Steve Ince – Interview

The man of the hour (or at least the twenty minutes we spoke for)

Steve Ince is one of the most prolific names in the videogames industry, having worked as a freelance writer and consultant game designer in a career spanning over twenty years.

Steve is renowned for his writing on the Broken Sword series, which he worked on at York-based company Revolutionary Software (originally based in Hull), and has written for a number of popular titles including The Witcher series and the So Blonde adventure titles.

You’re well known for your work as a writer in the industry. Was that where you started out?

“It’s funny because I kind of gave up the idea of writing years before joining the industry as the art side took over. I took my portfolio of work along to my first job and was asked to do a trial period an old 286 PC, which I’d not had much experience working on, and converting to Amiga graphics, too.

“I had to grapple with a lot of complex software during my early days, which was crazy but it was great fun. It taught me so much about the subtleties of animation, which I used to work on the background animation of Beneath a Steel Sky.”

Background painting in Beneath a Steel Sky: just some of the fruits of Steve's artistic labours
Background painting in Beneath a Steel Sky: just some of the fruits of Steve’s artistic labours

Storytelling has lived on through the rise and fall of a number of technologies. Do you think the writing process for games has changed because of these technologies?

“Writing is about telling stories about characters and trying to find that human connection. People have been telling stories for thousands of years, and the core way that we tell stories hasn’t changed, just how we present these stories to the player.

“We’ve had a proliferation of platforms, all of which have given players different ways of connecting to a game and changed the way we interact with players, but the fundamentals of storytelling are still more or less the same.”

Virtual reality: a step forward for interactivity in games, a step back in trying to not look like a dunce

Some of the stories told in games could also be told in a different medium. What is it that makes yourself or others writers write these stories for video games?

“Different media have different approaches to storytelling and the way that they engage with their audience. I’ve written stories for comics, games and novels, and when you come up with an idea, you know where the best fit is.

“Of course, it’s never made up of just one thing. You’ve got a mixture of character and plot ideas, location concepts, and the basic storytelling components, so it’s about deciding where all of those would be best placed.”

Steve, thank you for donating this gem of a story series to video games.
I speak for many in saying that I’m glad this ‘mixture of ideas’ was born and lived on as a video game

Recently there’s been a big rise in interactive narratives, like those of Telltale Games, where player choice is important to changing the story. How much should changing the story be left in the hands of the player compared to those of the developer?

“Sometimes you have a very specific story that you want to tell, and so you might choose to give the player some agency for making decisions during the game and creating their own path, but ultimately there’s a goal that needs to be achieved when it comes to the story.

“The real strength of video games is that we have this potential to deliver stories that nobody else is doing, because there’s there’s no one way of doing it. Everything is different, and we should allow everything to be different.”

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Telltale has made its mark telling rich stories, and providing many ‘dem feelz’ moments like this

A lot of games allow players to customise their own character, for example, but these characters might have a pre-set backstory. How do you cope as a writer when faced with challenges such as this?

“As a writer, you need to write in a way that delivers the best and adapt accordingly. More emphasis might be placed in areas where the creative team has more control, such as world-building in RPGs, which explains the shallowness of characters in these types of games.

“Of course, this can go completely the other way, where too much emphasis is placed on discovering the backstory, something which is all too common in some recent games.”

Great world, shallow characters... yup, sounds about right!
Great world, shallow characters… yup, sounds about right!

How do you want the industry to respond to these and similar challenges, and where do you want to see the writer at the end of that?

“I think that we need to see more stories that don’t require violence. The violent games might have very engaging gameplay, but there are other ways to have engaging gameplay without rehashing some of the characteristics that have come in games before, particularly in the 90s.

“It’s a difficult position when you’re not getting millions in publisher funds, but you can easily explore stories on a budget of £100,000 and get real-world emotion and acting, like games such as Her Story have done with filmed footage.”

Are writers alone enough to change this from being the 'industry norm'?
The main culprit at question – can the industry change old habits?

Project ‘IGN Freelance’ – Take Two

xbox

So earlier this year, I wrote a little something on my blog called ‘Project ‘IGN Freelance’, where I submitted three samples to the titan entertainment website that is IGN in the hope of becoming a budding freelancer.

To put it bluntly, my project failed, as my samples weren’t accepted. But before you form a virtual angry mob on my behalf (I can dream, can’t I?), the project now returns from the depths of January 2014, as IGN have put out another advert for the job.

Are my creative juices enough to secure me the position? Will these three samples be the key to unlocking my freelancing future? Need I be so overdramatic?

Stay tuned to find out!

You Suck.

I’m relatively new to the blogging world, but I can already say that it’s a fun place to be. If something, anything at all, sparks an interest in me? Then I tend to transition that from my head, onto my ‘iPad’, and just blog it! The self-satisfaction that follows from clicking that ‘send’ button is incredibly rewarding. Seeing your views for the day go up, a ‘like’ here and a ‘like’ there, it makes the time you spent creating that idea worthwhile. In my own little world, I want everyone to enjoy reading it and just say to me ‘Woooo Adrian, that was a great post, nothing wrong whatsoever!’. But realistically – that won’t always happen. One of my friends said that a previous post of mine wasn’t quite to their taste and, well… I kind of ‘spat my dummy out’, so to speak!

And it got me thinking, this was only a piece of constructive criticism to improve my writing skills. Sure it took me a while to see that, but not everyone takes a negative point well. This question kept running through my head at this point: Should we be always be good at taking criticism, or is it okay to be a little sour?

Nine times out of ten I’d agree with the first one. If someone makes a mature criticism of something you’ve done, rather than ‘sugar coating’ it, then you’d accept the advice that’s given to you, become the better person, and just learn from your mistakes in future circumstances. But then that bit of criticism comes along once in a while that you can’t agree with, can’t learn from, and just don’t feel it’ll make you a better person. At all.

Immature mode = on.

If someone attempts to criticise you with something like ‘This is just stupid, your point isn’t necessary… You suck’, this is not a reasonable point at all. Can you learn from this? Not really. Can you respond in an inappropriate way? Ohhhhh yes! Here are a few ways to do so:

1.Continuously spam the words ‘Thank You’. This means you have considered their point of view… Or so they think?

2.If you know another language, speak it – this will hopefully confuse the critic, and make them move on to criticise someone else.

3.Repeat everything they say – simple, yet effective.

Now that’s what I like to call ‘Destructive Criticism’! It’s fun in certain circumstances, but in all seriousness, if someone wants to make you a better person using constructive criticism? Don’t do the above, consider their point of view and use it to grow as a person.

Hopefully this post appears a good read, but also it answers the myths of criticism!

‘…That’s A Word?’

The English language really baffles me at times. My friend’s English teacher once told him that pretty much anything can be classed as a word. ‘Anything, sir?’. ‘If it uses our alphabet’s letters, then… then yes, anything!’. He attempted to justify his point with the noise a baby makes (he even did an impression, which went something like *agooooo*); funnily enough, this won over my friend!

Almost all of the words that have a place in the dictionary have some justification for being there. They are  plausible, and can be applied in a social context. Though some words I’ll come across, and I feel the need to read them twice because I’m convinced that they are not real words. ‘How on earth did that get there?’ I ask myself, but given a bit of time I’ll put my ignorance aside and accept that it is a real word.

But then, that ‘trending’ word that just doesn’t appear to make sense sneakily makes its way into our surrounding dictionaries. I read an article that was recently posted on The Telegraph last night, and boy was it a face-palm moment. Collin’s English Dictionary receive thousands of submissions for newly created words on a regular basis, from the enthusiastic to just the down right mind-boggling. But from a bit of persistence, two new creations have officially made it into our vocabulary. Brace yourselves…

‘Amazeballs’ and ‘Lolz’.

Two words that i hear just about everywhere, and two cringe-worthy ones at that! However, I’ll have to accept that they’re now a part of our everyday vocabulary. The silliness of them aside, it is quite cool that with enough enthusiasm and persistence, Collins are willing to add pretty much ANY new word to the dictionary. They stated that “as the pace of change within the English language continues to accelerate, the contributions by eagle-eyed and sharp-eared word-spotters will become increasingly important.” Food for thought – will the next generation and the generation after that be sprouting a whole new range of words? It just makes you wonder how much of your own language you will actually recognise.

So there you have it – start getting creative and make your own contribution to the English speaking world! Just not ‘yolo’, please anything but ‘yolo’…

Day One

And today – a blogger was born! I created this blog a few months ago so that I could do an Economics project, and I’ve not thought anything of it since;  but I have aspirations to climb the blogging ladder that I now stand at the bottom of. I’m thinking of becoming a journalist when I grow up, so my life will be write, write, write. Day One starts here, and blogging is a great way for anyone to gain some writing skills, heck, even blow off a bit of steam on a subject that’s on your mind! I’m dubbed with the ‘amateur’ title at the minute – fingers crossed that I get somewhere in this giant blogosphere.