Beach Scribbles

Last week’s highlight was our travel to Langkawi, an even smaller island than Penang, hidden halfway between the Malaysian mainland and Thailand. It represents my earliest dreams about this trip: work hard during the week, then sojourn in a tropical paradise. There isn’t anything unexpected here, it’s just classic beachy fun. White sand, turquoise water, and a healthy supply of mojitos. If you’ve vacationed in the Caribbean, you know what to expect — hell, many times I thought I was back at Playa Blanca. Though, maybe that was the mojitos. I had a good rest, a nice massage, and a bit of a tan. Considering Toronto is currently sporting a Snow Storm Warning in scary red letters, I’d say this was a solid winter weekend.


Writing is hard. Have I lamented about this before? Probably, because it’s true. From just writing this blog post weekly, to crafting characters, a world, a plot, settings, and dialogues — and my amateur scribbles always require many rewrites. But there’s one element unique to video game writing that I hadn’t truly encountered until this week: how defined should I make the player-character — the main character that the player controls?

I approach my other character-writing as a novelist or film writer would (not by accident — I’ve studied and trained for this). I flesh them out completely, explaining why they have their current personalities. Where is she from? How was he raised? Is she religious? Was he in The Great War? These questions and more are answered for every character. Even the oldest ones, I’ve outlined their histories since birth. It’s a laborious task, but absolutely critical — once I know everything about a character, then I know how they’ll react to every situation. It’s a formula for every action that they take. And it’s been super effective.

But the character that the player takes control of — in my case, the detective who’s solving my mysteries — if she’s defined, then how can the player have any choice in her decisions? As I said, a fully constructed character already knows what she’ll answer to questions, without anyone else required to choose her response. So too much definition means any player choice would either be trivial or counter to her personality.

But if I don’t define her at all, how can she have any possible responses? A completely undefined character cannot have any conversation at all — since any dialogue further defines that character. In that case, she’d be a camera floating through space, but nothing more. This works brilliantly in some games, but in a game all about conversations, muting my character is an even less viable option.

So how do I give her enough framework to stand, but still enough freedom to wiggle? It seems like an easy recipe for the character to collapse. There is no great answer to this problem, just a nuance that needs clever balancing. But architects do that with buildings all the time, right? So, I guess I’ll just have to be an architect also.

Back to the drafting table!