A Tale of Too Witties: Writing The Bard’s Tale
When I came on board as a writer for the Bard’s Tale, it was actually already well into development. The story pretty much had already been set, as well as what happens on each of the levels. Fortunately for me, it still needed quite a bit of witty dialog to supplement the humorous situations the Bard often found himself in. I actually jumped at this opportunity for three major reasons. One, the game inXile was developing was literally laugh-out-loud funny, which you rarely see in video games. Two, it was an incredible opportunity to basically write a movie script without the politics of Hollywood. I’ve written for television before, and it quickly turned from dream to nightmare. What was the third reason? That would be paying rent. This might be a good opportunity to thank inXile for saving my butt. Ok, in reality, inXile didn’t hire me out of pity. It was obviously because I had written for Brian Fargo before and it was so brilliant, so inspiring, so professional… well, ok, maybe it was out of pity. Anyway, back to The Bard’s Tale.
So, once my butt was saved, I dove into each of the levels. Some of the dialog was already brilliantly written, some just needed a bit of spicing up, but there were also many sequences that needed to be written from the ground up. A lot of the dialog that had been written before I came on was causing the Bard to come off as mean spirited. Brian Fargo felt strongly that the Bard had to be sarcastic and a smartass, while being likable at the same time. The best example I could think of was the Han Solo character, and that was the feel we were going for. So my first task was to go through everything that had been written and do an exorcism of sorts. So I brought in a priest and a vat of pea soup and removed all the evil spirit from the Bard’s dialog. Once that was accomplished, I scrubbed all the pea soup off the walls and got down to writing all the dialog yet to be written. Now the interesting thing about writing comedy is that some days I just don’t feel funny. I look funny, but I just don’t feel funny. On days like these, I feel it’s best to not even write. If you force yourself to write comedy, the next day while reading your work you most likely will be asking yourself, “I wonder if they’re hiring at Denny’s?” Despite a few anxiety attacks here and there, which as a comedy writer comes with the territory, I’ve had a blast. There were several things I loved about the direction the game was taking. I loved the fact that the Bard could actually hear the narrator and would respond to what he was saying. It was a lot of fun writing dialog where these two just got on each other’s nerves. It actually made it nice when I thought of a good joke when the Bard was off alone somewhere. Instead of having some random character walking in for no reason other than to get a joke across, I would simply have the Bard play off the narrator. I also felt it was brilliant that inXile was poking fun at the RPG genre itself. I mean how many of you thought in your head while playing a game, “How is that suit of armor fitting in that guys’ pocket?” I took this idea and ran with it for the following bit I wrote for The Bard’s Tale website.
This was the very first thing I wrote pertaining to the game, and it set the tone for me the rest of the way through. I loved the fact we weren’t taking ourselves too seriously and that we could step over the line, or wall, from time to time. Having this free reign made it fun to write, and I think that really shows through. I grew up on TV shows like “Get Smart”, “The Munsters”, and “F Troop”, and this shows in some of the writing. This also shows my age. It isn’t all G-Rated however, for the Bard throws out a few nasty innuendos from time to time. It kept things fresh throwing in the clean with the somewhat dirty. I’ve never been a shock humor fan, so the innuendos are quite subtle. I think it’s way too easy to get a laugh simply by saying the word… oh wait… never mind… let’s move on.
One of the more interesting segments to write for the game were the “snarky/nice” sequences. These are sequences where the player has a choice of having the Bard give a nice or not-so-nice response to a character. Have you ever had someone ask you a question and you actually have two responses in your head? One response being very PC and polite, the other being what you REALLY wanted to say? Well in real life, unless you want a black eye, you go PC. However, in The Bard’s Tale we give you both options without the added expense of going out to buy a steak to put on your eye. These were fun to write because I got to imagine a little angel Dennis on my right shoulder and a little devil Dennis on my left shoulder, and I’d write down both their answers. Or wait, was the devil on my right and the angel on my left? I always get them confused. Maybe that’s why I don’t date much. Regardless of who was on which shoulder, it was a blast.
Anyway, I should be going. I need to go sit and stare at a blank page one for the next project for a couple hours. I wonder if Denny’s is hiring.
- Dennis Miller