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Default BioWare - Of Jennifer Hepler, Trolls and Hate mail

February 23rd, 2012, 11:19
If you've been around for a (long) while, you might vaguely remember a gaming site centred on female gamers called Killer Betties and a 2006 interview with BioWare writer, Jennifer Hepler. I recall the article raised a few eyebrows - and we moved on. An example:
What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?
Playing the games. This is probably a terrible thing to admit, but it has definitely been the single most difficult thing for me. I came into the job out of a love of writing, not a love of playing games. While I enjoy the interactive aspects of gaming, if a game doesn't have a good story, it's very hard for me to get interested in playing it. Similarly, I'm really terrible at so many things which most games use incessantly — I have awful hand-eye coordination, I don't like tactics, I don't like fighting, I don't like keeping track of inventory, and I can't read a game map to save my life. This makes it very difficult for me to play to the myriad games I really should be keeping up on as our competition.
It seems someone dredged up the interview and the slightly controversial comments from Hepler and used it to troll Reddit - and from there, the internet took over and personally maligning Hepler became a sport. From Kotaku's article on the story:
The original screencap posted on Reddit included the words: Cancer, Infection, Sewage, Plague. These are not light comments. Reddit's ohemeffgee also said that Hepler has been harassed with phone calls and emails from people echoing the statements made by Reddit user corporateswine, who uploaded the first Reddit post that spurred the witchhunt.
Thanks, Razvan.
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February 23rd, 2012, 11:19
Originally Posted by Jennifer Helper
I just figure they're jealous that I get to have both a vagina AND a games industry job, and they can't get either.
Well said, this whole thing stinks of scape-goat/angry co-worker, also bashing the fat kid.
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February 23rd, 2012, 12:14
While I sympathise with her situation and would never target any individual as the cause for "Bioware games" - especially a person I'd never met - the original statement is very unfortunate.

If someone told me they don't really like games, but that they enjoy a good story - I'd tell them to stay away from making games. I think understanding the appeal of games, on a psychological level, DEMANDS that you enjoy them yourself. I really do.

Even if you're "just" a writer - I think it's very counterproductive to not understand what you're writing for.

But it does seem to be a perfect fit for the kind of game Bioware keeps putting out, so she should probably ignore my position
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February 23rd, 2012, 12:25
I'm glad that this kind of harassment can be punished here in Germany.

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February 23rd, 2012, 13:02
While this sort of attack is contemptible, she should never have brought her vagina into the discussion. That fact that she did, illustrates some of the issues people have with her. I don't know if it's fair to blame all the truly awful gay/bi "romances" on her, or the cringeworthy "I want to be a dragon"/"I'm hungry" lines - I suspect the entire BioWare "Team Estrogen" hand their hands in that.

One thing she did personally screw up is the Cullen quest in DA2. She forgot about making him react to a PC mage (admittedly a fault throughout the game). ("swooping is bad" interview). She also pissed a lot of gamers off with things like her flippant drinking contest (where she downs one every time someone says "BioWare is killing RPGs" on the BSN forums - a great way to show people you take their concerns seriously) and her own prejudice against older male writers. But again, the sort of treatment she got is contemptible, and served only to strengthen her by turning her into a victim.
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February 23rd, 2012, 13:05
I don't see it so clearly this connection between writing and playing the game, if and how they influence each other. I'm not sure if Amy Hennig, the best writer in gaming for me, loved playing games or not. "the idea that stories can be told by those who take part in them, a key tenet of video game design."
I don't think all good VG writers are gamers and I don't think bad VG writers are not gamers. The main thing is that the designer understands the script , just like a movie, the director can twist it any way he likes, IMO the fault here is with the lead designer not the writer.

PS: I was regarding this objectively, she might be the wrong person for the job even if she loved playing games.
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February 23rd, 2012, 13:10
Originally Posted by borcanu View Post
I don't see it so clearly this connection between writing and gameplay, if and how they influence each other. I'm not sure if Amy Hennig, the best writer in gaming for me, loved playing games or not. "the idea that stories can be told by those who take part in them, a key tenet of video game design."
I don't think all good VG writers are gamers and I don't think bad VG writers are not gamers. The main thing is that the designer understands the script , just like a movie, the director can twist it any way he likes, IMO the fault here is with the lead designer not the writer.
No one is saying you can't be a part of a good game if you don't like games. I'm just saying I wouldn't personally recommend game development to someone who didn't enjoy gameplay - and I'd be very sceptical if I knew the writer behind a game doesn't really like games.

Recently, we saw Kingdoms of Amalur - and we saw what happens when you hire a dedicated writer for a specific writing task, without involving him in the actual game development.

A strong game has ties between all aspects of it.

It's like a writer who hates movies would probably not be the best movie writer. Sure, it's possible - but I think a general appreciation for what you're a part of - and especially a relatively thorough understanding of the psychological appeal - WILL inevitably help you contribute.

But that's me.
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February 23rd, 2012, 13:40
I must admit that this news post made no sense to me at first

But yeah, it was a dumb statement for her to make. The way some people have chosen to react is just as equally dumb.
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February 23rd, 2012, 13:49
Agree with DArtagnan - not essential to like movies if you're a scriptwriter, although if you don't … you'd better be pretty damn good at writing to compensate. Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case with Hepler.

Her approach is to try to change the game to be what she likes (with all her talk of mass accessibility) - which may be a fresh and valid view, but perhaps reserved for a new brand and/or a browser game? Moms and grans should certainly be able to play "video games", just maybe not D&D style games, and almost certainly not core high fantasy RPGs.
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February 23rd, 2012, 13:56
Originally Posted by stealth View Post
I must admit that this news post made no sense to me at first

But yeah, it was a dumb statement for her to make. The way some people have chosen to react is just as equally dumb.
Its the internet it doesn't surprise me anymore. That and realizing how deranged extreme Bioware fans can be. Just visit the Bioware forums.

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February 23rd, 2012, 14:55
You guys make it sound like gameplay and writing are one combined entity. Perhaps they could be but, back in reality, her inability to read a map, manage inventory, & poor hand-eye coordination would have practically nothing to do with good writing. If you merely condemn her for being part of something she doesn't necessarily enjoy, welcome to the labor force.

Most important of all… this internet trolling by some random Reddit putz really doesn't deserve to be acknowledged in a news article.
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February 23rd, 2012, 15:02
Originally Posted by Drithius View Post
You guys make it sound like gameplay and writing are one combined entity. Perhaps they could be but, back in reality, her inability to read a map, manage inventory, & poor hand-eye coordination would have practically nothing to do with good writing. If you merely condemn her for being part of something she doesn't necessarily enjoy, welcome to the labor force.

Most important of all… this internet trolling by some random Reddit putz really doesn't deserve to be acknowledged in a news article.
So, you're basically saying the "labor force" is something we shouldn't question?

Again, writing a non-interactive story is very different from writing an interactive story, especially if we're talking C&C and branching storylines.

You need to CARE about the gameplay implications of having a choice, and ideally care more about that - than writing a neat and linear one-way story.

However, Bioware generally don't do C&C terribly well - and their stories have been their primary focus for a long time.

So, yeah, she's probably working in the right place.
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February 23rd, 2012, 15:13
I've been there, this preference for the devs to be gamers, is clearly a strong point, I've worked with programmers who had nothing to do with a game, man it was hard ..
But for a writer I think this matters less. As long as the dialog , plot is adapted correctly by the game designer, there shouldn't be any issues.

About KoA, I can't comment, as I've not read any of that guy's work. Might have shitty books, who knows.
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February 23rd, 2012, 15:27
Dart, you're assuming her position as a [lowly] writer has much influence on the design decisions of games… I think you would be wrong on that account unless she migrated into a senior designer's position. And again, her dislike for certain (more tedious to some) gameplay elements has little at all to do with her ability to write a branching storyline if asked to by her boss.

What good is writing for C&C scenarios if its support within the game itself isn't there? Your reference to RA Salvatore within KoA is apt here: in contrast to Harper, Salvatore clearly enjoys gaming, but the design support to "tie it all together"needs to be there from the start, or its a case of wasted effort.
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February 23rd, 2012, 15:28
I'm sort of in the same situation as Jennifer Hepler is. I have terrible hand-eye co-ordination (probably based on a small brain damage I got when I was about 1½ years old), I get nausea if the game uses the camera system where you head bobs up and down (probably due to a building error? (if that's the word?) in my eyes) and I don't like the fighting system in many games e.g. The Witcher or Mass Effect 3. My hand-eye co-ordination is really not great which means that in the Witcher I used the same style against enemies nearly all the time, and I'm not in favour of games where combos such as 'roll over' can be used. Hence, I prefer good old classic point and click games which can be paused if it an rpg or action game. I can play Bioshock or STALKER because of their fixed camera. Last night I tried the demo a new adventure puzzle game called Dark Secrets; it looked kind og cool and all, but I had to uninstall it, since I got motion sickness from playing it.

I also agree with Hepler that if a game doesn't have good and gripping story, I'm not interested in it. Luckily, many adventure (puzzle) games and rpgs games as well as some action games do have a good story, like COD:MW (the first) and probably the Metal Gear Solid games as well. Bioshock as well. Jennifer Hepler (like me) is probably more interested in the story in games than the gameplay and the mechanism behind how the game works - e.g. the polygons behind the animations or the math calculations behind the combat. And to be frank, to me this is like a foreign language that maybe one day I'll understand. [Also, I never really did understand the rules for combat in D&D…].

The big problem here, as I see it, really is in the last sentence. She knows that she should
play a lot of games, but doesn't, because of all the things she dislikes about games, in particular fighting, tactics, and reading a game map. For the last issue, rpgs have helped someone like her for a long time know with map markers and arrow quest on where to go next. As for fighting and tactics, at least in Skyrim you can choose to not do those things. In an action game, like COD figting this is hard not to do - since all you do is fight.

As I understand how writing for videogames at Bioware works, each writer are given a specific person to work on, possibly from an outline created by the Lead Writer who in turn then are given outlines from the project director who in turn then are given outlines for the whole game by his bosses, maybe even from Ray and Greg themselves? It could also be that Hepler as a writer get to incorporate her own ideas if she can get them approved by the Lead Writer for ME3 or DA2. Hepler works well in the Bioware context, I'd say, since it has been Bioware's goals for the last 5 years to make their games more cinematic, more like movies with a certain inter-activity in them.

To me, it doesn't matter that a writer at game developer like Bioware do not like playing much, but more sees her strength in writing good quests, good character, good stories. It is then up to the Lead Writer for the game to co-ordinate all of this with the other deparments like art, cinematics etc. to get a game with actual gameplay build.

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February 23rd, 2012, 15:34
Must be a slow news day, Bioware isn't really rpg relevant anymore. One of their employees getting spat on is even less significant. I'm much more upset about their crappy products than I am at one employee who might not feel the same way about games that I do.


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February 23rd, 2012, 15:38
Originally Posted by Drithius View Post
Dart, you're assuming her position as a [lowly] writer has much influence on the design decisions of games… I think you would be wrong on that account unless she migrated into a senior designer's position. And again, her dislike for certain (more tedious to some) gameplay elements has little at all to do with her ability to write a branching storyline if asked to by her boss.
I'm not assuming anything. Regardless of her influence on the design, I can't accept that it's a good thing not to enjoy gaming - if you're writing for a game. Her writing will naturally be influenced by her other interests - and whether it's her boss or whatever project manager who takes what she's doing into the game, there's going to be a difference from that - and something written by a passionate gamer.

Especially if the style of writing (like being C&C "flexible") is directed by other people - because then it's not the same as she would prefer. Meaning it can never be her best.

But - do note that such writing can be perfectly appropriate in a game that doesn't deviate much from traditional linear writing. So, again, in the case of Bioware - I don't think it's a big problem. They tend to approach stories like you would in a book or a movie. They're not taking advantage of the interactive medium to the degree I would personally prefer.

So, it's ultimately not a particularly big deal for me.

What good is writing for C&C scenarios if its support within the game itself isn't there? Your reference to RA Salvatore within KoA is apt here: Salvatore clearly enjoys gaming, but the design support to "tie it all together"needs to be there from the start, or its a case of wasted effort.
True. I'm not saying that it's worth much if the actual designers don't take advantage of the passion for gaming.
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February 23rd, 2012, 16:05
I can understand that this probably not the best thing to say as a video game writer. However, the attacks she has suffered are UNACCEPTABLE. I mean, seriously. This shit is disgusting. It makes all of us look bad, especially hardcore RPG fans like here at RPGWatch.
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February 23rd, 2012, 16:14
In my opinion, it is really imple, after all :

Similarly, I'm really terrible at so many things which most games use incessantly — I have awful hand-eye coordination, I don't like tactics, I don't like fighting, I don't like keeping track of inventory, and I can't read a game map to save my life.
Translation : "There doesn't exist a game that is so that it would be fun for me to play with."

Or gamemakers just doesn't do these kind of games she would like to play.

Originally Posted by killias2 View Post
However, the attacks she has suffered are UNACCEPTABLE. I mean, seriously. This shit is disgusting. It makes all of us look bad, especially hardcore RPG fans like here at RPGWatch.
Yes. Because someone out there is currently playing the RPG equivalent of the infamous "grammar nazi".

Someone out there is deeming himself to be so much more competent in gaming than anyone else. Self-righeousness in its most extreme form.

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February 23rd, 2012, 16:46
This is the first I have seen of the Hepler article but maybe that explains why I haven't bought or played a Bioware game since Dragon Age Origins. I am not a fan of tv or movies so why would I want my games to be 40 hour cut scenes with some poor game play sandwiched in between. Though in fairness why attack her just don't buy their crap and the biodoc's will either change their product or go out of business.
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