Are you waiting for the next episode of adventure game AR-K? To help fill the void between updates, Siliconera recently spoke with renowned writer Greg Rucka about his involvement with AR-K as well as the broader challenges of writing videogames. (Additionally, you can read our playtest of the previous episode here.)
The majority of your portfolio is writing comics or novels—what drove you to a video game project such as AR-K?
Greg Rucka, writer: I’ve been a fan of the form for years and years. Computer games—as opposed to videogames—were just becoming a thing when I got out of college, and I fell in love with them. I think it’s a tremendous entertainment form, and I genuinely believe it’s an emerging, and very dynamic, art form as well. Speaking as a writer, the chance to work in such an environment is irresistible.
Your one past video game credit was as a story designer for Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow. Have your experiences working on that game proven useful when working on this one?
I’ve actually done more work than that, but much of it has been uncredited. Each game is different in my experience, and each studio approaches their work in their own way. There are certain rules that I think have proven true across the board, so in that sense, yes, the experience on Syphon Filter certainly influences how I work on AR-K. But the work is very different in each case. I’m far more involved in AR-K that I ever have been on any of the other games I’ve worked on.
Are you able to apply techniques used creating comics that release one issue at a time when writing an episodic video game like AR-K? Is there appreciable common ground there?
Oh, absolutely, but I think it’s a broader question, honestly. Comics are their own form, and they require their own skill set, the same way that a novel requires its own skillset, or a screenplay, or a poem, and so on and so on. The episodic nature of comics actually has little relevance to work on AR-K—a story told in chapters, no matter if that’s a novel, a comic, or a video game, demands certain things, not the least of them a means to keep the audience engaged and willing to come back. The necessity to ask, “what happens next?” is a driving force in all fiction, no matter its form.
All that said, one of the things I feel comics teaches very well is economy of storytelling. You cannot waste space or time in a comic, and that’s not far at all from working on a video game, in my experience.
I understand that your initial position was rewriting a localized script. Are you still in collaboration with the Spanish writers of that original script? How has that relationship been?
I actually have a weekly Skype call with the original creator of the story, Sergio, and he and I have been working very closely pretty much since the word go. AR-K is far more Gato Salvaje’s story than mine, I think, but honestly, that’s a delight—collaboration, a good collaboration, can be a joy, and this experience certainly has been positive. Sergio and I talk about everything with the story, we break the scenes, we talk about the puzzles, we talk about the characters and where we want them to go.
He had a very clear vision in some places, not so clear in others, and one of the things I hope I’ve brought is a narrowing of focus, so that as the story progresses through Chapter 3 and into its conclusion in Chapter 4, we really have made not only the emotional journey a rewarding one, but that we’ve made the stakes of the story clear. But, yeah, not to sound too much like a cheerleader, it’s been a genuinely wonderful relationship, I really couldn’t have asked for better people to be working with.
The sci-fi world in AR-K gives the impression that anything could be walking and talking around the next corner. Are there any particular animals you would like to add to the menagerie?
Hah! You know, I’ve never actually considered throwing in more animals, and now that you mention it, I suppose I should. Oddly, a lot of Chapter 3—Sergio’s going to be annoyed I’m telling you this, I think, because it’s a spoiler—takes place in a part of the AR-K that’s unlike any that we’ve seen before, and its population is a very distinct one that lives very separately from the rest of the ship-slash-city. That’s actually a pretty crucial part of the third chapter, that there’s this entire world within their world that’s been hidden from the eyes of the AR-K’s inhabitants.
Are the episodes you work on being influenced by reactions to the episodes already online? Has writing for a videogame audience been appreciably different than writing for a comic audience?
I work better when I keep my head down, so to speak, and even though I’ve been writing professionally for a long, long time now, the fact is, my skin isn’t nearly as thick as I’d like it to be. Which is, I suppose, another way of saying that I do not read reviews if I can possibly avoid them, and that I tend to avoid online forums and such.
Sergio has a far better read of what works and what doesn’t in terms of gameplay, and we talk a lot about ways to make the chapters we’re working on now better than the ones that came before in every way, not just mechanically or graphically or in story itself. I could easily get lost in chasing opinions, trying to balance what would be an improvement with what would be a detriment. At a certain point, you have to have faith that the story you’re telling is one of which people will want to partake.
In comics, feedback is regular, and vociferous, and quick. I know enough to say the same holds true for videogames, and that it’s magnified. But I think “writing for an audience” is always a dangerous turn—you cannot please everyone, and the moment you try, you’re pretty much guaranteed to fail to please anyone. The audience wants the same things, I think, regardless of medium—they want a good story, well told; they want to be respected; they want to be challenged and rewarded.
Once this project is wrapped up, do you think your ambitions might lead you to work on a video game again? Got any dream projects?
I don’t honestly know. I try to keep myself open to new opportunities, and one of the things I resolved in the last couple of years was to not only pursue those opportunities, but to pursue new challenges. I think it’s easy to get comfortable as a writer, to find what works and to stick to it, and I also think that’s fatal. Writing is a profession—be it in games, or comics, or novels, or wherever—where you need to be stretching yourself, you need to be constantly trying to improve.
Working on AR-K has been a blast, and it’s been very educational, but it’s certainly not the terminus of that education. As I said before, different companies make games in different ways, and I’d love to be able to continue learning, to continue working in this form that I’ve been such a fan of for so long.
Dream projects? That’s harder. I’m not sure I have a game in me, you know? I have stories in me that I’d love to see told. I think I’d write the hell out of Lara Croft, for instance, and I’ve never made a secret of my love for BioWare’s games. Mostly, the dream is to be able to continue my education, to continue playing, to continue being a part of creating stories that, at the very least, give people a smile now and then.
Before you go, can you give eager audiences a hint about what might be coming in future AR-K episodes?
Oh, I already blew this with my vague spoilers, but… hmm… okay, yes, the Golden Sphere is explained, and the explanation leads to more problems. Alicia is a puppet master. The Engineer is not as crazy as he appears. Frankie does not, in fact, make the best burgers on the AR-K. You don’t want to know what’s in the best burgers on the AR-K. And if you thought Alicia was confused about Blaine before, wait until Chapter 3. And that’s all I’ll say about that!