Writers Guild Videogame Award Nominees

By Jim Rossignol on January 13th, 2009 at 9:02 am.


Variety have published a piece about the Writers Guild videogame award nominees, which awarded its first round of awards to videogame writers last year. This year there’s only one game that isn’t on PC, and another game that springs straight from the heart of the indie community.

Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 (EA). Writer: Haris Orkin. Story Producer: Mical Pedriana.

Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble! (Mousechief). Writing: Keith Nemitz. Additional Writing: Adrianne Ambrose.

Fallout 3 (Bethesda). Lead Writer: Emil Pagliarulo. Quest Writing: Erik J. Caponi, Brian Chapin, Jon Paul Duvall, Kurt Kuhlmann, Alan Nanes, Bruce Nesmith, and Fred Zeleny. Additional Quest Writing: Nate Ellis, William Killeen, Mark Nelson, and Justin McSweeney.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (LucasArts). Writers: Haden Blackman, Shawn Pitman, John Stafford and Cameron Suey.

Tomb Raider: Underworld (Eidos). Story: Eric Lindstrom and Toby Guard. Screenplay: Eric Lindstrom.

Red Alert 3. Are you sure?

Congratulations to the Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble! team, obviously. And I have to say that I’m surprised that Tomb Raider Underworld has done so badly – it’s one of the best Tomb Raider games in years.

So anyway, does everyone agree with that list? If not, who would you nominate?

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77 Comments »

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  1. sigma83 says:

    Left 4 Dead? Some of the dialogue is quite clever.

    But it’s not a writing achievement in the sense that Fallout 3 would be (haven’t played it)

    I heard GTA 4 had fantastic writing.

    How was the writing in Mirror’s Edge, for those of you who had a look?

  2. grasskit says:

    How on earth would anyone consider Fallout 3 writing worth an award?

  3. sigma83 says:

    Grasskit: why did you find it bad?

  4. aldo_14 says:

    It’s only eligable to WGA members or something, isn’t it?

  5. sigma83 says:

    aldo_14: Yes, I believe so.

  6. LewieP says:

    The list is severely lacking the sign painter.

  7. sigma83 says:

    OH YES. World of Goo!

  8. Bobsy says:

    I have… issues… with Tom’s Raider: Underwired. I’ll discuss them at length later, in the forum.

    But yeah, there are some pretty iffy choices for writing in there. Semi-contraversial decision, everyone: Penny Arcade Adventures? Writing good/bad?

  9. Gap Gen says:

    Is this the same awards that didn’t consider Portal because it doesn’t have a named writer in the credits (as no-one has a named role at Valve)?

    Anyways, Dead Space’s writing wasn’t bad. Gal Civ II’s Ultimate Pack could be counted as 2008, I guess, and its writing is pretty good on the whole. World of Goo, maybe?

    But yes, no game truly stands out as having excellent writing, or being notable for its writing at least. Sometimes that’s a good thing; you don’t want lines of text to plough down the screen (Star Wars) or have hours of pointless, masturbatory cut-scenes (MGS:4, apparently).

  10. sigma83 says:

    I only played the demo, but what I saw I liked.

  11. skizelo says:

    WoG should get an award for most efficient writing. I wouldn’t say it was the best though.

  12. grasskit says:

    sigma83: writing of the dialog suffers from lack of ambition most of the time, often seeming childish. no where near on par with the originals. and in RPG writing trump everything else i think. sure it’s no that bad, mostly hit or miss, I just don’t think it should be considered for an award.

  13. Katsumoto says:

    Surely Tomb Raider Underworld, whilst excellent, had the most ridiculous plot of the lot of them, and made little or no sense throughout. Bizarre choice.

    Fallout 3 too had all the staples of a Bethesda classic (i.e. almost universal criticism of the awful dialogue, despite the rest of the game being great?). Again, bizarre imo!

    From this year, Mass Effect stands tall above everything else writing wise, but maybe i’m getting writing mixed up with the quality of the voice acting.

  14. LewieP says:

    I would have thought Mass Effect too, but whilst I played it this year too, it came out (on the 360) in 2007.

  15. sigma83 says:

    Grasskit: As mentioned many times on the internet, Fallout 3 may be suffering (or enjoying, depending on your viewpoint) from the enormous hype surrounding it. I’ll have to play it to develop an opinion.

    Gap gen: Most of the time you don’t notice writing in games because it’s married to the gameplay. I think that the corridors you run through in Splinter Cell are part of the writing as well, i.e. you’re in this submarine for reason A etc etc.

    Games like old style adventure games (and the modern equivalent, the action RPG) you notice the writing more because the writing tends to be separate from the gameplay, such as in the form of dialogue options. Someone wrote Alyx’s lines in Half Life, but you’re less inclined to notice that than the fact that someone wrote Guybrush Threepwood’s multitude of witticisms.

    Caveat: Above is my opinion.

  16. sigma83 says:

    Katsumoto: Mass Effect had really good narrative structure, and the dialogue was very well done but taken in the context of the game I’m not 100% on some issues (the black/white morality choices being the first example I can think of)

    The voice acting being phenomenal was really on top of all of that.

  17. Schmung says:

    Fallout 3 is a very odd choice. Most people have derided the main quest as being universally dire and the dialogue is universally naff, but some of the side quests are really, really excellent. It seems a bit too patchy to deserve award, but then I’m not sure what criteria you use to judge game writing :/

  18. Kanamit says:

    I say this as an uninformed AIM, but Fallout 3. Really?

    I share other commentators’ surprise at the exclusion of GTA IV and Mass Effect. Those both had better writing than the average Hollywood film.

  19. LewieP says:

    I’m not sure how Fallout 3 could win, when they haven’t even ended the game, they want more money from us to get the actual ending.

  20. sigma83 says:

    The average Hollywood film is trash though hey. Let’s up our bar a bit.

  21. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    I don’t get the criticism. “I’m looking for my dad. Middle-aged guy. Seen him?”? That’s a might contender against the likes of DeLillo and McEwan, really.

  22. Dante says:

    @ Sigma – Mirror’s Edge isn’t great, I like Rhianna Pratchett, but the story looks very much like it’s been tacked on at the last minute and scribbled in the margins of the game. Under those kind of circumstances the writer mostly ends up just desperately trying to explain what’s going on. That most of it takes place in those godawful 2 animated cutscenes.

    Fallout 3 has pretty solid writing to be honest, I think the AIMs are just comparing it to… actually I have no idea what they’re comparing it too, they’re weird like that.

    It’s kind of hard to think of anything that stands out, writing wise (Mass Effect being last year) GTA is mostly a mass of swearing and caricatures, Prince of Persia has some nice bits of dialogue but a terribly generic story, Left4Dead contains far too little, ditto World of Goo.

    Red Alert isn’t a terribly bad shout, it hits what it aims for, incredibly silly humour, really well.

  23. phil says:

    Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble! should definitely win, the tone and jokes stayed rocked solid through out.

    Starwars, Tomb Raider, Command and Conquer, though fine for the most part were forgetable.

    Fallout 3 will probably get it, no one does fatherly quite like Liam Neeson, and the judges probably don’t play more than a couple of hours of any title.

  24. Pags says:

    The Force Unleashed? Come on.

    If they’re going to make dubious nominations, I’d much rather GTA4 were up there instead. From what I hear, Fable 2 is semi-deserving of some sort of writing accolade too.

  25. Kanamit says:

    Oh you won’t get any arguments from me about the quality of the average Hollywood film. But whether we like it or not the writing in the vast majority of video games don’t clear that bar.

    Of course, writing in video games is also arguably more complex than writing in films, what with branching dialogue trees and such. The amount of writing in GTA IV, from the talk radio, to the television to the slightly different car conversations, to plain old cutscenes is astounding, which makes me even more surprised that it wasn’t included.

  26. Ginger Yellow says:

    Presumably the Brothers Chaps aren’t in the WGA, or surely Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People would win this.

  27. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    I’m going to completely disagree with above and say, GTA IV, admittedly I’m only about 2 hours in, but the characters so far give a good impression of having a full back story and motives and Stuff.

    Anyway, the clear winner should be ‘You have to burn the rope’. Now that’s writing.

  28. LewieP says:

    Have you guys seen the nominees from last year?

    Crash of the Titans, Dead Head Fred, The Simpsons Game, The Witcher and World in Conflict.

    I’m not really sure what criteria these nominations are based on…

  29. Dante says:

    As Aldo says, you have to be a member to qualify.

    This is actually a marked improvement on last year, when World in Conflict was the only half decent game there.

  30. Dante says:

    Yeah, wait till you meet Florian, an old friend of yours who relocated to America to come out of the closet, and thus acts like a squealing ineffectual mincer despite the fact that he used to be in the Serbian Army

  31. Joe says:

    LewieP:
    World in Conflict should’ve won last year, that story was amazing!

  32. gulag says:

    Does the re-release of the Witcher in last year’s deluxe edition make it eligable? best written RPG of the last few years.

  33. Alex says:

    A writing award for Fallout 3?

    What?

    Where ARE the good stories and conversations then? I played for 15 hours but I couldn’t find any. In which corner of the map are they hidden?

  34. Kanamit says:

    @Dante: Serbian? I got the impression that they were Bosnians. I don’t think they ever say specifically though.

  35. Dante says:

    Fallout 3 doesn’t deserve it but the Witcher does? I’ll never understand the internet.

  36. Yann Best says:

    Yep, an improvement on last year. Who knows, maybe in a few years’ time the awards will manage to avoid the ‘bwuh!?’ syndrome that seems to plague the WG’s nominations. Perhaps when they stop only allowing WG members.

    (Though, as has been pointed out, this year there was something of a dearth of brilliant writing in games – as opposed to last year, where Bioshock, Mass Effect and Portal were all conspicuous by their absence. Nevertheless – you do have to wonder about the state of games writing for Fallout 3 to be considered for the awards [unless said awards are actually based on quantity, rather than quality]. Not having played TFW or TRU I can’t comment on them, and Red Alert does at least achieve what it sets out to do. And DHSGiT! is fabulous)

  37. DBeaver says:

    Seriously, Underworld? It has the writing (and plot) of National Treasure, goddamnit… really lame, in my opinion.
    I guess WoG would make sense, even though the writing was very little (though good…). Since GTA4 and Portal are both 2007 games, I’d say there just wasn’t really great writing this year, as compared to last… they should make “crappiest writing” awards, way way easier! (One Web of Shadows coming up, right away)

  38. Dante says:

    Hmmn, I thought it said Serbian near the beginning, although I might have imagined it.

    They probably come from Unspecifislavia.

  39. Pags says:

    Yeah, wait till you meet Florian, an old friend of yours who relocated to America to come out of the closet, and thus acts like a squealing ineffectual mincer despite the fact that he used to be in the Serbian Army

    At first I really enjoyed Florian’s character; particularly the first cutscene where he switches between mincing fairy to really angry and back again in a single breath. It seemed like they were setting him up to be a really layered character, albeit in a rather heavy-handed way – y’know, deliberately trying to distance himself from his previous persona but never being able to fully get out of it when reminded of the war.

    Then, sadly, turns out they were entirely satisfied with keeping the mincing fairy thing going.

    I do still maintain that GTAIV has much better writing than The Force Unleashed & Red Alert 3. It uses cheap plot devices (kill established character near end, blah blah) and is heavy on the stereotypes (c’mon, it’s a GTA game), but there’s some semblance of a decent-if-derivative American Dream undercurrent and the satire is still as sharp as videogames have come to achieve so far.

  40. Richard Beer says:

    Fallout 3 is incrediby patchy in terms of dialogue. Some bits are great and others fall pretty flat. The side-quests can be very interesting (cannibal families etc) but, ultimately, I don’t get half as much personality from the world as I did from Fallout 2. I am not sucked in. The writing isn’t good enough.

    GTA IV’s writing was first class in every respect, from the television shows to the random pedestrian comments to the world around you.

    L4D’s writing is also top-notch, a classic example of when less is more. The odd snatches of dialogue you hear between the characters fill in their back story; the graffiti on the walls that you only sometimes notice and the intrinsic replayability of the game give it an asynchronous plot that you don’t see in one play-through. It’s relatively unique in that respect and beautifully, subtly done.

  41. Pags says:

    Quite Soulless needs a nomination, fuuuuuck that game has good writing. Example:

    He can remember everything! When he was a child he bought rat and bird from the indian merchant. He was advised that there was a condition. That he would be in charge… of them… But animals died… and somebody revenges now

    When father was alive, they had already killed the indian servant, but he is here somewhere again. In the smoke, or above the square… Flying… An indian rope trick! Ha, ha…

    Jonothan’s sister Stacy killed the importunate bird, which comes with the indian servant Vazu Atluri. The servant had two strangest things – the briefcase with the lantern, and the finger-ring. With that finger-ring he hypnotized Stacy. Then the Soviet Straight Walking Rat, which worked for the aliens, killed her.

    Goddamn that game was batshit.

  42. Kanamit says:

    I was wrong. They never specify the nation but the language occasionally spoken is Serbian.

  43. Dreamhacker says:

    Fallout 3 doesn’t belong anywhere near that list…

  44. Dante says:

    Yeah, I er… recognised it, I’m a master of eastern European dialects.

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    Vandelay says:

    Very surprised by the nominations. Underworld had the worst plot and writing I had seen in a while and was by far the biggest disappointment of the game (the rest was excellent.) From my experience of other C&C games I really can’t imagine that RA3 would have good writing, and I doubt it was ever intended to. Finally, the only major complaint levelled at Fallout 3 is for the writing and voice acting, again having played the previous instalment (edit: just noticed this, I meant Oblivion not Fallout 2) no surprise there.

    I would say last years nominees were much better. The Witcher suffered from translation problems, but was meant to have some very good dialogue (going to find out for myself in the coming weeks when I finally get a copy,) and The Simpsons Game was meant to have some very funny dialogue, even if the game wasn’t supposed to be very good. Having said that, the exclusion of Portal and Mass Effect (in both years) is unforgivable.

  46. rasmus says:

    Eternal Darkness – now there’s good videogame writing.

  47. SofS says:

    The list is a bit lacklustre, but I’m not sure what I’d put in its place. Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble! is great, but what I know of the rest seem competent but uninspiring (except for Fallout 3, which seems to combine a genuine attempt at integrating conversation into game mechanics with dialogue options that occasionally make one sound like an alien in disguise). If I had to pick something to nominate, it’d probably be Fable 2 simply because it had some genuine laughs, a few memorable characters, and some neat passage-of-time devices. (I liked the written parts of Braid pretty well, but the game communicates better through its other elements most of the time.)

    This does bring up something I’ve been wondering about, though: when people talk about the writing in a game, are they referring to incidences of words or the story as a whole? The fiction in a game sometimes seems to have no clear authorship.

    I wonder why people from the interactive fiction community don’t get snapped up (more often? I can’t think of any cases off the top of my head) for writing duties on bigger games. Most of the big names seem to have absorbing careers otherwise, but there has to be some talent out there willing to sign on for a bit to elevate some RPG dialogue or something.

    (Would it be apropos to mention that I think Bioshock should have been made in the style of an Infocom game like Planetfall? I realized recently that the form would have played up the story’s strengths rather than grafting on a bunch of action elements that seemed to be there mostly to give one something to do.)

  48. MetalCircus says:

    Fallout 3? Bullshit… I loved the game and all but I thought the writing was crap.

  49. Dante says:

    A good question SofS, people seem all to ready to assume writing means dialogue. For instance someone on this board once simultaneously praised the quest plotlines of Fallout 3 while criticising the writing. Surely that is writing, no? The plot, how the little story develops, that’s writing to the core.

    It’s like going to a movie and saying “Well, the plot and characters were great, but the writing was awful.”

  50. Schmung says:

    Dante : probably me you’re referring to. I think they’re separate things and should be treated as such. The storytelling in the side quests and way things unfolded was nice enough, but if the dialogue is god awful then that undermines things. I suppose I should have been a bit clearer when I originally posted. I don’t feel it’s consistently good enough to deserve an award and would contend that the implementation of the quest is as important as the idea and the story behind it, so it’s partly writing and partly design.