Plot is Gameplay's Bitch

Interview: Script writer Tom Jubert tells it how it is


Script writer Tom Jubert's most recently worked on the Penumbra horror adventure games on PC. He also had a small hand in Black & White 2, but that didn't work out too well...

How did you get your big break in script writing?

Tom Jubert: I'm lucky to be one of very few writers I know to come straight into the job. I had a degree, a lot of (amateur) writing experience, and I'd served my time in QA - games testing is not fun in the slightest - so I knew my stuff. I did all the usual things - contacting developers, networking, endless job applications.

Eventually I stumbled into the right place at the right time, and I've been milking it shamelessly ever since.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your work, and what motivates you?

Jubert: I think the right answer is probably 'wherever I'm asked to'. The guys at Frictional wanted a Lovecraftian tone to Penumbra, but there's lots of other material that influenced those games. I love film - particularly material with strong characterisation and dark humour, things I think surfaced in Overture, and are reinforced in Black Plague.

Obviously other games play a part too, though the standard of writing is still generally low enough - with some notable exceptions - that I find cinema more useful.

You've most recently worked on Penumbra: Black Plague, but in the past we understand you had a small hand in Black & White 2. How does working on the two titles compare?

Jubert: Black & White 2 was my first project - I was in QA. It was eye opening. A lot of the time, mediocre games like that get justified by the publisher as AAA, great graphics, giving series fans what they wanted.

Truth is that game needed to be released - it was heavily delayed, and they were bleeding money. It was pushed out the door unfinished - two thirds of everything we did in QA was thrown out.

By contrast, Penumbra's been amazing. With a small core team everything becomes much more efficient - and enjoyable. If you could scale that up - which, of course, never works in practice - you could turn out a decent AAA in half the time.

Do you look upon videogames as a palatable medium through which to offer commentary on topical issues?

Jubert: Absolutely. It seems contradictory to suggest film is capable of doing just that, but that gaming is somehow different - there's not a leg to stand on.

Gaming's an unfortunate term we've been saddled with - sure, a lot of games, especially a few years ago, are intellectually akin to a game of tennis, or Snakes & Ladders.

These days, it's not really a fair appraisal - interactive entertainment is better. Of course, topical relevance being palatable, and it actually occurring is a different story.

Blacksite gets a lot of flak for its botched political message - but at least they gave it a shot. Bioshock was altogether less ambitious. But it's early days - in cinematic history we'd still be in black and white.

What's the craziest idea for a script you've come up with?

Jubert: I think on paper the lead NPC in Black Plague, Clarence, is fairly WTF. He's a disembodied voice in the player's head, of unknown origin.

I've seen the idea done well in cinema, but never really made integral in a game - which is bizarre, given the increased dramatic potential in games of having the voice inside the audience's head, rather than some guy on screen.

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