Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Story So Far

I have a lot to say about games. But I started bottling it up a few years ago when I left my position as Editor-in-Chief of GameSpot to become a producer at Electronic Arts. At the time, I felt I had given up my right and authority as a critic of the game industry, because I'd accepted a job at one of the biggest publishers in the business, and -- on the surface at least -- that meant I had a vested interest in the success of my new employer. In August 2009, I left Electronic Arts behind, moved back home to the Bay Area, and took a job in the publishing division of 2K Games. For whatever reason, I'm less concerned now than I used to be that my words may be misconstrued. So I've resolved to use this space to write about the subject that interests me most, irrespective of my current job. That subject is the idea of games as stories.

As a producer on the Command & Conquer series, I started keeping a blog under pseudonym, which served as a sort of diary of my journey into game development. I maintained it for about two years but deleted it shortly after finishing my first full project, Command & Conquer Red Alert 3. I'd grown sick of the sound of my own voice in that blog, which threatened to become a list of predictable disappointments -- self-indulgent Internet tripe. The difference this time is that I have the guts to use my own name and have the focus to meditate on a specific topic and its far-reaching implications. This is a topic I like so much that there's no room for complaint.

There are a lot of very smart people writing about game narrative. This made me reluctant to weigh in, especially since many of them have achieved much more than I have. However, I've decided that I have a unique-enough perspective on the subject that my thoughts and views on games-as-story may not be so redundant or unnecessary, that they may be worth writing and sharing. You can be the judge of that, but either way, the act of writing critically on this subject helps me to better understand it on my slow pursuit of mastery over it -- a journey that, thankfully, I'll never get to the end of, for if I did, I'd surely find a great emptiness waiting for me there.

What makes me think I have something worth saying about game storytelling or narrative? This was a scary question. But I decided I have some legitimate qualifications, not the least of which is my background as the chief editor of a popular gaming publication that contributed to collective consciousness about what constitutes a good game story in the first place. There I presided over our reviews of games in general and authored many hundreds of them myself. I reviewed many kinds of games but my specialty was around narrative-driven games, including Western and Japanese role-playing games, action adventure games, certain shooters, and so on. In addition to my background as an editor and game critic, I studied English literature in college while working at GameSpot. And prior to getting into game development, I wrote game stories extracurricularly, while studying story structure and the way narrative works. I've since done uncredited game writing on a number of projects, especially Red Alert 3 where I designed many of the characters and unit personalities in that game, and wrote much of their dialogue. So I've had a chance to apply some of my thinking and the results were encouraging and enlightening.

The name of this blog is a reference to the classic Ultima series of role-playing games, and its three core moral principles, which are central to the stories of the best games in that series. Ultima IV and V are two of the most important games I've ever played, and that series is fundamental to my understanding of the potential of game narrative, so it's only fitting that I refer to it here. Besides, I think those three principles are essential to crafting any game narrative of sufficient quality.

I will always be a student of games. I'm just old enough now to where I feel embarrassed at not trying to share some of what I think I might know. Thanks for reading and I look forward to our conversation.


  1. Greg, I've always admired your writing and was hoping to find a blog by you someday. Glad to see it's on my favorite component of gaming - narrative. I typically think it is story that trumps most other things, and it will be fun (and enlightening) to follow your thoughts on the subject. Best of luck to you.

  2. Ooooh, game narrative! I hear this topic mentioned and fireworks just start going off in my head. I have a real appetite for serious discussion and exploration of any and all facets of game narrative, and eagerly await reading your thoughts.

  3. Alright! this is exciting... ... but Ultima III: Exodus had cool whirlpools.

  4. Greg, I'm really glad you're starting to write about games again. I missed you as a game reviewer - there's this profound enthusiasm about you, in your writing, in many of your video reviews. I want to tell you that I really appreciate the times you've put in everything to tell us about games. I've had so many wonderful memories over the years playing games you've recommended, and visiting the site everyday awaiting another article from none other than Mr G. Kasavin.

  5. Greg you were always my favorite reviewer on gamespot and I remember watching your video review of Guild Wars and thinking: "holy crap, this is the greatest game ever!"

    I am so glad I found this!! please keep writing about games!