Ex-Failbetter Writer Becomes First BioWare Guest Writer

Alexis Kennedy has left Failbetter recently in spite of being one of the founders of the company, but that hasn’t stopped his involvement in game writing at all. He has recently been working as a guest writer on Stellaris, and now he’s apparently working with BioWare as the company’s very first guest writer. PC Gamer has an interview with Kennedy that includes a few more details:

You mentioned in a previous email that BioWare doesn’t normally use guest writers—how were you approached and what was your initial reaction?

We’ve worked together before—I did some narrative consultancy for them at Failbetter, and worked on a Dragon Age project. So it was pretty informal. Mike Laidlaw just DMed as soon as he heard I was going freelance. I’ve just looked up my response, I can truthfully say it was

“Alexis Kennedy: er YES

Alexis Kennedy: sign me the FUCK up

Alexis Kennedy: Please”

And I know that in this industry everyone is always supposed to say how excited they are to work with whoever they’re working with. But I am in the fortunate position of only having to take the contracts I want, so if you hear me say I’m excited, I genuinely am bloody thrilled. BioWare are world-class talent and good people with it, and their work has been a major influence on my own.

Failbetter’s games are also very text based, and much of their narrative unfolds via a combination of words and player imagination. This is perhaps tied to financial constraints, however BioWare games like, say, Mass Effect, are obviously very different. How do you adapt your writing style to suit a game not necessarily bigger in scope, but certainly bigger in production value?

There are still constraints—they’re just different ones. Years ago, when I did a talk at BioWare, I said that the nice thing about text is that it’s cheap. Then one of the people who’d heard the talk said afterwards, well, you know, for us it’s not always cheap, because if a line needs changing, you can’t just get voice talent back into the booth to say one line.

Or, again, I could just decide in Fallen London that what we really wanted was an owl that opened on a hinge and drank your memories through its internal maggots. And Paul would patiently get on with making an icon for it, and it would take him half a day and then we could put it in the game. But in a big game where everything is 3D and animated and it takes people a year to make all the rocks, they probably don’t have time to hinge the owls.

So any work I do on a big game will have fewer casually lunatic inventions, especially since it has to fit in someone else’s lore anyway. That means focusing on lurking menace, tight dialogue, and opportunities to do things you’ll regret. Which sounds like fun.

Considering Kennedy has mentioned he’ll work alongside Mike Laidlaw and Patrick Weekes, there’s a very good chance he might be working on a Dragon Age project, in which case it might be quite a while before we learn anything about it.

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