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Dead Space Developer on Gears of War : “Literally the Worst Writing in Games”

Illustration for article titled emDead Space/em Developer on emGears of War /em: “Literally the Worst Writing in Games”

A lot of games set out to tell engaging stories. Some use a narrator, lots of cutscenes or branching dialogue systems. Others embed plot points in the environment. Success rates vary, of course. But what's the worst storytelling in video games? Why, Gears of War, says Dead Space story producer Chuck Beaver.

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Eurogamer pulls out a few quotes from an interview on EA's official blog where Beaver slams Epic's shooter series for its writing. In the original article, Beaver says the following:

Story can only ruin a game for those people who care about story, so it's a conditional answer. For instance, Gears of War. It contains atrocious, offensive violations of story basics. Yet it doesn't seem to ruin it for many, many people. It's literally the worst writing in games, but seems to have no ill effects.

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He also takes the publisher's own efforts with Dead Space to task as well, though:

We knew so little about story back then, and overruled our writers on a lot. Dead Space was just a simple haunted house story that we later pasted a personal aspect on top of – a lost girlfriend who is really dead.

Dead Space 2 was a huge challenge. All these elements from the original game that were poorly thought through, like the Marker Lore, Necro ecology, etc., had to move coherently forward into the next narrative. The first story we had was a wreck of unrelated events and broken structure, so we cut our teeth getting that into shape, and didn't fully make it.

Plus, we got lost a bit in complicated lore and plot elements that didn't come through. And don't even get me started on the final boss sequence that they put in without me in the meeting! That was fun.

However, Beaver's most telling quote isn't about any one game:

Games are games first, and need to engage on that level. Story is a giant competitive edge to add to your offering, but pure story can't rescue craptastic game design.

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That makes a weird sort of sense when I think back to the Dead Space games. They're more triumphs of tone and atmosphere than narrative successes. Similarly, Gears of War's success comes from delivering adrenaline-rush action sequences where you feel threatened from all sides. You don't need a good impetus to be drawn into those experiences but a video game can be more memorable when it has one.

UPDATE:

EA reached out to Kotaku with a statement from Chuck Beaver regarding the remarks he made about Gears of War:

"First, let me say that I'm a huge fan [of Gears of War]. It is an epic franchise that has trail-blazed more than a few industry-leading player experiences and mechanics. It is deservedly recognized as a top-tier title. Its success as a property is evidenced by its giant sales and rabid fan base. The industry is far better for Epic's contributions, and we all owe a great deal of inspiration to their work."

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It's also worth noting that the original interview quoted by both Kotaku and Eurogamer has been taken down of EA's site.

BREAKING INTO THE INDUSTRY: CHUCK BEAVER, DEAD SPACE STORY PRODUCER [EA, via Eurogamer]

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DISCUSSION

First, no.

Legendary is worse. Darkest of Days is worse. Uncharted 2 is worse (Transformersesque, one might say). Black Ops is worse. SSX is worse (but no one cares). Dragon Age 2 is worse. Mass Effect 3 is so uneven it might as well be considered worse all the time. Mass Effect 2 is worse. Timeshift is worse. Half-Life 2 is worse. Halo 2 is worse. I don't think I've played a single JRPG that's better. Devil May Cry is worse. Red Dead Redemption's second and third acts are worse. Lost Planet is worse. Dead Space 1 is worse. The four MGS games I've played are worse...

Also, pointing out what someone on GAF pointed out: the dude's named after two mammals that spend their time in water and have a fascination with wood. Weird.

Anyways, Gears actually has a pretty well-written, nicely-paced story. If you're a war film buff, you can see a lot of similarities between it and many war films. Gears 2 is even better. Gears 3 is better than that, but with some strange failings (not introducing characters properly, messing up Chekov's gun near the end, etc).

I feel like most people discount Gears' story because of the character design (and some of the "...nice." or "awesome!" aural cues when you kill an enemy). Indeed, Insomniac discovered that visuals influence a game's score and reception more than anything else—if your characters LOOK like meatheads, people will TREAT them like meatheads.

One thing it has that is super rare in games is subtext, but Gears has a ton of it. The characters also all have interesting relationships with each other and unique ways they solve problems or deal with people; in fact, I could probably tell you more about the characters of Gears than I could the characters in Red Dead, and I spent a lot more time with Red Dead's characters. It also delves deeper into concepts like PTSD, propaganda, and brotherly comaraderie than any game I've ever encountered. Plus, the game's got a really huge anti-war theme going on which most people seem to have failed to pick up.

If you think Gears' story is dumb, seriously, take a step back, block the art style out of your head, and really pay attention to the story. There's some surprisingly good stuff there.