So I was browsing 1up the other day, and I came across this interview with the lead writer of Spec Ops: The Line, Walt Williams. It's a long, really in-depth piece about the story of the game, the state of the modern shooter, micing narrative and gameplay, and a lot more.
Everyone who cares about the dismal state of military shooters, mature stories in gaming, the way mechanics can interact with narrative, etc should take a few minutes of their time and read it. It's f*cking fantastic.
When we look back on 2012 decades from now, I have no doubt that one of the defining titles will beSpec Ops: The Line. 2K Games managed to use the framework of a third-person shooter to create a horrific tale of what war does to man. Spec Ops tackled topics and utilized a lens our medium has rarely dared to dabble in. Its depictions of PTSD, justified murder, and moral ambiguity contributed countless emotional beats that lingered with the player long after the credits rolled. 1UP had a chance to sit down with writer Walt Williams and discuss his story's inspirations, ramifications, and ultimate goals in the continuing maturation of our medium.
1UP: So just kicking things off... At the start, I'm wondering how the story came to be. Was it the setting first? Did you always know this was going to be Dubai? Or did you start writing the story and all of a sudden the setting... We need to have this place with such a stark juxtaposition between the lavish and the impoverished...
WW: Actually, Dubai... We knew the setting first. Right off the bat, we knew it was going to be a three-person squad-based shooter set in Dubai. That was the box we were given to play in. That point, it was just... Honestly, in the first levels of trying to come up with what exactly we wanted to do with the story narratively, Dubai was in the back of our minds. It wasn't really one of the things we were considering when we were trying to figure out the inspiration, what kind of story we wanted to tell. Because right off the bat... It's not a combat zone. We had to disconnect ourselves from the location. There are no wars going on in Dubai. We're not fighting anything. Nobody's fighting over there, actually. We had to kind of disconnect ourselves from the location first and figure out, what kind of story can we tell that's a military story in a location that has no pre-existing conflicts in that area?
That's where we started looking at the different types of themes that we wanted to do. Making it something that was more... There were a few ideas tossed around, like, "Well, what if there now is a war in Dubai? What if there are terrorists?" Things that were very simple. The generic stuff you get from most military shooters. It all just felt very... I hesitate to use the word "trite," because it sounds like I'm saying that about everyone else's franchises. But it definitely felt like that with this. So that's when we started to look at... Okay, if we're going to do something and tell a story that's worth telling, we need to go deeper. That's when we had to look at bringing the environment back into the discussion and say, "Well, if there's nobody here to be fighting, who are we fighting?" And that's where it built off of the idea that we're fighting ourselves. We're fighting American soldiers. It's a kind of metaphor for the conflict that we want players to be going through. And then building in the sand and Dubai and turning that into a metaphor as well, for the kind of hubris that we wanted to set up in a lot of the main characters. But actually... While it's one of the things at the beginning that we knew we had to work with, it actually ended up being super right. It fit so much with the narrative we ended up telling in Spec Ops that I actually can't think of a better location for the story.
Hit the jump for the rest of it.
For those interested, Extra Credits did a two-part video series about the game and talked about a lot of this stuff, too. Part 1 is spoiler-free, and Part 2 is spoiler-rific, so be warned.