So I spent the entire day with Alex Epstein, our screenwriter this week, to finalize the script and storyline for Contrast. We spent the day at his place shuffling color-coded cards around and discussing the production costs involved in each scene, character development and player motivations until our heads hurt.
Making a game with a professional voice over cast and a strong narrative can be quite a challenge for a small independent shop (it significantly raises the production costs and stakes), but it’s rewarding to develop a script that doesn’t start with “You are the long lost child of a forgotten prophecy”, or “aliens are abducting women” and tackles more emotionally interesting plotlines.
What’s with stories in games anyways? I can’t help but think that it’s a segment of our industry that is particularly juvenile. When it comes to experimentation and growing our medium’s audience, talking about deeper subjects seems to be a commercial taboo slotting you in the artsy/fringe side of the gaming world. I don’t know about you, but there’s a part of me that yearns for games that aren’t just about “kill things until they’re all dead”.
In Papo & Yo, our friends at Minority Inc used a metaphore to recount the youth of Vander Caballero’s experience dealing with his father’s alcoholism. That’s the kind of story I think the gaming community should get behind and support commercially; so that we get the tools and budgets we need to create emotionaly compelling stories.
We realized early in our focus test sessions on Contrast that although the game had a strong appeal with men because of the nature of the game mechanics, our context and story also appealed to (gasp!) women as well. Yet, while visiting with an unnamed publisher, we were told by a high-profile woman executive that we should keep that fact carefully under wraps.
Really? So if I make a game that women may actually enjoy in the console space, it becomes a sissy game? Wow. I’m sorry – it’s time we revised our script. I forgot to add gun-toting latex nuns. Yeah. Those should fit right into a 1920′s film noir inspired setting.
So what if there were cool games, with cool mechanics, that your significant other (be they man or woman) might actually enjoy sharing with you? What if we made games that didn’t relegate the activity to the allmighty secluded man-cave? Wouldn’t that be great? Break out the popcorn!