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Daniel Erickson on writing the Old Republic

Gamasutra has a nice interview with Daniel Erickson, the lead writer on Star Wars: The Old Republic at BioWare Austin. Nothing truly new, but a lot of good points that are worth repeating, and an insight into how Bioware handles writing in games. Some extracts, slightly rearranged and emphasis mine:

[Writing in games] has to get better, and better, and better, and be more like the best dialogue lines from movies, but it's done in an interactive, nonlinear system, that -- let's be clear -- 99 out of 100 writers don't even understand how to do, and never will.

So, it's hard to find the talent, it's hard to train the talent.

It's good to keep this in mind.

We are extremely lucky that BioWare is run by two guys who are dedicated to the idea of story, so that's what they want to do. They're dedicated to the idea of dialogue and narrative, and that storytelling has to have great, punchy writing.

It's hard to get the dedication from a [parent] company that's never done it, to say, "Hey, we're going to do it."


It sounds like, the way you're describing it, it's almost more of a challenge in terms of content and commitment rather than actually being a big game design problem. Is that the case?

DE: There are numerous game design problems, but I would not say that they are insurmountable game design problems.

So much in game development, especially classical, 'core' game development, is about commitment. It's about wanting to do it enough, even though it's hard, and even though it's not how things were done before. This goes way beyond writing.

Erickson later talks about Bioware's three month writer training program, which I find very interesting, and how leading a group of writers is like being a magazine editor. Or, as Lee Sheldon would probably say, like being a show runner.

I see every piece of content, every single piece of content at every single stage, and make sure that we're all keeping to a voice and a tone, the same way a good magazine editor would.

It's an interesting interview.

Jet set lifestyle


Picture by my friend Michael. While I like traveling, I would like a little more stability. I am trying to avoid the "months in tiny rooms far from home" gigs, but the last two were just too hard to say no to.

Bad news

I originally posted this on Thursday night, but I forgot that some people in Lyon might read this before the company meeting where all was explained, so I took it down for a while.

This evening I noticed three industry friends twittering about being sorry for their friends' loss. I was worried - what was going on? Was this referring to people I know? As it turns out, yes: I just found out that Electronic Arts has announced massive layoffs.

As you may remember, the project I am working on at Arkane Studios in Lyon is being developed together with Electronic Arts. And from what I hear, that project is being heavily cut down. Which means that people I have come to know and like and admire at EA are being laid off. (Some of those people are in Lyon right now. Some of them are on holiday here.) And people I have come to know and like and admire at Arkane are probably going to be in a difficult situation. Nobody knows exactly what will happen, but it can't be good.

(For what it's worth: I don't blame EA. That's like blaming the weather.)

Naturally, this affects me as well. I have only just found out about this (at 9 PM) and so have not had an opportunity to discuss exactly what this will mean for me, but right now the most likely outcome is that I will be staying in Vienna, and will be available for free-lance work again in the near future. Luckily I am a fairly cautious person and have not made too many irreversible decisions yet.

Oddly, I felt pretty neutral about this until I started thinking about the people I've been working with, and until I got an email from a friend and co-worker at EA. Then it hit me.

I wish everyone affected a lot of luck and strength, particularly Raf, Arkane's CEO, who will have to deal with this crisis. If anyone can do it, he can, but it won't be easy.

I am going to start clearing out the fridge of my little hotel room, starting with the beer.

Update: Well, I should be back in Vienna on November 10th. I got the chance to see a few EA (in one case, now ex-EA) people before they left. In general, today was a bummer. I've really grown to like the people at Arkane, and Lyon as well. launches new premium membership area on game AI

Time to help friends with a little publicity: On October 1st,, one of the top websites for AI in games, launched a premium membership area. It contains a ton of content, such as code samples, an AI sandbox, technical reports, master classes, interactive discussions with experts, A/V sessions... The mind boggles. I can't think of another site like this related to games.

The people behind, Alex and Petra Champandard, are good friends of mine and live about 200 meters from my apartment in Vienna. They spent a lot of time over the last few months preparing for the launch, and it became harder and harder to go for lunch or ice cream with them... Not even tea with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies managed to draw them out in the last two weeks :). But I am highly impressed by what they have done so far, and I wish them a ton of luck!

At the time I am writing this, you have only 21 hours left to join: After that, no new members for a month or two. And prices will go up, so run!

The big news

So what is this big news I alluded to earlier?

First of all, on October 1st I moved to Lyon and started working for Arkane Studios as a producer on a title they are developing with Electronic Arts. If all goes well, I will permanently move from Vienna to Lyon at the beginning of 2009.

This is a big, big step for me. Ever since Rockstar Vienna closed down in May 2006, I have had many offers to work abroad, including offers I would have jumped at only months before. But the death march of Manhunt 2 made me question why I would even want to move abroad.

The simple fact is that I love Vienna. It's a great town to live in - one of the top three cities in the world, in fact - and I have many, many friends here. I have lived here for over 7 years, which makes it the longest I have lived in one place since I was 13.

At the same time, there is an immense amount of bullshit in the games industry that is keeping us from making great games that advance the medium. If the company is not directly or indirectly plagued by bozos, it is probably making boring, "safe" games. I realized that I literally couldn't think of more than a handful of companies in the world that I would like to work for, that would maybe make it worth leaving Vienna. I didn't want to take any more jobs because they look good on my resume. After 15 years I felt I had paid enough dues.

So I said no to everyone. It wasn't easy. Even if part of you knows you no longer want the same things you wanted last year, another part is still yelling that you can't say no to this. I became a free-lancer. Of course this didn't necessarily mean I worked on great projects either, but it gave me variety, spare time, and a healthy emotional buffer between me and the bullshit. Freelancing has its own set of disadvantages, but I don't regret my decision.

Then, just as I was getting used to the free-lancing life and was planning to seriously settle down in Vienna, I was contacted by Arkane (by Harvey, in fact - over Twitter), and they made me an offer I couldn't refuse. And, this being 2008, I can't tell you anything more about it, except that it's very cool, and I had to accept or always wonder what would have been.

That offer came in early June, and the whole interview process and negotiations weren't fully completed until the middle of September.

In the mean time, the second bit of good news happened, which is that I met a wonderful woman on the 14th of August (hi Andrea <3), and we fell in love, and now we're officially marked as 'in a relationship' on Facebook. Very modern, I know. This is not a very personal blog, so I will not go into too much detail. Which is a good thing for everyone involved, believe me: Our Skype log would make love-struck teenagers puke. But in any case, I love her very much, and she makes me very happy.

Of course, the timing was terrible, and me being away is not easy for either of us. But I am very grateful that we had enough time to get to know each other, to fall in love, and to both decide that it was worth pursuing this relationship even though we would be living in different countries for some time at least.

So, that's what's been going on in my life. How have you been?

Big news soon

There have been two big pieces of good news in my life recently, and I've been wanting to tell you about them for weeks, but sadly both place huge demands on my time right now, and I want to write a proper post and not just off-handedly mention that... right. If I haven't written a blog post explaining all this by, oh, the end of next week, poke me.

Update: The big news has been revealed.

Bejeweled in WoW

Someone made a Bejeweled clone running as a World of Warcraft add-on:


From the Joystiq article:

The in-game add-on began as a homebrew Bejeweled clone from Michael Fromwiller, cleverly titled Besharded. Fromwiller developed the add-on as a method of killing time during long raids and farming sessions, but it wasn't too long before PopCap caught wind of the MMO mini-game. Instead of issuing a timely cease and desist, the casual gaming colossus hired Fromwiller to create a more polished version of the application.

Great move by Popcap.

(Via Wonderland.)