Bad Video Game Writing

Discussion in 'General Gaming Discussion' started by Ryukouki, Jul 5, 2014.

  1. Ryukouki

    Ryukouki See you later, guys.

    Jan 31, 2008
    United States
    It really is time for me to start working on that giant queue of stuff that people have asked me to look into and maybe talk about. This means those random article requests that I've buried in the bottom of my brain for some time, or random little errands like piano music requests - yes, Depravo, I haven't forgotten your Final Fantasy cover request for Sleepy City Treno! I intend to actually start on that really soon!

    *coughs* Well, anyway. Enough of that. Today's topic was provided for discussion by Hyro-Sama and by golly it's a really interesting piece for me because I played a lot of the type of games that the discussion topic goes into. It's interesting because this topic hits close to home, being an OCD perfectionist who hates these little typos. And with that, today's subject is about poor video game writing, which can boil down to several different factors.

    With Hyro-Sama having presented me this article from USGamer via JPGamer at first I brushed it off thinking it wasn't too relevant, but I gave it a more thorough read and I realized that I had some stuff I wanted to say about this issue.

    One of the things that I really found to be true was that video games have a bit of a problem when it comes to perception, where we as gamers seem to find that gamers make the assertion that games in general suffer from bad writing, which by itself is a weak form of criticism when spoken of alone without justification. When we look at games, there are always going to be the nonsense and illogical titles that seem to have no real flow or logic in its text, and that can be due to the way the game was scripted, but there are definitely other parts of the script itself that can be accounted for. More often than not, we see games that have been rejected completely on the basis of bad writing, and I'd love to be able to explore some of those reasons. Factors like translation.


    It happens with fan translations, it happens with things that we input into Google translation, heck, it can even happen in big titles. Often times, these bad writing remarks due to translation arise in games that have originated in the East, like Japan or Korea.

    I still can't believe that this was in the game.
    Thankfully, gaming translations have improved dramatically. We should hopefully be well beyond this point, but sometimes, these issues still occur. For those that have played a title both in the native Japanese and American tongue, there are often some things that are changed in the script, which can impact the writing in a negative way. Why could such a thing happen?​
    Playing translator is no fun, and they're bloody difficult. I've tried being a translator for a student that was studying abroad in my neighborhood, and it's pretty hard because there's a barrier because something that might be funny on one culture might not make any sense in another culture. It's a conundrum that raises a question about whether or not the original script should be used, or whether it should be modified so that the audience being targeted actually knows what's going on. We might just flat out dismiss something because we simply don't understand another country's humor. An example based on what I had been reading was the series Spice and Wolf, a chain of light novels that took a pretty long time to get rolling for us in North America. Now, the North American translation was absolutely splendid, explaining foreign elements so that readers don't quite get so lost. On the other hand, some fan translations existed that kept all of the Japanese text intact, with honorifics and cultural puns. Is there a limit to where we need to draw that line in saying something has bad writing without looking at the text itself in comparison to its culture? ​
    Illogical Scripting
    We've seen those games, games where the plot has more holes than Swiss cheese, plots that are incredibly absurd. We've seen scripts where the dialogue looks like it was written by a five year old. Does that mean it automatically has poor writing? Could we definitively say yes here? ​
    He had so much potential but he ended up as a wasted opportunity!
    On one hand, I have Call of Duty. The scripting is just distasteful and droll, and then you have the criticism about the plot being bad, with the defenders pointing at the gameplay to make their point - that gameplay was all that really mattered and that no one played the game for plot. On another hand, you can have a game like Pokémon, which gets slammed by people because the plot is childish and a complete turnoff. Look at its anime counterpart, which has done the same song and dance script for the past decade. Does that necessarily equate to bad writing? How do we even classify "bad writing?" Is bad writing considered writing that isn't for its target demographic? Is bad writing an illogical mess? Is bad writing translation error? Is bad writing coined because it tried to be friendly to its audience by modifying the script so that its audience might actually get the joke/characterization?​
    Hurry Up and Finish, I'm Bored Already!
    Time after time I continually see games being dismissed on the grounds of bad writing. But instead of flat out saying why the writing was bad, take a second to explain why exactly you found it to be such. Did you think about why it might be that way in the first place? Could it have been to target a specific demographic or audience in an attempt to get their players to understand the joke? Could it be a translation problem? There's a lot more to this iceberg, but that's all I have time for today. Let me know what you think in the comments below!​
  2. XrosBlader821

    XrosBlader821 Digimon Tamer

    Feb 1, 2014
    Bad writing for me is when something sounds so ridiculous that I can't even take is serious.
    And I don't mean serious as in "look Bayonetta is ridiculous and silly, that's not serious" but rather "look the text is written by 9 year olds, that's not serious".
    I remember in FF7 in the German version there was this one scene with Aeris and Cloud that was soo poorly written I had the feeling I read a poorly written fan fiction of the game I'm playing. and yeah the whole plot of AZ was a mess too. Instead of making it Kill everybody out of rage then create a machine to revive pokemon, have said pokemon find out about the killing spree of AZ and finally leaving him, which sounds logical, we got Revive -> killing spree (even though at this point there is no reason to since the pokemon is already alive!) -> discovery -> leave. This was bugging me so much that I couldn't take the final scene seriously.
    Ryukouki likes this.
  3. emmanu888

    emmanu888 6 years and still going strong

    Jan 25, 2009
    INB4 "All our base are belong to us"
    Psionic Roshambo and TyBlood13 like this.
  4. Nathan Drake

    Nathan Drake Obligations fulfilled, now I depart.

    Jan 2, 2011
    I feel this is always relevant when the idea of bad writing in video games comes up theses days:
    loco365 and The_Lost_Sabre like this.
  5. The Real Jdbye

    The Real Jdbye Always Remember 30/07/08

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    Mar 17, 2010
    I swear that line wasn't in my copy of Final Fantasy 7. Was that only in the NTSC copy?
    I thought the story about AZ and his Floette was rather touching, hadn't really thought about the quality of the story but you learn to never expect much of a story from Pokemon games and I think the story has been improving in the latest generations, so I'm not complaining.

    Anyway good post. I think we all have our fair share of video game writing pet peeves. I'm a big AVGN fan so I've seen a lot of it in his videos, it's often hilariously bad.
    weavile001 and Ryukouki like this.
  6. The_Lost_Sabre

    The_Lost_Sabre Naberius the Nauseous

    Jan 19, 2008
    The Void
    This. This oh so much... :angry:

    :gun: :wtf::whip:
  7. zeello

    zeello The reason we can't have nice things.

    Apr 15, 2013
    United States
    The last story to Sonic 06 is bad writing, 1) because it doesn't fit the tone of the series, and 2) because it results in bad or awkward voice acting. This is something they obviously should have accounted for. I believe in safety engineering principle. If something is going to be harder to pull off correctly then it's probably not worth doing. (well that sounds harsh, but you have to ration what you really want to do with a game and what isn't really necessary, and having Sonic die just so the entire cast can stand over his corpse and show off their voice talent in an extended mourning scene probably falls into the latter)

    the rest of the game is good writing however

    Final Fantasy Tactics (the PS1 version at least) is another example of a bad writing. To have a flashback within a flashback is probably breaking a rule somewhere, I've always thought, and in fact I think I actually remember hearing such a rule eventually but I forgot where.

    Metroid Other M is fantastically bad writing, because "confession time". That one scene is like the hiroshima of bad writing.

    Although it's not nearly as bad as Blaze the Cat stating that she has a fear of heights in Sonic Rush. Really? REALLY?! For crying out loud one of the levels is called Altitude Limit (implying the maximum height that could conceivably be reached) which takes place in the sky and even has a parachuting sequence and a hang gliding sequence. Funny though how Sonic is not afraid of heights but Blaze is and needs friends to coddle her, oh but I guess it's because she's a girl and he's not, makes sense.

    other examples of bad writing:
    • Sonic series has so many (and rather generic) sealed evils by this point it's a wonder how the Earth hasn't been demolished yet...
    • ..especially since Sonic is weirdly kind of ok with letting the world end. (Sonic Black Knight)
    • every cutscene in Sonic Colors for Wii (can someone explain why this game even needed cutscenes?)
    • Metal Gear Solid series with its compulsive need to stop for yet another two hour long cutscene
    • on audio atrocities website, I heard this one line in Enchanted Arms: "My name is the Ice Queen".
    • In the very start of Wild Arms, you are treated to a conversation between 'Hanpan' and 'Treasure Hunter' and one is a guy while the other is a hamster. 1) First of all, which one is which? and 2) How the hell is it we know the name of one but not the other despite being the very first time we see either of them? And of the two why would we know the name of a magical talking hamster but not the human?? The only way that would make sense if we were introduced to him first. (would it have been so hard to implement?? "hi there im hanpan the magical talking hamster, I'm waiting for my master. oh here he comes now") 3) Given enough time we can logically deduce that Hanpan is the hamster, because a talking hamster being a treasure hunter can reasonably be construed as being even more silly than a human having a name, (even though Hanpan is in fact ALSO A TREASURE HUNTER *facepalm*) and because 4) obviously, the only reason human wasn't named because ithe game was shamelessly holding out for the part where you get to name him. Yep, nothing to see here folks..
  8. XrosBlader821

    XrosBlader821 Digimon Tamer

    Feb 1, 2014
    How is this bad writing? It's more of a game play issue than story writing issue.
    The problem with MGS writing is the fact that every sequel has the need to retcon something to work properly.

    GHANMI GBAtemp Advanced Fan

    Jun 10, 2012

    The cutscenes (also, the random Eggman PSA clips playing in the background) in Sonic Colors were brilliant, and genuinely funny. Much unlike with other Sonic titles, they were a highlight of the game, and fit its mood perfectly. The premise of an amusement park in space is absurd enough, and they are certainly written miles better than most other generic excuse plots for platformers.
    Arras likes this.
  10. zeello

    zeello The reason we can't have nice things.

    Apr 15, 2013
    United States
    Then it's bad game writing.

    Movie critics aren't shy to point out when a movie is too long and/or slow paced, and often point out that it could have been shorter. You wouldn't necessarily say that "it's more of a movie watching issue than a story writing issue". When writing for a game you may do well to understand that you're already competing with gameplay for time, but also the fact that the actual game parts already accomplish certain things without the need for writing (identifying with the character, etc) and you just need to add what's missing. (*ahem* AND do it well)

    I might say retconning is not bad writing necessarily

    do you know what the word 'genuinely' even means?

    The cutscenes are basically just Sonic talking to himself in the mirror, although occasionally Tails appears to say something funny, witty, charming, or emotionally compelling. The story has nothing to do with an amusement park in space. It merely happens to be where the game is set.

    Sonic Colors has no plot
    Nightwish likes this.
  11. CamulaHikari

    CamulaHikari Kami Kurai

    Jul 10, 2008
    The Chocolate Factory~<3
    The first thing that pops to mind is Lux-Pain's godawful localization. A shame really, because the game was great.
  12. Veho

    Veho The man who cried "Ni".

    Former Staff
    Apr 4, 2006
    Bad writing as in dialogue or as in storyline?
  13. GHANMI

    GHANMI GBAtemp Advanced Fan

    Jun 10, 2012

    *insert no_fun_allowed.gif here*
    It was funny yet not forced, at least for me. It's not like this is an unpopular opinion either; MadWorld editors did a good job with the script.

    And technically, it did have a plot:
    >Eggman opens amusement park in space
    >Sonic & Tails go and investigate
    >They find out Eggman is harvesting energy from wisps and destroying ecosystems of planets to further his plans
    >They foil his various plans
    >He finishes his WMD for a grand finale
    >Sonic saves the day, park destroyed, wisps saved

    A plot that's really common in mainstream media.

    Nothing to do with an amusement park in space?
    Every single cutscene has something to do with the current attraction of that particular level.

    In execution, it gets the exposition job done:
    doesn't take itself too seriously
    doesn't get in the way of the gameplay
    isn't an annoyance to slog through

    Short, concise and enjoyable writing for what the game is.
  14. zeello

    zeello The reason we can't have nice things.

    Apr 15, 2013
    United States
    it is absolutely forced. The entire reel is just forced attempts at humor
    Cubot/Orbot? Really?

    right, cause Madworld at no point tries too hard to be funny

    Sonic 3 & Knuckles has more plot than that but how much cutscene time?

    Also, harvesting energy from wisps? destroying ecosystems of planets? Builds WMD to conquer the earth? This story obv takes itself way too seriously. Send it back. Send it back UNTIL SEGA LEARNS.:whip:

    "the grass here is green. can we make Sonic say something funny about green?"

    actually it does, just in a different way.

    are they skippable?

    It is none of those things.
  15. Psionic Roshambo

    Psionic Roshambo GBAtemp Advanced Maniac

    Aug 12, 2011
    United States

    You gotta have the video to go with it!!!! lol

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  16. migles

    migles Mei the sexiest bae

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    Sep 19, 2013
    Saint Kitts and Nevis
    my dad works for nintendo.
    Ryukouki why isn't the article longer? you just showed 2 in-game pictures, and the article is too short...

    or will this be devided in other parts\posts? like a series of articles?

    you really missed "a winer is you"

    can you maybe make an article of hilarious games a player should play because they are bad/glitchy?
  17. XrosBlader821

    XrosBlader821 Digimon Tamer

    Feb 1, 2014
    If it had to be bad game writing then the cutscenes not only had to be too long, as in longer than they needed to be, but also bad. However MGS cutscenes never feel too long because the gameplay is slow paced and the cutscenes blend in perfectly into it. Also they always tell and show you as much as they need to tell and show. They also add in some thing to interact with inside those cutscenes. They spend a good amount of time unveiling the plot and developing characters which can't be done inside gameplay without braking the gameplay which would piss of the fans. And it takes the game only so long for cutscenes because of how complex both plot and characters are.
    If you don't like MGS because of the length of the cutscenes then the series is simply nothing for you. But they aren't objectively bad written. They are far away from that.

    Not at all... FF13-2 and 13-3 are "only" retconning a unstable plot that already doesn't work on it's own to justify 2 sequels. I mean 13-2 even ended with a to be continued and they still had to retcon, wtf?
    Essometer likes this.
  18. Black-Ice

    Black-Ice Founder of the Church of Renamon

    Oct 31, 2011
    >How long until Gbatemp cannot resist mentioning FF XIII: 17 posts

    Well done XrosBlader821
    EZ-Megaman likes this.
  19. zeello

    zeello The reason we can't have nice things.

    Apr 15, 2013
    United States
    bad writing is bad writing if it doesn't fit the context. This is a fundamental point that I don't see their need to elaborate on further. Buy if you simply think the cutscenes in MGS aren't actually too long then that's a different matter entirely.

    "as much as they need to tell and show" Yes but can they have done it in less time? Or was the writer not competent enough to pull that off? Furthermore, if the story needed to tell you so many things and show you so many things, doesn't that make it a bad script?

    "how complex the plot and characters are" who says it needed to be that complex?

    "gameplay is slow placed" this point I hate the most. The game is already slow, so you make it even slower? If anything it might have been more logical to have fast paced cutscenes. Likewise if a game is fast paced then slow cutscenes would be an excellent addition since it would balance things out and give the player some cooldown time, and keep the actiony parts feeling fresh.
    Nightwish likes this.
  20. Vipera

    Vipera Banned

    Aug 22, 2013
    United States
    Away from this shithole
    I don't mind bad translations as long as they are limited to very rare typos and such. What I hate are plot holes of stuff that either isn't explained or has an half-assed excuse. Everyone complains about HURR DURR TEH BABY in Other M, I complain that I still haven't figured out who the hell the "traitor" was.