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Interview with Brian Moriarty

Innovation, design and screenplay of an adventure game: Brian Moriarty's views on these topics and some more, in a masterclass worth reading.

# By Paco García |

Interview with Brian Moriarty

Aventura y CÍA:Your career in the videogame world is long, brilliant and, indeed, enviable. You started working in this circle in a period in which adventure games had not became yet the great genre that later was. What made you think "this is what I want to work on"?

BM: My first experience with adventure games was in 1981. I had purchased an Atari 800 computer, and picked up a copy of Strange Oddysey, a simple text adventure written by Scott Adams. I stayed up all night, unable to sleep until I had figured it out completely!

Afterward, I was very excited by the possibilities. What if the programming and writing were a lot more sophisticated? What if these games were packaged and sold like books? Little did I know that a company just a few miles away, Infocom, was already pursuing the same ideas. It wasn't long before I came across a copy of Infocom's Deadline, and I knew I had to get a job with this very cool publisher. A few years later, through luck and circumstance, I managed to do just that.

AyC: As far as we can gather you are a very thorough person when it's up to writing adventure games; you get very well documented, you steep yourself in what you are describing in your games and you use methods closer to novelisation ones, getting far from the common image that usually people have of game designers. Is this some kind of personal philosophy or is it something that everyone willing to do good adventure games should do?

BM: I think it's just a matter of personal style. For games which involve historical settings, I prefer quite a bit of preliminary research. This was theespecially true for Trinity, and also for Young Indiana Jones at therWorld's Fair, an educational adventure I designed for Lucasfilm Learning that was never released. But my first game, Wishbringer, was written with very little preparation. Loom was also based on just a few pages of story outline. It all depends on the nature of the game and the circumstances of production.

AyC: Text adventures are banished from everyone's mind since a long time, although it is true that nowadays a lot of fans are entrusted inmaintaining alive the genre with some very well written attempts. Adventure games, IF's natural 'evolution', werehe narrative method par excellence in videogames, and text continued being the clear protagonist during its golden age. Not a long time ago, the genre went through a period in which it was usual to suppress the figure of the narrator and the characters' monologues, arguing "if you want to look at something, there you have its image", though this tendency seems to be changing. As in modern cinema and comic, is a picture worth a thousand words?

BM:Many years ago, I coined an aphorism: "The problem with graphic adventure games is that you can't do anything that you can't show, and you can't afford to show anything!"

As amazing as the graphics of current games have become, I believe the actual gameplay is less rich and interesting than the old text adventures. There are very few "verbs" in graphic adventures. The methods available to express yourself, try odd things and interact with the world are quite limited. Also, the cost of producing graphics is very high, so every action that needs to be displayed to the player must be carefully budgeted and thoroughly justified.

This was especially true in the late '80s and early '90s, when games had to fit on a handful of floppy discs. Finally, the cost and effort involved in showing actions to the player makes it difficult for a designer to improvise and experiment during production.

Nevertheless, the expressive power and versatility of text adventures doesn't matter much if nobody will buy them. The majority of customers obviously prefer animated pictures with limited interactivity.

AyC: People knows the name of Brian Moriarty mainly because of Loom and your work at LucasArts, but before that you were in the bosom of another one of the major companies in the adventure game industry: Infocom. For some years you were employed by this company, and your labour there has been acclaimed an imaginative, original and ingenious. We would like to know your opinion on that score. Can you roughly explain how to make an original, imaginative and ingenious game?

BM: I seem to do my best work when I trust my intuition. If I stop to justify every decision in advance, my style becomes cramped and nothing gets done. For me, it's easier to let the story write itself and then go back and deal with any oddities or inconsistencies, which I prefer to view as opportunities.

For example, when I was working on The Dig at Lucasfilm, I created a character named Toshi Olema, the son of a Japanese tycoon who bribes his way onto a space shuttle mission. At some point during production, it was pointed out to me that Olema was an unlikely name for a person of Japanese descent, because the consonant L isn't used in the Japanese language. I was delighted by this news! It meant there was a mystery about Toshi's last name that would need to be explained at some point. Mysteriously, Toshi had become a character independent of my ideas about him. So I never considered changing the name, because I trusted my ability to turn the "mistake" into a curious (and possibly funny) story detail.

AyC: Games such as Trinity dealt with great and deep topics and one of their best achievements is their multiple narrative dimensions: each thing is in the place it is due to a concrete reason and there are elements with a parallel meaning, with a particular message. Is the narrative complexity a requirement or is it also possible to build appealing stories in much more direct a style?

BM:Complexity isn't necessary for a good game. Wishbringer and Loom both employ stories and themes that are fairly simple and direct. Trinity is somewhat more sophisticated, but I was trying to achieve a distinctly literary quality with that game.

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