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Monday, October 22, 2007
The Power Of Text In Games
6:00 AM | Cord Kruse | Comment on this story

Rock, Paper, Shotgun has posted a new article focusing on the use of text in computer games. The feature includes comments from game developers like Chris Avellone and Sheldon Pacotti, and examines the ways game designers use text to craft game worlds even in today's graphics driven environment.

Words remain one of the more enigmatic yet efficient tools available to a professional game designer, and certainly one of the most overlooked. And its efficiency cannot really be overestimated – both in terms of player and development time. “Language (and prose in particular) remains an important tool for game designers because it’s malleable,” notes Sheldon Pacotti, writer on Deus Ex and now at Spector’s Junction Point, “One sentence can go from the Bronze Age to 21st-century Shanghai to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Imagine the development budget to represent that last sentence visually. Especially in adventure games, language is critical for conveying history, prophecy, and the multiplicity of a gameworld/society. Consider the dwarves’ song about Smaug at the start of the Hobbit. It moves from legends about the dragon to a prophecy of its doom in a matter of seconds, and for me this is where the book suddenly becomes not just a story but a complete world.”

“As the poly counts go up and the underlying technologies become ever more obscure,” he continues, “I hope that game designers will strive to go beyond linear space-time. The rush of immediate experience is what makes video games unique, but it’s also the medium’s greatest liability. We need to do more with the past, with consciousness, with point of view. Many designers feel this, even if they aren’t sure why, and that’s why text didn’t vanish after the advent of SVGA. Language is simply the cheapest tool for carving up space and time.” The reverse is equally true – while with enough of a budget, through montage or other effects, you can duplicate much of what words can do, it eats up time. For any amount of given time with the player, words can present a greater flow of ideas. While each of these may lack the impact of a single image, the developer can send barrages of concepts to send the player reeling. “We could accomplish many of the same things with cinematic techniques (montage, flashbacks, flash-forwards, narration) if we were willing to invest the time and money”, Sheldon notes. Time and money, of course, aren’t infinite.
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Rock, Paper, Shotgun: Word Play

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