Saturday, May 5, 2018

Surviving Bad Writing

After spending the past few months trudging through the likes of Arcanum, Dead State, UnderRail or The Apotheosis Project, I decided to finally play something more modern. Something that isn't just a blatantly unfinished, bug-riddled Y2K era quasi-vaporware... or nostalgic throwback to same.

So I jumped into Surviving Mars. Given that I've yet to actually win it even once, I'll hold off on a full rant. Suffice it to say that while no masterpiece, it's actually a solid product with all aspects given at least some attention. If you're into sims, go for it. I feel that for once I got my money's worth, and that's a rare thing in computer games.

For now, I'm a bit annoyed at its writing. I don't mean the subject matter or plot or too little writing or too much writing. On a line-by-line basis, Surviving Mars' flavor text fails to lend its setting any sort of personality. It doesn't flow, it doesn't evoke or conjure, it doesn't dance or tug or tingle. It just doesn't do.
Can you tell those are supposed to be aliens talking? Neither phrasing nor vocabulary convey any impression about the speakers' personalities, their situation, their sensory experience (these are supposed to be telepaths by the way; Martian telepaths) or anything beyond a vague awkwardness.

Sure, Haemimont being a relatively small Bulgarian developer and this being a strategy title, not an RPG, they get some leeway. What about Funcom? The Secret World made its name as the best-written MMO online ARPG (and not much else) but by two years ago when it was circling the drain I remarked that even its literary merit was rapidly waning. Things did not improve after its fumbled re-launch as Secret World Legends. Compare the expressiveness, the florid id leaping from this paragraph in classic TSW style:

- with text for the same general game location which as far as I can tell was inserted for the Legends release:

Nobody talks like that! Not scientists, not office workers, not corporate ladder jockeys, nobody. It's like the white noise Geordi LaForge constantly spewed on Star Trek: TNG by way of technobabble, just an excuse to string together words like "extraordinary max dilithium dose experimentation subjects anticipated dosages" with no regard for their weight or vector. Oh, and by the way, it's "piqued" not "peaked" my interest. As in, your perfunctory prose has failed to pique my pinterest.

Why does anyone skimp on writing? I mean, even if you're a fringe Bulgarian studio, we live in the internet age. Anglo-Saxons abound. How hard can it be to find some loquacious limber-lalic logopede to liven up lit-errat-your? But more generally, why does any company skimp on quality writing, ever? Good writers are not expensive! Seriously, just go stand outside any university's literature department and wave a sandwich in the air. You'll be neck-deep in Shakespearean quotations before you can verb a noun.

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