Here’s a good interview hosted at Iron Tower Studio. It’s with Annie Carlson of Obsidian Entertainment; she was the lead writer on the Neverwinter Nights 2 expansion, Storm of Zehir (and no, I have yet to pla it; it’s in the queue). [irontowerstudio.com]
She makes a lot of interesting comments but I’ll jump on one: cuts. But first, a quick preface…
When you’re looking to get into the video game industry, you’ll notice that most companies want you to have the experience of a “complete project cycle” or two. And while many industries are looking for potential employees with experience, I think the difference is that it takes a certain type of person to thrive in the gaming industry for a long period of time. When you go to war, you see things that can’t be unseen. 🙂 The gaming industry isn’t much different. A lot of people aren’t cut out for it and employers, I think, are just making sure that if they invest the dollars in you to bring you on board, you’re not going to bail during the first signs of gun fire.
And that brings me back to the topic of cuts.
Cuts are prevalent in the gaming industry. Name a BioWare title that I was associated with and I’ll tell you all the features and content that were cut from it – or I would if I wasn’t worried about legal ramifications.
I will say this. I remember working on the original Neverwinter Nights as a writer. We had designed one of the chapters around the idea of achieving specific goals to aid you in a guerilla-warfare scenario. The idea was that there were seven situations where you could provide assistance – and you needed to be successful in five of them. Well, cuts happened and the scenario became three-of-five, and then three-of-three.
How did I handle it?
I remember another of the writers, a senior writer, Luke, coming up to me and asking me how I felt about the cuts. I said that I understood (no, not really) that they were necessary, but that this was all I had been working on since I’d been hired and it was fairly tragic to see it swept away.
He told me that game design is all about promising the world and then delivering something much smaller, but hopefully more focused and polished – the idea being that we’d tighten the areas up. Take the best content from the seven stages and, where possible, fit them into the three stages. But I was so caught up in the idea of how each stage played out – as well as the idea of potentially failing and those failures heightening the tension. I really didn’t want to see it happen, but… it happens. One day you’re focused on writing 2,000+ words for a scenario, and then someone comes in and says “it’s been cut. Start working on this new task right away, and get back to me by 4:15pm today.” You have to be prepared to mentally reset yourself.
Eventually, I became a senior member and a tech lead at BioWare (in QA). And cuts were not just a way of life, they were a way to focus a project. I can’t even remember how many cuts for which I advocated. And even now, when I play a game (like KotOR 2), every time I find an area that’s dull or buggy, I wonder why they didn’t just make cuts so that they had the time to polish a more focused project.
What a strange turn of events, but after a while you see parts of the project that are dragging, that are too costly, that add too little, and that just don’t make sense. Experience really plays into seeing that, too. You now realize they were great ideas at the start but that they no longer fit the project’s new, streamlined focus.
And it became my job to play the role of Luke and pull people aside when they found out we were cutting, for example, dual-wielding in Mass Effect and ask them how they were handling it. And that brings me back to the beginning and why developers really prefer the idea of people who have seen it already and won’t be so traumatized when it happens to them.
I’ll stop there. Go read the interview. 🙂