Rhianna Pratchett interview: writing for the Overlord

Overlord was an underrated Xbox 360 game, and now a slightly bulked up edition is coming to the PS3. We nattered with the game's scriptwriter, Rhianna Pratchett...

Rhianna Pratchett.

Rhianna Pratchett has a string of writing credits that includes magazines, a novella, and scripts for videogames. And we can enjoy her latest game script, Overlord: Raising Hell, on Playstation 3 from 20th June. She spared us some time for a quick chat about it…

Were you involved with Overlord right from day one?

No, I came onto the project when it was, I think, a year into development. So by that point, a lot of the design was in place, there were a few characters and a bit of an idea of a story. But more bones needed to be added and fleshed-out and the script needed writing and recording.Overlord’s script has its tongue very firmly in cheek: what was the brief and original direction you were given?

I think Triumph Studios wanted something that had a light, humorous tone, could satirise the fantasy genre a little, was more grotesque rather than gross-out and had the occasional modern reference but not too overtly. Other than that it was just working it out as I went along and going with what felt, and sounded, right. Luckily it all seemed to gel in the end. Cavorting around fantasy-style environments with a rampaging horde of sycophantic psychos is inherently amusing. So I had good stuff to work with.

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It’s got a very ‘British’ feel to much of its dialogue, and seems to be inspired by some very classic UK comedy shows. Was that deliberate?

I think the Dutch certainly get British comedy. And let’s face it; a lot of it is pretty low-hanging fruit for the whole world now. There are probably tribes in the heart of the Papua New Guinean rainforest that know all the words to the Dead Parrot sketch. I don’t think we were deliberately trying to ape anything in particular; we were just trying to create a fun gaming experience.

The game gets through having an essentially evil main character (we’ve never met anyone who played the game the ‘nice’ way) by the introduction of a terrific sidekick. He’s a terrific narrative device: was he in the game from the start? Was he based on anyone?

Ha, yeah, Gnarl is good fun. He’s voiced by the hugely talented Marc Silk, who was a real blast to work with. The character was in the game from the start, although I named him and helped flesh him out. Marc’s voice for Gnarl was so distinctive that after a while I could just write his dialogue with the voice reverberating around my head – a somewhat useful, but slightly scary, experience! I guess there’s a bit of the Kenneth Williams in Carry on Screaming about him, mixed in with a bit of the Brain Gremlin in Gremlins 2 and a sort of corrupted Yoda. He’s the cuddly face of evil.

Did you get involved with the voice recording and production? Or does your job end when you deliver the script?

I co-directed a lot of the audio in game – along with the great Dan and Tim of The Audio Guys – and that’s something that I’ve been involved with since, on a couple of projects. Having the writer in the room i.e. someone who knows the context of every single line in the game, can be hugely beneficial. I enjoy co-directing or even being there just for support because you get to see your script come to aural life in front of you.

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And is the physical delivery of the script very much in a movie screenplay style? How long did it take to write?

Well, it’s really not a linear process in the way a movie script is. In the case of Overlord, I went back and forth scripting each level, in the order in which the design team needed them. Then it was more going back and forth making sure that all the gameplay and level design was properly supported. This was followed by tasks like writing all the ambient dialogue, Jester titles, on-screen text etc. I think I was on the project for the best part of a year doing various tasks, including the recording. The script itself probably took four or five months, maybe more. It’s a fairly organic process, so it’s hard to tell!

What have you added to the game between the 360 and PS3 versions?

There are a lot of tweaks to the original version, which make the gameplay smoother and easier to negotiate. There’s also an on-screen mini map, loading screen hints, tactics and tips and 7.1 surround sound. It also contains the Raising Hell expansion, which was previously only available – outside of Germany – as downloadable content on Xbox Live. It’s a pretty slick package.

What have you got lined up next?

I’ve got a few game projects on the go: Mirror’s Edge for EA DICE and Dungeon Hero for Firefly Studios, a wee bit of work on Ubisoft’s new Prince of Persia game and a couple of unannounced projects. Aside from that I’m trying to get my website up and running, finally! It’s about 5 years late!

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Overlord: Raising Hell is published by Codemasters. The original Overlord is available on PC and Xbox 360.

Interviews at Den Of Geek