Thursday, September 2, 2010

The 3D People and Their Magical 2D World

If you're half as nerdy as me, you might have tried to write stories that take place inside your favorite video games. If you're really nerdy then the games in question are probably really obscure, and if that's the case then this probably isn't the blog for you.

I'm not talking about old video games like Pitfall or Pac Man (cough), but rather more recent games (circa 1990 at least). At first glance, a video game with a good story or good universe can be quite appealing to write about. If you remember games like Decent, Commander Keen, King's Quest, Space Quest and Cosmic Cosmo, then you're old enough to appreciate the tender deliciousness of games that helped stimulate the imagination of my childish mind.

Ur, childish because I was a child when those games came out. Literally childish.

You have to remember that most of those old games didn't have much in the way of story except maybe a screen or two of poorly-written narrative set in some grainy 16-bit font.

Even if I could have read the story, which I couldn't, I would have found a rather thin excuse to have the player collect the Red Key Card or kill snails or defeat Mordak. Well, King's Quest actually had a pretty good story. There was actually a pretty good reason to defeat Mordak.


As a young player of these games, I was interested in making the characters from the games have additional adventures. I wasn't trying to make an expanded universe or add impressive self-inserts of myself; I guess I just wanted new levels. I could kind of reach that goal via writing. It always turned out awful, but thad whad Id ecpect frm a chlid hoo culdn't spelle very well.

Fast forward to Christmas 2004 when my family finally got DSL and I got a new game for Christmas called World of Warcraft. You know where this is going.

Long story short, I played the heck out of the game, and eventually tried my hand at writing inside the universe. It's not the worst thing in the world; I'm definitely not the first person to try this kind of thing. After all, Warcraft has enough story to fill several hundred books and enough fans to fill a convention center.

Like at Blizzcon.

For anyone who has tried to write a story inside the universe created by a video game, there are a few things to know:

  1. The designers make gameplay decisions based on how fun they are, not on how accurate they are to real life.

  2. The world is sized to make it fast to walk from place to place, not to make it as big as a real planet.

  3. Everything is streamlined.

For a person trying to write a story inside the game, they're going to encounter these weird hurdles in their storytelling process. If I were just starting out writing a story, lets say it's in Warcraft and I set it in Stormwind, I'm not picturing a real city when I write; I'm picturing the city from the game, which is laughably small compared to a real city. There's no infrastructure. There's no economy; heck, there aren't even people living there.

Now let me just clarify: I don't want people saying, “you just like getting bogged down in the minute details of stupid crap like this, William! It's not relevant to the story!”

I'm not trying to say that you're supposed to add all of the boring things that I've just mentioned, but when you're picturing Stormwind, again, you're picturing the one in the game. If you want to write a more authentic story, you have to imagine a real medieval city, though one that contains magic and stuff. Lets make an illustration.

Lets say that I'm writing a story that's taking place inside a universe that I'm making up. It's completely my own. When I tell you that there's a huge city in the story called Whirlgate, the capital of the Highland nation of Men. It's built on top of a mountain and its buildings scatter down the cliffs, which have been quarried. As they descend the mountain, the buildings become smaller and smaller; the downtown area near the top gives way to residential hovels made of white stone toward the bottom. To keep the wind down, there is a massive twenty foot wall surrounding the entire city. It zigzags up and down the cliff in a strange, random-looking layout.

If your imagination is working properly (and if my writing isn't garbage), then hopefully you pictured something that might exist in the real world. Maybe it looked a little bit like something from Lord of the Rings, but still, it was real. When I say Stormwind you're going to be picturing that location in the game. Static. Polygonal. Video game. This is why I always prefer to make something up from scratch instead of fanficking myself into the corner.

To complicate matters, if your audience is also familiar with the game, they're going to picture the video game version of the city, no matter how flowery and descriptive your language is. This kind of thing happened to me when I read Howl's Moving Castle after seeing the animated feature; I couldn't NOT see the characters as Japanese animation in my head.

Though the movie is still fantastic.

I guess the point of all this is that I don't recommend writing stories inside games. I'm not saying to never do it; you might find you're quite good at it and that I'm full of hot air. If anything, it'll be a helpful learning experience that you can put toward your further writing successes.

(Also, since I didn't have anything Wednesday, I'm posting Friday's blog a few hours early as a sort of "please forgive me" bonus!)


  1. Oooh. Good one. I know personally I won't touch a story if it is obviously being based off a game/movie/etc. that I don't like or think is really lame, no matter how much I might like the author.

  2. You know I love it when you write about games. In fact it cracks me up so see how you thought as a kid. I am glad you know that you did introduce us to WOW and I would play if I had the time. You make it sound so good.

  3. I remember that, it's like half of your brain goes into creative overdrive while the other half is working on timing the jumps and counting the coins in the videogame.

    You could do a whole journal entry on how to read a book and watch a movie based on the same concept. I have to struggle hard not to compare Howl's Moving Castle the book and Howl's Moving Castle the movie, they're both fantastic in completely different ways.

  4. I am visiting fro Kim's blog, and I can see why she is so proud of your writing skills, you are very talented.