Even in the best of games, writing can often be something of an Achilles' heel. It's hardly surprising, considering the fact that video games are still a relatively young medium and writing for a video game comes with plenty of complications that don't crop up in linear storytelling, such as the need to write in tutorials that feel organic or to account for the fact that a player might experience a certain bit of dialogue 5, 10 or 20 hours into the game depending on how they play it.
Santa Monica-based studio Naughty Dog seems to have largely nailed the art of writing for video games, though that might be partly because titles like The Last of Us and the Uncharted series adhere to a fairly linear, cinematic style. Fresh off the success of The Last of Us, game directors Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley have moved on to the next Nathan Drake adventure story, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, in which the fortune hunter is a little older and wearier and finds himself teaming up with his long-lost brother, Sam.
Just like Nate, Druckmann has a little help this time around in the form of fellow writers Josh Scherr and Tom Bissell. To allay any concerns that the influence of The Last of Us might end up making Uncharted 4 a bit too dark and gritty, Druckmann and Scherr explain in a new interview with Game Informer that their collaboration will help balance out the tone of the game.
Druckmann: "I'm just not good at [writing jokes]. I would love to do it, I just can't... That's why I have Josh, Josh is the funny one."
Scherr: "The way I think of it is this: in the sensibility spectrum you have dark and you have light. I'd say Neil tends a little bit more towards the dark side and I tend a little bit more towards the light side."
Nathan Drake is probably Nolan North's best-known role, and North himself is easily one of the best-known video game voice actors working in the industry. Druckmann explains that Naughty Dog's process for recording in-game dialogue allows North to be the voice of Nathan Drake in more ways than one.
"What we actually do is, we write stuff for [Nolan], but then we also record somebody playing the game and we play that back for Nolan, and he watches it and he just gives us these off-the-cuff responses to what he's seeing. So a lot of the stuff that you saw in the demo... Some of it's just stuff that Nolan came up with on the spot when we were doing the voice recording...
"We always write and record more than we'll need. So we have, like, even for this demo there's twenty or thirty more quips that Drake makes on just, like, when he's climbing the piton wall, and we just pick one. But it's having those choices and knowing when there should be a quiet moment and we don't need anything here, but then here's something that Drake would comment on. And also understanding where that comes from for Drake, which is a defence mechanism. So when he gets scared or when he gets stressed, more of those quips come out."
It's notable that most of the talk about Uncharted 4 so far has focused on the characters - particularly the relationship between Sam and Nate - and almost nothing is known about the story other than the fact that it involves searching for pirate treasure. When discussing the exposition involved in laying out Nate's quests, Druckmann explicitly refers to the object of pursuit as the "MacGuffin" and makes it clear that the MacGuffin is not where his interest as a writer lies.
"Simple stories, complex characters... That's how it should be. I hate games that have all this extra exposition that's unnecessary and I love exploring complex relationships, so that's always what I strive for."
With regards to the upcoming The Last of Us movie, which Druckmann is penning the script for, the writer joked that he spends all of his waking hours writing Uncharted 4 and all of the hours when he should be sleeping writing The Last of Us. No one ever said that being a video game writer was a part-time job.
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End will release exclusively on PS4 in 2015.
Source: Game Informer