As the Creative Director of Obsidian Entertainment, Chris Avellone is one of the most well known and respected writers in the games industry, responsible for such classic CRPGs as Planescape: Torment, Knights of the Old Republic 2, Fallout: New Vegas, and Alpha Protocol. We were honored when he agreed to answer some questions for us, but how to make the most of this opportunity? Why not enlist another games writer to
interrogate interview Mr. Avellone from the perspective of a colleague?
We reached out to Jonas Wæver, Creative Director of the small Danish indie game studio Logic Artists, who wrote the script for the CRPG Expeditions: Conquistador. It transpired that Jonas is a big fan of Chris’s work, and he sent us some questions to relay to Mr. Avellone. A lot of questions. Too many questions, frankly.
JONAS: If some of these questions seem a little bit like I’m trying to open your skull and feast on your knowledge, I assure you that is not the case at all. I’m not in any way attempting to absorb your experience and skills through some sort of information osmosis. That’s not what’s happening.
I’ll get the shameless gushing out of the way first: you’re the main person in the games industry that I look up to, and I consider you one of the greatest writers in games. When you’re done blushing, could you tell me who you look up to as a writer? Is there anybody in the games industry (or elsewhere) whose work you’re particularly impressed with, and what is it that you admire about them?
CHRIS: You are waaaaay too kind – I’ve worked with much better writers, both in and out of game development, and I tip my hat to them for raising the quality bar for me and showing me the strengths I lack and should be working to develop in my own writing… so thanks for giving me the opportunity. Without further ado: George Ziets has an excellent sense of capturing a genre without diminishing it and he has excellent pacing for character reveals and character arcs (he helped me considerably during Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer and companion work on New Vegas).
Travis Stout, who I worked on a number of projects at Obsidian, is another writer I admire – although limiting the praise to just writing does him a disservice, since his skill set encompasses almost all areas of design, we considered him a “jack of all trades” designer at Obsidian. He’s clever, quick, and certainly had a better sense of how to deliver a compelling menu-driven dialogue than I do. He’s also funnier than I am; if you laughed during Fallout New Vegas: Old World Blues, it was probably something Travis wrote. Also, the range of appliances inside the Sink (homebase) in Old World Blues is a perfect sample of the range that Travis can write.
Some more: Dave Maldonado, who worked on Torment, and Steve Bokkes who I worked with on Torment and Icewind Dale – both had a great sense of style and knowing the genre they were writing for. Mark O’ Green, who I worked with back at Interplay, did amazing talking head dialogues for both Fallout 1 and Fallout 2. Adam Heine (the lead designer of Torment: Tides of Numenera) is a better writer than me. And he can program. And he lives his life to make the world a better place, so he wins in three arenas I fail at.
Others I’ve worked with – Colin McComb, Nathan Long… the list goes on. And on. And on.
Plus, there’s non-narrative designers at work who write better than me. Tyson Christensen, one of our level leads, is excessively humble, but he wrote some of the best sections of Alpha Protocol. I don’t know if he believed me when I told him, so I’m saying it publically here.
Outside of personal work experience, I feel the Telltale game writers excel at their craft (and make narratively brave decisions), and a number of the narrative and systematic pacing decisions in the BioShock series were equally important and brave, especially in re-examining what a boss encounter could be/should be. I’ll resist the urge to fire too much praise Ken Levine’s way, but… well, there’s a lot to say there. I loved Mike Bithell’s narrative for Thomas Was Alone because it made me care about colored blocks. Colored. Blocks. And not just that, he made me see them as fiercely independent people and heroes and in addition, gave them a sense of camaraderie and human-ness (including the surly character of the bunch, appropriately named Chris).
I fanboy over Mary DeMarle, Susan O’Connor, Richard Dansky, Steve Jaros, and David Gaider, and many of them are friends as well – after I approached them awkwardly at conventions first, so I thank writing for introducing me to some damn cool folks. Ricardo Bare (Arkane) is also a writer I enjoy, and aside from being a very pleasant person, his prose is great (check out Jack of Hearts if you get the chance, great pacing and an awesome take on dwarves).
There’s other folks I’m forgetting. I hope they don’t kill me. And I’m sure there’s many more out there I have yet to cross paths with, and I hope life gives me the opportunity to meet them.