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Everything I Needed to Know About Game Writing I Learned From Star Trek 120

Posted by Zonk
from the needs-more-lasers dept.
Evan Skolnick has been writing for comic books and games for a good, long while now. He thinks that the most important elements to good games writing can be found in one of the touchstones of nerd culture: Star Trek. In an hour-long presentation at GDC Austin today, he discussed some of the most important lessons that can be derived from the Star Trek franchise as regards storytelling, character development, and the importance of not starting a story with "all we have to do now is wait." Read on for notes from his equally informative and humorous look at crafting a great tale.
What can Star Trek teach any writer? Five simple things.

Start with a Bang - It's vital to hook the audience almost immediately. It was important in 1966, and it's even more important today. The teasers at the start of the original series episodes were prescient. Today's 'finger on the remote' television watchers and game players have even less patience than 1966 audiences. All the movies got this right, even the slow-as dirt 'Motion Picture'. Next Generation didn't get it right in the first season or so; but they got better. He shows us clips from TOS and TNG to contrast. The TOS clip has a tense feeling (thematic music, red alert notice), with only a few clues as to what's going on. It immediately grabs the viewer and has them questioning what's on the screen in front of him. TNG's clip, by contrast, starts with Picard saying there's nothing to do but wait ... and then passes to a thrilling discussion between Geordi and Data about a model ship.

For game writing, starting with a short (emphasis on short) and gripping scene is the best way to get a player hooked. Focus only on the 'need to know' info. Don't cram the tutorial into the first minute of play. Delay the release of expository information as much as you can, keep them guessing without frustrating them. When you do have to release that information, have the player asking questions that can be answered by actually playing the game.

Defy Expectations - The original series was completely different than many other shows on television; even Spock was controversial. There was concern among the mainstream television folks that he 'looked like a devil.' They actually modified promotional stills to avoid the appearance of 'devilishness.' There was also concern that a rational, unemotional point of view would be uninteresting. Uhura is more obviously controversial; a female African American woman on the flagship of the fleet was pushing boundaries. They originally wanted a female first officer, and the character became a lieutenant because the studio 'sort of' won.

Specific episodes call this out more. "Devil in the Dark", with the tale of the Horta and her eggs, was very out of the ordinary for the time. The 'pure energy' Organians in another episode, facing down Starfleet and the Klingons, turned expectations on their head.

The move to Next Gen defied expectations in different ways. A French guy with an English accent as captain of the Enterprise? He was physically and temperamentally different than Shatner's character ... despite them hedging their bets with Riker. Data was an attempt to capture the essence of the Spock character while also turning things on their head. Spock has emotions but doesn't want them, Data doesn't and wants them. It allows for new interactions and possibilities, something expanded even further by having "Klingons as allies?" They were the fire for a lot of conflict in the original series, and things needed to be retconned in order to make the new vision of the race fit. The Borg were out of left field, completely different from almost any other thing seen in TV science fiction (except maybe the Daleks). A huge amount of fodder for the series, but something you wouldn't have expected if you look at the original series.

Game writers need to look at their work, then, with a critical eye towards culling cliches. Try to surprise your audience, and avoid leading the player on a straight and unwavering path to a goal. Avoid plodding 'missions' that lead to a goal they've seen for hours. Is there some way to change the mission midstream? The only catch there is that while players like to be surprised, they hate deus ex machina; make it come from the gameplay.

Externalize Internal Conversations - The Kirk/Spock/McCoy triumvirate is a great way to do this. Spock's superego vs. McCoy's id makes for entertaining television and allows Kirk's ego to come to a decision. It allows conversations we have in our head every day to be played out on screen.

When you make characters, ensure their personalities are well-differentiated. Games only have a limited amount of time to establish characterization, and people will muddy the lines between too-similar NPCs. This allows you to void clumsy narration, and provides the opportunity to have entertaining, sharp banter. It also allows for the chance to relieve stress through humor.

Use Classic Structure - The original series stuck very closely to the Aristotle idea of story structure. Setup, confrontation, and resolution makes for a nice graph of the tension during the story. Older stories tend to have a slope up from the baseline; starting with a bang has tension starting high and then dipping before coming back up over the course of the tale. The Monomyth of the Hero's Journey is also a very widely understood component of storytelling. Archetypes and the 'universal framework of stories' is something that is used by many authors across media. From the safe and sound setting of the 'Ordinary World', past the 'Supreme Ordeal', to the 'Return with the Elixir', it's something we've all seen before. (Quick screenshot of Star Wars points out that this has been used before in science fiction.)

Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan is the best example of this in Trek. Starting from the world of Kirk as an instructor at Starfleet, we're taken through the trials of Regulus to the 'death' of Spock to resurrect the Enterprise and Kirk's youth.

You don't have to use this pattern directly, but understanding the pattern is helpful as a guideline for writing good stories. Non-linear storytelling makes things more challenging, but the Hero's Journey is always helpful as a template.

Focus on Character - The hero should be a force within the plot. He should be a way to spur on the plot, to create conflict. Kirk is decisive, action-oriented, and takes risks. It's also important beyond these simple elements to ensure that the hero has something personal at stake. Conflict isn't meaningful unless there's something actually at risk. Finally, the hero should solve their own problems. Deus ex Machina is always disappointing; don't let 'luck' win the day.

For games, the player *is* the hero. They want to be the primary character in the tale, they want stuff to do, action. They want to feel like they're facing risk and danger. They also want to make decisions that have meaning; be the one that changes the world.

The villain, on the other hand, should be the flint for the hero's steel. Conflict should be created by their interaction. They should be more than a match for a hero. Heroes that beat wimpy villains look wimpy. Modern villains should not think they are the villains; in his story he *is* the Hero. He needs a believable motivation for doing what he does, on that note. At the end of the day, there needs to be a direct confrontation between the Hero and the Villain; Khan is a great exception to the rule.

Game writers should take time to view the story from the villain's point of view. Write the game's story from that POV as a useful way of looking at things differently. Make sure to examine the villain's behavior for internal logic and consistency. Are they needlessly crazy?

Perfect Trek Episode - You'd think the perfect episode would be one with space battles, fighting, and space babes. Instead, "City on the Edge of Forever" is often lauded as the best episode ever. Why is this? It defies expectations by placing things in the past as opposed to the future, and stakes Kirk's personal views deeply in the story. Contrast this with the two big favorites in TNG. "Best of Both Worlds", the Borg two-parter, has all the usual stuff. But the other one that everyone lauds quite heavily is "The Inner Light", the story where Picard lives an entire lifetime in a few moments.

What Inspires You? - The takeaway should be: everything can inspire good writing. Look at what you see as good work, and ask what makes it so. Ask what could have been done better, what you can do better.
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Everything I Needed to Know About Game Writing I Learned From Star Trek

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  • To sum up: (Score:5, Funny)

    by GMFTatsujin (239569) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @02:11PM (#20483647) Homepage
    "Stick to a formula ... but change everything! Also, I like Trek."
    • by headkase (533448)
      I still was interested with reading the writeup! So even if I have no skill as a writer, he does and being interested in the topic (semi-reformed Trekkie here :) really made this an enjoyable read for a quiet Wednesday morning on Slashdot. Most /. stories are informative but this one for me was interesting.
      • Judging from most games I've played I don't think "has written for many games" establishes him as a "good writer". What games has he written? What comics? Any novels? Not everyone who writes professionally is any good. Just look at the Star Wars novels.

        (That may be taken as a flame, but other than Timothy Zahn it's just the sad truth. Nerds will buy anything to get another hit of their favorite universe.)
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by JPLemme (106723)
      It's not bad advice. Breaking the rules requires an understanding of the rules to make it effective.
  • They weren't completely new after all. That's not a bad thing, because zombies are cool. Borg even eat your brain, in a metaphorical way.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @02:54PM (#20484547)
      Sure. And "Alien" was a metaphor for cancer. Or unwanted pregnancy. It could go either way.

      The theme of the ravenous revenant goes back further than Night of the Living Dead. Dracula was one of the ilk. The revenant stories belong with those fairy tales about things everybody wants but cannot have, like endless riches or immortality. The basic ideas is that if you knew what it would take to get those things, you wouldn't want them. People who fight becoming revenants aren't fighting for survival, they are fighting for a prolongation of their mortal state.

      This makes a pretty good framework for telling a story, you just have to be creative about decorating that framework.

      Now, what makes the Borg interesting is not that they are space zombies, but they are zombies with an ideology. That's a new wrinkle as far as I know. Zombies bite people for the same reason people scratch mosquito bites. It just feels good to do it. The Borg assimilate people not because of instinctual drives, but because of group aspirations.

      And since they have an ideology, there is the possibility -- or perhaps the inevitability -- of hypocrisy. The Borg want you specifically your individuality. However you are not allowed to direct that individuality or benefit from it. Instead it is absorbed into the whole and used for the good of the whole. It is a form of radical egalitarianism, except that at the top everything is the queen who is allowed her exercise her own egoism freely. As such it is a metaphor for state socialism -- in fact for any social or political hierarchy where the people at the top control things for the "good of all".
      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @03:43PM (#20485595)
        The Borg you describe were not the originals. The Queen was an invention of the movies. "You," Casper the Friendly individual Borg and all that other Unimatrix Zero Voyager back story came crap along later.

        The original Borg kicked ass. Despite the range of Star Trek aliens, most of them amounted to humanoids with face paint. Even the plasmas and gases acted just like us. The Borg were different. They were collective. They couldn't be reasoned with or argued with. They couldn't be effectively attacked, because there was no one thing to attack. You really didn't even exist to them. They started chopping your ship up before they might even notice you. And when they did, they attacked and adapted and attacked again until you were assimilated. And they did it without fear or anger or hate or any other emotion or attribution that we could understand. That is what made them so creepy and cool as enemies.

        The Borg became an instant success and rose to the top of the Star Trek food chain and the writers faced with a new popular antagonist turned the Borg into just another individual, reasonable, talkative character that made for easy writing.

        • The Borg were different. They were collective. They couldn't be reasoned with or argued with. They couldn't be effectively attacked, because there was no one thing to attack. You really didn't even exist to them. They started chopping your ship up before they might even notice you. And when they did, they attacked and adapted and attacked again until you were assimilated. And they did it without fear or anger or hate or any other emotion or attribution that we could understand. That is what made them so cre
      • by dintech (998802)
        Sure. And "Alien" was a metaphor for cancer. Or unwanted pregnancy. It could go either way.

        I watched a documentary which drew similar comparisons but with rape added in there too. Nasty aliens indeed...
      • I remember reading that the third Alien movie used the alien as a metaphor for AIDS. It certainly works in that context, but doesn't make the flick any better.
  • by cmeans (81143) <cmeans@int[ ].com ['far' in gap]> on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @02:19PM (#20483765) Homepage Journal
    Actually, the Cybermen [wikipedia.org] were around already. The Borg were clearly not original...and neither are anything like the Daleks.

    • by Retric (704075) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @02:45PM (#20484345)
      Ok, they are cyborgs that seek to increase their numbers by converting people into ___

      However, the Borg are a collective where individual Cybermen can and do act independently. Personally I think of the Borg as a mix of zombies (convert you and your fellows to them), ants (hive with little individuality), rampaging robots (they have advanced teck and for the most part just walk all over Starfleet). IMO it's their organic / zombie nature that really messes with you as they are not going to kill you so much as eat your brains and send your body off to collect your friends and family. Because it's one thing for an intelligent toaster to attack someone it's another thing for the family pet to get rabies and attack you. Add to that the somewhat seductive nature of the "Borg queen" and it's IMO a fairly unique mix.
      • The character of Lilly in "First Contact" put it best when she called them "bionic zombies". The Borg were an excellent, if not particularly original, creation, but by about 4th time they were used, it got old. The character of the Borg Queen was interesting, but it just pointed out the absurdity that 99% of the Borg were male humans. The only non-male Borg were 7 of 9 and one or two of the assimilated crew of the Enterprise from the movie.

        • by Starayo (989319)
          I'm sure I saw a few female borg in "Q Who?" and/or "The Best of Both Worlds" Part 1, perhaps 2 : \
          • Perhaps. I'll have to go back and watch them again. Now I can understand that having non-human Borg could be a budget issue... I'm always willing to cut Star Trek slack in those terms*, and there are possible reasons that the Borg cubes are manned primarily with males, but I think it would have been a very effective dramatic tool to see women and even children among the assimilated Borg. Of course, there's also the TV standards, since they were in combat... so many obstacles in the way of proper science
            • by MBraynard (653724)
              there are possible reasons that the Borg cubes are manned primarily with males

              They tried all female borg ship but when they all got on the same cycle, the ship's plumbing got royally fucked up and the ship exploded.

        • by Nazlfrag (1035012)
          There was also a borg female child (or two?) in Voyager IIRC.
      • by Gulthek (12570)
        Ants aren't hives with little individuality!
    • by VJ42 (860241) *

      The Borg... are {nothing] like the Daleks.
      sure they are, both have a their own catchphrases. Either 2exterminate" or "resistance is futile etc." respectively. ;p
    • by MBraynard (653724)
      Hah! They look like C3PO on riods. Do they talk like homosexuals, too?

      These guys should have taken a look at what a real scary robot looks like. [bitsofnews.com]

  • by hansamurai (907719) <hansamurai@gmail.com> on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @02:20PM (#20483787) Homepage Journal
    Start with a Bang - It's vital to hook the audience almost immediately.

    Okay, I hate to tout my game review site, but this is exactly the thing I've been focusing on lately. Every week, I've been playing the first hour of different games from different genres and judging them entirely on this notion. I whole-heartedly agree that the first few moments of a TV show (Battlestar Galactica or even comedies with cold opens - like The Office - have been pulling this off pretty well lately) and the first few minutes to the first hour of a video game is crucial to capturing your audience's attention while developing the foundation for the rest of the experience. I've reviewed games with really good first hours like God of War 2 and Indigo Prophecy and games with really awful first hours.

    Some of the best first hours of video games that I've played throw you right into a boss encounter: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Beyond Good and Evil come to mind immediately. This is almost as good as you can get when trying to start your game off with a bang.

    http://thefirsthour.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com]

    There you go if you're interested.
    • Battlestar Galactica or even comedies with cold opens - like The Office - have been pulling this off pretty well lately)

      As long as they're not framing the story. Nothing is more annoying to a viewer than overusing framed openings. Star Trek Enterprise did it all the time, which was REALLY annoying. The last season of SG-1 was going that way too. Now BSG is trying to horn in on the action by also forcing "drama" with framed stories.

      Note to writers: If you can't build up the suspense by letting the story unfo

      • Could you explain more what you mean by "framing the story" in the opening? I have a vague sense of what you're trying to say but not enough to fully understand.
        • by AKAImBatman (238306) <akaimbatman&gmail,com> on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @03:29PM (#20485315) Homepage Journal
          Specifically, I'm referring to the practice of showing the most dramatic scene of the story during the teaser, then jumping back to the start of the story once the show begins. You then have to plod through the story to reach that dramatic moment again.

          This technique makes a lot of sense in some stories. Especially stories that maintain a sense of intrigue by slowly revealing past events through flashbacks. But as of late, it's been abused to no end. Did SG-1 really need to open with the Stargate being zapped away? Did the Enterprise episode "Singularity" really need to open with everyone unconscious?

          If the writers can't open the story without framing it up front, then their story probably isn't that interesting. Or at the very least, they're telling it wrong. (ex. Ent. Ep. "Similitude" was very similar to the Voyager episode "Demon". Yet "Demon" did not need to be framed in order to keep the viewer in suspense about the crew members having duplicates.)
          • I can't tell if you mean "framing the story" or "in medias res." In a framed story, like the movies Titanic and The Princess Bride, the actual plot is set up inside of a mini-plot. In medias res refers to stories that begin after some of the crucial action has transpired, such as Crank and The Bourne Identity. I find in medias res to be an effective technique most of the time. One of my favorite TNG episodes that starts in the middle of the action is "Cause and Effect." [wikipedia.org] I'm sure there are others.

            I agr

            • by Boronx (228853)
              He's talking about framing. "in media res" is great (new term for me) and can accidentally improved stories. I missed the first part of "Gattica" and thought it was a cool, suspenseful mystery. I spent the movie trying to figure out who the characters were and what were their motives. My friends thought it was boring. Everything had been explained in the first half hour.
        • Could you explain more what you mean by "framing the story" in the opening? I have a vague sense of what you're trying to say but not enough to fully understand.

          Think of the opening dialogue in the first Myst [youtube.com]. You're hearing a narration from someone who's obviously in the midst of some sort of cataclysmic decision lamenting that something has been left open, and the potential for something "unknown" to happen. You (the character) investigate a thud, see something amazing and wonderous and suddenly.... you

    • I'll agree too (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Moraelin (679338)
      I'll agree too. Some of the worst videogame implementations of the Monomyth (since it's mentioned in the summary) went and made me do boring, mundane tasks for hours on end, apparently for no other reason that the Monomyth said they must start with the hero as an everyman Joe. So, same as an action movie starts with showing you the hero for 10 minutes being an ordinary father and good cop (or good soldier, or guy on a trip, or whatever), some games seemed to feel a need to stretch this proportional to the g
      • So I guess what I'm trying to say is: kudos. Maybe a review site can get that idea out of more potential victims' heads.

        Thanks for the kudos. I'm not really expecting my site to make any waves in the industry, I guess that would be great if it did but I'm more just writing and reviewing because I like playing and writing about video games. I've also started writing my own game story (monomyth...) and I've realized how dull my first hour would probably be. It's gonna need pretty much a complete rewrite but if it is ever done I think it will be that much better.

      • by RESPAWN (153636)
        Actually, this is EXACTLY how I felt when I played Jedi Knight II. I'm sure I'll take some flack around here for downing what is generally considered a popular geek game, but I just couldn't get into it. I saw the box art. I read the reviews. I saw commercials for it. The game looked very cool and the ability to use the force sounded awesome. And then I played the game. Frankly, while I knew the outline of the story, I found the beginning of the game to be too slow. I didn't play the game (thankfull
        • by OK PC (857190)
          SPOILERish

          Wasn't this the case in KOTOR as well though, it's several hours into the game before you get Jedi powers etc.

          • by RESPAWN (153636)
            It was a while in KOTOR before you received Jedi powers. The big difference, though, is that the game was still interesting during that period of time. There were interesting quests to be handled and places to explore. I just found the beginning of JK2 to be too much like your typical, average fps.
    • I wouldn't say that exactly, planescape torment didn't "Start out with a bang" and it was probably one of the most brilliant games I've played in terms of story ever.
      • by paganizer (566360)
        My damn cats modded you redundant; I'm terribly sorry for that, you had a +1 insightful in my book.
        You just can't count on Cats to mod properly.
        (which is why I'm posting, to undue the mod)
    • by oatworm (969674)
      One of my personal favorites is Star Control 2 - you start off in a ship, doing... what? You don't know. There's a solar system ahead, but you don't have to stay there. It kind of looks like ours (VGA graphics and all). So, you try to learn the controls. You wiggle an arrow key - it does something. You press the "up" button - it moves your ship forward. Okay, this isn't so hard... let's fly to Earth. See what's going on there. Wait, what's this? There's a red dot coming, and I can't avoid it... sl
      • Thanks for the tip, I'll add it to my list of games to review. I definitely need more older games with substance, too often when I try to think of NES era games to review, they're basically just platformers. Though I am writing a Monkey Island review for next week.
        • by oatworm (969674)
          In that case, it might interest you to know that the code was released as open source a few years ago, though the name of the game wasn't. It's now Ur-Quan Masters [sourceforge.net]. That might help your review a little.
  • by hal2814 (725639) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @02:27PM (#20483907)
    "You'd think the perfect episode would be one with space battles, fighting, and space babes. Instead, "City on the Edge of Forever" is often lauded as the best episode ever. Why is this?"

    For the same reason that the best Outer Limits episode is "Demon with the Glass Hand" and one of the best 80's Twilight Zone episodes is "Shatterday": because Harlan Ellison wrote it. Good sci-fi starts with good writers.
    • You NAILED that one!

      As Harlan Ellison often used to write, "it all starts with the word."

      I don't know if you ever got the chance to read Ellison's original teleplay for "City On The Edge Of Forever". It was really good, but not the right length. Roddenberry was correct in asking Ellison to either cut it down to an hour, or lengthen it to two hours so they could make a two parter of it. Ellison was a little too full of himself to do this so the story had to be rewritten to fit the hour long format.

    • That's not very good advice to give a writer, however. "Be Harlan Ellison" is the type of advice only one writer can follow, and he doesn't need it. Now, if the advice was "be more like Harlan Ellison", that would involve breaking down everything Harlan Ellison does right and emulating those things--which, again, is going to be more specific than just, "be like Harlan Ellison".
      • by hal2814 (725639)
        I wasn't giving advice. I have no idea how to be a good writer but I imagine copying someone else's style isn't the best route. You put some things in quotation marks that I never said and never meant to imply. I just want producers of science fiction shows to hire good writers. I don't really care how they get them or what aspiring writers need to do to be good but I can tell you that a lot of later Trek and a lot of other sci-fi on TV today (looking at you, Flash) isn't written very well.
        • I wasn't giving advice.

          I know that, that was my entire point--your point, while true, completely missed the crux of the topic.

    • by glindsey (73730)

      Instead, "City on the Edge of Forever" is often lauded as the best episode ever. Why is this?"

      For the same reason that the best Outer Limits episode is "Demon with the Glass Hand" and one of the best 80's Twilight Zone episodes is "Shatterday": because Harlan Ellison wrote it. Good sci-fi starts with good writers.

      Except that the final script for "City" bore almost resemblance to the original, so much so that Ellison asked to have his name removed from the production entirely. So perhaps good sci-fi starts with good edits to overrated writers.

      • by hal2814 (725639)
        Have you read the original? It's not that far off. The important plot elements are mostly the same. Ellison wanted his name removed because he was to arrogant to make the changes that needed to be made for budget and time constraints so someone else did it for him and that made him mad.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      The City on the Edge of Forever is a classic Greek tragedy:

      The hero is going to lose.

      The here knows he is going to lose.

      The hero knows there's nothing he can do about it.

      We like the hero, and share his pain in an impossible situation. The result: gripping drama.

      Generally, I find there were only a few clunker TNG episodes, while more than a few TOS episodes are clunkers 40 years later. A few just plain haven't aged well; others were silly to begin with. But the best ones remain excellent to this d

    • here's another point... wes craven directed Shatterday. isn't he supposed to be good?
  • As opposed to all those female African American men.
    • by Surt (22457)
      Yes, as opposed to them:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nireah_Johnson [wikipedia.org]
      (among others)
      • You have good point. I would refer to the transgender exclusively by their self-identified gender, but, your point stands. Touche.
        • by Surt (22457)
          In fairness to you, I'm quite confident there's zero chance the original statement wasn't erroneous. But it was an old hobby of mine to try to come up with rational explanations for the similar garbage in star trek episodes, and it has become something of a habit to try to explain away these kinds of mistakes. :-)
  • by denominateur (194939) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @02:44PM (#20484305) Homepage
    the importance of not starting a story with "all we have to do now is wait."

    I think Samuel Beckett would disagree :)
    • Actually, the opening line of Waiting for Godot is 'Nothing to be done'. An even worse opening for a story.
      • by mcvos (645701)
        Once Upon A Time In The West starts with waiting, and yet it's a very gripping scene that sets the mood for the rest of the story.

        Waiting can work if you do it right. The problem is that most writers don't. Good writers can get away with anything. Bad writers would do best to stick to the interesting bits and keep the action going. I've read really badly written books that were still entertaining because the author knew he'd better stick to his few strong points.
  • ...invert some kind of particle beam or pull another deus ex machina out of your ass.
    • Writers (good ones, anyways) understand this; sooner or later, the pool of dramatic possibilities for any set of characters and situations runs dry. Good writers bring the story to some form of closure, leave it behind, and go on to other plots/settings/characters. Studios are constitutionally incapable of understanding this dramatic reality ('cause they're not in the business of telling stories, just in the business of maximizing income); they insist on The Next Generation or Son Of Shrek 5 or The Phantom
      • C'mon, Agatha Christie is the queen of deux ex. I hate her stories with a passion.

        In a crime story, I enjoy trying to guess the culprit before the detective comes to the conclusion. Christie usually presents you a ton of suspects, each of them with an equally valid reason to be the murderer. One of them, most often the most credible one, gets murdered too somewhere after about 2/3 of the book.

        Then, somewhere in the last 5 pages, she pulls some clue out of her hat that nobody but the detective could get, eit
        • by mink (266117)
          Thats why I watch "Murder by Death" once every year or two, it makes me feel better about reading detective stories.
      • by vrmlguy (120854)
        Your typical TV series is different, by design. IIRC, in "The World of Star Trek" (David Gerrold's book about the making of the original series) Gene Roddenberry is quoted as saying that the first thing he did when he had an idea for a TV series was try to come up with outlines for a dozen episodes; if he couldn't, he shelved the idea. Look at any of the classic TV genres: Westerns, detective shows, doctor shows, lawyer shows. All of them are basically framing devices. The main characters and settings
      • "Studios are constitutionally incapable of understanding this dramatic reality "

        It's not that studios don't understand, it's that they would go out of business. There's a reason why high brow diverse movies don't sell as well, the population is just not interested. Writers wouldn't have jobs without the studios. And in GAMING the game itself being fun and looking good is the more important elements.

        Nobody's going to care about the great story of a shitty game, the job of developers is to combine those el
  • I mean, honestly... If someone learned everything they needed to know from Star Trek, it'd stand to reason that someone would be able to release a good game based on Star Trek.
    • IIRC, the old DOS graphical adventure Trek games (25th Anniversary Game, Judgement Rites) were relatively good. And who knows; maybe some of the newer adventure ones were too, like A Final Unity. But that's not surprising, since (being adventure games) they were heavily based on the story.

      • I thought the SNES/Genesis TNG [mobygames.com] game was pretty good, too, but I'm not sure how widespread that opinion is.
        • by mink (266117)
          I remember enjoying both "The Kobyashi Alternative" (text adventure with ascii boxes for different parts of the screen) and "Promethian Phropecy" trek text adventures set in TOS era.
      • I'll second this, those were really well done. The scripting/storyline were very much in line with the TOS canon. I liked the ascii based super star trek too. Unfortunately the year 1992 called and it wants its games back.

        IIRC, the old DOS graphical adventure Trek games (25th Anniversary Game, Judgement Rites) were relatively good.
        • Hey, they could be relevant in 2007 if somebody ported them to PDAs (and the low graphics resolution and point-and-click interface would work well on them, too!).

          • They could be, but I'd much rather see someone mention a well executed title from the last decade. Is that really too much to ask? It's not like this is advanced particle physics, and it's not like there haven't been loads of titles. Star Trek games have all the credibility that Robotech/Macross titles have, which is to say, none at all.

            Hey, they could be relevant in 2007 if somebody ported them to PDAs
    • by Bardez (915334)
      How about Star Trek: Armada? That was damned good.
      • by Zeussy (868062)
        Armada and Armada 2 were good for a bash. I quite enjoyed Elite force games as a shooter as well, believe i completed both of them.
    • It's amusing and profound.

      However much I love Star Trek TV shows and movies, Star Trek video games suck.
  • by nomadic (141991)
    What about the large percentage of Star Trek episodes which were cliched, overly formulaic, or just poorly written?
  • The DaVinci Code -- literature for people who don't like to read. So it may be good advice for a game designer, since the pleasures of gaming and reading are so different.

    I really, really did not like The DaVinci Code. It struck me as profoundly stupid and irritating. However -- I understand why it was such a huge hit. It's diabolically crafted to keep a reader with a short attention span turning the pages. Each page is thoroughly larded with plot twists, exotic locations, and arcane "facts".

    The open
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Perhaps this is why video games usually make lousy movies.

      No, thats just because of the lousy film directors screwing up the story so much it becomes nothing like the game.

      Take Doom as an example, the story was easy to understand, my 5 year old cousin could grasp it:
      Humans create teleporters, they test them, some weird stuff happens (people coming back screwed up, screaming etc), demons come through and kill everyone, you are sent in to check it out, all the team is killed but you, you need to kill the demons and turn off the teleporter.
      Yet, the film was pretty d

  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @03:55PM (#20485821) Homepage

    At the end of the day, there needs to be a direct confrontation between the Hero and the Villain; Khan is a great exception to the rule.
    The end of "The Wrath of Khan" ends with a very personal showdown between Kirk and Khan. Yes, they are on separate ships, and yes, it is Spock's advice ("His pattern indicates two-dimensional thinking...") that results in Khan's death. But the entire time Khan is cursing Kirk and treating this fight as an epic battle between Khan's raw hate and intelligence -vs- Kirk's heart and experience.

    Direct confrontations do not always involve fisticuffs (although with Kirk, they usually do).
    • by Omega996 (106762)
      I'm with you - while one could argue that technically kirk and khan are not face-to-face, they are most assuredly engaged in a personal duel to the death. Khan's not just quoting "Moby Dick" to the Universe at large, he's directing those sentiments to Kirk himself. The climatic encounter between them was actually pretty exciting as well. All in all, good pacing and a pretty good story. Godsawful acting, though.

    • by discord5 (798235)

      The end of "The Wrath of Khan" ends with a very personal showdown between Kirk and Khan.

      I have to admit that this movie is the movie that made me fall in love with Trek at the time, even though I hadn't seen the episode from TOS where they first meet Khan. This movie is all about the showdown, and it's got a climax that very few Trek movies or episodes were able to live up to. The one movie that I think lived up to that kind of a climax was "First Contact", where Picard is on a mission to destroy the borg

      • I agree with you 100%, the best part of this episode in my opinion is that the actor really gives a prize winning performance of Sisko, tormenting himself about the choices he made against his principles.

        Utter brilliance.
    • by Octopus (19153) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @05:53PM (#20487417) Homepage
      To sum up:

      http://khaaan.com/ [khaaan.com]
    • by Essellion (669297)

      There was one thing that really cheesed me about Wrath of Khan: they kept harping about Khan's intelligence (which he was), but the writer's gave no good example of it. The surprise attack on Enterprise only happens because of a mistake on Kirk's part, not due to Khan's intelligence.

      For example, it would have played better with Khan hacking the Enterprise's control systems to cause them to lower shields. Of course this was the early 80's so I'll cut them some slack there.

      It would have been better t

      • by MobyDisk (75490)
        Hacking into the computers would --NOT-- have been good.

        I agree about his intelligence though. And the 2-dimensional thinking thing is a really good example.
        • by Essellion (669297)

          Hacking into the computers would --NOT-- have been good.
          Definitely not anymore. Though it was good when Kirk did it to Khan, before "hacking the computer" became cliche.
  • "For games, the player *is* the hero. They want to be the primary character in the tale, they want stuff to do, action. They want to feel like they're facing risk and danger. They also want to make decisions that have meaning; be the one that changes the world."

    Some people like that, I don't. I hate it when I play a game only to realize that everything that happens in the game revolves around me. I guess it makes the story interesting for the player, but it doesn't make it believable, because that's not how
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Ford Prefect (8777)

      Some people like that, I don't. I hate it when I play a game only to realize that everything that happens in the game revolves around me. I guess it makes the story interesting for the player, but it doesn't make it believable, because that's not how real life looks.

      One of my favourite aspects of escapism in computer gaming is the exploration of whole new worlds - for instance, I loved Half-Life 2 not for the fact I was Gordon Freeman, but for the ability to (albeit briefly) visit this subdued, subtly descr

    • Amen. A single-player game set in a dynamic world that is not solely dependent on the player's actions is not to be underestimated. Too bad no one has made a decent one with the sensory immersion of Obvilion or Bioshock yet. Some strategy games like Europa Universalis 3 approach that kind of interaction, when the player's attempt to rewrite history for one nation runs smack into the AI's simultaneous attempt to rewrite history for dozens of others. This kind of effect, if present, generally gets sold as "NO
    • by Kymri (1093149)
      I really liked the middle-ground approach of Descent: Freespace and Freespace 2.

      While the player certainly partakes in the lion's share of the important actions (and let's face it - a game where you spent the entire space-war flying crates of socks and replacement spark plugs between depots would be boring), it is always from the perspective of being 'just another pilot'. You get medals and awards, but you're always part of a unit and briefed as if you are nothing particularly extraordinary.

      Even though you
      • by mink (266117)
        Thats what I like about the new Bards Tale game, the whole ripping on The Chosen One concept. It had it's own share of problems, but poked good fun at many of the overused elements of rpg/adventure games.
    • by master_p (608214)
      TOS was more of a classic hero epic story, i.e. we are the 3 hero guys, everything is about us, watch us, adore us...TOS red shirts died in numbers...TNG was more pragmatic. Less deaths, a captain who could not operate with his officers...Data was the true protagonist of TNG, even if Picard stole the spotlight, thanks to Stewart.
    • by Mathonwy (160184)
      What the article is saying is that the PLOT should revolve around the main character. (The player.) Not necessarily the world. The two are quite different.

      A good example of this is the classic game Star Control II, (now available as opensource awesome [sourceforge.net]) which was a marvelous space epic. But what it did really WELL was convey the feeling that the galaxy was proceeding along, whether or not you did anything or not. Now, if you didn't do anything, it would proceed right along to a lot of planets being blow
    • by gordo3000 (785698)
      how about total war: rome? I love that game and can start a new campaign at any time because the world does go on without you. if you just sit in your cities and remain happy with a few regiments, you'll get destroyed. and every time you start conquering land, there are always different factions in control of different areas, and the cities are always built up differently outside of the very early stages of the game.
  • > Everything I Needed to Know About Game Writing I Learned From Star Trek

    Specifically, most FPS online multiplayer shooters and MMORPG-with-PvP duplicate that episode with the ghost creature thingie that "fed on emotions of anger!"

    The crew and some Klingons were trapped on the Enterprise, killing each other over and over again, only to be revived and restored to go back into it again.

    Oh, and Kirk's solution doesn't work. Tried it numerous times in Quake CTF way back when. Nobody listens. They just kee
  • I seriously hope the author isn't including the cliche Deus Ex Machina endings that most Star Trek episodes have. (i.e. The starship crew end up in an impossible situation, until at the last second (or five minutes of the episode) someone reverses the polarity of the reflector screen/engineer increases power by 103.387% to the engines to hit Warp Factor 12.2/Q comes along and snaps his fingers and everything is back to normal/We're human, you're not and that makes us worth not killing.)

    I absolutely love Tre
    • by mcvos (645701)

      We're human, you're not and that makes us worth not killing.

      Oh yeah, the highly effective "if you don't do what we want, we'll kill ourselves!" threat that's apparently an important feature of Starfleet training. I thought only TNG used it, but I recently saw a TOS episode that did exactly the same.

  • It's a sublime situation. Hoping to hang on long enough to be rescued (by others or by circumstance), when you have no idea how long it will take, having no possibility of saving yourself, is a different emotional situation and one that belongs in gaming. Beginning a story that way would set a really bleak emotional tone -- but hey, Half-Life 2 set a bleak emotional tone from the beginning, and it wasn't exactly a failure, critically or commercially.

    Absolute rules are crutches. Everybody has them, but br

"It's when they say 2 + 2 = 5 that I begin to argue." -- Eric Pepke

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