Written By February/March 2011 : Page 20

Written by Denis Faye TAKE FIVE One Singular Sensation Their thrilling combination scripted a videogame. eing a writer allows you to play with all kinds of media toys. Take Marc Guggenheim, whose résumé reads like a Comic-Con attendee’s Amazon wishlist. His television writing-produc-ing oeuvre includes Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Eli Stone, FlashForward, and No Ordinary Family . His comic book credits include runs on Wolverine, The Flash, and The Amazing Spiderman . His film credits include the upcoming Green Lantern, as well as Leonardo da Vinci and the Soldiers of Forever . His videogames credits include Call of Duty 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine . Despite Guggenheim’s uncanny abil-ity to seemingly accept every cool assign-ment, he must pass on the occasional project, as was the case when Activision offered him a gig penning its first-per-son-shootin’, time-travelin’, mutant-So-viet-soldier-vaporizin’ game Singularity . “We were busy on the second season of Eli Stone and I was writing the Green Lantern movie,” justifies Guggenheim. “I just couldn’t take on the work.” But Activision, the game’s publisher, and Raven Software, the game’s devel-oper, wouldn’t take no for an answer. Last year, they approached him again, under slightly more dire circumstances. They’d explored a number of paths devel-opment-wise. They had a cool concept, a world populated with scary, deadly creatures, and exciting gameplay—but they still didn’t have a script bringing it all together. Unfortunately, they’d also spent a lot of money on the project, so they were hoping the veteran scribe would cut them a deal. Perhaps he could work with a young writer and “showrun” the script? Guggenheim had a better idea. How about two young writers? He’d been “shepherding” (their words, not his) a couple “baby writers” (again, not his words) named Lindsey Allen and Emily Silver, who’d been working with him on a number of projects, including Eli Stone, 20 • WGA W Written By B and had set up shop in his offices on the Disney lot. They seemed ideal for the gig. “Activision gave us more or less an outline of where they were, script-wise,” remembers Silver. “Marc asked us to break something that was more cohe-Creating one solid storyline is challenge enough for most writers, but because Singularity is a time-travel tale, a player’s tiniest action can set the game’s world on its ear. To avoid potential brain injury, the team built the mother of all wall charts. sive. We did that and pitched it back to him and he had us go on our way.” Their way was the right way. A hodge-podge of cool weapons and creepy mon-sters became a compelling time-travel tale that earned Allen, Silver, and Guggen-heim a Writers Guild Award nomination for videogame writing. Write it, Play it In Singularity, you play Captain Nathan-iel Renko, a member of a military recon team sent to investigate the Russian island of Katorga-12 where, in the height of the Cold War, the Soviets experimented with the mysterious substance Element-99. On arrival to the island, Renko finds himself transported to 1955, where he saves the life of one Dr. Nikolai Demichev and, upon returning to 2010, discovers the is-land to be populated with powerful, dan-gerous mutants. As it turns out, Demichev was not the kind of person you want to 2011 save. The source of this new problem, he immediately turns on Renko. Now, with the help of a secretive resistance fighter named Kathryn and a fancy glove called the Time Manipulation Device (TMD), Renko/you must solve the mystery of the island and deal with Demichev, all the while shifting between 1955 and 2010 and coping with the timeline ripples your every action causes. Sounds complicated? Try writing it. Singularity can be played two ways: as a multiplayer shoot-’em-up where you just run around Katorga-12 killing things; or, if you prefer a little prob-lem-solving and intelligence with your senseless violence, follow Allen and Silver’s plot, which they constructed by patching together the preexisting gameplay ( set pieces in movie parlance) that Raven Software had created before the writing team took the assignment. Creating one solid storyline is chal-lenge enough for most writers, but the team didn’t get to stop there. Because this is a time-travel tale, a player’s tiniest ac-tion can set the game’s entire world on its ear. “You’re jumping between 2010 and 1955,” Guggenheim explains, “and one of the conventions of the game is what you change in 1955 is reflected in 2010.” In other words, they had to come up with several highly divergent storylines. “It’s one of the cooler aspects of the game,” he says, “but it was tricky to do. The time-travel genre is sort of hemorrhage-inducing.” The team attacked the concept by in-serting a “TV level of rigor to the logic.” To avoid potential brain injury, Allen says that they built the mother of all wall charts. “We had charts where we had to write ev-erything down that happened in the origi-nal timeline and then 2010b, where ev-erything changed, and then 2010c—then there was 1955a and 1955b and 1955c.” The whole process brought out a lot of debates between Allen and Sil-ver, with Guggenheim playing referee. FEBRUARY/MARCH

Take 5

Denis Faye

One Singular Sensation<br /> <br /> Their thrilling combination scripted a video game.<br /> <br /> Being a writer allows you to play with all kinds of media toys. Take Marc Guggenheim, whose résumé reads like a Comic-Con attendee’s Amazon wishlist. His television writing-producing oeuvre includes Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Eli Stone, Flash Forward, and No Ordinary Family. His comic book credits include runs on Wolverine, The Flash, and The Amazing Spiderman. His film credits include the upcoming Green Lantern, as well as Leonardo da Vinci and the Soldiers of Forever. His video games credits include Call of Duty 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.<br /> <br /> Despite Guggenheim’s uncanny ability to seemingly accept every cool assignment, he must pass on the occasional project, as was the case when Activision offered him a gig penning its first-person- shoot in’, time-travelin’, mutant-Soviet- soldier-vaporizin’ game Singularity. “We were busy on the second season of Eli Stone and I was writing the Green Lantern movie,” justifies Guggenheim. “I just couldn’t take on the work.”<br /> <br /> But Activision, the game’s publisher, and Raven Software, the game’s developer, wouldn’t take no for an answer. Last year, they approached him again, under slightly more dire circumstances. They’d explored a number of paths development- wise. They had a cool concept, a world populated with scary, deadly creatures, and exciting game play—but they still didn’t have a script bringing it all together. Unfortunately, they’d also spent a lot of money on the project, so they were hoping the veteran scribe would cut them a deal. Perhaps he could work with a young writer and “show run” the script?<br /> <br /> Guggenheim had a better idea. How about two young writers? He’d been “shepherding” (their words, not his) a couple “baby writers” (again, not his words) named Lindsey Allen and Emily Silver, who’d been working with him on a number of projects, including Eli Stone, And had set up shop in his offices on the Disney lot. They seemed ideal for the gig. <br /> <br /> “Activision gave us more or less an outline of where they were, script-wise,” remembers Silver. “Marc asked us to break something that was more cohesive. We did that and pitched it back to him and he had us go on our way.”<br /> <br /> Their way was the right way. A hodgepodge of cool weapons and creepy monsters became a compelling time-travel tale that earned Allen, Silver, and Guggenheim a Writers Guild Award nomination for video game writing.<br /> <br /> Write it, Play it<br /> <br /> In Singularity, you play Captain Nathaniel Renko, a member of a military recon team sent to investigate the Russian island of Katorga-12 where, in the height of the Cold War, the Soviets experimented with the mysterious substance Element-99. On arrival to the island, Renko finds himself transported to 1955, where he saves the life of one Dr. Nikolai Demichev and, upon returning to 2010, discovers the island to be populated with powerful, dangerous mutants. As it turns out, Demichev was not the kind of person you want to Save. The source of this new problem, he immediately turns on Renko. Now, with the help of a secretive resistance fighter named Kathryn and a fancy glove called the Time Manipulation Device (TMD), Renko/you must solve the mystery of the island and deal with Demichev, all the while shifting between 1955 and 2010 and coping with the timeline ripples your every action causes.<br /> <br /> Sounds complicated? Try writing it.<br /> <br /> Singularity can be played two ways: as a multiplayer shoot-’em-up where you just run around Katorga-12 killing things; or, if you prefer a little problem- solving and intelligence with your senseless violence, follow Allen and Silver’s plot, which they constructed by patching together the preexisting game play (set pieces in movie parlance) that Raven Software had created before the writing team took the assignment.<br /> <br /> Creating one solid storyline is challenge enough for most writers, but the team didn’t get to stop there. Because this is a time-travel tale, a player’s tiniest action can set the game’s entire world on its ear. “You’re jumping between 2010 and 1955,” Guggenheim explains, “and one of the conventions of the game is what you change in 1955 is reflected in 2010.” In other words, they had to come up with several highly divergent story lines. “It’s one of the cooler aspects of the game,” he says, “but it was tricky to do. The time-travel genre is sort of hemorrhage-inducing.”<br /> <br /> The team attacked the concept by inserting a “TV level of rigor to the logic.” To avoid potential brain injury, Allen says that they built the mother of all wall charts. “We had charts where we had to write everything down that happened in the original time line and then 2010b, where everything changed, and then 2010c—then there was 1955a and 1955b and 1955c.”<br /> <br /> The whole process brought out a lot of debates between Allen and Silver, with Guggenheim playing referee.<br /> <br /> “I still have no idea what time travel means to this day,” ponders the more philosophically bent Silver. “I’m still so confused out of my mind!”<br /> <br /> Sign Language<br /> <br /> Another interesting challenge for the team was telling a story with a completely mute lead actor. Singularity is a first-person shooter, meaning the player views the action through the eyes of the protagonist. To make the game as immersive as possible, the main character (the player) remains silent. Renko is supposed to be you and giving him a personality risks ruining that illusion. It’s different from such third person games as Tomb Raider or Assassin’s Creed in which you see the main character and dialogue is acceptable. “Those games are a little more movie-like,” Allen says. “Instead of putting the player as the main character, you make the player want to be the main character.” First-person shooters follow a different convention—one that Raven Software insisted on honoring—so Even in the narrative bridges (the non interactive sequences between game play) Renko doesn’t utter a word. “It was really, really difficult,” Guggenheim mutters.<br /> <br /> “Normally the main character will ask the questions the player would be asking,” adds Allen. “What’s this time-travel thing? How’s it working? How do you do this? It’s hard to have the character not being able to ask that. So we had to come up with ways to present the information that didn’t feel like we were at school hearing a bunch of boring exposition.”<br /> <br /> “Joss Whedon did it in a very excellent episode of Buffy,” Silver notes, “so we took cues from that.”<br /> <br /> Just because this assignment was filled with challenges doesn’t mean it was a drudge-fest. “I’ve always wanted to write video games,” insists Allen. “So when Marc asked, I was like, ‘Yes, I do!’ and I didn’t care what kind of video game it was.”<br /> <br /> Silver had a different approach. With the exception of her trusty 1983 Nintendo Entertainment System, video games give her motion sickness, so she welcomed the project from a more analytical angle. “It’s different from television, where you don’t choose when to get out of a scene or go into one. That’s what’s cool about video games— the player is allowed to play around, take as much time as they need, and get the experience of the world without that being dictated.”<br /> <br /> Because players can wander around the environment, the team had the opportunity to play with Singularity’s back story. In film and television, revealing back story while avoiding boring expository dialogue is a challenge. With video games, it’s more Like setting up an Easter egg hunt. You conjure clever ways of telling the story and then hide them in the world for the player to seek out. Explains Guggenheim: “There are moments in the game where your character discovers all these artifacts that give you the back story of the island. In some cases, it’s a diary. In other cases, it’s a radio recording. In still other cases, it’s an echo of past events that’s happening sort of wraith-like in front of you.<br /> <br /> “The medium of video games allows you to go deeper,” he continues. “With a movie or a TV show, that’s a linear narrative. You’re a passive participant and you’re watching from point A to point B. With a video game, you’re an active participant. You’re controlling the action, and if a player wants to stop and go look at this web diary or watch this little film strip, they have that opportunity, so you’re going vertically as well as horizontally.”<br /> <br /> “You don’t get to do that in movies, those little extras,” adds Allen. “In movies, you create a back story and don’t talk about it. In video games, players are interested in that. They’re constantly seeking information about the worlds they’re in, so you’re constantly creating these little stories.”<br /> <br /> On the other hand, the team did encounter some old-school limitations, namely the two words that cause any show runner to clinch his or her tiny fists in frustration: Budgetary Limitations.<br /> <br /> In video games, the various elements are called assets. You have to work with the assets you have. “You’d think video games are different from television, but they’re not,” Guggenheim says. “There’s still money involved. It’s still a business enterprise. I wouldn’t say the narrative ever suffered for it, but I’d say it was like the same challenges you face every day in television. How do you tell the story you’re envisioning with the money and resources at your disposal?”<br /> <br /> Allen points out that “as writers, we always want the bigger narrative and more talking and the bigger themes and the indepth emotion. And [development executives] go, ‘That’s great, but can we pare it down so we can afford it?’”<br /> <br /> “Apparently, money doesn’t grow on trees,” shrugs Silver. “I had no idea.”

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