Dissecting the Horror: Telling a Mature Story in a Shooter (Spec Ops: The Line)

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#1 Posted by DarkLink77 (31964 posts) -

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.

________

The Interview:

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.

Part 1

Part 2

#2 Posted by FrozenLiquid (13013 posts) -
Oh, nice. Anyone played the game and can confirm this interview isn't just hot air?
#3 Posted by Master_ShakeXXX (13361 posts) -

"When we look back on 2012 decades from now, I have no doubt that one of the defining titles will be Spec Ops: The Line."

*spits up drink*

#4 Posted by DarkLink77 (31964 posts) -
[QUOTE="FrozenLiquid"]Oh, nice. Anyone played the game and can confirm this interview isn't just hot air?

I've played the demo, which covers a lot of what they mention specifically. Beyond that, I can't say. I'd like to grab the game one of these days, though. I'm assuming that they're not lying, as I've read plot summaries a number of place after i read the interview (I really liked it, obviously) and it all lined up. It's a very,,, honest interview about what works, what doesn't, etc.
#5 Posted by DarkLink77 (31964 posts) -

"When we look back on 2012 decades from now, I have no doubt that one of the defining titles will be Spec Ops: The Line."

*spits up drink*

Master_ShakeXXX

Stranger things have happened. Like you enjoying Nier. :P

#6 Posted by FrozenLiquid (13013 posts) -
[QUOTE="DarkLink77"][QUOTE="FrozenLiquid"]Oh, nice. Anyone played the game and can confirm this interview isn't just hot air?

I've played the demo, which covers a lot of what they mention specifically. Beyond that, I can't say. I'd like to grab the game one of these days, though. I'm assuming that they're not lying, as I've read plot summaries a number of place after i read the interview (I really liked it, obviously) and it all lined up. It's a very,,, honest interview about what works, what doesn't, etc.

I'm keen to give it a go. It's just, Silicon Knights talked a lot too :?
#7 Posted by Blabadon (28945 posts) -
DL, you should link the excellent Extra Credits videos about Spec Ops in the OP
#8 Posted by DarkLink77 (31964 posts) -
DL, you should link the excellent Extra Credits videos about Spec Ops in the OP Blabadon
Good point, bro. I watched that the other day as well. Sogood.
#9 Posted by DarkLink77 (31964 posts) -
[QUOTE="FrozenLiquid"][QUOTE="DarkLink77"][QUOTE="FrozenLiquid"]Oh, nice. Anyone played the game and can confirm this interview isn't just hot air?

I've played the demo, which covers a lot of what they mention specifically. Beyond that, I can't say. I'd like to grab the game one of these days, though. I'm assuming that they're not lying, as I've read plot summaries a number of place after i read the interview (I really liked it, obviously) and it all lined up. It's a very,,, honest interview about what works, what doesn't, etc.

I'm keen to give it a go. It's just, Silicon Knights talked a lot too :?

Yeah, but Silicon Knights talked a lot before, and less after. This is an after, and I find 1up to be a pretty legitimate website in terms of actual journalism.
#10 Posted by FrozenLiquid (13013 posts) -
[QUOTE="DarkLink77"][QUOTE="FrozenLiquid"][QUOTE="DarkLink77"] I've played the demo, which covers a lot of what they mention specifically. Beyond that, I can't say. I'd like to grab the game one of these days, though. I'm assuming that they're not lying, as I've read plot summaries a number of place after i read the interview (I really liked it, obviously) and it all lined up. It's a very,,, honest interview about what works, what doesn't, etc.

I'm keen to give it a go. It's just, Silicon Knights talked a lot too :?

Yeah, but Silicon Knights talked a lot before, and less after. This is an after, and I find 1up to be a pretty legitimate website in terms of actual journalism.

True that. Not only did they talk a lot of sh!t pre-release, their blog was hosted on IGN. Lulz.
#11 Posted by Master_ShakeXXX (13361 posts) -

[QUOTE="Master_ShakeXXX"]

"When we look back on 2012 decades from now, I have no doubt that one of the defining titles will be Spec Ops: The Line."

*spits up drink*

DarkLink77

Stranger things have happened. Like you enjoying Nier. :P

Yeah but I'm not gonna outright lie and say that people are going to look back on it as a defining title of it's time. The f*cking game has a 60 something % on Gamerankings.

Damn shame too.

#12 Posted by DarkLink77 (31964 posts) -

[QUOTE="DarkLink77"]

[QUOTE="Master_ShakeXXX"]

"When we look back on 2012 decades from now, I have no doubt that one of the defining titles will be Spec Ops: The Line."

*spits up drink*

Master_ShakeXXX

Stranger things have happened. Like you enjoying Nier. :P

Yeah but I'm not gonna outright lie and say that people are going to look back on it as a defining title of it's time. The f*cking game has a 60 something % on Gamerankings.

Yeah, but Spec Ops is actually believable. The narrative is actually interesting and tries to do very different things.
#13 Posted by Master_ShakeXXX (13361 posts) -

[QUOTE="Master_ShakeXXX"]

[QUOTE="DarkLink77"]

Stranger things have happened. Like you enjoying Nier. :P

DarkLink77

Yeah but I'm not gonna outright lie and say that people are going to look back on it as a defining title of it's time. The f*cking game has a 60 something % on Gamerankings.

Yeah, but Spec Ops is actually believable. The narrative is actually interesting and tries to do very different things.

And Nier doesn't? Nier tells the most original story since like ever. It also backs up the legendary storytelling with creative and unique gameplay elements. Spec Ops is... a military shooter.

#14 Posted by DarkLink77 (31964 posts) -

[QUOTE="DarkLink77"][QUOTE="Master_ShakeXXX"]

Yeah but I'm not gonna outright lie and say that people are going to look back on it as a defining title of it's time. The f*cking game has a 60 something % on Gamerankings.

Master_ShakeXXX

Yeah, but Spec Ops is actually believable. The narrative is actually interesting and tries to do very different things.

And Nier doesn't? Nier tells the most original story since like ever. It also backs up the legendary storytelling with creative and unique gameplay elements. Spec Ops is... a military shooter.

A military shooter that deconstructs its entire genre, and does a damn good job of it. That's a pretty big deal.
#15 Posted by Master_ShakeXXX (13361 posts) -

[QUOTE="Master_ShakeXXX"]

[QUOTE="DarkLink77"] Yeah, but Spec Ops is actually believable. The narrative is actually interesting and tries to do very different things. DarkLink77

And Nier doesn't? Nier tells the most original story since like ever. It also backs up the legendary storytelling with creative and unique gameplay elements. Spec Ops is... a military shooter.

A military shooter that deconstructs its entire genre, and does a damn good job of it. That's a pretty big deal.

Call me a skeptic.

#16 Posted by DarkLink77 (31964 posts) -

[QUOTE="DarkLink77"][QUOTE="Master_ShakeXXX"]

And Nier doesn't? Nier tells the most original story since like ever. It also backs up the legendary storytelling with creative and unique gameplay elements. Spec Ops is... a military shooter.

Master_ShakeXXX

A military shooter that deconstructs its entire genre, and does a damn good job of it. That's a pretty big deal.

Call me a skeptic.

That's cool. Go read the interview and watch the videos.
#17 Posted by Zeviander (9503 posts) -
Like you enjoying Nier.DarkLink77
I know, right? He has such odd tastes and yet can pick out a gem such as Nier from the garbage barge of games.
#18 Posted by DarkLink77 (31964 posts) -
[QUOTE="DarkLink77"]Like you enjoying Nier.Zeviander
I know, right? He has such odd tastes and yet can pick out a gem such as Nier from the garbage barge of games.

Shake's taste in games like 95% awful, but every now and then he does okay.
#19 Posted by Blabadon (28945 posts) -

[QUOTE="DarkLink77"][QUOTE="Master_ShakeXXX"]

And Nier doesn't? Nier tells the most original story since like ever. It also backs up the legendary storytelling with creative and unique gameplay elements. Spec Ops is... a military shooter.

Master_ShakeXXX

A military shooter that deconstructs its entire genre, and does a damn good job of it. That's a pretty big deal.

Call me a skeptic.

This honestly sounds like something right up your alley Shake.
#20 Posted by dracolich55 (2343 posts) -
Good Read. Have not played Spec Ops but from what I have heard it has a very dark and interesting story. I hope to pick it up on a steam sale someday for the SP.
#21 Posted by DarkLink77 (31964 posts) -
Good Read. Have not played Spec Ops but from what I have heard it has a very dark and interesting story. I hope to pick it up on a steam sale someday for the SP.dracolich55
That's my plan. It's dropped pretty fast in price. It's only like $30 on Steam right now.
#22 Posted by DarkLink77 (31964 posts) -
[QUOTE="FrozenLiquid"][QUOTE="DarkLink77"][QUOTE="FrozenLiquid"] I'm keen to give it a go. It's just, Silicon Knights talked a lot too :?

Yeah, but Silicon Knights talked a lot before, and less after. This is an after, and I find 1up to be a pretty legitimate website in terms of actual journalism.

True that. Not only did they talk a lot of sh!t pre-release, their blog was hosted on IGN. Lulz.

Silicon Knights had an IGN blog? Oh, those poor fools.
#23 Posted by PannicAtack (21040 posts) -

I'm actually interested in playing this game. I've watched the endings on Youtube, though... that kinda screws me out of the proper experience, I guess.

I've gathered that the gameplay ain't all that great, so that's an iffy thing. But then again, a story in a video game that isn't terrible is worth some modicum of support.

#24 Posted by DarkLink77 (31964 posts) -
I'm actually interested in playing this game. I've watched the endings on Youtube, though... that kinda screws me out of the proper experience, I guess.PannicAtack
I know how it ends, too, but it hasn't made a difference to me. It sounds corny, but I think this game is more about the journey. It is based on Heart of Darkness, after all.
#25 Posted by Zeviander (9503 posts) -
I've gathered that the gameplay ain't all that great, so that's an iffy thing. But then again, a story in a video game that isn't terrible is worth some modicum of support.PannicAtack
I've tolerated my share of less-than-stellar gameplay for genuinely good stories. NieR and Odin Sphere being two excellent examples.
#26 Posted by IAmNot_fun (3336 posts) -
Might get this game later on How much is it now?
#27 Posted by Aljosa23 (26183 posts) -

>"mature story"
>video games

lol'd hard

#28 Posted by DarkLink77 (31964 posts) -
[QUOTE="IAmNot_fun"]Might get this game later on How much is it now?

$30 on Steam. Probably less from GameStop and the like.
#29 Posted by topgunmv (10402 posts) -

Isn't it just an apocalypse now/heart of darkness ripoff with sand instead of water?

#30 Posted by DarkLink77 (31964 posts) -

>"mature story"
>video games

lol'd hard

Aljosa23
:| Do I really have to type "for the medium" every time I post something?
#31 Posted by DarkLink77 (31964 posts) -

>"mature story"
>video games

lol'd hard

Aljosa23
And seriously, this coming from the man who reviewed The Masterpiece.
#32 Posted by IAmNot_fun (3336 posts) -
[QUOTE="DarkLink77"][QUOTE="IAmNot_fun"]Might get this game later on How much is it now?

$30 on Steam. Probably less from GameStop and the like.

I just might get it next month while vising Canada for a while
#33 Posted by GamingVengeance (1874 posts) -

"When we look back on 2012 decades from now, I have no doubt that one of the defining titles will be Spec Ops: The Line."

*spits up drink*

Master_ShakeXXX
Ya I lol'd at that. I had already forgotten about this game until I saw this thread
#34 Posted by dracolich55 (2343 posts) -
[QUOTE="Aljosa23"]

>"mature story"
>video games

lol'd hard

DarkLink77
:| Do I really have to type "for the medium" every time I post something?

Well their are exceptions even for the medium, like Planescape Torment.
#35 Posted by IAmNot_fun (3336 posts) -

Isn't it just an apocalypse now/heart of darkness ripoff with sand instead of water?

topgunmv
To be honest, Heart of Darkness is such a classic that its not really a ripoff but more of inspiration for many of these military horrors. And im pretty sure the dev said they were inspired by HoD.
#36 Posted by DarkLink77 (31964 posts) -

Isn't it just an apocalypse now/heart of darkness ripoff with sand instead of water?

topgunmv
It's inspired by it, but I wouldn't call it a rip-off because they go significantly different places.
#37 Posted by Blabadon (28945 posts) -
At least check out the Extra Credits videos guys!
#38 Posted by Master_ShakeXXX (13361 posts) -

[QUOTE="Master_ShakeXXX"]

[QUOTE="DarkLink77"] A military shooter that deconstructs its entire genre, and does a damn good job of it. That's a pretty big deal.Blabadon

Call me a skeptic.

This honestly sounds like something right up your alley Shake.

Meh, I got Enslaved and Silent Hill Downpour coming in the mail. Now those are ma kinda games.

#39 Posted by Led_poison (10144 posts) -
Game was in good in hands, I remember former GS editor GregK was a producer on it.
#41 Posted by dreamdude (4621 posts) -

My friend showed me those videos a couple weeks ago.Truly fantastic stuff. I hope for more choice mechanics like they did it in this game.

#42 Posted by FrozenLiquid (13013 posts) -

[QUOTE="Blabadon"][QUOTE="Master_ShakeXXX"]

Call me a skeptic.

Master_ShakeXXX

This honestly sounds like something right up your alley Shake.

Meh, I got Enslaved and Silent Hill Downpour coming in the mail. Now those are ma kinda games.

tumblr_lyzwajTHSy1qlrlei.gif

#43 Posted by Blabadon (28945 posts) -

[QUOTE="Blabadon"][QUOTE="Master_ShakeXXX"]

Call me a skeptic.

Master_ShakeXXX

This honestly sounds like something right up your alley Shake.

Meh, I got Enslaved and Silent Hill Downpour coming in the mail. Now those are ma kinda games.

I just got Enslaved and Nier haha. Check out the videos posted in the OP though
#44 Posted by ReadingRainbow4 (16671 posts) -

I played and completed the game, and despite it being a fun shooter with some interesting story telling mechanisms I do not share in the hype.

The story, was basically apocalypse now in dubai, they did very little to deviate from that and I found that disheartening. The only thing mature about the storytelling was the way they dealt with Death. It wasn't glorified like say in gears of war, while you were shooting and gunning down guys there wasn't any buddy chat format going on.

#45 Posted by mems_1224 (48965 posts) -
[QUOTE="FrozenLiquid"]Oh, nice. Anyone played the game and can confirm this interview isn't just hot air?

the story is fantastic and more than carries the mediocre gameplay. there were a few moments where my jaw just hit the floor. the demo for the game doesnt do it justice. i played the demo and thought meh, another generic military shooter but then i bought the game cheap cause i kept hearing about the story and it definitely lives up to the hype. i really hope other shooters adopt some of the things that this game did with their story.
#46 Posted by Master_ShakeXXX (13361 posts) -

[QUOTE="Master_ShakeXXX"]

[QUOTE="Blabadon"] This honestly sounds like something right up your alley Shake. Blabadon

Meh, I got Enslaved and Silent Hill Downpour coming in the mail. Now those are ma kinda games.

I just got Enslaved and Nier haha. Check out the videos posted in the OP though

Lucky bastard, I wish I could go back and play Nier for the first time again.

I watched the videos and they were pretty interesting. Some of it sounded like a real stretch though, like the gameplay being intentionally awkward so you're more focused on the narrative and can "feel" what the protagonist feels. Not sure if I buy that. Cool videos though.

#47 Posted by ReadingRainbow4 (16671 posts) -

[QUOTE="FrozenLiquid"]Oh, nice. Anyone played the game and can confirm this interview isn't just hot air?mems_1224
the story is fantastic and more than carries the mediocre gameplay. there were a few moments where my jaw just hit the floor. the demo for the game doesnt do it justice. i played the demo and thought meh, another generic military shooter but then i bought the game cheap cause i kept hearing about the story and it definitely lives up to the hype. i really hope other shooters adopt some of the things that this game did with their story.

What did you find so amazing? The water Crisis part? I kept waiting for it to get more and more interesting, and to be completely honest. I was dissapointed with the endings that they presented to me because I saw what was coming about a little more than halfway through the game.

#48 Posted by Master_ShakeXXX (13361 posts) -

[QUOTE="Master_ShakeXXX"]

[QUOTE="Blabadon"] This honestly sounds like something right up your alley Shake. FrozenLiquid

Meh, I got Enslaved and Silent Hill Downpour coming in the mail. Now those are ma kinda games.

tumblr_lyzwajTHSy1qlrlei.gif

Enslaved is gonna be epiiiiiiiiiic. Looks like a lil slice of video game excellence right thur. I wanted to play it back in 2010 but eventually forgot about it. Now is it's time.

#49 Posted by mems_1224 (48965 posts) -
[QUOTE="ReadingRainbow4"][QUOTE="mems_1224"][QUOTE="FrozenLiquid"]Oh, nice. Anyone played the game and can confirm this interview isn't just hot air?

the story is fantastic and more than carries the mediocre gameplay. there were a few moments where my jaw just hit the floor. the demo for the game doesnt do it justice. i played the demo and thought meh, another generic military shooter but then i bought the game cheap cause i kept hearing about the story and it definitely lives up to the hype. i really hope other shooters adopt some of the things that this game did with their story.

What did you find so amazing? The water Crisis part? I kept waiting for it to get more and more interesting, and to be completely honest. I as dissapointed with the endings that they presented to me because I saw what was coming about a little more than halfway through the game.

the wall is the first thing that comes to mind and some of the choices you have to make. i just like that it starts off and makes you think its just a typical military shooter and then just kinda flips everything upside down. i liked the ending, i thought it was great. most endings in any game or movie or whatever are predictable, that doesnt mean they cant be good.
#50 Posted by smokingsbad (38455 posts) -
I just watched all the endings (couldn't help myself), but watching endings of games doesn't really affect me anyways. Hearing about the game's story makes me want to buy this now.