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Gamasutra Podcast Transcript - An Interview With Susan O'Connor
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Gamasutra Podcast Transcript - An Interview With Susan O'Connor

January 29, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

GS: So let's go in a different direction here. You've done a lot of work on other people's intellectual properties. Stuff that either you've come in the middle of a project where other developers have already realized a lot of the material or thought of the game, or it's a well-known pre-existing property, something like Star Wars: Galaxies or Shrek or Finding Nemo. So how do you pick up something that belongs to someone else and put yourself in their voice or write in that style?

SO: There's sort of two different situations you walked into with dealing with intellectual property, and they both have pros and cons. One is where you have an extremely well-established IP, like, let's say Star Wars, and then another one is where you have original IP that's been developed by the team, that you're then brought in to flesh out, like Gears of War or Bioshock.

So, with Star Wars, the challenge is that it's so well-known, and it's also such a precious commodity, that developers tend to have to kind of tread lightly, which limits the scope of what you can do creatively, right? Because it all has to work within the canon of the original IP. The solution, I think, is to be aware of that walking in, so you don't drive yourself crazy, coming up with great crazy ideas that would never fit because of this thing that happened 15 years ago in this movie.

Also, one of things I've done with projects like that, that's really helped me, is to look at the source material that drove the original IP. For example, with Star Wars, I went back and looked at the old Flash Gordon serials.

I looked at the stuff that George Lucas looked at when he got inspired to make Star Wars. I looked at westerns, and I looked at all kinds of stuff, and I definitely could see an emotional through-line. You know, the same thrilling excitement that I got watching those things even though they were dated and sort of ridiculous they were also great entertainment, and you could see how that informed Star Wars.

PC MMORPG Star Wars: Galaxies

And then I felt like my job then was to think, "OK, what of those essential foundations are still applicable to us today?" You know, some parts of Star Wars for example, have aged and are hard to connect with, but other parts of it are still exciting and thrilling.

Getting back to that idea about how players sort of bring their own personalities to the game, I think it's really invaluable to think about the zeitgeist, and where are people at today, and what are people afraid of, and what do people want, and what are people excited about? And it's finding a way to bring that into something, even something, even something that was originally created 35 years ago. So that's one way that I have found to approach pre-existing IP.

And then, as far as original IP, you sort of have the reverse problem, which is it's not well-known at all, and that the whole studio is working together to sort of bring this thing to life, and everyone has a slightly different take on it, and it's not formed yet. It's actually not a problem, it's incredibly exciting and it's really great to be a part of that, and I think that the way to make that successful is to keep those lines of communication wide open.

For example, I was looking not to bring up Marc Laidlaw again but I was reading something about the development of Half-Life 2, and how Marc wrote a short story for the team. Not for the player, but for the team, to give them a sense of the world and the story and the characters and the people. I thought that was such a great idea, you know? I think care and feeding of the artists is such an important aspect of game development. How do you get your team inspired, and how do you keep them inspired, and how do you sort of give them a vision that they can all move towards? That's not really the game writer's only job, you know, far from it, that's definitely the lead game designers job, but the writer I think, can be a great resource in that capacity and contribute to that.

Because the writer is the person who's thinking about the - above all the emotional experience of the game. If they can get together with the designer, and if they can come up with a shared vision together, the writer I think can really support the designer in helping the team see the game, and feel the game, before it's finished.

GS: I can see that you involve yourself in that process of immersion and preparation for your writing. When you were writing Gears of War for example, you got a lot of inspiration from Mark Bowden, who writes wonderful non-fiction. But, it's ironic that he used non-fiction as an inspiration for what could only be the most fictional of stories.

SO: I know, it's true. And sometimes it helps to get a little bit farther away from your material, you know it's so far removed that you don't start looking for things to crib. You just sort of get to the kernel of like, "Gosh, why is this so exciting? I love this thing, in and of itself," and then carry that feeling over to your work. But yeah, Mark Bowden, I mean he kills me. He is such a great writer, and he does such a good job of creating characters, almost without you noticing it. His prose is fantastic, he's got such a great grasp of the language, and admittedly it's not fiction and he's dealing with reality. But he is painting a picture for the reader, and he knows just what to put in and just what to leave out. You know, I've read his books like more then once, and every time I just walk away feeling completely satisfied like, "I don't want more, and I don't want less. I got exactly what I wanted."

That gets me thinking, because I guess that's really the job of the game writer too, is to create these what are fundamentally just pixels on a screen and somehow humanize them. I have to say, that's one of the tricks, one of the challenges about the job. Because you don't have a Johnny Depp reading your lines. You have a voice actor, but then the way it's going to look, you're not going to see that actor. You're just going to see the artwork on the screen. So, how do you sort of take these multiple levels of unreality, and somehow bring them together into like, "Poof, it's so real, I'm so in it," you know? It's a trick, it's really challenging.

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