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"there is a tremendous tendency within the gaming community to confuse lots of writing or visible writing with good writing."

Truer words were ne'er spake. I think "good" writing is asking to much. The drive of this discussion seems to be towards passable or unnoticeable writing that entertains and gets the job done. Let the game be "good."

Scott Miller

While the writing in both Max games could have been better, I think that they were good enough, and in fact represent some of the best writing in the industry currently.

Also, while many critics have hammered the game's writing, I've noted that the majority on gamers like the writing for what it is, and do not grade it so harshly.

Again, this doesn't mean there's not plenty of room for improvement, but Max is more than just writing, it's also a showcase of how well writing can be integrated into a pure action game -- this was much more difficult that most critics realize.


"there is a tremendous tendency within the gaming community to confuse lots of writing or visible writing with good writing."

also, somebody mentioned the problem (using the example of FFX) of translating Japanese games to English.

Yeah, I like a lot of games suffer drab/bland translations. Working Designs are one company whose games/translations I look out for - they're stellar stuff!


Has anyone actually listened to the Noir radioplays that you come across sometimes in Max Payne? According to a friend those are actual radio plays, not hackneyed fiction.

Here's a question: What games have good writing?


"Here's a question: What games have good writing?"

Pac Man. And Galaga.


Ratchet and Clank (the first moreso, but the second is up there) and Prince of Persia, for starters.

I don't think that writing is a lost cause, and I don't think that Max Payne 2 could have been any different than the first, since that cheesy film noir style was part of its charm.


Yay for Trixie! Ratchet & Clank, both games are hilarious. Fantastic writing. It reminds of of Pixar. :)


"Here's a question: What games have good writing?"

Hmmm... many of the old Lucas Arts adventure games had wonderful dialogue: Day of the Tenticle, Grim Fandango etc.

Going way, way back, I think the old infocom text adventure A Mind Forever Voyaging was both a highpoint in plot and subject matter, it dealt with the dire long term effects of popular political decisions.

Graham Nelson who helped revitalize the text adventure garage game scene, has great writing in his games Jigsaw and Curses.

A highpoint for me on the translated games front would have to be Squaresoft's overlooked gem Vagrant Story.

It is sad that with all the games I've played I have to go back as much as 20 years to find some pretty good writing in games. While I think games have been getting better at using cinematic storytelling conventions (which I think is what people are really praising when they talk about Metal Gear's story), the actual writing, plot and characterisation haven't been improving and if anything have taken some steps backwards.


As far as good writing in games, I think most of the black isle games have good writing. Torment was one of the best fantasy novels I ever played, or one of the best fantasy games I ever read.

As for Max Payne, I don't know, something about the writing just worked for me. Maybe it was the narrators voice, he could make the phone book sound like Raymond Chandler novel. Maybe it was the pacing. You get to play a pretty cool game, then take a short break. I know I wouldn't want to just listen to the narration straight through.

But over all I liked the writing, it was something different. Maybe because I thought the story in both games were good. Everything the characters did in the narration made sense. There were no moments of "why doesn't he just..." Nothing derails a story, be it in a game, movie, or book, for me, more than when I can see an obvious solution to the characters problem. And again there's Max's voice. A likeable actor can make a bad film bearable and an unlikable one can make a good film disappointing. It's the same with voice actors.

P.S. I liked your review Chris.


Wow, I adored the dialogue in MP2 and thought the tongue-in-cheek noir feel really got me emotionally involved in the game. Adding a story to a shooter has proved to be one of my favorite trends in years past, and I thought MP2 continued that tradition admirably. Games like the Thief series (despite Thief 2's sadly anticlimactic ending), the original Deux Ex (haven't finished the second), and the stellar first installment of No One Lives Forever give me hope for the future. Being able to emotionally connect with a game character (or, in the case of MP2, with two game characters) is the hallmark of good writing and it's been plentiful lately. Even less linear games like the rightly-praised KOTOR and Morrowind and its expansions have amazing writing that doesn't force you into a particular action.

Hugh "Nomad" Hancock

Final Fantasy: as I recall this film had one of the worst, most turgidly cliched scripts I've ever seen. A quick read of the reviews over at Rottentomatoes.com confirms this: with a rating of 45% it's not doing well, and even most of the positive reviews were a variation on (to quote one of the reviews they list as "positive") ""Great animation, third-rate plot".

FF is *not* proof that games studios can write good, or even passable, scripts.

There are some outstanding exceptions to the "bad writing in games" rule (yes, Planescape: Torment and GTA), but things like Vampire: Redemption (warning - swearing) more than reset the scale.

And yet, this game, too, was somehow praised for its writing. As Deadguy says, the only possible conclusion is that reviewers mistake lots of writing for good writing.

I don't know why this is, but I'd like everyone involved to stop it, please.


If you want to read good writing in a game (and yes, you'll be reading it), go back to Marathon and Marathon 2 for the Mac. (Marathon Infinity got a little too postmodern for its own good.) The narrative voice in those games helped them overcome their technical limitations (which were glaringly obvious even then).


"FF is *not* proof that games studios can write good, or even passable, scripts."

Roger Ebert gave "Final Fantasy" good marks for animation and script -- for the film as a whole. Rottentomatoes.com is an unproven quantity, in my opinion. I'll have to acknowledge Ebert's assessment on this one and credit Square's film for an at least passable script. Personal tastes aside, the film adaption of FF did receive acceptable and often good notices in the legitimate press. This doesn't by rule imply that Rottentomatoes.com is illegitimate, but it is a far less venerated outlet.


What people are missing is that games have it harder. In a movie a bad line of dialogue comes and goes in a few seconds. In a game you might re-hear hundreds of lines of dialgue over and over as you try to pass some point in the game. It is the very nature of MP games that you might not move without stopping, therefore you hear those over the top lines a few times.


I'm playing through Planescape: Torment for the first time, and as someone who usually hates RPGs, I'm loving this. No elves and dwarves, thank god, and a whole lot of terrific writing (save for some glaring spelling mistakes that keep getting reused: "Slating lust"?).

So that's a game that's impressed me with its writing.


Okay, after, sortta, reading alot of these comments I noticed a not so surprising and rather blatant consistency. The games where people seemed to enjoy the writing, plot and characters were games like Grim Fandango and Starcraft and various other more 'slow paced' games, if you will.

Now, I only played the original MP as a demo and that was way back when, so I can't claim to know anything about that particular game. What I do know is that MP and GTA and most of the other badly written games are all in the, loosely defined, action genre.

So what the problem seems to be is that games with more action, tension, and drama are not as well written as somtimes longer, slower games.

I'm not implying this is always true in either case, but just going on what I know it's true enough. I mean, christ, remember Resident Evil 1? (which I am tossing into the action genre)

And as was pointed out there is the same problem with movies. XXX is not going to win any awards for intelligent dialoge, but, say, eh...oh, Window to Paris might. (sorry, only thing I could think of...)

Ouch, too much thinking for this time of day.


I really enjoyed the first Max Payne game in the same way I enjoyed Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill - they're obvious tips of the hat towards a particular genre, with some creative interpretation thrown in. This is at a base level - I'm not that much of a fan of Tarrantino and I think MP1 was a bit heavy-handed...but still they work as innovative jump-off points for future works to refer to.
After really enjoying MP1, I eventually rented MP2 and was slightly disapointed. The same hackneyed dialogue and gritty urbanation style throughout, but it just seemed to be a tack-on to MP1. Just like GTA:VC was the exact same game as GTA:3 except for new textures and new locations, MP2 seemed to be the exact same as MP1.
Does this make it a bad game?.....well, no, not really. It's not an amazing game, but definately an extended rental.

Gaming is constantly being compared to cinema, and while some parallels are worth noting, we should also realize that film has 80+ years older than the art of gaming. Cinema has 100 years to draw from, and if we look at the early film works, we'd see the constructions of genre and cliche in their infancy. Storytelling in gaming is still in its infancy and it's insanely easier to draw on previously established genres to practice the art of storytelling in gaming than to produce a landmark paramount work.

So all in all, I saw the 1st Max Payne as a solid practice excercise, and we should now expect more from a sequel...and unfortunately, it remained on the same plateau as the 1st.


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