Rhianna Pratchett on the Art of Writing Video Game Characters
We are in 2007. Your your partner asks you why the little villains of a certain game called Suzerain talk as if they had been stolen from a Monty Python sketch. Your terse answer – being an evil overlord while commanding a horde of unruly minions is a hell of a job, after all – is that someone has been paid a fair amount of money to make them sound that way.
But the question remains in your mind as the in-game jokes continue to amuse, so much so that you find yourself laughing out loud. As the credits roll, make sure to note the person responsible for the jokes and barbs: Rhianna Pratchett. After a quick Google search, you discover that she is the daughter of the famous Disc world author Terry Pratchett, and that she started out as a games reporter before crossing over to write for games rather than about them.
Since its breakthrough in Suzerain, Pratchett went on to work on some of the game’s biggest franchises—Mirror edge, Thief, Bio-shock, and Grave robber– and even won the prestigious Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing award at the 2016 Writers Guild of America Awards for his work on Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Pratchett recently spoke with WIRED about his illustrious career so far, including his latest game, Lost words: beyond the page, a narrative platformer game available for PC and all major consoles right now.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
WIRED: What’s the first thing you remember writing? For me, it was a short Christmas story in first or second grade.
PR: I don’t know, but there was a competition when I was in elementary school. And my father started the competition to write a short story. Now, being a righteous man, he wanted me to be able to come in too, so he said, “I won’t judge him. I’m just going to give the price, “which I think was a gift certificate for a book.
The school principal actually judged the competition. And I wrote a story about a little girl that goes back to Viking times. I was pretty Viking obsessed at the time because I had seen gentlemen dressed as Vikings go around the valley we lived in. And I didn’t really understand the concept of LARP at the time, or I guess it was sort of a live-action reenactment.
I had my Asterix thermos and lunch box with me at the time, so I remember they drank water from my Asterix thermos. And I gave my apple to one of the Vikings, and then my dad wrote my teacher to tell him that if Rhianna is talking about seeing Vikings this weekend, that is perfectly true. And so I remember writing this story and being a little sheepish about winning the contest.
WIRED: So, running through these LARP Vikings is what inspired the story?
PR: Yes, it kind of inspired a love of the Vikings. I was a big fan of Asterix, and Asterix is very good at teaching history to children in a fairly subtle way. Like you learn history without realizing it which is always the key to getting kids interested in history and things like that. You know, I just realized that one of the first things I also remember writing was Asterix fan fiction, but I didn’t know it was fan fiction at the time. I wrote a Asterix called story Asterix and the magic carpet.