There is no way that any video game or series of video games can possibly tell the stories we want to tell at Soma Games.
Neither could a graphic novel,
…or a book,
…or a movie.

If ‘the medium is the message’ then we will only have told our stories properly when they are told across multiple media, each used in its proper place to express the proper part of a manifold expression of creativity that ought to transcend any single medium.As the story line for Arc  has developed over time I see so many threads that touch on and contribute to the particular story we want to tell in the games. Writing these games has created a real challenge for me as I wrestle with what to include and what has to be cut but it’s not just a function of editing, it’s a matter of sensing which plot lines lend themselves to a game and which do not.

So if I know that massive parts of this story will never make it into a game, what happens to those other parts? In the past, we might get a glimpse into these lines in a source book or the special features of a DVD, but for the most part they wind up discarded and unknown to all but the most ravenous fanboys. For a story teller that is crushing.

But what if the plan all along was to break a wide story up into smaller parts, each filtered into the medium that best matched its narrative style and those various parts were published in parallel from the very beginning?

I wan to see the Arc story roll out in the games, a graphic novel, and a lot of web based notes and nubbins. The Race…well that tale needs a novel, a massive RPG, and radio/podcast episodes. If Dark Glass doesn’t get made into a movie along with the game I’ll be sorely dissappointed.

The trick here is not to make the mistake that a LOT of folks have been making over the years. The Race book is not the same story as The Race game. They are connected, but they are not at all the same. There will be totally different characters, different events and a different point – I’m not interested in simply telling the same story a second or third time with a different medium.

To be honest, my motivation here isn’t purely artistic. I think this model also lends itself to some really great publishing opportunities. If folks like one angle of a larger story they have a better chance of liking some other angle. Folks who enjoy G are predisposed to like F and then get interested when they see Bast Reborn next to Cerebus.

Now if I can only hire a ghost writer… 😉


  1. Ooooh Oooh Oooh! I LOVE screwtape as an example – well said.

    The recent title Red Faction was a good example of the kind of thing you describe where you start to wonder half way through if you’re working for the bad guys…very well done.

  2. Totally on the same page with you there. I’m not looking to explore or applaud moral ambiguity or claim that absolute truth is a matter of perception. However, the window of your perception sure dictates how you see the world to be, regardless of what is the actual truth of the matter. As a story teller you have the power to pull back the curtain.

    Maybe a better way to say it is, “a character that presented himself as a ‘good guy’ is actually just a deceiver or deceived”

    Think of the voice of Screwtape letters. The ‘protagonist’s’ uncle presents the other side as the ‘enemy’ and we quickly discover that the ‘enemy’ is God. And you start to discover all the tactics that Screwtape uses to lead God’s people astray. What if the main character of one story is ‘Wormwood’ and in another story, one of the families he inflicts.

    Or what if your protagonist is lured into serving in an organization that at first blush seems entirely benign, but as the character gets drawn deeper in, they start to see the cracks and the darkness that lies beneath.

    As the story teller, you get to start with the lies the protaganist is told, and in some cases, the player agrees with, and then reveal the truth of the matter.

    What is interesting about games in particular is that you ask the player to take part in it rather than just observe.

  3. Oh – one other quick note Ryan. You say “All of the sudden, the…protagonist…is revealed to be something different.”

    I have a personal objection here that I’m struggling to put into words but I’ll try. It seems to me that modern story telling has embraced a notion that all stories have different sides and no one side is actually ‘right’ or ‘true.’

    It’s one thing to make this assertion about life where our ability to know all the facts is severely limited. But I think a huge part of what makes story valuable is its ability to lay out an image of right and wrong, good and bad, foolishness and wisdom. The best stories aren’t only a recitation of a given character’s perceptions but also include a kind of moral omniscience that teaches us something about ourselves, the world or God. I don’t imagine Soma will be telling any stories where the good guy can be seen as the bad guy by changing the narrative perspective. That’s not to say that I only want to tell morality tales that lack complexity or ambiguity.

    I guess I just deeply believe in Truth and I hope my tales will present Truth as a real and knowable aspect of reality.

  4. Hi Ryan, well said. I guess my thought about not telling the same story over is a matter of not overdoing just what you describe. There needs to be some filter in place that allows me to determine if another angle is truly synergistic with the others or just an exercise in narcissism. 🙂

    Tolkien is an interesting example here. LOTR is widely loved and applauded but somewhere between The Silmarillion and Children of Hurin the voice that was speaking to a much broader audience became one that was really only interesting to a very few hard core fans.

    Of course Tolkien himself probably write those other tales more out of his own desire to explore Middle Earth than to have another best seller and I can completely support that, so long as everybody knows that’s the nature of the tale.

  5. I guess what I’m trying to say, with out repeating what you just said, is that the Voice and perspective of another character in the same story can flip it on its head.

    All of the sudden, the character you thought was the protagonist the whole time in Episode 1 is revealed to be something different.

    The ways that you can explore character and motivation and dramatic need with the same story/myth is very intriguing.

  6. I love the idea of creating a universe/reality and then letting its inhabitants tell their stories using different art forms/mediums.

    You mention that you’re not interested in telling the same story a second or third time with a different medium.

    But, if each inhabitant in this world has a different perspective of the same story or set of events, the stories are different. And the way in which each of these inhabitants come into contact and interact with eachother creates a very rich mythology.

  7. I think several of the major publishers are coming around to this way of thinking. For example, EA’s development of the Dead Space IP includes the game, anime, and comic. Microsoft has developed the Halo franchise in a similar way almost since day one (with the release of the Halo novels), and has seriously ramped up their media blitz over the past few years – adding in comics, ARGs, and the upcoming anime films.

    While I think the possibilities are awesome, and the opportunities for storytelling are just about limitless, I think it’s also important not to over-saturate the market. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, has said that “a ‘stop doing’ list is more important than a to do list”. While he’s not speaking specifically of video games, the basic principle of “less is more” can be true across all mediums. Using Microsoft as an example again, the argument can be made that they have, in fact, over-saturated the market with Halo. Being a huge fan of the franchise, I’d disagree, but not everyone feels the same way.

  8. I think you’re right John. There is defiantly the risk of throwing too much out all at once and I think the way to walk that line is to look at the question first as an artistic one, and only later as a marketing opportunity.

    If we can publish the parts of the story in a way that is comprehensive and integrated from the get-go we’ll be able to provide a bundle of pieces that naturally fit into something that doesn’t feel as though the second, third or fortieth pice is just a cynical effort to sell another product.

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