Call of Juarez

<> We spoke with Haris Orkin, head writer for the Call of Juarez franchise about his experience with those titles and writing for the FPS genre in general.

<> Mr. Orkin, thank you for taking the time to talk with us.

1.Can you tell us how you got started in the gaming industry? Surely there is a tale of mystery and intrigue dying to be told!

<Haris Orkin> Not so mysterious, but maybe a tad intriguing. I was an advertising creative director and screenwriter selling scripts to studios like Paramount, Sony, and Disney. But I was also a hardcore gamer. I started playing Counter Strike with my son and he’d regularly kick my ass. So I’d stay up late and practice and eventually became much, much better. How bad was I to start with? My gaming handle was Blind Chicken. I started playing many other games as well. Eventually I found Soldier of Fortune 2. I played the gory game often and became so skilled that I was recruited by a top clan to compete in matches. Eventually I met the producer/writer of the single player portion of the game. He was interested in screenwriting and I was interested in game development. So we traded contacts. I took a lot of developers out to lunch. I eventually met a producer at Blizzard who moved to Atari and hired me to write a new game that they we were developing. And RTS/RPG called Dungeons and Dragon’s: Dragonshard.

<> 2.You seem like a very intelligent man, so obviously first person shooters are your favorite genre ;), but which are your favorite titles?

<Haris Orkin> Well thank you for the compliment, but I’m no genius. I just like to write. First person shooters are my favorite genre, but I also enjoy RTS’s and RPG’s. I’m not big into Sports Games or MMOG’s (Though I did enjoy Guild Wars.) I prefer playing shooters on the PC, probably because that’s what I’m used to. Some of my favorite Shooters have been… Half-Life 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Unreal Tournament, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Medal of Honor, F.E.A.R., No One Lives Forever, Far Cry, Deus Ex, Battlefield 2, Battlefield: Bad Company, Soldier of Fortune 2, Crysis, Bioshock, Team Fortress 2. I actually co-wrote a chapter on writing FPS games for a book that was published last year.

<> 3.Of these games, do you find yourself more sated by the storyline or the game play, and how is that influenced by your writing experiences?

<Haris Orkin> I think story and game play should be equally strong, but as a gamer the game play is more important to me than the story. I’ll play a game with a crappy story if the game is fun. But if the game play blows it’s tough for the story, no matter how compelling, to pull me along all by its lonesome. I do tend to prefer games with strong characters and narratives. So I work hard to integrate story with game play.

<> 4.Are there any similarities or comparisons you can draw between writing ad-copy, etc and writing video games?

<Haris Orkin> They both require brevity, otherwise… not really.

<> 5.What advice would you give to a young FPS fan interested in making a career of writing for the genre?

<Haris Orkin> First off, work to become a writer. That’s most important. You have to be a little driven to become a writer as the competition is fierce. You have to write all the time and get knowledgeable people to critique you. (Friends and family do not count.) Writing workshops are good. Writing programs at colleges and universities can be helpful. But I went to college with quite a few would-be writers who didn’t make it. It requires a lot of tenacity to hang in long enough to break through.

<> 6.How did you become involved with Call of Juarez?

<Haris Orkin> I saw a demo of the game at E3. At the time I wasn’t yet a game writer. The year before I saw Techland’s Chrome at E3 and thought the game play was really good. But the dialogue and voice acting… not so much. I told one of the developers, I’m not even sure which one, that they should hire an American writer to work on the project since it’s a Western and that it’s very important that they get the voices and characters right. They asked me if I was interested and I told them I’d give it a shot.

<> 7.Had you written anything in a western setting or style before? And what were your prime influences for the feel of CoJ?

<Haris Orkin> I’ve been a huge fan of westerns my entire life. I knew all the movies and many of the books. I studied the history. I loved the old west. But westerns in Hollywood were a moribund genre so there wasn’t much opportunity to work on one for the movies. I mainly based the tone on Leone’s Spaghetti westerns with Eastwood. As well as Eastwood’s Unforgiven, Pale Rider, and The Outlaw Josey Wales. But I was also influenced by the westerns of John Ford and Anthony Mann.

<> 8.Is the family dynamic one you particularly wanted to explore or was it just a natural evolution?

<Haris Orkin> It’s something I always explore, but my co-writer on both Call of Juarez games, Pawel Selinger at Techland, focused the story on family and I took those themes and ran with them.

<> 9.Did you have a great deal of influence on the original outline of what story be told or was that pre-determined by the powers that be? In other words, early on, what was your degree of creative freedom?

For the first Call of Juarez, many of the levels were already in place, but I was still able to help restructure the story and deepen the characters since much of the tale was told on the loading screens. For Bound In Blood, I was involved from the beginning. Writing a game is a very collaborative process. No one writes it alone. I co-wrote it with Pawel Selinger, but also the lead designer and even the level designers have a profound influence. As do the artists, the producers, and even the programmers.

<> 10.What subjects or story lines could you not follow for technical reasons? For logistical reasons?

<Haris Orkin> No comment.

<> 11.In the expansion pack for CoJ 2, are you working toward a sequel, tying up loose ends, or telling a side story?

<Haris Orkin> No comment.

<> 12.Are there any other forth coming expansions or DLC?

<Haris Orkin> No comment.

<> 13.Which is your favorite character to play, and why?

<Haris Orkin> I like playing both of them. Ray and Thomas. I played through with each of them. But I guess I have a soft spot for Ray.

<> 14.Which was your favorite character to write?

<Haris Orkin> Probably Ray. But there’s a little bit of me in every character, including Juarez.

<> 15.If you had to do it all over again, what would you change?

<Haris Orkin> There are so many factors and technical considerations that go into a game, nothing exactly turns out as originally planned. But overall I’m very pleased with the game.

<> 16.Do you have any tips for players to get the most out of their CoJ/CoJ2 experience?

<Haris Orkin> Not really. Playing a game is a very personal, individual experience. The only requirement is to have fun.

<> Thanks for talking with us, Mr. Orkin. I can’t wait to see what’s next…