Blizzard: Game Developers Are Not Shakespeare, Need to Stop 'Writing Books' in Games

By Nick Breckon and Chris Faylor, Mar 26, 2009 4:36pm PDT During a presentation at this year's Game Developers Conference, former World of Warcraft director Jeffrey Kaplan took a moment to address the lengthy exposition that plagues numerous games, including those developed by Blizzard.

"Basically, and I'm speaking to the Blizzard guys in the back: we need to stop writing a fucking book in our game, because nobody wants to read it," he explained.

"We need to deliver our story in a way that is uniquely video game," Kaplan, who left WoW to work on Blizzard's next MMO, explained. "We need to engage our players in sort of an inspiring experience, and the sooner we accept that we are not Shakespeare, Scorsese, Tolstoy or the Beatles, the better off we are."

However, Kaplan did offer consolation to his fellow developers. "If it makes us feel better, Shakespeare couldn't 3D model his way out of a paper bag," he noted.

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29 Threads | 89 Comments

  • "We need to deliver our story in a way that is uniquely video game,"

    This is the key to what he's saying; not that there should be no story, he just doesn't think filling in the story as a wall of text (or lengthy speech) is the way to do it.

    The problem with implementing this into an MMO (most current ones anyway) is that the designers are limited in how they can tell the story through subtler, more interactive ways. the requirement that all the thousands of players on the server must be able to have the same experience means you can only do so much to directly involve a player in the story. from what i've heard (i haven't played WotLK) blizzard made some steps forward in this in the latest expansion, using instancing to create more immersive interaction with quests.

    imo, the only real way to do this right is to have procedurally generated, unique quests and decent AI. when a player does one of these quests, it stays done and the effects persist in the world (the village you saved recognises you as a hero, the burnt out goblin camp you destroyed remains). i think this is the ideal of what Kaplan is talking about: you don't need the quest givers to say anything other than 'omg, goblins ate my baby!', you go searching for their camp, pick up their trail (chewed baby parts?), maybe bump into and join forces with some other players, get ambushed on the outskirts of their camp, fight your way into it, maybe find a note on the cheiftans body which spawns another dynamically generated quest, return to the village a hero. thats how you involve characters in story in a game.

    this may sound like a standard WoW quest but imo the experience instantly loses any sense of 'story' when i see the whole goblin camp respawn behind me as i'm striding away, or get back to the village, get congratulated for my victory and then see the quest giver wailing about her poor baby to some other schmuck. when i come back through the village in 6 months time and the village hails me (only me!) as their hero and offers me their daughters, and i'm like 'oh yeah, i remember this place', THAT is story.

    i recognise the technical challenges of this but i think the tech is feasible for the next generation of MMOs.

  • Its not so much the fact that story does not have a place in a game, its more the medium in which that story is told. For instance in the start of a game where the developers literally just tell you the story and show the text, almost straight from the user's manual. Would it not be easier to tell the story through the perspective of the character?

    If your making a zombie game, try avoiding laying out a huge history of some horrible military experiment going wrong in some narrated text or even cut scenes. Instead, display the back story in-game, such as a group of people hunkered down in a bunker listening to a radio or watching a television trying to find any news they can. Place newspapers around the room scattered around with large headlines and images. This greatly enhances a sense of immersion.

    Tell the story using the medium of the game, don't span into the medium of books (unless your game revolves around them intentionally like Myst). it only takes a little more creativity and more programming, and it is totally worth it. Like the in-engine cut scenes used by Gears of War.

  • As far as I can tell, the problem with the writing in games like WoW is that it's ridiculously obtuse. Yes, it's a fantasy game, we get it. You don't need to write every goddamn thing in Ye Olde Impenetrable Englishe. That puts people off if they're not willing to spend ages decoding what the developers are trying to say, especially when they're forced by common sense to keep the vital words for a quest direct and to-the-point; people will just scan for the important words and ignore the rest.

    Deliver it in a way that is not a chore to read.

  • His comment has been referenced out of context here so it's no wonder no one understands. He's referring to game developers being verbose with written texts that the player MUST read in order to figure out what to do next. The actually reference is to quest design in WoW and the fact that they sometimes got rather wordy making it difficult for the player to understand what their objective and where to find it was.
    As Yahtzee said in his review of Mass Effect, the best way to deal with dialog is succinct and punch it, or just get to the point and let the player decide if they really want to get in to the lore.