For those asking "is screenwriting a good career", here's eight games where the writing elevates this type of digital art.
Who said you have to have a boring job? On our 1- and 3-year Higher Education Screenwriting courses we set you up for success, ready for the full range of media industries requiring aspiring writers like you. Today, more than ever, the film and TV industries are capable of setting new fashion trends and igniting social discourse. However, screenwriting doesn’t end when the credits of your favourite film or series start rolling. Today, we’re taking a moment to celebrate a media blossoming into its own, video games.
Video games may have started as graphics and gameplay but in the modern age, the scripts behind them are crafting beautiful storylines, providing characters of depth and giving us language with which to discuss challenging topics. By any measure, video games are transforming the film industry. That’s why we’re taking inspiration from the Catalyst Film Awards, and giving due praise to some brilliant games. The only entry requirement for these awards - the games have to implement great writing or use of words that sparked the imagination of those that played the games.
Best Use of Narrative
Disco Elysium (2019)
Disco Elysium is one of the highest-rated games released during the 2010s, with the game centred entirely around dialogue. A role playing game with excellent writing, Disco Elysium is a murder-mystery with an amnesiac police officer as the protagonist. The way in which language leads this game sets it apart from other competition, and the narrative is widely compared to classical literature rather than other video games. Written by Estonian novelist Robert Kurvitz, the storyline explores everything from disco, drugs and sex through to politics and dystopia into a well thought out and in-depth role playing mechanic.
God of War Ragnarök (2022)
This award raises the interesting debate gaining traction in entertainment - how video games are transforming the film industry. Using the performance capture technology that brought us Andy Serkis’ Gollum in The Lord of the Rings (and later Benedict Cumberbatch’s Smaug in the Fellowship of the Ring) an entire performance can be recorded and mapped onto your favourite video game characters.
While Death Stranding earns an honourable mention for its star cast including Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen and Léa Seydoux, it is Christopher Judge’s performance in God of War Ragnarök that takes home the prize. Writters Matt Sophos, Richard Zangrande Gaubert, Cory Barlog also received awards for Best Videogame Writing Category at the WGA for God of War in 2019. This short behind the scenes video gives an glimpse of how Judge gives every bit of himself to the role, elevating the God of War series from what was once a basic platform game, in which progression was measured by the size of the monster being battled, to an insightful tale of growing up that many teenagers will relate to on a personal level.
Behind the scenes footage of motion capture actors Christopher Judge as Kratos and Sunny Suljic as Atreus alongside CG characters
Visual effect live production in Catalyst's Film Production studio
Motion sensor interactive gear class. Practical VFX at Catalyst
Motion capture acting - Benedict Cumberpatch playing Smaug in The Hobbit © Warner Bros
Best Game Scripts
The Last of Us (2013)
An absolute masterpiece that revamps post-apocalyptic zombie survival, adding an immersive narrative that players can not help but be pulled into - The Last of Us doesn’t just create relationships between characters, but also with the player themselves. The emotional core of the game is based around the evolving link between the two main characters - Joel and Ellie. It is the plot that puts this game in a league of its own, with Joel’s father like protection serving as a narrative cornerstone.
In 2014 Neil Druckmann, now co-president of Naughty Dog, accepted an award from Writers Guild of America for Outstanding Achievement in Writing for Video Games. Three and a half years in the making, many fans throughout the web believe this game deserved much more recognition for the writing.
In 2023, perhaps it will get the Oscar that many claim it deserves, as it is released on HBO in TV series format, staring Bella Ramsey as Ellie and Pedro Pascal as Joel.
Silent Hill 2 (2001)
While Silent Hill 2’s abstract monsters, designed by Takayoshi Sato - which you could be forgiven for thinking were generated by AI software that doesn’t understand how many limbs a human has - are a intriguing feature, the game tells a haunting story of a world manifesting off the protagonist’s inner demons. As with The Last of Us, the best horror games are those with realistic characters, who’s flaws or imperfections aid in portraying them as genuine human beings.
Written by Hiroyuki Owaku and Sato, Silent Hill 2 is a psychological horror rather than all gore and fright, the narrative led game with multiple endings was at odds with the trends in video games at the time. This approach came to define the possibilities of game narrative for future titles in the genre.
Night in the Woods (2017)
College dropout Mae Borowski returns home to the crumbling former mining town of Possum Springs, seeking to pick up her directionless former life. But her hometown has changed dramatically. Mae is sucked into an unlikely adventure, rekindling former relationships and creating new ones. Night in the Woods also concerns itself with serious topics, such as stages of early adulthood, the challenge of a loss of a relationship or mental health issues like depression. Mae works through her issues through the relationships she forms. Written by Scott Benson and Bethany Hockenberry, this game will make you laugh, cry and if you have anything in common with the protagonist, may lead to some deep introspection.
Night in the Woods in a dialogue based mystery drama © Finji
Tongue in cheek humour throughout Night in the Woods © Finji
The Sims, and it’s internal language Simlish, has a special place in our heart. The language was born out of technical needs, as developers would need 6 discs of dialogue per language to fill the game, and the makers still believed it would get repetitive. Will Wright's creative solution was to making their own language captured the imagination of many players.
In 2023, Simlish is making a comeback, with some trending online making renditions of early naughties pop tracks in the gobbledygook language - #simlish.
Screenshot of EA studios "The Sims" (2000) - house fires were a hot topic in the first Sims game © EA studios
Players would turn up the volume to hear their Sims chattering with each other © EA Studios
Interior and architectural design featured heavily in "The Sims 4" (2021). Better graphics, same Simlish. © EA Studios
Best Online Game
Matt DesLauries' online game Wayfinder is highly impressive from a technical perspective, and the digital wizardry is celebrated widely through multiple awards. Wayfinder gets a special mention here, because it puts the words in the hands of the player. The game is “an expression of our connectedness to the natural world”. It allows us to explore the poetry of nature while renewing a damaged ecosystem . Released by National Film Board of Canada, the game uses generative art and highlights the action/reaction relationship we have as humans with nature.
The back end's use of cutting edge technology like machine learning is paired with a beautiful hand-drawn aesthetic. In this game you can explore and create poetry, generated algorithmically and individual to each visit with near infinite possibilities. Or find some respite by simply float aimlessly through a world and listen to the birds singing through your speakers, reconnecting you with the natural world through a digital portal. Wayfinder has received nine awards, including two Awwwards
Final Fantasy XII (2006)
Final Fantasy XII is set in a fantasy world in which empires wage endless wars, later re-released as Final Fantasy XII - the Zodiac Age. A quintessential underdog tale, small-time protagonists go on to become champions of their kingdom. Originally, this chapter of the Final Fantasy series was a close call for receiving the Best Dialogue award - reflecting the incredible graphics and art direction based on the Classic Era, the dialogue in this game progresses like a classical play. Character interactions don’t take a back seat in this game, but rather drive the game forwards.
Final Fantasy XII received several awards and nominations, but what ignited our fires the most here at Catalyst was the diversity of awards, including two nominations for Best Original Score, written by Hitoshi Sakimoto - one of the most sought out composers in the video games industry. The Final Fantasy series brings a highly collaborative and holistic approach to their storytelling - whether that means employing orchestras to make the soundtrack or developing their fantasy world to feature length films.
Our new Music and Sound Design for Visual Media courses prepare students in the music school for exactly this variety of projects. As your peers learn to become audio storytellers, on the Screenwriting courses you will be suppling the narrative and structure that defines those audio stories. In our creative production powerhouse, you'll learn within a curriculum that pushes for community and collaboration.
Playable Viera character Fran © Square Enix
Playable skypirate character Balthier © Square Enix
Screenshot of the revamp, Zodiac Age (2019) © Square Enix
A safe space to dream big
At Catalyst we'll provide you the tools and understanding you need to apply yourself to the multifaceted demands of writing for media industries. What better place to learn than a school in which you'll be within arms reach of up and coming visual effects specialists, broad minded musicians, film production students and actors ready to step onto the set.
We've come a long way since Mario first saved Princess Peach. In today's industry, it takes clever visual thinkers to come up with dialogue and scenarios that will keep gamers engaged for hours at a time. Thrilling action, adventure and interactive games can all be elevated from a fun way to spend time, to a classic that will live in the minds of those that played the game for years to come. Often that difference is crafted story.