Writing & Localizing
It is May and things are good. Another big beta update went out, patch notes here. We are nearing the end of the three-month plan we outlined earlier, and hit all our internal end-of-April milestones, which is a rarity. We're getting closer every day, and we intend to announce the official release date sometime this month.
At this stage of the project some portions of the game require less manpower than they did a few months ago, which is all part of our plan for moving people to Torment: Tides of Numenera when their work on Wasteland 2 is simply done. One of those things we're slowly wrapping up is writing, which at this stage is really just tweaks or minor NPCs and encounters added. You may have heard us mention Nathan Long before, a talented and veteran writer who we were very lucky to have join us on this project. This feels like a good time to give him the floor and have him talk a bit about the writing process, so without further ado, here's Nathan:
Last Writer Standing
How Did I Get Here?
I am the luckiest guy on the planet.
Okay, that's not true. I am not, after all, Charlie Sheen, but I'm pretty damn lucky. How lucky? Let me tell you.
Three years ago, as a wanna-be game writer with no industry experience, I attended a lecture at the Writer's Guild where Chris Avellone was talking about making games. I came out of that lecture inspired and really wishing I could work with someone as cool as Chris someday, but knowing it was only a dream.
Two years ago I lectured at the Writer's Guild about making games, and talked about the game that me and Chris Avellone were working on. How the hell does that happen?
In brief, I got lucky.
Lucky Break One - my pal Kitty saw an article about Wasteland 2 that mentioned they were looking for writers and she passed it on to me.
Lucky Break Two - In the article I saw that the head writer on Wasteland 2 was Mike Stackpole, who once published a story of mine in an online fiction anthology. Mike knew me, knew my work, and knew I had eleven fantasy novels under my belt, so when I asked him if he had any work for me, he trusted me enough to give me a little freelance assignment - coming up with the background and organization of Griffith Park's God's Militia faction, as a matter of fact. A few days later I submitted the brief, Mike passed it on to Brian and Matt, they liked it, and I was given more work. Woo! My first freelance game job!
Lucky Break Three - Brian and Matt got ambitious. Right around the time that I got hired, inXile expanded the scope of the game by a considerable amount, and suddenly I had all the work I could handle - maybe even a little more than I could handle! Fortunately, the other writers, Mike, Chris Avellone, Colin McComb and Patrick McLean, were very understanding and very generous with their time and advice, and by the time they had completed their parts of the project I had an excellent grounding in game writing in general and the world of the Wasteland in particular.
So that's how, a year after attending my first lecture on game writing, I ended up giving one. It's also how, two years later, I'm the last writer standing on Wasteland 2.
It's been an incredible two years, and the most incredible part has been meeting all the talented writers, scripters and developers who have worked on Wasteland 2, all of whom have been unceasingly generous with their knowledge and experience. They have taught me so much, and been so patient with my mistakes (like that one time when I almost deleted the entire game from the database?) that sometimes I feel like I should be paying tuition to be here instead of being paid. (Ha ha! Just a joke, Brian. Just a joke.)
What Am I Doing Here?
So, what is my day to day job here at inXile?
Well, earlier on in the process, it was expanding the design docs created by the writers that had come before me - breaking them down into individual encounters, writing the descriptions and dialog for those encounters, and figuring out how they all tied together into a cohesive whole. And when I was done with one zone, I would move on to the next and do it all over again.
These days it’s a little more scattershot. We are in the tweaking and tuning phase, so I am doing a little of everything. Today Matt needs an extra radio call for an encounter in Arizona, Jeffrey needs a rewrite on a NPC in the Mannerite map because the logic for the encounter has changed, Zack needs to cut some interiors, so I have to rewrite a few scenes so the characters don't talk about being inside when they're actually outside, Brian wants me to rewrite a gag which he feels is in poor taste, and the backers have pointed out a continuity problem in a newly released encounter, so I have to come up with a solution.
I usually start the morning with a call to Matt (which he loves) to determine the priority of all the issues I've got on my list, then I get to work, knocking down items as quick as I can while more get added throughout the day. Occasionally an emergency will come up, and I'll suddenly have to switch over to something else, but usually it's just a slow steady flow of emails and delivered documents all day long.
But in all this work, no matter how scattered, no matter how minor the tweak, the most important consideration is making all of it feel like Wasteland. Brian, Matt and the rest of the developers have a clear, focused vision of what Wasteland 2 is and isn't, and it's my job to be in sync with them and make sure that all the writing in the game - no matter who originally wrote it - delivers on that vision and feels right and true and consistent from zone to zone and character to character. It’s a terrifying responsibility, but I'm happy to have been given the opportunity to do it.
Where Are You Taking Me?
(spoiler warnings apply to this section)
After working on the game for almost two years, you would think I'd be burnt out on post-apocalyptic Arizona and Los Angeles, and... well, it's true that I'll definitely be ready for the complete tone-shift and genre-switch of Torment: Tides of Numenera when I join Colin and the rest of the other team, but I'm still getting a kick out of helping to flesh out all the areas, factions and NPCs in Wasteland 2, and making them as deep and twisted as we can.
As for my favorites? It's hard to pick. For sheer atmosphere it's hard to beat Ag Center, originally laid out by Chris Avellone, with its oppressive vegetation and terrifying rabbits, and Colin McComb's Coliseum level, later in the game when you get to LA, can't be beat for sheer lunacy and depth of invention, but I'm going to have to be totally unfair and go with the first level where the bosses let me off the leash and told me to go wild - the Canyon of Titan, which we called internally Missile Silo.
Brian and Matt had already laid out the bones of the level when I joined inXile. They had a rough list of encounters, the core concept of bomb-worshipping suicide monks, and a solid ending, but they were trusting enough to let me take it from there.
And I took it. I added another faction, about twenty more encounters than they'd asked for, and something like eight more endings! Amazingly, they didn't fire me. Instead, Matt pulled me back from the brink of madness, told me about the beginner's curse of overcomplication, and we whittled it back down to three endings (or is it four?). Still, I got to keep my new faction, the cold, mercenary Diamondback Militia, my crazy "three-card-monte-with-nukes" quest line, and most of my extra NPCs, including Abe, who carries a blockbuster bomb on his back, the Church Police, who tax unwary travelers, and Brother Guano, who got his name because... well, you'll figure it out.
I also got to work on the CNPCs, who are the characters who can join the rangers as they travel the wastes. So much fun. Basically, I had to take each CNPC through the entire game and think of what they would say in each situation they could encounter, and also how they would react to the other CNPCs who might also be in the party. My favorites are probably Vulture's Cry, the native American woman the rangers find in Highpool, or Ralphy Parker, the young man they meet in Rail Nomad. Both have cool personality quirks, and also events you can stumble upon that could change their characters dramatically.
There's a lot more places, factions and NPCs I'd love to tell you about, but I don't want to spoil the game, so I'll just leave it at that. I hope you have as much fun exploring the locations, figuring out the mysteries, and interacting with the characters as I did working on them, but I don't know if it's possible.
Like I said, I'm the luckiest guy on the planet.
As the in-game texts are starting to hit their finalized stages, it's time to ramp up our localization effort in earnest. As you may recall, we've promised localized versions in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Polish and Russian, all of them are still planned for the released version of the game. Deep Silver is helping us with the Polish and Russian localization so we're all set there.
For the other languages, we've received many requests since even before we ran our Kickstarter from fans looking to contribute, wanting to help us localize the game. And we always planned to involve our fans, so we've launched our Wasteland 2 localization crowdsourcing effort. We are counting on our fans to join our Get Localization project for French, Italian, German and Spanish and together do the bulk of the work on translating to those languages. When that step is complete we will hand the results to professional editors who will do editing and consistency passes. This is an important step to ensure that the localized version will meet the high, professional standards we are looking for.
The more fans we get involved and the more they translate, the faster and better our localized versions will be. We sincerely hope this'll be a fun and productive process. At the end of it, we'll be looking at ways to help compensate via upgrades or cash for the backers that helped generate the most translations.
This tumblr page details the project in English as well as French, Italian, German and Spanish (with thanks to our fans barbarian_bros, Alessandro Gambino, TΛPETRVE and ESp_Ranger). We encourage you not just to join but also to share this call to arms in your own language on whatever forums or social media that jumps to mind!
Speaking of writing, we recently gathered a bunch of feedback on the dialog screen on our official forums. The feedback clearly pointed us to preferences for making the dialog UI more tangible and solid, to emphasize the portraits more, and to put it all in a nicely skeuomorphic UI. Here is the first pass we posted on our forums:
One of our fans by the name of Alex 'Olovski' Drożyner saw this UI and responded by offering some mock-ups of his own, improving and tweaking our work. We liked what we saw there so much we've contracted him to do a pass on the UI for us to use moving forward. It's a unique process to involve fans so directly, but the results speak for themselves!
And finally, there's an ambitious and unique project up on Kickstarter, a VR-only game for Windows and Mac called Loading Human. For those of you set with Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus headsets, this is well worth a look.