Video game fans have long signaled their appreciation for narrative games. Action-adventure games, which typically have more complex story lines, are among the top three genres for PC games, console games and mobile games, according to Newzoo, a video game marketing intelligence company. In April, the Entertainment Software Association released a survey that found that 59 percent of gamers consider the story when buying a title; it was the third-highest influencing factor behind quality of graphics and price.
But writing for a video game can present hurdles for television and film writers. That’s because unlike film and TV audiences, gaming audiences are not passive spectators. With a story-based game, you expect to be able to exercise some agency over how the story unfolds — or at least to experience the story in a way that feels more intimate and personal than a film or television show. Writers have to take that interactivity into account.
With The Last of Us Part II, Ms. Gross approached that challenge together with Neil Druckmann, Naughty Dog’s creative director. Ms. Gross, who is a gamer, said she signed on for the project because it was an opportunity to learn more about making games while working with characters she was already familiar with.
“I believe storytelling in games has the opportunity to create an unmatched level of empathy,” Ms. Gross said. “You’re not just a spectator. You’re experiencing someone’s journey firsthand.”
At the outset, they approached the game similar to the way they would a season of television, said Ms. Gross, with the two brainstorming the entire story line and figuring out major milestones for the narrative. Once those were in place, the similarities between writing for television and games fell away.
“In television, you’re collaborating with other writers,” Ms. Gross said, and “only once the script is in a fairly locked form do other departments get involved,” she explained. “At Naughty Dog, each narrative beat is infused with not just the ideas of the writers, but also by design, art, and more.”
Gary Whitta, whose film-writing credits include “The Book of Eli,” “After Earth,” and last year’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” said he had seen how storytelling went from nonexistent in games to becoming “more the standard.” Mr. Whitta, who got his start as a gaming journalist, has consulted on narrative and story development for a number of video games, including Microsoft’s popular first-person shooter series Gears of War.
Over time, Mr. Whitta said, he figured that his skills would be less needed in the video game industry. That’s because he expected storytelling to become more developed in the industry itself. “As the skill sets become more mature, developers will devote more internal resources to it, developing their own story talent,” he said.
For now, building robust and dynamic stories can still be difficult, especially in games that have several outcomes depending on what each player decides. When developing the story for Until Dawn, for example, Mr. Fessenden worked with a collaborator, the writer and director Graham Reznick, whose credits include the 2008 experimental horror feature film “I Can See You.” Together, they crafted a creepy cabin-in-the-woods story focused on a group of teenagers.
The game was conceived as a first-person game, which Mr. Reznick said felt “much less cinematic.” Supermassive Games then decided to switch to a third-person perspective, and began employing techniques usually reserved for films, like fixed camera angles, editing between shots, and high resolution facial capture for the actors.
“This let us actually write dialogue and express ideas closer to how we would in film — a loaded glance in a cutaway could be much more powerful than a line of dialogue shouted from offscreen,” Mr. Reznick said.
In the game’s final version, players can alternate among characters during the game, making decisions that affect the outcome. The game, which features the voices and likeness of the actors Rami Malek and Hayden Panettiere, was released on the PlayStation 4 in 2015. It later won a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award for its originality.