Monthly Archives: October 2007

The verdict is in! Game reviews of The Witcher

We are thrilled to finally see the release of THE WITCHER in the U.S. What a stunning debut for CD Projekt RED!

Mostly, we are grateful to have been given this opportunity to participate in the development of a groundbreaking RPG. It’s always been obvious to us that this game was a labor of love for the developers, who brought these best-selling novels to life for the world audience. Thank you, CD Projekt RED, and thank you, Atari. We hope the reviews continue to be as laudatory as the ones we’ve seen so far. Everyone who worked late nights on this project deserves it.

X6 (Norway) – 6/6
(“The Witcher is perhaps the most open and non-linear RPG I’ve ever played, when it comes to the story. And the fact that your choices have big consequences makes it truly exciting. “)

Joystick review (France) 9/10 + Megastar award
(” “Forget everything you know about RPG’s. Intense and deep…The Witcher is the new reference for RPG’s”)

PC Jeux review (France) 90% + ‘Hit PC Jeux’ award

Games Extreme (UK) – 9/10
(“This is one game that I can truly say deserves to be the best PC RPG of the year, even though 2007 is almost over, if not that then the best PC RPG period. “)

Games Radar (UK) – 9/10
(“Most noteworthy are the cutscenes, which have been storyboarded and edited with real cinematic flair and, together with the voiceovers and script, make The Witcher one of the best examples of interactive fiction we’ve enjoyed.”)

IGN (US) – 8.5/10 + IGN Editors’ Choice Award
(“The Witcher really is a good game and one that PC RPG fans will surely enjoy. It combines some entertaining and fast-paced combat with a well realized world and pretty decent story that branches and can end in three different fashions.”)

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Nipples! The Witcher UK

For those of you who aren’t in the know, the PC game the WITCHER came out in the UK on October 26th and came out today in the US. The two versions have one subtle difference. The UK game includes pictures of women in the nude.

We can chalk up this difference to the puritan morality that still pervades much of the US. I think it’s more a question of what you’re used to. Once upon a time, I watched the original British version of Queer As Folk. Let’s just say it’s a bit graphic. Now I wasn’t scandalized by what I was watching, but what I couldn’t get over was that it appeared on the public airwaves. Plunged into the depths of cognitive dissonance, I couldn’t stop repeating, “They put this on television?” Clearly the US and Europe are on different pages.

When Sande and I worked on the WITCHER and came across his multiple sexcapades, we were amused by the idea. We admittedly had a few discussions on the appeal of the WITCHER’s main character, Geralt. A man who can’t get a woman pregnant, nor could he give her any disease, he has lots of experience and is certain to be out of your hair within a few days. Draw your own conclusions 😉 However, for the part of the Witcher we worked on, our job was to make the language consistent with Sapkowski’s fantasy world. Although we had nothing to do with “taking out the dirty bits,” the decision certainly makes business sense.

Ultimately, if you want nipples, there are plenty of places to see them. I’m just sayin’. However, if you’re American, you want to save a few dollars on the exchange rate, and don’t want to be plunged into the cognitive dissonance of thinking, “They put this in a game?” go ahead and get the US version. We don’t judge.

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Working in a team: respect and ego

You walk into the room, sit down, and wait till the others file in.  As everyone sits down, you can already feel a tingle in the air.  Your lead maps out exactly where the writing needs to go, and inspired, the group leaps into action.  As each person offers up an idea, another person adds to it, or morphs it slightly into something bigger and better.  Everyone feels included.  Whenever a disagreement comes up, the group solves it quickly and with tact.  The time flies by.  Before you know it, you have a working concept that everyone is excited about.  You can’t wait to get to work!

Okay, so this scenario doesn’t always happen, but it’s great to keep this vision in mind as you begin working with a team.  You will need to do your part to achieve this ideal.  The keys?  Respecting others and managing your ego. 

Respect
While most learned it in kindergarten, respect is still a lesson worth reviewing.  Respect has an inner component as well as an outer one.  On the inside, respect involves not only respecting another person’s strengths, but also accepting their fallibilities with compassion, or at least a close approximation of it.  If you don’t fundamentally feel respect for the other person on the inside, it will appear in your verbal or non-verbal communication whether you intend it or not. 

The outer component involves communicating this respect to your team members.  Listening when another is speaking, straight from kindergarten, is just part of the equation.  Different types of people will view different types of behavior as respectful.  An extrovert might find a quiet e-mail critiquing an idea quite disrespectful, while an introvert would prefer this type of communication over a face-to-face conversation. 

Managing Ego
“Leave your ego at the door,” say many, but the key in a team situation is not to eliminate ego, but to manage it.  Too much ego, and you will find yourself in screaming matches over every little issue.  Too little ego, and you will either let others run right over you, or, much like your egotistical counterpart, end up screaming at the hint of criticism or change.   Taking steps to maintain a healthy ego will avoid the dangers of these two extremes, and help you choose your battles.

While you work on managing your own ego, you may be called upon to manage others’.  Again, different people will require different approaches.  For some, you may consistently need to call on them to bring out their ideas.  With others, you may have to ask them to give others a chance.  Even if you’re not leading the team, getting a firm feel of your teammates’ ego needs will come in handy when you need their help on one of your tasks.      

Although tips on managing specific personality types is beyond the scope of this post, numerous books on the subject are available.  If you don’t take much stock in the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types, consider exploring frameworks with only four basic personality types.  I read and found helpful More than Words: Nine silver rules for powerful yet considerate communication by Edward Horrell.  If you look, you’re certain to find an approach that works for you. 

When it comes to respect and ego, did I miss anything?  Is there some other key component in working in an ideal team that you think is missing?

Question Mark Last week’s game dialog came from Uru: Ages Beyond Myst. More Guess that Game Dialog to come!

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Collaborating in game writing: Putting it all together

You’ve got ownership, compromise, and consensus.  Now how do you use these tools with a team, from project to inception?  Here’s an example of how it could work.

Developing game story from scratch
The brainstorming session is ideal for following the consensus model.  At the beginning of a project, few concepts are so set in stone that there would be need for compromise.  Ownership under a head writer also works, as long as the team can be won over by either a) contributing to some integral issues through consensus or b) good salesmanship.

Major issues going forward
Even once the story has been decided, major issues will crop up, like how to approach a world or unique stories for major player types.  All three methods can get you to gold, depending on the number of people you have on your team and their ego needs.  For example, to approach a player story, you could use a consensus or compromise method to lay the basic groundwork, then assign ownership for each player type.  Conversely, you could give ownership on each player type.  Each writer would then be responsible for getting buy-in from other writers through consensus, compromise, or salesmanship.

Minor issues
By their very nature, minor issues, such as the proverbial color of a character’s dress, definitely can go under the guise of ownership.

The stretch to the finish
Ideally, as a project nears completion all issues will be minor ones, so the ownership method should lead the way.  However, if another major issue pops up, don’t ignore consensus, or compromise if pressed for time.  A return to these early methods may well keep relationships on track during the stressful time before ship.

Have you ever worked on a project without ownership?  Or used consensus at an odd stage of story development?  Let us know!  Next week — managing ego and expectations!

Question Mark Guess that game dialog! Today’s line: “Call it a quest — no, a request.” Check back next week for what game it came from.

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Collaborating in game writing: Ownership

This week we’re exploring collaborating in game writing.  We’ve already covered consensus and compromise, but now we move on to the hallmark of the game industry: ownership.  How does the concept of ownership mesh with collaborating in a team?  That’s what we’re here to find out.

Ownership as a way to manage teams has yet to hit the dictionaries, so I’ll do my best to define it.  Assigning ownership is the act of giving a project to one person who is ultimately responsible for its successful completion.  Ownership allows for writers to pour their passion into their work and take pride in it.  For that reason, ownership is a great way to manage ego and makes it easy to track progress, because there’s only one person to ask.  Finally, ownership allows a writer to tell his/her story without the drawbacks of working in committee. 

A writer with ownership of a project may act like a mini-producer, making sure systems, level design, and art can support the story, characters, and dialog.  Even if the writer isn’t coordinating with other types of developers, the writer with ownership may very well need to enlist other writers to complete the task at hand.  Here are a few tips on how a writer can do just that.   

1.  Practice good salesmanship – While you own a project, you will need to sell your ideas to everyone you enlist to aid you.  The more excited you can get them about your idea, the more time and effort they will put into it.  Remember, also, that good salesmanship does not end with the sale.  Follow-up with thanks for their work speaks volumes. 

2.  Ask for and listen to feedback from peers, with reservations – No matter how fabulous your story is, you will want to get feedback from your peers.  You don’t want to be making the big presentation when the company head points out the fundamental flaws in your story or character.  That said, as you ask for feedback, give the caveat that you are simply trying to get people’s impressions.  If you don’t take people’s feedback, they may feel shafted unless you warn them in advance.  These people may then be less inclined to help or give you feedback in the future.  If someone felt particularly strongly about an issue, explain to the best of your ability why you have chosen the route you are on without discounting their ideas.

3. Give as much as you receive –  While you may own a project, a team member may own another section.  You will probably want help to complete your project, so make sure to offer help on other team member’s projects.  You want to avoid a situation where everyone is slammed with work, because no one took the time to help each other in earlier stages.  Worse still, you don’t want to be the only team member who can’t finish your project because no one will help you.

4.  Don’t forget consensus and compromise – Just because you have ownership of your project doesn’t mean you can’t use these other tools.  Bolstering your position to the higher ups with the comment “We all agreed” can smooth the rough patches.

Once again, the simplistic example:  Joe is in charge of deciding the character’s dress color.  He wants it to be bright red, but elects to ask for and listen to feedback.  He helped Sally the other day, so he asks her her opinion, with the caveat he is simply looking for opinions.  Sally dislikes the color red, based on the idea that the character is more mysterious than seductive.  Joe finds her feedback valid and decides to combine his idea with hers.  He thanks her for her feedback and lets her know his color choice – dark, mysterious red.  Sally is pleased with his decision.  Alternately, Joe could decide that, since he has ownership of the character, she should wear bright red anyway.  He lets Sally know that he wants to emphasize her seductive nature and downplay her mysterious aspect.  He thanks Sally for helping him decide.  Sally shrugs, not in the least displeased, and they continue with their work.

When to use ownership:

  • When time is short
  • When a lot of work needs to be done and working on it concurrently makes sense
  • When most of the key issues have already been decided
  • When you need clear accountability

Drawbacks:  The biggest drawback with ownership comes from the term itself.  “Ownership” is misleading, because it implies that you have final say, when that is often far from the case.  When word comes down from on high or another department that something needs to be changed, the “owner” may feel marginalized, frustrated and stifled.  On top of that, these required changes may occur more frequently, because a writer with ownership may not be soliciting, receiving, or accepting the peer feedback he needs. 

An ownership system may also foster a tragedy of the commons.  Teamwork that is actually best done as a group may fall by the wayside or be done with less care while team members focus on “their” projects.  Teammates, no matter how good their intentions, often end up putting less time into helping others, because their own projects must take priority.  If you own a project, but are unable to enlist your teammates because they are busy with their projects, you are at fault.  After all, you are held accountable for the outcome of your project, not they.  

What has your experience been with ownership?  Good or bad?  Next we’ll explore how you can combine consensus, compromise, and ownership to see a project from beginning to end.

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Collaborating in game writing: Compromise

We’re continuing our exploration of collaborating in game writing.  We started yesterday with consensus, and today we tackle compromise.  Compromise has both negative and positive connotations.  You can compromise your values, while at the same time, being willing to compromise suggests you’re flexible, open-minded, and a good team player.  Love it or hate it, compromise plays an important role in game development and can be an effective tool in a writing team.

Returning to our good friend Merriam-Webster, compromise results in “a settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions.”  Like consensus, compromise leads to a decision that takes into account at least some of everyone’s concerns.  Unlike consensus, compromise often allows the group to make a decision quickly and move on.

The process for reaching compromise resembles consensus.  However, compromise often means taking less time delving into the reasons why a team member objects to a problem.  If concerns continue to arise, instead of working to achieve everyone’s “best case scenario,” a compromise allows everyone to agree to a scenario that works.  Avoid time-delayed compromise, such as “We’ll do it my way this time; next time we’ll do it your way.”  When next time comes, this compromise may long be forgotten. 

The simplistic example strikes back.  Joe and Sally are arguing over the character’s dress color.  Unfortunately, Joe and Sally can’t agree on the character’s personality.  Joe doesn’t think the character is all that mysterious, while Sally wants to avoid depicting the character as seductive.  While they do need to discuss the character more fully, they are pressed for time, and they would not be able to change much of the story if they revamp the character at this point.  Bob, another writer, suggests they compromise by emphasizing the character’s role, rather than her personality.  Since the character is a healer, they agree to dress her in green.  The solution works, so they agree and move on to more pressing concerns.  Although Joe and Sally didn’t get what they were most passionate about, they don’t feel like they lost more than they gave. 

When to compromise:

  • When time is short, but you still want others’ input
  • When the issue is important, but not a hill to die on

Drawbacks:  By cutting the baby in half, sometimes both parties are left feeling like they lost.  When the compromise is imposed from somewhere up the chain of command, writers may feel like the heart of their work has been torn out, leaving them to complain about it in ways that are counter to team-building.  Ultimately, you want to avoid compromising your game into mediocrity.   

Have any good stories about compromise, or horror stories?  Next we’ll be tackling that hallmark of the game industry: ownership.

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Collaborating in game writing: Consensus

Most games are not written by a lone ranger, sitting in his ivory tower, aloof from all others.  Ideally, writers work together, and how they work together in games sometimes requires different methods and vocabulary.  This week we’ll be exploring three such methods, including compromise and ownership.  But first, if you’re not familiar with it already, consensus is a great way to work in a team.

Merriam-Webster calls consensus “general agreement: unanimity” as well as “group solidarity in sentiment and belief.”  However, consensus is more than just an end result; it’s a decision-making process.  With a keen understanding of consensus, writers can improve not only the quality of their writing, but improve relationships with their teammates.

In practice, consensus allows each team member to contribute to and influence the process.  For example, most brainstorming sessions are run by consensus.  Team members can offer up ideas, which the group explores for as long as it’s fruitful.  The goal is to settle upon an idea that excites every member of the team.  Writers who have experienced successful sessions describe a lift in the entire room when they’ve hit on the right idea.  The energy spikes and smiles appear, making it one of the most gratifying aspects of working collaboratively.

The goal of consensus is to reach this “lift,” so it’s important to move on quickly from ideas that just aren’t hitting.  However, sometimes you will need to plough through an idea before discarding it, and disagreements will arise.  Fortunately, consensus allows for coming to a solution that literally makes everyone happy.

1.  Identify the issue at stake.  No matter who disagrees with the direction the story is headed, make sure you understand what specifically is causing contention.  “I don’t know, that sounds dumb” is not helpful.  If another person has a negative reaction to your story idea, ask, “What about this bothers you?”  You may have assumed it had to do with the character you have envisioned, but your teammate may actually just have an issue with a particular plot point.

2.  Allow everyone to describe their best case scenario.  In order to make everyone enjoy the solution, everyone has to share what they enjoy.  In the above case, your best case scenario may involve a scene where your character has a change of heart, while your teammate’s ideal scene would involve the character following the most logical path. 

3.  Find a solution that works for everyone.  At this point, brainstorm a solution that addresses everyone’s concerns.  If problems still arise, begin with step one, or try developing a new idea in its entirety.

Now for an overly simplistic example.  Joe and Sally are writers who must determine the color of a character’s dress.  Joe wants the dress to be red, and Sally wants the dress to be black.  Beginning with step one, Joe expresses he wants the dress to represent the character’s personality.  Sally agrees.  Moving on, Joe’s best case scenario involves the red dress representing the character’s seductive aspects.  Sally prefers seeing the more mysterious aspects of her personality, so she chose black.  Finally, they decide on a color that is both seductive and mysterious, and settle on a deep purple, or a subtle, dark red.  Most importantly, they are both happy with the choice and happen to feel it is better than their original ideas.   

Drawbacks: Consensus often works best with fewer people involved in the decision-making process.  A true consensus system may not give the recognition some writers need to manage their ego. 

Later this week we’ll explore compromise and ownership.  Have you had any success with consensus? 

Question Mark Last week’s game dialog came from Zork, of course!  More Guess that Game Dialog to come!

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