Hey, Reddit. How’s it going? I’m the guy who made you kill 47 innocent people with white phosphorus and now (somehow) gets to write Star Wars. My book, Significant Zero, comes out tomorrow. It's a dive into my life making AAA games like BioShock, The Darkness, Mafia, and Spec Ops.

PROOF: https://twitter.com/waltdwilliams/status/908752104805879808

I’m all yours. Ask my anything.

EDIT: (fixed links) That does it for me. Thank you for all the great questions! This was really a blast. If you want to know more about pretty much everything we talked about, pick up Significant Zero tomorrow...

Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Significant-Zero-Walt-Williams/dp/1501129953)

Barnes & Noble (https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/significant-zero-walt-williams/1125490208)

Books-A-Million (http://www.booksamillion.com/p/Significant-Zero/Walt-Williams/9781501129957)

You can find me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/waltdwilliams

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/probably_waltwilliams/

And my website: https://walt-williams.com/

Thanks again!

Comments: 120 • Responses: 40  • Date: 

masshamacide22 karma

Mr Williams,

Spec Ops was a great game and a go to in recommending to video gamers who like military campaigns. The story and twist near the end-- was awesome!

What was the creation process like? Any plans on making something similar to it?

walt_williams21 karma

It was a 5 year process, so that it would be hard to fully encapsulate that in a reply here. In short, it was hard, stressful, occasionally soul-crushing, educational, enlightening, and ultimately very rewarding. When development was over, I think a lot of us were left with our own lingering pain and trauma from the experience. But ultimately, were proud of what we'd made.

I don't know if I'll make something similar. I might, but if I do, I doubt it will be a military game.

Born9819 karma

I have a pretty important question.

If a bear and a shark got into a fight, who would win?

walt_williams61 karma

Neither. A bear is a land shark and a shark is a water bear, so they'd cancel each other out in a fight. But, a shark and bear would never fight. They'd more likely team up and fight a Snow Owl (air bear) and Komodo Dragon (fire shark).

SamJacksonPLD12 karma

Spec Ops: The Line is one of the few games I can play over, and over. Your story writing for it was amazing, and I honestly felt for the character. Why did you have to do Lugo like that?

walt_williams21 karma

Lugo represented innocence corrupted. He followed Walker's example and gave in to the darkness, dooming himself.

ZhaneelOK7 karma

Heyo. You and I worked together (is not hard for you to figure out who I am: I made you bread).

What was your favorite moment at 2K outside of Spec Ops? How are balancing your work with being a new dad?

walt_williams11 karma

I'm just realizing I never thanked you for the bread. It was very tasty. Thank you! (he said, very very late)

Do you know when a tightrope walker pretends to almost fall, and they're swaying back and forth, and your heart is in your throat as you wonder if it's real or not? That's me, balancing work and fatherhood, except very much for real. Luckily, I have a wonderful wife and family who help out with the baby when I absolutely have to get things done, and vice versa. But when I'm not on a deadline, it's been wonderful.

Fave moment at 2K outside of Spec Ops.... Hmmm.... Probably traveling with Ken Levine, demoing BioShock while he talked about it to press. Learned a lot by just sitting in the corner and listening. Or the time I demoed The Darkness for a bunch of journos, then at dinner got seated next to Darkness creator Marc Silvestri. I'm a huge comic fan, so I got very drunk on vodka redbulls and pestered him with all sorts of fanboy questions.

Locutus76 karma

Do you play your own games for fun? "Tonight, I feel like running through Spec Ops again".

walt_williams11 karma

Nope. If I work on a game, I'll play it once after it's released just to see how it turned out. I've considered playing SOTL again recently, but probably won't. Just too busy, tbh. If I have time to play a game, I'd rather it be something new.

nightfyr5 karma

Hey Walt! Thanks for doing this AMA.

What inspired you to get into writing, more specifically, for video games? Why did you choose gaming over other mediums like movies or TV?

walt_williams9 karma

Gaming chose me. I was living in NYC, trying to get into writing comics. I applied for an entry-level job at 2K b/c I needed to pay bills. Figured it was something fun I could do until my writing career took off. Then it became my writing career. Now I do it because I love it, and can write for other mediums at the same time. I dig into this a lot in my book, if you want to know more.

Bluebeano3 karma

Which game of yours would you love to write a sequel for?

walt_williams6 karma

That's a hard one. I don't usually write stories that set-up a sequel, because I like them to be self-contained. That said, I would love to write another Star Wars game someday, regardless of it being a sequel or something entirely new, because I'd be happy to write stories in that galaxy until I die.

sharpeleven643 karma

Does your writing process for games differ from your approach to other writing?

walt_williams6 karma

Not really. I start with a story summary, one or two pages, with most of the main beats represented by a sentence. Then I flesh them out to paragraphs. Then I separate those into chapters, missions, or scenes. Then I do a page-by-page outline, where I do short description and placeholder dialogue. Then I go back and write the whole thing until it's what I consider a first draft.

samgillard3 karma

I have a degree in Scriptwriting and I love video games. I want to write video games, how would you suggest I go about getting into doing that? Thanks!

walt_williams6 karma

There are a few paths to game writing.

  1. Build a strong writing portfolio, get your work out there in the world so people can see it, then get to know people at a dev studio and bug them until they bring you on in some capacity.

  2. Write and release an indie game, then get to know people at a dev studio and bug them until they bring you on in some capacity.

  3. Take an entry level job at a game studio, then bug them until they let you write SOMETHING on a game, and work your way up to writing an entire game (this was my path).

MitchyD3 karma

What do you think Lando is up to when The Force Awakens ends?

walt_williams7 karma

I like to believe that during the events of TFA, Lando is on a space beach somewhere, sipping a space gin fizz, day dreaming about buying a new space cape.

walt_williams2 karma

I like to believe that during the events of TFA, Lando is on a space beach somewhere, sipping a space gin fizz, day dreaming about buying a new space cape.

Vabor32 karma

Hi. I heard you like peanut butter and know the proper way to eat a cupcake. Can you elaborate on the correct technique for both activities? Also, what was the hardest part about writing a book about your industry?

walt_williams5 karma

Peanut butter should be eaten directly from a jar with a very sturdy spoon. Nothing plastic. You don't want it to snap when you're filling the spoon to capacity.

A cupcake should be eaten in the following way: Tear cupcake in half, just below the muffin top. Flip the icing upside down, and press it down on the lower half, creating a cupcake sandwich. Watch your friends' eyes widen in awe. Enjoy the cupcake.

Hardest part about writing Sig Zero was dredging up old memories, many of which could be a little painful, while also being true to my experiences of development. I wanted it to be visceral, but not come across too angry or bitter, b/c ultimately they were experiences I loved and still cherish.

Guimatel2 karma

What was your inspiration when writing Spec Ops?

Have some books/movies/comics reference to tell?

walt_williams3 karma

It started with Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness, mixed with a little bit of Jacob's Ladder. But as production/life happened, a lot of inspiration came from the events of production/life happening around it.

GavinTheAlmighty2 karma

Hello Mr. Williams,

Spec Ops: The Line was an incredibly important work of fiction for me. It fundamentally changed how I view violence in media. It has had a lasting impression on me that I struggle to put into coherent words.

Did you read Brendan Keogh's Killing is Harmless? If so, what did you think of it? Were there any parts or interpretations in it with which you disagreed?

walt_williams6 karma

I did read it! I thought it was a fantastic piece of game criticism. Sadly, that was 5 years ago and I've slept at least once since then, so I can't remember anything I specifically disagreed with. That said, I was very surprised by how much he noticed that other people did not. For example, he saw a hanging body in the reflection of a building while rappelling down the side. A lot of people thought he was reading too much into it, but he was right - the body is there (even though it's not in the world). It's Lugo's hung body, and you see it waaaaay before Lugo dies in the game (spoiler?).

Lord_Paxar1 karma

Hey Walt, I couldn't think of an embarrassing question that wouldn't have made it into your book. So, I'll just ask, given complete creative freedom and an unlimited budget, what kind of game would you make?

walt_williams2 karma

Geeze.... I think if given complete freedom and budget, I'd honestly freak out and run away. I like restrictions. For me, a big part of being creative is having to work within a box. I need rules to bend, a line to cross (no pun intended), an envelop to push. Without that, I'm just treading water.

TyeDyeSheep1 karma

What was it like working with Lucasfilm on Battlefront 2? How much freedom were you given creatively?

walt_williams1 karma

Answered this a bit earlier.

Vabor31 karma

What's the anxiety-inducing part about writing something that might be considered canon for Star Wars?

walt_williams1 karma

Kinda answered this a bit earlier, but honestly nothing filled me with anxiety, outside of my usual stress. The idea of a story being canon or not doesn't change the fact I need to write a really great story. That's stressful enough on its own.

demandamanda1 karma

Maybe I'll have to read your book for this one, but: taking a retrospective view of the gaming industry during the time you've been a part of it, what are most interesting changes/developments you've noticed?

walt_williams2 karma

The explosion of indie games is the most interesting development for me, especially with the number of developers who are taking lessons from their time making AAA games, and using that to make really personal, interesting indie games.

[deleted]1 karma


walt_williams3 karma

Every project and contract is different.

Some of the hallucinations were my idea, some came from other members on the team. Can't remember who exactly had the idea first.

RichestManInLondon1 karma

what does financial freedom mean to you?

walt_williams1 karma

Being able to pick my projects, whether it's joining a AAA game or making something independent of the studio system.

alelabarca1 karma

Hey Walt! I Heard you on Laser Time last week, and I gotta say your stories about spec ops are damn interesting. Can you give any examples of how the story on the game evolved over the 5 years and different lead writers?

Thanks! :)

walt_williams1 karma

Uh... tbh, that's a lot to cover. I do go into it in my book, Significant Zero, over the course of a few chapters, so that gives you an idea of why it would be crazy to go too deep into it right now. But, I want to give you an answer, because that's just the kind of guy I am. So... one of the biggest changes was Konrad's status as a living character in the story. It wasn't until the last year or so of development that we decided Konrad actually died before the game starts. This didn't change any of the story's structure, but we did go back and have to rework major events to they made sense with this new development.

NOTE: I lost a lot of time answering questions b/c I kept getting 503 errors, so I'm gonna keep this going.

GlutenFremous1 karma

First off, I have to thank you. Spec Ops: The Line fundamentally changed how I look at shooters, and it is still one of the best story games I've ever played. It's one of the few games that I think anyone with a remote interest in games should play.

That being said, here's my question: Besides the white phosporous scene, I'd argue the ending is just as defining of a scene for The Line. What was it like to write the different endings for that game?

walt_williams3 karma

I loooooooved writing those endings. My main goal was to make each ending feel so definitive that you wouldn't want to go back and play the others, because your first ending would feel perfect for however you experienced the game. Last year, I actually talked to someone who chose to shoot themselves and then never played the other endings, because it felt right for them. Hearing that made me happier than you can imagine.

Zomg_A_Chicken1 karma

Do you put pineapple on your pizza?

walt_williams2 karma

When it comes to pizza, I like pepperoni. That said, I recently had Hawaiian pizza for the first time a month ago (pepperoni was not available, and it was better than supreme). It tasted like bacon with something sweet on the side, so kinda like bacon dipped in a fruit-based syrup. It wasn't bad. I don't think I could or would eat an entire pizza like that, but in a pinch, it worked well for a single slice.

rickmuscles1 karma

Do you think a Star Wars character will ever have a southern accent?

walt_williams1 karma

God, I hope not. So few actors get the accent right, and it's often used as short-hand for a character being evil/stupid/simple. I'm fine with the occasional British/American Actor accents Star Wars uses now.

lvl99weedle1 karma

Favorite breakfast? Just really wanted to say you were awesome on Podcast Beyond the other day. One of my favorites since the new crew took over.

walt_williams1 karma

Every morning, I eat 2 eggs, 2 slices of bacon, and 2 cups of coffee. I really like the miracle pancakes at Zazie's in San Francisco. But, if hard pressed, I'd say waffles are better because 1) Waffle House exists, and 2) waffles have syrup traps, whereas pancakes are just soggy, edible plates.

orestesScreaming1 karma

Hi Walt! thanks for ruining my life with your video game, which I've now thought about every day for almost three years! I have a lot of questions but I forgot most of them so I'll just ask one: I know there will never be a sequel, but if there COULD be, what would it be about? is it even possible to write another chapter in a story like that? am I right to guess it would probably be a prequel? thank you again!!!

walt_williams3 karma

Well, I killed off all the characters precisely so there couldn't be a sequel. BUT, if I had to make one (and had total control), it would be something like the original Rambo (book, not movie, where Rambo dies in the end), about Walker coming home as a broken man, trying to reenter society. Unlike Rambo, there would probably be no combat. This is the only type of story that would be true to the original game's themes, IMO. I imagine it would sell very poorly.

Carpe_de_web1 karma

Hey Walt,

You answered a previous question stating that you liked to work "within a box".

However, which would you find more difficult: 1) Expanding a story in a completely new universe (e.g. bioshock). 2) Finding something new to expand upon within an established universe, like Star Wars.

And which one would likely be more fun/rewarding for you?

walt_williams1 karma

Neither. One type of story isn't necessarily more difficult than the other, because I'm still just making stuff up. Both are equally fun. I know that's kind of a cheap answer, but it's true, at least for me.

Ubersupersloth1 karma

Why does the game say you killed civilians with white phosphorus even when you make painstakingly sure that you don't fire at the group of dots in the back representing civilians?

...I'm still a little salty about that. :p

walt_williams1 karma

When you blow up the vehicle straddling that area, it explodes and kills the civilians. Can't complete the section without that, if I remember correctly.

RobertFlobert1 karma

Did Captain Walker die in that helicopter crash and the entirety of the game is him reliving the worst event of his life in hell?

walt_williams2 karma

That is definitely one way of reading it. It's how I read it. But I wouldn't necessarily fight someone who read it differently.

XxPandaCowxX1 karma

I was lucky enough to play the Spec ops Multiplayer closed beta and was wondering how much better the campaign is to the multiplayer?(i never got the game because i was a 15 year old with no money....)

walt_williams1 karma

People seem to like the campaign quite a lot. You should check it out. You can probably by SOTL on Steam for $5-10, or pick up a used copy somewhere. Not sure if it's on the digital console stores.

ski-ro-dah1 karma

How does one get into writing for video games? Sounds like an amazing job!

walt_williams2 karma

Answered that a bit early. Check it out! Hopefully that answers your question.

HBallard1 karma

Say you had an early draft of a story completed, a game or book or whatever - and had only two people available to read it. One is a layman, a normal person with no writing experience and the other is a highly regarded writer who does exactly what you do as a profession.

Which would you prefer read your writing? Could both perspectives provide valuable feedback? Are there any notable differences in the kind of information they provide to you going into revisions?

walt_williams3 karma

The layman. Don't send your scripts to professional writers. We can't read them, because it opens us up to future litigation. You CAN ask the writer for tips on formatting and stuff like that. That's totally fine, and also the best advice a pro writer can give you. But really, the layman is your audience. They're who you're writing for, so get their opinion.

MonsieurJo1 karma

I'm currently pursuing a bachelor in game and creative coding, but I'm being more and more interested in narrative design. Is it one of your tasks as a game writer or is it a totally different job? If so, how do you work with a narrative designer?

Ps: would love to chat with you more deeply, any email or twitter account to get in touch with you?

walt_williams1 karma

The role of a narrative designer can change with each studio/project. Sometimes I'm very engaged with level designers, going over things beat-by-beat, and sometimes I just write a script and hand it off. Either way, the key is to write with everything in mind - music, level design, art, gameplay beats. All these pieces come together to create the emotion and energy of that particular moment. If you have some control over those things, you can write the scene first, then guide the team towards the emotional goal. If you don't have control, then you need to see what the team has created, then write something powerful to fit.

sharpeleven641 karma

When you write for something as big as Star Wars...how does the human brain cope with that? And how do you feel about writers of official Star Wars lore killing off characters? Like what Bob Salvatore did with Chewbacca.

walt_williams3 karma

It's surprisingly easy to cope with. Partly because I wrote Battlefront II with Mitch Dyer, and we were friends prior to working on the game, so it's felt less like "OMG I'M WRITING STAR WARS," and more like "Heh, we're making up space stories lol." Also, when I'm actually in the process of writing something, it feels so much like a job that it's hard to get stressed. The stress comes later, right before people see it. I'm fine with writers killing off characters, if there's a reason for it. I love endings. Endings are wonderful, bittersweet moments. So, I'll never be upset about a character receiving a great, character-driven ending. Death doesn't mean the stories end. It just puts a period on that character's timeline. "Nothing beyond this point." Unless that character becomes a Force ghost, I guess...

30newme1 karma

What is the process like writing a Star Wars game (in terms of the level of secrecy) as opposed to the other major brands you have worked on? Is the collaboration between you and the story group frequent, or do they just let you do your thing while checking in every now and then? Thank you.

walt_williams3 karma

It is the most secretive process I've ever been a part of, and I kind of love it. Part of you doesn't want to know how the magic happens, but the other part is super excited because you love magic and get to hang out with magicians all day. Lucasfilm story group have been AMAZING collaborators. First off, they're all great people, so you just enjoy talking to them. Secondly, they're always willing to help and open to new ideas. Working with them has been the highlight of my career, for sure.

TyeDyeSheep1 karma

Do you guest on podcasts?

walt_williams3 karma

All the time. I did 5 last week. Beyond, Kinda Funny Gamecast, Author Stories, Vidjagame Apocalypse, and Rebel FM. I love talking, answering questions, and telling stories, so I'm always down for podcasts.

redhotgalego1 karma

Something I really liked about Spec Ops was how the animations when finishing people evolved with the character: first you'd shoot them, and as you lost your mind you'd beat them to death. Also the art of the environments was fantastic. What influence does a writer have in "narrative" game mechanics and scenario?

walt_williams5 karma

Influence is the wrong word. A writer, like anyone, needs to be working hand-in-hand with everyone on the team. If I have an idea, like "I want characters to evolve through their look and animations over the course of the story," then I need to sit down with art/animation and find out if that's even possible with our budget. If it is, and I can sell them on the idea, then it'll happen. In the case of SOTL, this evolution actually came from art/animation. It wasn't my idea at all. That's the best scenario - when everyone on the team understands exactly what you're trying to do with the game, and are all working towards that shared vision.

Quinnteligent1 karma

Quick question, when writing for battlefront 2 did you want to make the story as... morally challenging as Spec Ops the line.

If you did, was there every anytime that you were limited either by the story you were telling or your bosses? Thanks

walt_williams3 karma

Good question, but answering it would give away too much about the story, one way or another. But nice try!

Flairtor1 karma

What would you say is the best part of writing those games?

Were there any fun moments or parts you particularly enjoyed writing?

Who's your favorite character for any of the games you've written for?

walt_williams1 karma

For me, the best part of writing any game is actually writing it, if I'm having a good writing day. Second best part is directing voice over sessions. Actors are wonderful, and it's amazing to see them bring your words to life. Even more amazing to watch them turn a bad line into a great one. I always enjoyed working with the main cast of Spec Ops - Nolan, Chris, and Omid were all spectacular - but directing Bruce Boxleitner was especially awesome, as I'm a big Babylon 5 fan.

You haven't met my favorite character yet. But you will. Sooooooon.

Empigee1 karma

Two questions:

Have you noticed any major differences between writing a game and writing a book, and if so, which is harder?

Are they any unique challenges to writing something within an established canon such as Star Wars?

walt_williams1 karma

Yes. The main difference with a book is that I own all of it. At no point do I get to say, "And then the reader fights enemies for the next 10-20 minutes," and then skip to the next scene. With a book, I don't get to lean on the crutches of actors, designers, artists, etc... It's just me and the reader. This is both invigorating and terrifying.