Generally, when writing a story based on a pre-existing piece of work, it’s a good idea to have a thorough understanding of the subject matter before you get started. If the story is centered around World War II, it’s probably a good idea to get all the names and facts correct, otherwise one could have a very angry veteran or two after them. Or if writing a story based on a pre-established mythology, then wants to make sure that they are accurate to maintain a sense of legitimacy.
On the rare occasion that someone writes a story based on a video game, then the same rule generally applies. Depending on the title, one would run the risk of alienating and possibly insulting the title’s many fans if they don’t stick to its story. Oddly enough, though, this apparently doesn’t apply to the writer of Gears of War 3 and the Gears of War novels, one Karen Traviss. As it turns out, Ms. Traviss has never even played a Gears of War game in her life.
According to Traviss, she prefers to go into her stories “cold”, knowing as little as possible about the mythos before getting to work. She explained that all of the information she got on the Gears of War universe was based solely on the visuals. Traviss would look at the images and artwork of the game, then create the story by imagining what it would be like to be in the situations presented in those visuals:
“The thing about Gears, and the thing about anything I work on, is that I must come to it cold. The less I know about something, the better. For me, so much of the back story lies only in the visuals, the art. Images are the most important thing I can extrapolate from.
“The best way I can describe it is like an aerial recon image. These guys that process the image that come back from recon satellites and aircraft? They go through it with a fine-tooth comb, they work out what those things on the ground are. That’s what I’m like when I see an image from a game. The imagery of Gears is such that when you look into the environments, I want to walk into that world and down those paths.”
This is certainly an unorthodox method of writing, but it hasn’t hurt Traviss’s success. In addition to her work on the Gears of War series, she’s written novels for both the Star Wars and Halo series (with the upcoming Halo: Glasslands bridging the gap between trilogies), so she must be doing something right to earn that level of attention from other big-name franchises.
Traviss is no stranger to military experience, having served in both the Territorial Army and the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service in her native England. When combining that with her self-confessed addiction to popular web series Red vs. Blue, it’s no surprise Traviss has quickly become one of the more well-known writers in the industry today.
Do you think Traviss’ writing manages to avoid this potential pitfall, or would you rather see games and novels written by an unabashed gamer?