by crytek_staff Jun 16, 2010 / 11:45
Earlier in the month we collected your questions for Richard Morgan through our community sites and social networking pages (Facebook and Twitter), and now it's time for the answers! Unfortunately we were not able to ask every question, so we selected the very best ones that we feel would provide the most interesting answers. Thanks to everyone who submitted a question and a big thanks to Richard for taking time out to answer them all. Be sure to keep an eye out for future events surrounding Crysis 2!
Q: You've achieved quite a reputation on several news articles. Do you feel pressured to improve upon the story even more, or were you so confident previously that you know the expectations will be fulfilled?
A: Well, I think it's a bit of non sequitur to link my opinions of weak story-telling in other games with some extra pressure to deliver in my work on this one. I'm under pressure to deliver a strong story for Crysis 2 because that's what I signed on to do, and I have to look at myself in the mirror every morning. That's all there is, that's the whole thing, exactly the way it is when I write a novel.
Q: Do you feel that it is more difficult to write a focused and directed narrative for video games than it is for books or films because of the interactive nature of the game medium, or do you think the interactivity adds to the storytelling?
A: Not necessarily more difficult, just different. As with any medium or genre, you take what the territory has to offer and work with it. So in a novel, you have a lot of narrative space, you can really open up; in comic-books or film that's not the case, so you have to go tighter, but at the same time you have at your disposal a visual impact dynamic that's not available to you in prose fiction. So it's far easier to deliver strong visceral shocks and thrills in those media. Similarly, in gaming the interactivity is at once a limiting factor, but also an opportunity. There are things you can't do that you could in a novel, but at the same time you have options available that prose or film would not allow. It's just a question of understanding those differences and seeing them as opportunities rather than limitations.
Q: Do you think a mixture of FPS with custom dialogs/ multiple ways of ending would enhance games or would you prefer rather linear story telling so you can tell the story without much interacting and more focus on certain details?
A: That depends entirely on what you want to achieve. I think we suffer in gaming from a bit of an obsession with potential at the expense of purpose; we seem too often to add things in simply because we can, rather than because it will actually make a better game. Variable storyline is a very powerful thing, and I've seen it deployed to fantastic effect most notably in Midway's The Suffering, where it was woven into the whole fabric of what the game wanted to achieve. But that doesn't automatically mean all games should have that dynamic. COD 4 and FEAR both functioned perfectly well without it, would in fact probably have suffered from any attempt to introduce that kind of variation. The important thing is to decide first what you want to achieve with a narrative, and then go look at the available (and proto-available!) tools. As to personal preference, I really don't mind one way or the other I'd have been very proud to have been associated with the story-telling in any of those games I just mentioned, regardless of which story mechanic they explore.
Q: How difficult was it for you to write a sequel to a game, while keeping the story fresh?
A: Not difficult at all in fact, that was probably one of the most fun parts. In many ways, it's far easier to approach an existing IP and look at ways to modify and re-rig, than it is to start from scratch. It gives you something to get your teeth into right away, an existing edifice to clamber around on. And the interesting thing about the narrative in the first Crysis was that it had an enormous amount of undeveloped potential lying around there were all these side issues and unresolved threads, and that gave me a lot of traction coming in. I just set out to chase the most intriguing unanswered questions and unresolved issues.
Q: When Writing Crysis 2, did you have many restrictions due to the capability of the CryENGINE 3?
A: Not really. Or, put it this way, thinking back, I can't recall a point at which I was ever told no, we can't do that, the game engine won't stand it. One of the benefits of writing for Crytek seems to be that they don't really talk about limitations in the tech; once something's agreed upon for the narrative or the game-play, they just go away and build it.
Q: Cut scenes I know will be an important part for this game; do you have to be there to direct the cut scenes so that in your eyes, it's right?
A: In fact, that's not really my area we have this kick-ass animation director called Steve Bender who handles the cinematics. I actually spent quite a lot of time with Steve banging the scenes back and forth, hammering out what we wanted to achieve in each one. And it's only fair to say that in a lot of cases, I went off to re-write dialogue as a result of his input; to that extent, the genesis of those scripted sections owes a great deal to him, it has been very much a collaborative effort. But once we've agreed how the scene has to run, Steve's the guy who executes. Where I get more involved is in recording the audio I'm on site there to provide direction for the actors, to flesh out how a line needs to be delivered or discuss a couple of possible variations in that delivery.
Q: Do you have any advice to give Modders or wannabe game writers out there?
A: Get off your arses, get out there and start writing! Seriously, there's never been a better time to be a game writer. Interactive media are taking the entertainment world by storm. The potential is huge, and the norms still haven't hardened the way they have in film-making, plus the speed at which the technology is advancing means they probably won't for some considerable time to come. This is like working in movies circa 1920 or something it's exhilarating. You don't want to miss it.
Q: How did New York influence the story you wrote for Crysis 2?
A: I think the point about using an iconic city for location is that you instantly create an emotional charge that isn't there for a more natural environment like the island in Crysis 1. Everyone recognizes New York, everyone has an opinion on it one way or another. That obviously means that your characters can be given that same set of emotional response they are (or in some cases are defiantly not) invested in the city and what happens to it. That dynamic isn't necessarily a front-and-centre in-your-face kind of thing, but it contributes to some nice subtle shading. And for me, the whole point of a city like New York is that it represents the height of modernity it's a melting pot of influences and people, it belongs to the whole human race as much as, perhaps even more than, it does to east coast America. That gives you a great focal strength for an invasion narrative.
Q: What techniques are you using to take advantage of the video game as a story telling platform?
A: Well, we won't be going for a huge amount of incidental pick-ups as seen in games like Bioshock. Crysis 2 is very much a fast-forward dynamic shooter, and we decided that the pick-ups would slow the pace of the game too much. That means we're relying on more subtle cues the stuff you see lying around, radios and TVs left on, advertising media, graffiti, placards and posters, the internal detail in people's living spaces. Likewise, where character is concerned, we're looking at a lot of implication rather than straight exposition it's always better if you can get the player to join the dots for themselves rather than spoon feed them every last thing. Basically, if you want to charge through Crysis 2 doing nothing but shoot everything in sight and move swiftly on, then you will be able to, and it'll still make sense. But if you do choose to hang around and pay attention, there'll also be a rich texture of finer detail for you to discover.
Q: As a writer, is it easy to work on Crysis 2? Or was it difficult transitioning from books to video games?
A: Moving between media is never going to be a problem for a competent writer, so long as said writer brings along a functioning sense of humility and a willingness to learn. I mean, clearly a novel and a video game are vastly different story media, and have to function in vastly different ways, but once you accept this, the transition isn't so much difficult as it is enchanting. Over the last several months, I have hit an incredibly steep learning curve, and it's been super-cool exhilarating skate-boarding up that curve. As to the basic logistics, well, game scripting bears quite a lot of resemblance to scripting for comics or cinema, both of which I've done before, so that much of it was an easy reach. And I'm an enthusiastic console gamer myself, so I have a pretty good sense of what needs to happen in a good game. That, plus having a great bunch of talented pros around me, has really been all that I needed. So far, it's been a real trip.
Q: Could you describe the workflow you have with Crysis 2 storyboard artist(s)?
A: The key to that whole process has really been the very talented on-site writer, Martin Lancaster, with whom I've collaborated throughout. I live in Glasgow and Crytek are in Frankfurt, and even with the immense amount of time I've spent this year living in Frankfurt hotels and coming into the offices like any other Crytek employee, it's still tricky to make sure you go to all the right meetings and talk to all the right people. Martin, on the other hand, knows the processes at Crytek inside and out, and he's been instrumental in making sure that I talk to the right people at the right time, and get the necessary feedback from Art, Level Design and Audio as and when the time is right. So we've ended up watching a lot of these really cool animated story sketches, then going back to script to tweak for beats and matters arising, then watching it evolve from storyboard to base cinematic, then back to tweak some more, and so forth... Really, it's an organic and pretty much never-ending series of checks to make sure the story-telling and visual contexts are a perfect match.
Q: While the story in Crysis 1 wasn't terrible by any means, it wasn't exactly the most detailed and intricate story ever told. Would you say you had enough base to write a more compelling story?
A: Absolutely the interesting thing for me about the original Crysis story was how much undeveloped space there was; threads were left hanging, characters came in and out without explanation and there was clearly far more going on than met the player character's eye at any point. Now those are exactly the kind of cracks in an existing narrative that offer the most fruitful areas for development. I was able to chase those elusive off-stage elements without needing to disrupt the existing story, and then use them to create a new set of contexts from which to launch a fresh and compelling narrative of my own.
Q: What steps are you taking to disassociate the main characters in Crysis from the typical super soldier image? How far will you be going to prevent a "Master Chief" syndrome?
A: Well, the truth is, I don't think you even have to go that far you just have to treat your audience with respect, treat them like intelligent adults, and not try to sell them some warmed-over kid's-morning-cartoon stereotypical excuse for a story. I mean, let's be clear: Crysis is a shooter, so your player character needs to be some kind of warrior/soldier that's axiomatic, if you want the game fiction to work, that's the line you're going to take. But that doesn't mean we abandon our brains and finer emotional sensibilities at the door and step into the same old bullshit, gung-ho, doin'-it-for-Daddy, teenage boy's wet-dream of super-power. Soldiers are real people, as human as you or I. They suffer from doubt, fear, anxiety, pain and confusion just like anybody else. They find themselves in situations they don't understand, taking orders they're maybe not happy with, wondering what the hell is going on. They pay an emotional price often a heavy one for the things that they do. Anything they achieve comes at a cost. And here's the crucial bit, the adult bit, if you like how they respond to that is exactly what makes them interesting. Human frailty is what makes us feel something for other human beings, whether in fiction or reality. Unless you're some kind of emotional cripple, what possible engagement is there in a totally competent, totally fearless, totally strong and totally righteous superhero? All the best superhero stories are about the flaws and failings in that superhero's character, the things that make them not super-heroic, but human. So the simple trick in avoiding your choice of words, not mine! "Master Chief" syndrome is to give your characters some weaknesses, some fears and uncertainties, some signs that they're up against their limits and suffering as a result. In other words, give them some messy grown-up humanity, something a mature and smart audience can get their teeth into, and then show the cost to those characters in achieving their goals. That's it, that's the whole trick, that's what we'll be doing. It isn't actually that complicated, but it does, as I said, require the simple step of respecting your audience as intelligent adults. Shame it seems so hard for so many games to take that simple step.
Q: I'm a console gamer that hasn't played the original Crysis. Will you explain the story from the original game?
A: The idea is to make sure that Crysis 2 stands on its own as a narrative. I've never much liked fiction that demands and depends upon a fannish knowledge of the franchise so far. To my mind that's not good story-telling, it's just product chunking. If I've done my job well, you should be able to pick up the controller knowing nothing about previous Crysis games and just plunge straight in.
Q: Have you read any of H.P love crafts works? There are themes of a lost humanity in the face of an alien universe, coupled with insanity: do these themes inspire or affect your work and the Crysis story line? I ask because I felt the original Crysis' story was going that way with the ancient, wild phenomenon and huge invasion against humanity.
A: I have read some Lovecraft though, as with Howard, I always found his views on race and class too repugnant for me to really enjoy the work and it's true he did manage at times to mine a great vein of dark, unknowable horror. But I think the Crysis franchise is far more a science fictional narrative than it is pure horror. While there's a great deal not known about the alien invaders something which makes speculation all the more fun! there's never any sense that they are genuinely unknowable. And while Lovecraft was skeptical of human science's ability to understand the universe, I am actually quite optimistic in that direction. There are answers out there just a question of finding them, and in time!