Dangit! I broke my Thursday streak.
Ah well, time for another:
Producers/Editors, Writers and Directors
Today I would like to talk about what the job definitions are of Producers/Editors, Directors and Writers when it comes to games.
Because I’ve heard many people say stuff like “Oh, I LOVE the writing of this game” even though it’s in fact the directing they loved. Or they say they blame the director for a certain decision of their latest game even though it’s actually the fault of the Producers or (if it’s a comic) the Editors.
So this is the format I’ll use. First I’ll give a general description of the job, then what kinds of bad results can come out of it if not done right, and then a description of an ideal person doing said job. Or at least in my personal opinion.
Ready? Let’s go.
So yeah, as you can imagine, they’re the people with the money, but that’s not their main job. The reason I put the Producer and the Editor together is because their job is actually pretty much the same save for one big difference: The Producer puts money into the project, the Editor is paid to work on the project.
Without the Producer it is not possible to work on the project, as there would be no funding. And sadly in this world revolving around money, you can’t work on anything without money (again, don’t tell my clone army, they think giving pats is a currency in this world).
But because of the amount of money they put in, it’s also their job to keep everyone working right. They need to be the cheerleader that motivates the Artists to model the characters in time and to make sure the Programmers aren’t slacking off by excusing they’re just letting the code compile (Guilty).
As a result the Producer at times does the same as the Editor, whose job description is looking through the process of the project and suggesting changes for the betterment of the project. Whether it’s to make sure the gameplay would be accessible enough for new players all the way to making sure the story doesn’t offend a demographic.
What can go wrong:
Naturally, since they are the ones in control, whether by responsibility of the money (Producer) or due to being assigned the job (Editor), it is easy to force your own biases into the project.
The writer wants symbolism relating to Hamlet? Pfft, nobody knows about Hamlet nowadays! We’ll change the reference to Lord of the Rings! THAT makes more sense!
What’s that? Lord of the Rings doesn’t relate to the story of vengeance and the problems of inaction? Whatever, Lord of the Rings is popular!
The bottom-line is, as much as the Producer or Editor are the ones in control, most of the time they don’t come from the Game Design or even Writing department. As a result, if they don’t put enough trust into the experiences of their Designers, Artists, Developers or Writers, the whole project becomes more akin to their own personal fanfiction rather than an official iteration.
The Ideal Producer/Editor:
A Producer should be open to their colleagues defending their choices. While it IS true that the project was never possible without the Producer’s money, they also have to realise that they don’t always know best.
They never had the artistic training that Artists had to know what makes a good composition. They never learned the reason why Designers refuse to use a certain game mechanic that’s become popular lately. They never learned the hardships of a Developer learning how to program online multiplayer for the first time. They never heard of the Three-Act Structure that the Writers are talking about.
There are exceptions to the rule, but you get what I’m saying. Generally they are the every man who simply made the project possible.
Because of that, the ideal Producer is also one who instead focuses on motivating rather than controlling. They can still suggest changes here and there (I mean that’s what an Editor DOES), since a Programmer and an Artist can have differing opinions too, which means the Producer/Editor will have to make the hard choice. But their main goal should be to motivate the Artists to keep drawing/modelling and the Programmers to keep programming.
Being a Producer can be a thankless job, as you will generally only be noticed for your bad decisions over your great decisions. So just make the most of it. Befriend your colleagues and simply be a pleasant person to work with. If you’re finished with a project and you then decide to call your Designer for another project, their positive or negative answer will indicate whether you’ve done your job right or not.
They are the people who write the character’s interaction and inner monologues, the dialogues and the events that happen.
What people don’t realise is that… that’s it.
Many people have this great vision that the moment they’re a writer, they have full control over how the story is told and how the writing will revolutionise their world by being so amazing and bla bla bla.
Guess what, writing is only half the story. Heck with games it’s only a quarter of the story, or even 1/8 of the story.
There is a reason why I want to cover the Writers first before covering the Directors, because I want to debunk the myth of the writer as quickly as possible and raise the importance of the Directors afterward.
A Writer’s job is simply to think up what happens and how the characters react to it. They’re the ones that come up with the symbolism of the rival character being the corrupted mirror image of the main character, that the rival is everything that the main character isn’t.
That’s it. They don’t cover how it’s visually told to the viewer or the player, they don’t cover how the main character or the rival characters look (besides a small detail that’s important for the Artist to add to them), they don’t even cover the camera angles. All they do it say: “Character A says this” and “Character B reacts with that”.
How it can go wrong:
A stubbornness to let go of the fact that they’re not working in their specified field.
What I mean with this is that writers generally come from a background of either novel, comic or movie writers and as a result have trouble adapting to the other.
Novel writers will forget that you don’t need to describe anything in great detail in a movie or a game, since everything can be told visually through establishing shots and camera angles.
Movie writers can’t fathom the fact that games or comics will generally take longer to develop their characters than the typical 2 hour range.
Comic writers forget that Novels build up suspense in fight scenes, not through visual attacks but through a build up of the context.
As a result, the biggest victim here are games. Games are still relatively new to having a story and it’s hard for people to come up with a story structure that fits games. But because of that, writers who don’t know better will think they DO know better, as they’ve been “in the business long before game stories became a thing”.
They’ll argue that the Designers really don’t know crap about story structure when they say “Uhm, Writer, I think it’s better if we let the Main Character fight the Rival for the first time during the first act” and retort with “Are you crazy?! Who the hell puts a big emotional fight at the FIRST ACT?!”, not realising that a First Act in said game would in fact be 7 levels, which would take longer to beat than a whole movie adaptation of Hamlet (What is it with me and Hamlet, huh?). That and they don’t realise that it’s perfectly okay in a game for the player to fight the rival 3 times in a game, each with an interesting variation in gameplay.
The Ideal Writer:
It’s best if the Writer simply writes a very very VERY basic draft first simply so the Designers, Artists and Programmers can start working. Afterward it’s best if they do nothing but study them.
Just that. Study them.
And only after they’ve made what can be at LEAST considered an Alpha Version should the writer start writing the REAL draft.
The reason is this: the gameplay will ALWAYS be more important than the writing.
Games that don’t… end up not really being games anymore, they’ll be games that TRY to be movies.
If you START with a complete story where everything is set in stone, the Artists, Designers and Programmers are stuck. They have to work within the confines of the story.
The main character is a fencer. Okay, let’s design a fencing mechanic. Oh wait, he only uses his fencing at the final battle. Oh… well then we’ll have to design a hand-to-hand combat system instead. Oh wait, he doesn’t fight in the story at all. Oh… in that case this will be an RPG where it’s about interacting with people and coming up with different strategies with the items and… oh wait the writer only wrote one specific path for the character to take which in fact shows the main character’s weakness of inaction. Huh… I see… are you sure you want this to be a GAME?!
Instead if the writer writes the story around the gameplay, that would give a better result, since then the writer can focus on giving context to the gameplay features.
The character got a sword that has +100 attack. Sweet. But not only that, the character got it from a cave where his father died. The spirit he defeated to get the sword in fact WAS his father’s ghost, and defeating him granted him the ability to wield the sword. The power of the sword is not just because of the sword’s design, but because of the character no longer being held back by his father’s mysterious death.
Suddenly, fighting your rival three times isn’t just awesome because of each fight’s different circumstances in gameplay anymore. Now it’s about how the main character and their rival have parallel paths of growing in morality through out the story.
The first fight is their introduction where the rival is clearly in an advantage by having unlocked their hidden power first.
The second fight is after the main character unlocked their own hidden power and they fought on equal footing.
The third fight is where the main character prevailed, not through mastering their hidden power, but because they kept trusting their own power rather than someone else’s, which is what the rival did.
Last but certainly not least.
Now this might shock some would be writers out there as I say this, but it’s the truth.
Whatever interpretation that is put in the project, it’s the Director’s vision. Not the Writers.
Let me explain.
While a Writer may think their main character is the epitome of a hero and that they’re celebrated for it, a Director can take the EXACT same events, the EXACT same dialogue, and instead turn it into deconstruction of being a hero, the sacrifices they have to make because of it.
The point is, it’s the Writer’s job to do this:
Hero: “I defeated my rival and saved the world”
The Director can turn it into this:
The hero stands over the dead body of his rival, who is lying down on a glass floor that shows the destroyed, now uninhabitable, world that he has sworn to protect. He saved the world, but as he looks at his rival who has sworn to protect the people instead, now dead and imposed on the world itself, he starts to doubt his decision and morality.
Hero: “I defeated my rival… and saved the world…”
And with that he stands there for a moment of silence… before leaving the glass building, cracking the floor with every step.
Now, depending on your preferences, the change can be either good or bad, but the point is, the director’s interpretation will be more important than the writer’s.
You can ask the writer any question you want at a con or whatever, but their interpretation of a scene doesn’t matter as much as what the director says. The director turned the story into a deconstruction, whether the writer agrees with it or not.
What can go wrong:
I think this one is pretty obvious: The Director may see things in the Writer’s writing that were never there.
True, this can be both a good and a bad thing, but the point is that the writer still had a specific goal in their writing and there’s a reason why it was written the way it was.
The thing is, however, the Director has the authority to change the writing to fit their interpretation, and that can cause some big trouble for not only the original message of the writing, but also the whole structure it was written around.
The big difference with the same situation with the Producer is that that the Producer generally doesn’t have the knowledge and training in story structure. Producers only do things depending on what they think is successful at the time. A Director instead HAS that training, or at least the knowledge. The changes the Director makes are not because he DOESN’T know how a story can work, but because they KNOW the story can work the way THEY want it too.
If the project as a result gets a bad reception, this would be a case where the Director and Writer are just not compatible with each other. If it gets a GOOD reception, then sadly the only big victim would be the original writer, whose story would have been twisted into something they never went for to begin with.
The Ideal Director:
All a director has to do is communicate.
Really, that’s all there is to it. Have a talk with the writer. Talk to them about why they had a certain direction with their writing, and if you think a different direction would be better for the project, try to explain to them.
If a writer is really REALLY attached to their original vision, don’t deviate from it. You will only end up creating a disillusioned writer who will not only have trust issues with their writing all the time, but also lose whatever support the fans of said writer had for your next project.
Should you be able to convince them to a new direction, make sure that they get the time to write the next draft of the story so the writing doesn’t conflict with the direction. Keep in touch with them and don’t work in separate chambers.
Same could be said for any of the lead creators of a project, really, but story writing has become a very important part of game design. It brings context to the gameplay, and context has become everything in this world of media.