It would be fair to say that Martin Korda may not be the first name that springs to mind when thinking of video game writers.
However, a quick look through his credits and you will see he is responsible for such stories as The Journey on FIFA 17 and 18, Destiny: The Taken King and Fable: The Journey as well as an impressive back-catalogue. You may then start to understand why we were so keen to sit down and have a chat with him at the Yorkshire Games Festival:
TheXboxHub: Hi Martin. Thank you very much for your time first of all.
Martin Korda: No problem
Looking through your previous work and I noticed you started in journalism – with Rhianna Pratchett as well, who I was able to interview here last year. How did you get from where you were to obviously where you are now?
It’s interesting actually as I used to work for a magazine called PC Zone, I don’t know if you remember it, it closed a few years back. And I used to sit in a row with Rhianna, and between us was another game writer called Mark Hill. At the time, none of us had any idea we would end up as game writers, but we did all hope it was something we would end up doing one day. All three of us within the space of two years went from full-time on the magazine to being freelance.
We all tried to get into games writing in different ways and Rhianna obviously ended up writing on Tomb Raider, Mark ended up on Fable and Assassin’s Creed and you know what I have done as well.
So it is kind of amazing how we all used to sit together at the same magazine and how we all ended up writing scripts for games.
When you are working as a games journalist you are meeting a lot of developers, lots of different people and one of the key things about getting into games writing is networking. You want to approach a bunch of people and say “Hey look, I’m also a writer! Here’s the stuff I’ve done, some of my work, I’d like an opportunity”. You know for me personally, I got an opportunity about a year after I went freelance to write an audition piece for a role on The Movies, which was a Lionhead game that was being made back in 2003/2004/2005 and I had to write a 500-word script. On the basis of that, I got the job and it went on from there. Once you’ve written on one game you have a credit to your name, you have experience and it’s just getting traction from that. It’s going out and selling yourself, approaching people, going to networking events, letting people know you are not just a journalist.
Did that first job at Lionhead then spearhead other work because I noticed you had also worked on Black and White 2, and a little bit of what would have been Milo and Kate? And when you’ve done the networking is it just a case of keeping in touch with those people?
Yeah absolutely. The difference between the movie industry and our industry is writers generally have agents in the movies whereas in ours, there is a couple, but there aren’t strictly speaking agents who will only take on a handful of clients. So that then really comes on to you to be your own agent so that means getting the word out there and meeting people.
And sometimes writers aren’t the best at going to these social situations and selling themselves but that’s a key skill you need to acquire if you want to be a games writer, not just to get the job in the first place but once you are at a studio you need to make yourselves heard. There’s no point sitting in the corner and hoping that the story will fall into place, you are there to fight the corner of the story, to put across that vision. I think as well as being able to sell yourself you need to be able to communicate with a development team so they understand what you need as a writer and you understand what they need for all their departments and how they are working.
Communication is a key element. Not just for getting into the industry but for making a success of it.
With the work that you had already done at Lionhead, what caused you to stay freelance? Was there ever a time where you thought about staying put at Lionhead?
I was never full-time at Lionhead, I was always a freelancer. I would come in for certain projects or periods of time and work with the team. I was always open to opportunities. But I think you need to make a decision when you are a games writer: Do you want to work at a developer and be nine-to-five there, five days a week and stay there for three years and work on that project. Or do you want to be freelance and take the risk that you don’t have guaranteed work all the time. But, on the flip side of that you can work on other projects and other things. So, it’s swings and roundabouts, there are pro’s and con’s to both and it comes down to who you are as an individual and what you feel comfortable with.
Also with Lionhead I noticed you did Fable: The Journey as well, a game I really enjoyed. As Fable is a series with such a massive backstory and the lore involved with it, how did you make sure what you wrote fit in with that and what the developers were wanting?
Oh thank you, yes I was lead writer on that.
The first thing to note is that it was a much more linear experience than previous Fable games which gave me an opportunity to craft more of a filmic story where Gabriel starts at the beginning as a dreamer, he’s not your typical dweller and is a bit of a coward in some respects. He isn’t very brave and he just reads about all of these things but eventually he transitions and slowly you see him become this hero he always dreamed of becoming. On that front that gave me the opportunity to craft this story about a character who develops and in some ways, it was a little bit like a road trip: travelling from one place to another, meeting different characters that you go on mini-adventures with and then you move onto the next one. And from each one the character learns something about themselves and grows.
One of the challenges was, obviously having written on the previous Fable games, but learning enough about Fable and being able to immerse myself in them, understanding who the characters are, the history of the world. I worked with some of the guys who had been involved in all the Fable games and they were a well of knowledge. I could go to them and double check things with them.
But we also tried to explain things that hadn’t been explained in previous Fable games and to make the believable and cohesive. For example, the destruction of the first Spire. And in order for that to happen I had to understand what I was writing about and I had to talk to the guys who had been working on the Fable franchise for years. I had to read the Bibles and the character bio’s and history.
If you are not understanding the franchise you are working on, you are not going to do it justice. You have to immerse yourself otherwise you are basically just scrabbling round.
With what happened at the end of Fable: The Journey, that would have had a major shift on the future of Fable.
I mean potentially but I stopped working with Lionhead after Fable: The Journey so what their plans were for it after that I don’t know. Now I know they were making Fable Legends but I wasn’t involved in that, so I can’t really comment on that.
Where did you go after that all ended?
After that… I continued writing and wrote for Need for Speed, Destiny, FIFA so it took me on different paths and allowed me to work with different developers. It allowed me to work on new franchises and hone my craft more, learn from other people, it was good.
I had a great time at Lionhead and learnt a lot from them, they were a talented bunch of people. But it’s been great to work with other great teams as well.
I noticed you do a lot of consultancy as well. How does that work then?
It’s a little bit of everything really not just story, but how the game comes together also. Having worked on both journalism and in the trenches of game development it can give you a unique perspective of criticism of games but also how development processes work in the industry and what is possible and what isn’t. What I love about consultancy is that you feel you can go in and make a difference, because I’m sure that you write stuff and I can write stuff, whether it’s that or someone making a piece of music or writing a film, you get so close to it, you don’t see the faults anymore. You don’t see what’s good or what’s bad.
The consultancy allows you to go in and be that fresh set of eyes and provide constructive feedback on how things could be improved still. You know, maybe there’s a real issue in the game and you can actually help resolve that. It’s a really rewarding process.
Finally then, in your talk earlier, you mentioned about your Hollywood film script. What are the differences in what that entails and what writing for games does?
I think there’s a lot of similarities now, with things like motion capture and trying to integrate more stories in organically to gaming, they become much more filmic. And as an industry, I think we need to learn from other industries rather than trying to just be like them.
I remember at the time there were a lot of film writers and TV writers coming into games writing, there wasn’t a lot of trust of games writers. As I was just starting out my writing career, how can I prove to potential employers that I can do that too. So, I wrote a movie script and I entered it into competitions and it got to some finals of some pretty big competitions. And that was something I could show them. And I think the heroes journey story can be a particular powerful one in gaming as you can tie that into gameplay progression.
For example we talked about Gabriel who could hardly hold a stick at the beginning but wanted to be a hero. But by the end of it he is fighting the greatest evil that Albion has ever seen. What were the stages of that and how did he get there both in terms of narrative and in gameplay, that’s what I mean about being cohesive.
If you can have those conversations and integrate both narrative and design together you can have this really rich experience where the player feels they’re growing in power as well as growing as a character.
Thank you very much for your time.
You’re welcome. And thank you too.
Massive thanks go out to Martin for giving us a bit of his time at the Yorkshire Games Festival.