Thursday, August 23, 2007

Up Close & Personal: Interview with the writer of the Surviving Hollywood mobile game

Redefining ‘Best’ –
An Interview with Max Doty, Primary Writer for Surviving High School ’07, Surviving Hollywood, and Surviving High School ‘08

Q: What new changes can players expect in Surviving Hollywood and Surviving High School ’08 from what they experienced in Surviving High School ’07?

The biggest innovation in High School ‘08 and Hollywood is that our storylines now carry on across multiple episodes.

Before, our universe seemed to have a ‘reset’ button at the end of each pack. You’d date Raven or Adam or Beth, then in the next pack, it would be as if it never happened and they’d be dating someone new.

With High School ‘08 and Hollywood, the ‘reset’ button is gone. If you pick up a guy at the end of one episode, you’ll still be dating when the next episode comes along. If your dog dies, it’s dead for good.

The best thing about this continuity is that we can build longer, more engrossing stories with increasingly complex characters. We had moments of this before: the player learning Adam’s back story with his brother is one example of a time when a seemingly typical character turned out to have unexpected depth. There will be many more moments like this in Hollywood and High School ’08.

Q: That all sounds great... But how will you still have multiple endings?

That’s a tricky question, and it took some clever thinking on Vivendi Games Mobile’s part to get around it.

Essentially, in High School ’07, when you play the game, you’re (hopefully) attempting to get the ‘best’ ending. If you make the right decisions you win the girl, make your parents proud, save the school mascot, etc.

In the High School ’08 and Hollywood, we’ve redefined ‘best’. Now, you can do everything right, and tragedy will still befall your character at the episode’s end. In a way, this is much more like real life. Sometimes you can do everything right and still walk in on your girlfriend kissing another guy. It’s out of your control.

In these new games, ‘best’ is redefined as that which moves the overall story along in the most complex, interesting way. You aren’t earning happiness for your characters anymore. You’re earning the story itself.

Of course, the old ‘bad’ endings are still there. But now we think of them more like alternate realities. They show you what might have happened if you had your character make a poor set of decisions. Still, even getting a ‘bad’ ending can occasionally reveal aspects of character you might have otherwise missed. There is some benefit to failure.

Q: Will the characters from Surviving High School ’07 be included in Surviving High School ’08? What about Hollywood?

In Surviving High School ’08, everyone is a year older. Thus, a couple characters have graduated, but most of them are still around. We’re also introducing several new characters. What’s been most rewarding as I write new stories for Surviving High School ’08 is getting to find out about Raven, Spike, Tony and all rest in more depth. The game takes old characters to brand new levels of complexity that the ‘reset’ button prevented us from reaching. This is a far richer world.

As far as Hollywood goes, we like to think it shares Surviving High School’s ‘universe’, which means characters from Hollywood might occasionally show up in High School and vice-versa. That said, such exchanges probably won’t happen all the time, only when they fit into the story and feel organic.

Q: Is it different writing for these games than for traditional short stories, books, or movies?

The key difference here is the way the storyline changes based on the player’s input. When you combine that with the way we’re building stories that arc beyond a single game, I really feel like we’re breaking brand new narrative ground.—something like a hybrid between a video game and a television series. While the games still use a lot of the same techniques as traditional fiction, stories have never been told in precisely this way before, and it’s exciting to be part of that.

Q: Any last thoughts?

I just hope players enjoy the new games! I definitely read the MySpace forums, and I’m always interested to read what players discuss there. If you’ve got any ideas, characters you love or hate, or ideas for new storyline directions let us know!


Renegade said...

Cool blog!

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Katy M. Savage said...

Sounds like a cool game... I'm living the real version working for NBC Universal and Mutiny Universe. Hope I make it!

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