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Writing games

Stories and characters are not afterthoughts at Remedy – those are the elements we start with when creating a new game. While P7 is a project developed gameplay first, we are also building a brand-new universe populated with memorable characters.

Anna Megill, Senior Writer at Remedy

Building new worlds and narratives is a huge challenge in itself for our experienced creative team, who are getting help from one of our new recruits. Fresh off Dishonored: The Death of the Outsider, Anna Megill is playing a major role in defining the voice and story of P7.

You joined Remedy a few months month ago and made the move over from the Washington area in the US all the way to Finland. How have you settled in so far? That’s a big change!

It is a big change, but not in the ways I expected. I thought I’d feel constant culture shock, reeling from oddities like smoked polar bear pizza! Ice hotels on every corner! 24-hour drive-through beer saunas! Do those things even exist? I don’t know. Probably.

But honestly, life in Helsinki – or HEL, as I affectionately call it – isn’t that different from Washington DC or any other cosmopolitan city. Everyone speaks flawless English and indulges my sad attempts to speak Finnish and Swedish. And, of course, games are an international language. I’ve had wonderful conversations with people about game stories and characters we love.

I’d say the biggest change I noticed after moving here was the lack of pervasive cultural tension. DC is a very political city and the mood there has been… charged since last year’s election, with protests and demonstrations in the streets. It’s nice to let that go and relax here in Finland.

Drive-through beer saunas sounds like a great business idea, let me uh, write that one down. Moving on: what things have surprised you in Finland? What kind of peculiarities have you encountered?

I’ve been most surprised by how normal and familiar HEL seems. It was so easy to settle in and establish a routine that I sometimes get a little shock when it hits me that holy crap, I’m in Finland!

Somehow, it’s the little differences that jar me the most. Seeing unfamiliar products in the stores. Trying to find non-IKEA furniture. And pizza! Pizza comes with weird toppings – like prawns, tuna fish, and salad. And it’s folded in half! And summer lasts only a few, fleeting weeks. When I saw Vs of geese flying south in August, I knew it was going to be a long winter.

Then there’s licorice. Licorice everywhere! Salted licorice, sugared licorice, liquored licorice… there’s no escape. My local supermarket has an aisle dedicated to licorice. I don’t understand it. But on the bright side, Finnish plumbing and saunas are wonders of the modern world. How did I survive without towel warmers or drying cabinets? Was I even alive before now?

You joined Remedy as a Senior Writer. I’m curious as to what kind of career path did you have to become a writer?

Well, the body count I left behind is staggering, but I try not to dwell on it. You do what you gotta do, right? I started my games career in the traditional way: as a QA tester. My first project was Playboy: The Mansion with Brenda Romero as lead designer. From there I moved on to a series of browser-based games like Hasbro’s Littlest Pet Shop, and Insecticide for the DS.

In 2009, I moved to Seattle and did a stint at Nintendo before settling down at ArenaNet for a few years. The whole time, I was writing any sort of text the projects needed. From newspaper articles in LPS, to game manuals, to poems and transmedia writing for the original Guild Wars. I wrote reams of feedback about the games I tested, and I edited story missions and processed VO strings. I also wrote the 90-page story bible for Guild Wars 2.

Finally, after doing every kind of supplemental writing imaginable, I was promoted to full-fledged story writer. My path since then has been straightforward. After GW2 shipped, I worked for Airtight Games / Square Enix and Ubisoft, then returned home to Washington DC to freelance for a while.

I’ve spent the last few years picking up fun contract projects, most notably Arkane’s Dishonored: Death of the Outsider. And now I’m here, working with the talented folks at Remedy on a game that lights me up creatively. It all seems like a happy dream.

How do you prefer to consume stories: do you like video games the most, or is it books or movies? Does it even matter?

I like conversation best. Maybe it’s a hangover from my bartending days, but I’m fascinated by people’s personal experiences. I meet strangers with remarkable hidden lives or unique perspectives. When I put their voices into my work, I get interesting and authentic characters.

Of course, I also look to media like video games for inspiration. I play everything I can to keep up with narrative innovations in our industry, especially smaller titles that take risks, like Edith Finch, Kentucky Route Zero, Her Story, and The Path. But I also love big blockbuster games with deep lore and rich story – The Last of Us, Uncharted, the Dishonored games. I was attracted to Remedy because story is so important in their games. (I’m a long-time Alan Wake fan.)

I also watch movies and read books and – okay, okay, I guess the medium doesn’t matter as long as it’s an interesting story. I can’t decide what my favorites are, but I love stories that provide a different lens to view a world I thought I knew. Sci-fi and speculative fiction are great at this, but I also read a lot of nonfiction. Like most writers, I’ll consume just about anything that makes for better stories.

You are working on P7, for which we are currently establishing the universe and the tone of its world. The game is turning out to be brand new in many ways for Remedy. Having said that, there is a certain tone to Remedy’s storytelling and writing. How does that compare to something like Dishonored, where there’s already an established universe and lore to think about?

P7 is an absolute rush right now! As you say, we’re at the stage where so much is still possible and everyone is saying “wouldn’t it be cool if…” We’re tossing our best, most fantastical ideas into the ring to see what comes of them. It’s thrilling to work on a game at this early stage and help lay the groundwork for the world. But there’s also deep satisfaction in writing for games with established lore.

I’m lucky that the sequels I wrote were for worlds rich with lore. The Guild Wars and Dishonored universes are wonderfully complex, with intricate histories, politics, societies, and linguistics. It’s inspiring material to work with. Telling the story you need to tell while working within existing lore constraints is difficult, but it’s a fun challenge.

As for P7, it’s a Remedy game, so of course it’ll have the narrative depth this studio is rightfully famous for. It will also have that signature Remedy style and tone. But – without betraying any secrets – it’s also unlike any project they’ve made before. You’re going to love it.

Thanks Anna! You can follow her on Twitter, just find @cynixy