) for a long time, and never really talked about. In a way, writing for video games is a difficult and thankless task. No-one praises the writers of these games, despite the fact that they create some fantastic stories. And the stories they write are often more involving, smarter and funnier than a lot of films and books that I’ve sat through. I’m going to spotlight some of the finer scripts in gaming, along with the writers that deserve your love. Warning, spoilers abound.

Hiroyuki Owaku and Takayoshi Sato wrote one of the first games that really showed me how smart gaming could be. Silent Hill 2 still comes back to me in conversations about games that really know what they’re doing. The story stays simple throughout, James, a widower heads to the town of silent hill after recieving a letter from his (very dead) wife asking to meet him there. The game is never really about fighting or exploring, more the build up of utter terror. There are large sections where you are simply walking down corridors, whilst the music builds up and up and voices emit from doorways. Most of the game involves you expecting something horrible to happen. The writnig really succeeds in the end in which you come to realise that Silent Hill is a kind of limbo or hell that you have trapped yourself in having murdered your wife. It’s this twist that stays with you, having controlled this character, been in control of his actions and decisions – keeping him alive – and this discovery, that he’s actually a pretty horrible man, makes you question all those decisions you made.

The Uncharted series of games really are the pinnacle of action storytelling, and indeed, the closest thing to really be described as an interactive movie. Just take a look at the trailers for Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3 and see if they don’t seem more like a film than anything. The stories themselves are close to Indiana Jones tales, each with their own macguffin that stems from the annals of history. Uncharted succeeds because its characters are realistic, funny and well rounded and above all, despite each game has the same (and increasingly expanded) cast, they are never shoehorned in. Each character has a viable reason for existing in the storyline. The highlights? Early in Uncharted 2, breaking into a museum to steal an artefact with an old friend, only for him to betray you – and later on towards the end, replicating that same event, but this time, he has a gun to your head. The way in which the game repeats certain lines as a callback from the opening scene, just shows the skill that went into crafting these brilliant titles.

Finally, Grim Fandango, one of the finest games ever to be created. With a truly brilliant story to accompany it, this point and click game is part Casablanca, part dark cartoon, with a workman-like Grim Reaper who gets caught up in a dastardly plot to extort the newly dead. The story is engrossing, epic and very very funny. It also has a method of dispatching dead folk called ‘flowering’, which is one of the finest ideas in a creative medium.

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