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Deus Ex Writer: Gamers Don't Want To Be "Railroaded" Through Stories

Felix Kemp
Deus Ex: Human Revolution, James Swallow, Narrative, Story

Deus Ex Writer: Gamers Don't Want To Be "Railroaded" Through Stories

Tougher To Write For Games Than Other Mediums

When it comes to storytelling in videogames, we don't want our stories "railroaded" to us. That's according to James Swallow, scribe of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, who holds the belief that putting the player in control of the protagonist essentially removes all hope of traditional narrative concepts. Instead, writers must adapt their work so the story reacts to the player, instead of simply funneling them through a preordained narrative.

"When you’re a writer and you’re writing for a TV show or a movie or a book, you’re directing where a character goes, when stuff happens to them," Swallow explains. Having penned the game's script, Swallow also assisted in developing the story for the Deus Ex: Human Revolutions novel, Icarus Effect. "You work that narrative and development for the right dramatic impetus," he adds.

However, it's not so easy when it comes to videogames. The open-ended nature of a videogame removes all control from the writers and places the power in the gamers' hands. They can trigger the story at any point. "So you have to approach it in a very, very different way and it can be very difficult because you want to deliver story," Swallow said, "players want to have a story delivered to them, but at the same time they don’t want to be railroaded."

Human Revolutions was criticized for its peculiar narrative structure. While the majority of the game was open-ended, planting the player in hub worlds where they could explore and trigger story content consciously, Swallow and the team at Eidos chose to drive the story forward with scripted boss-battles that choked all choice from the matter. Swallow reveals it was a particular struggle for the team.

"On the one hand you’re being pulled towards the idea of giving players agency, having the ability to discover the narrative themselves," he said. "On the other hand you’re being pulled in the opposite direction which is you want to have a structured narrative that makes senses, that delivers the right dramatic impact at the right dramatic time.” [Train2Game]

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