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Default BioWare - Patrick Weekes Blogs About Game Plots

November 30th, 2006, 11:38
In the latest of his ongoing LiVEJOURNAL blogs, Patrick Weekes (a.k.a. Pasquinade), a writer for BioWare, talks a bit about a new BioWare title in production called Revolver withemphasis on cutting plots and on story arcs. He also offers some tongue-in-cheek advice on surviving as a writer in the gaming industry:
This is how games are made. Pick your battles, figure out what you love, and don't get attached to the rest. Don't get the reputation as the employee who becomes a big artiste and can't change any of his special little snowflakes because you don't understand his vision and they're perfect, damn it! Get the reputation as the guy who can make the game better even if it means cutting some of the stuff he wrote, the guy who can turn an "Oh, God, they want to kill my babies!" order into something that he's actually excited about. Be that guy. People want to work with that guy.
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November 30th, 2006, 11:38
Huh. Interesting find, Kawika.

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November 30th, 2006, 18:04
Yeah. You never know what you'll find when you do a little digging. lol

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December 1st, 2006, 03:32
My buddy just elbowed me from the next desk over and said, "Hey, man, you just went public."

And despite my prolific leaking of unicorn-specific information, I am so far not dooced.

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December 1st, 2006, 06:16
LOL! Well, I'm just a lowly newshound. I sniff out juicy slabs of insider info steak and serve it up sizzlin' hot. I have no designs. Well…other than perhaps an eye for your sweet-ass job.

Anyway, welcome to our forums Patrick!

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December 2nd, 2006, 08:18
HI

I'm afraid for the future of Bioware as a company…. not right now, but in the long run.

The game devs. (not just Bioware) and publushers do need to realize that we, the gaming public, wants to rejoice, cry, feel, wail, laugh, etc. at the appropriate times in games.

This is, indeed, why we do play games.

I certainly do not hope that alle games are made this way. If they are, maybe devs. & publishers should ask themselves why gamers don't buy as many crpgs, as before. Cutting unique items, unique quests, as well as cutting deeper story arcs for each character (which could give the gamers a real sense of the characters' mottivation) might just mean that bioware (or other game devs.) don't sell (enough) games.
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December 3rd, 2006, 04:05
Originally Posted by aries100 View Post
HI

I'm afraid for the future of Bioware as a company…. not right now, but in the long run.

The game devs. (not just Bioware) and publushers do need to realize that we, the gaming public, wants to rejoice, cry, feel, wail, laugh, etc. at the appropriate times in games.
Right. And the old story arcs didn't deliver that. Now we've got one that does (unless, y'know, I botch the writing).

I certainly do not hope that alle games are made this way. If they are, maybe devs. & publishers should ask themselves why gamers don't buy as many crpgs, as before. Cutting unique items, unique quests, as well as cutting deeper story arcs for each character (which could give the gamers a real sense of the characters' mottivation) might just mean that bioware (or other game devs.) don't sell (enough) games.
I'm not sure what problem you have here. Are you concerned that stuff was cut, or were you concerned that something wasn't good the first time it was outlined and sketched out?

If the former… I wouldn't worry. This is not content you will regret not getting. The remaining plots will be better, and if we have time and resources to add more content, it's likely to be stronger than those plots I designed.

If the latter… that's how design works. Write, revise, wait awhile, look again, and see what's worth keeping. We have a lot of room for awesome, and very little room for mediocre, and nothing you play looks much like it did when it was first conceived in the writing pit.

I can't defend the removal of the lame plots or the merging of the two stories in any great detail without giving too much away, so I'm afraid that's as much info as you get — unless you've got a specific question or concern about how design generally comes up with these stories?

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December 3rd, 2006, 05:22
The original KOTOR was a great game but it suffered from being too short. When I was playing I couldn't get rid of the impression that the story was unfolding too fast and that my character was becoming powerful too quickly. It seems that this is always the case with BioWare's latest releases.

This is really a shame as nobody else seems to be able to tell such great stories or create deep characters. If Dragon Age turns out to be another 30 hour long linear RPG I will be deeply disappointed.
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December 3rd, 2006, 05:46
What I would love, not just from bio, but from anyone, is something that hasn't been done before. You're a writer, just think how lame every story you wrote in the paper medium would be if the dialogue between the characters were as meaningless as they are in crpgs. Or, think how much stronger even a game with little dialogue could be if that dialgue was meaningful? I skip 90% of dialgue because it is meaningless. I don't have to read it. I just have to click the response I know will do what I want it to do.

It's hard to explain what I'm thinking, and relates more to game mechanics than to any flaw in game dialogue. In all my favorite books there is drama and tension. People are placed in live or die situations. Words are powerful and meaningful. No game I ever played had any sort of high drama. Crpgs don't place you in live or die situations. They place you insituations that you either fight, use diplomacy and talk your way out, etc. Any edge of your seat tension is gone because the devs would never place you in a situation you couldn't win by fighting. Just plain boot-licking and begging for your life in order to not have your character or party die perminently isn't an option.

I would read and care about the dialgue if I had a reason to, but I don't. The quest log will sum up what I need to do in a more concise way. And its not that I don't like story or dialgue, as I read a lot. And it's not that I think the story or dialgue in the games I skip it stinks. Its just that I have no emotional connection to the game.

Lets say a dev came to you with this premise: he was going to make a game where the character was going to constantly be put in situations that were fatal. Ironman mode only. If he dies, thats it, new game. These are the social skills and abilities. I want you to never make the player feel like this is the generic safe response. I want npcs with all different types of reactions so the pc will have to really read and digest what is being said, as if this were a real life or death situation, or feel like he would while immersed in a good book, and the player doesn't feel safe. I want the player to be nervous when he picks his character's dialgue choice. I want him to sweat and worry, and I want his hands to shake. Can you make me dialogue that will suck you in like that if I give you the mechanics to support it?

I see that started off as a 3rd person dev and ended in first, sorry, but you get my point.
Last edited by roqua; December 3rd, 2006 at 06:10.
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December 3rd, 2006, 20:26
Originally Posted by Lethal Weapon View Post
The original KOTOR was a great game but it suffered from being too short. When I was playing I couldn't get rid of the impression that the story was unfolding too fast and that my character was becoming powerful too quickly. It seems that this is always the case with BioWare's latest releases.

This is really a shame as nobody else seems to be able to tell such great stories or create deep characters. If Dragon Age turns out to be another 30 hour long linear RPG I will be deeply disappointed.
If you think that KotOR was too short, you are, sadly, in the minority. A vocal minority, I know — most of the forum posts by people who really really care a lot are by people who want the games to be longer. But (and I say this as somebody who came to BioWare because he played and loved the really long games), the average player — the core CRPG player — doesn't want the game to be 100 hours.

Feel free to start yelling. I understand. Please understand that I WOULD love the game to be 100 hours.

But every test we've run, all the data we have, says that while the people who are most vocal on the forums want the long games, the vast majority of the people who play CRPGs want a short, sweet experience. And in fact, if you make a game longer than, say, 40 hours, your average gamer gets bored and doesn't finish it — not because it was bad, but because it was LONG.

So, sucks to be us, right? BioWare has to choose between making the diehard RPG fans happy and making the most sales, and cynically, we all know which one they're gonna pick.

But not so fast. There's good news — in fact, as I see it, there's GREAT news. The design that BioWare is aiming for is one that, ideally, makes both sides pretty happy. For most of our games, going forward, the plan is to de-linear-ize as much as possible. Give the player a critical path (the main story) that's at the length that the average gamer wants (25-30 hours), but put enough side content out there to make a die-hard fan happy. Depending on the scope of the game, that brings the game up to 50, 70, or even 100 hours. (Note: hypotheticals here. I don't know the exact lengths of any of our current games in development, because they're, wait for it, in development. And if I did, I'd be fired for giving exact hour-counts.)

That may not be the exact story you want to hear, but it's the truth as I understand it — and I don't think it's bad news. The weekend gamer who wants to be able to beat the game on Easy over 25 hours? He gets his game, and he's happy. The hardcore player who wants to replay to find things he missed before (or that weren't available to the class/race he picked last time) and look under every rock for new things to whack? He's happy, too.

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December 3rd, 2006, 20:31
Originally Posted by roqua View Post
What I would love, not just from bio, but from anyone, is something that hasn't been done before…
Without going into details (because, again, I don't want to get fired), I can say that what you're discussing is something we're all discussing as we design games. I don't know that we'll deliver everything you're asking for anytime real soon, but that's where we want to go.

So as new games come out, don't be surprised if there ARE fights that are gonna make you reload a few times if you walked in thinking that the designers would be afraid to kill you (at least, on the normal setting — on easy, things will always be easy). Don't be surprised if there are some choices that actually make you think on a moral level. Don't be surprised if we try some tricks to cut back on dialogue that isn't really bringing you a chance to roleplay, so that we can have more dialogue available in the parts where you WILL get to roleplay.

That's all I can really say, but you're asking for good stuff, and I think we're moving in that direction.

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December 3rd, 2006, 23:12
Originally Posted by PatrickWeekes View Post
That may not be the exact story you want to hear, but it's the truth as I understand it — and I don't think it's bad news. The weekend gamer who wants to be able to beat the game on Easy over 25 hours? He gets his game, and he's happy. The hardcore player who wants to replay to find things he missed before (or that weren't available to the class/race he picked last time) and look under every rock for new things to whack? He's happy, too.
I don't think it's bad news either. Game length is certainly not the most important aspect and the ability to deliver excellent RPGs with good replay value is one of the reasons that BioWare has earned my respect over the years.

Still, it would be great news if once in a while gaming companies, and I mean especially Bioware, were able to put aside monetary considerations and just concentrate on developing a good game, delivering both quality and quantity. In my humble opinion quality and quantity are interrelated in a high degree.

When Pericles suggested the construction of Parthenon he was met with all sorts of negative criticism. That his plan was counter-productive; especially so when the city-state had so many needs to attend to, equipping being the top priority in anticipation of the coming wars. Those who underestimate the power of culture have been repeatedly proven wrong by history.

Computer games are slowly becoming an art. They are evolving into the modern operas. I, for one, would rather play a bad computer game than watch the best TV show and more often than not, I prefer playing a nice RPG than reading a good book.

If top quality games lack the user base to make them profitable then I would say that something is really very very wrong.

Keep up the good work!!
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December 4th, 2006, 00:06
Originally Posted by Lethal Weapon View Post
…Computer games are slowly becoming an art. They are evolving into the modern operas. I, for one, would rather play a bad computer game than watch the best TV show and more often than not, I prefer playing a nice RPG than reading a good book…
I agree 100%, and feel that what makes a good crpg superior to a more passive medium is the immediacy of the suspension of disbelief, and the ability to physically interact with and have an impact on the fictional world. In essence, it then becomes your world as well as the author's.

BTW, nice attitude in the blog statement, Mr. Weekes. I wish everybody did want to "be that guy." We all would benefit.

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December 4th, 2006, 01:15
Patrick, thanks for posting here, please continue. I like what I'm hearing about the direction you're going, as I have all the PC Bioware based games!!

If God said it, then that settles it!!

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December 5th, 2006, 16:49
Patrick, than you so much for posting here & to respond to my thoughts.

I certainly do understand the way the writing process works. It is much the same way I work when I write, be it articles, papers - or even stories. However, imo, this wasn't very clearly stated in your blog. IIRC, you said in your blog that your boss
just came in one day and said that he thought it would be great idea if the stort
got cut in half - sort of. Or that one of the story arcs ought to get cut.

And yes, I'm a bit concerned, not with the lenght of the game (see next
paragraph) but for unique items being cut, unique quests being cut etc.
Things all true rpg-fans truly love —- However, I do agree that by cutting & re-organizing certain items, quests and dialoque the game should, hopefully,
get & be better.

As for the game's length, afaik Bioware's games (or Black Isle/Interplay) did bring you a main quest which would be from 30-50 hours or so, and sidequest a plenty
to make the full game around 150-200 hours or so.

I also sort of understand why Bioware aims for more casual gamers to buy their games as game developing costs seem to have been going through the roof lately.
I don't understand why Bioware (or other game companies) rely on data from focus groups etc. since people in these groups normally lies through their teeth - just to make the people asking them the questions about a certain product, happy.
(a study done in Denmark comfirmed this, I think…)

ON a more general note, I would say that an indie developer like Bioware, needs to cater to their fans; It is these fans which will carry you through the rainy days i.e. when times get tough…
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December 5th, 2006, 17:11
How is Bio an indie developer? They are the biggest rpg development company and growing. And Bio does cater to their fans. Far more of there fans are happy with their games than vice versa.

I'm sorry to say that I am not a Bio fan as they are new school and I'm from the old. And my tastes and what they produce can only diverge more in the future. But if I was the CEO of BIO I would actually cut more complexity out of the games and add in more action. Look at all the reviews for slamming NWN2 for being too complex.

On the other hand, Kotor 1 and Jade Empire were two of a hand full of games I actually finished in the last 6 years. I can't say I liked either one of them too much, but they were shorter, had small areas, and in general I wanted to see the outcome. One of Bio's strong points is always the story and party/npc interaction. Now, mechanics on the other hand… And of course if Bio made games to suite my taste they would be an indie developer or out of business.
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December 5th, 2006, 18:57
A very interesting read, as was the following discussion. Personally I agree with Roqua; for me the strongest RPGs will always be the ones who try to go in the same direction as the best books. Of course games can't deliver the exact same thing, it's a different medium, but they can take inspiration from how dialogues are done and how the story develops.

As to what Patrick did when combining the two stories into one. Hmm. We've just had a discussion here on the forums regarding game length, and most agree that it's more important to have a great game while it lasts, than a tedious one that feels too long. I support cutting out anything that makes a game feel tedious, it really reduces replayvalue and the overall impression of the game. If only more developer would do what Patrick did and Oblivion-style games would be reduced to an hour and a half..
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December 5th, 2006, 21:59
Originally Posted by aries100 View Post
However, imo, this wasn't very clearly stated in your blog. IIRC, you said in your blog that your boss just came in one day and said that he thought it would be great idea if the story got cut in half - sort of. Or that one of the story arcs ought to get cut.
First off, sorry for not responding to other folks — I'm choosing my typing expenditure carefully these days, as my left index finger recently lost a fight with a nice serrated bread-cutting knife. E, R, and T are… well, they're reachable with the left middle finger, but it's a pain.

To answer your question: that's not really the way it happened, and that's likely me not explaining it well. My boss came in to make the suggestion that we think about backup plans, essentially. He was suggesting it more as an exercise than as "Yes, we're doing this starting Monday," and he was suggesting it because in KotOR and Jade, there were things that had to be cut because resources didn't come through (ie, art did not have the manpower to build us the additional level, memory constraints made the level impossible to get functional, tech designers couldn't get the big puzzle that was the reason for the whole world to work). (Also note: that happens on every game. It's not the fault of art or the programmers or the tech designers. It's people pushing the envelope to see how much game they can get, and there's always a place where you push too far.)

So my boss wasn't saying, "Cut this." My boss was saying, "Okay, writing and thinking exercise — what happens if art comes to us and says that we need to cut the equivalent of one of KotOR's planets? What's our backup plan? Rather than scramble and try to pull something out, how nice would it be to have a backup plan in place?"

It's a subtle difference, but an important one.

Will try to respond to other good points later. Should actually earn my paycheck for a few hours.

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December 5th, 2006, 23:05
Patrick, thanks for respoding - again.

Actually, the little I know about Bioware's work conditions doesn't suggest that your boss did come and say to you 'cut this' or 'cut that'. I'm pretty sure that it was a suggestion that you cut something or merged to story arcs into one.

I'm also pretty sure that the atmosphere at Bioware is such that everyone starts thinking asbout ways to do this - seeing it as challenge. However, since I'm from Denmark, Europe, I know that most Danish people will sigh and think 'arhg —- more work —-' and probably will see this (what your boss suggested) as a problem rather than the challenge it truly is.

I thought part of your work was to respond to people on forums like this one
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December 6th, 2006, 00:01
Just a small comment: If you hurt your finger and find it hard to type E or T, I would just register once and put it on autologin instead of having to type PatrickWeekes over and over which contains one t and three e's, hehe.
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