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Magical Wasteland is written by Matthew S. Burns.

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Wednesday
Jun022010

An Excerpt from the Novel “Departure,” by Alan Wake

I had to get the generator running. A power cable plugged into the switch led me to a dilapidated shack over by a rocky outcropping. I noticed that someone had left a pack of fresh Energizer® batteries and two signal flares inside. I picked them up.

I pulled on the generator cord several times and the machine sputtered to life. With the power restored, I turned back towards the gate again, noticing that light on the switch had turned from red to green. But a shrill noise signaled that my journey back would not be without an enemy encounter.

The Taken came at me as they usually did: in a group of three, with two weaker ones to the sides and a larger tank charging at me head-on. As I strafed to the left and right to avoid their ranged attacks, I nearly expended all of the batteries I had just picked up trying to shine away the darkness in their bodies. But it was fine because I still had seventeen more.

I took aim at the first weak one and fired twice with the revolver, then focused on the second one and did the same. I tried to dodge the tank’s running charge but missed the timing and took a direct hit from his hand axe. The world lost some of its color. I turned around, reloading my revolver at the same time, and quickly put six bullets into him.

After he disappeared, I started on my way to the gate again.

Unfortunately, I had relaxed too soon. Thinking I was safe, I had let my guard down. Before I knew it, four more Taken now surrounded me. They were too close, blocking any escape, ready to kill me. I pulled out a flashbang grenade as fast as I could.

Brilliant white light flooded the area, burning away the Dark Presence and saving me from certain death. I was relieved. As the twisted forms evaporated into slivers of light, I realized that my kill count with the flashbang had reached fifty. A sense of achievement washed over me.

Reader Comments (10)

I had a friend point out that all the story in the manuscript pages has to do is stand in for something the audience would expect from a horror novel. It doesn't have to be good on its own, it just has appear novel-like. The player is not likely to sit down and read it all, page-by-page. Those overwritten pages just have to pretend to be from a novel for a few seconds between periods of wandering and shooting.

Similarly, this could be why Alan Wake uses a typewriter: even though it's very unlikely that a writer that has a touchscreen phone would not use a laptop (also, that Microsoft would overlook another opportunity for product placement), nothing says "writer" like a typewriter.

The batteries though, we'd know they were batteries without "Energizer."
June 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLucas
There's no excuse. Even if it was intended to be that way, even if they were making a point by having his script be THAT bad, there's no excuse. It's like splashing someone with watery shit every time they talk about politics, sure there's a point there but the level of DO NOT WANT should really be taking priority.
June 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPen
Last time, on Allen Wake...

The state of storytelling in video games: you have to write a satirical essay to help people notice that the storytelling in a video game that begins each chapter with "Last time, on Allen Wake..." is maybe not quite at the same level as great books, plays, movies, and other media.

Seriously, it's a video game; not a TV show. That "Last time on Whatever..." approach is hackneyed enough on weekly TV series where it actually serves a purpose... I can't believe I'm explaining this. I can't believe this was a game that spent so much time in development, with so much press, and nobody managed to convince the people in charge that that was really dumb.

Video games can tell good stories. They can tell stories which can't be expressed in any other medium. They're generally trash, though. Games with trash stories can still be good games, but let's all please agree to reserve praise of story in games for the games which tell stories well.
June 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJake
I should mention much of the impetus behind this piece wasn’t to comment on the quality of Alan Wake’s writing per se, so much as that a novelization of the events depicted in the game would necessarily have to elide or ignore the long stretches of running around the woods and shooting things, the parts that make up the bulk of the game. Even the television-style presentation serves to remind that an actual show consisting mostly of spatial navigation through environments with combat against predictable enemies would be terminally boring. There is still a big gulf between gameplay content and narrative content.
June 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew
I don't think that gulf is necessarily bad. For example, if Shadow of the Colossus' narrative was solely about killing the colossi, then why bother having lengths of exploration traveling across desolate landscapes? Why not just a "Boss Survival Mode"?

I wouldn't want to read:

"A creature - the first I've seen after much of my journey - caught my eye. Suddenly, my blade's desire for colossi was subject to my stomach's hunger for reptiles.

I dismounted Agro, took careful aim with my bow, and arrowed the cat-sized critter. I'm assuming cat-sized, because it's been awhile since I've seen anything that isn't a horse or massive beast, and saying 1/30th Agro wouldn't make sense (but it should be noted that Agro is indeed equal to thirty cats if my memory doesn't betray me).

I devoured it raw. I felt if I ate enough of them, I could hang on just a little longer.

[repeat every time you head out to kill a colossus]"

A little disclaimer, however. I haven't played Alan Wake yet and I may have completely missed what you're criticizing.
June 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRick
"Then the harvester returned to the base with some tiberium. It deposited its load before returning to the tiberium field to get some more."
June 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommentershMerker
For what it's worth, your point was clear.

Storytelling encompasses far more than writing, and, as you point out far more deftly than I, the "story" that's put into words and press releases - in countless games - is tragically incongruous with the actual game part.

I find it so lazy when I read a review that simply recalls the written plot of a game, then labels it good or bad. The stuff that happens in a story is not the same as What the Story Is About.

The trouble is that apparently the majority of game developers are unable to make this distinction.
June 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJake
Do games really need to have a story? Think of early video games. Stories, where they existed, were always a thin layer slapped between levels, and the best games were the ones where you could hit the A button once or twice without reading them. Unless it's an RPG or something like Myst, who needs a story?

The best games had either very little "story" or none at all. For instance:

"THE TIME AND ERA OF THIS STORY IS UNKNOWN. AFTER THE MOTHERSHIP "ARKANOID" WAS DESTROYED, A SPACECRAFT "VAUS" SCRAMBLED AWAY FROM IT. BUT ONLY TO BE TRAPPED IN SPACE WARPED BY SOMEONE........"*(wikipedia)

There it is. Concise, somewhat mysterious, and just enough to explain why that pong paddle has a metal gradient and little red lights on it. Even a complicated puzzle game like 3 in 3 could get away with "Somewhere in corporate America..." followed by a brief animation of a number jumping off a spreadsheet, followed by nothing.

And take the classic Sierra games; those at least would have made fun reading, insofar as there were few repetitive actions. Why should games requiring less thought than that need a story at all? It seems like a conceit more likely to harm playability than aid it.
June 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJosh Strike
"Do games really need to have a story?" - Do we really need to to ask this question again? See Jake and Rick's comments.

Concisely: No, but sometimes it helps make the game better.
June 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJames

Gaming has evolved; it isn't the same as it was when hardware limitations alone made it impossible to have a story. Today, there are two types of games. Games with not a lot of story that are mostly competitive (Halo, CoD, TF2) and games that are entirely about the story and exist for an artistic purpose (Alan Wake, Portal). That isn't to say they are mutually exclusive, but you have to realize that things are going to change and have done so since the late eighties. As I always say, things need to change, lest they become stagnant.

June 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGriff
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