This post is a critique and criticism of the Variks dialogue we saw in Bungie’s Twitch reveal of the Prison of Elders.
Note, this is a rage post. I throw down some opinions here. In some parts am I overreacting? Probably! And I’m okay with that! It’s healthy to rage every now and then.
Also, I intend to make a second post in the future where I put my money where my mouth is and rewrite Variks’ dialogue myself.
So, I recently saw the Prison of Elders reveal on Bungie’s twitch. You can find recordings of it all over youtube if you haven’t seen it already.
As I watched, a realization slowly began to dawn on me: Variks’ dialogue is the most moronic, imbecilic, talentless, pointless, worthless, vacuous, idiotic crap that I’ve ever heard, seen, or read.
I used to volunteer at an organization where I worked with elementary school children, helping them with homework and developing their self esteem and creativity through writing. Those elementary school children, even the ones as young as seven years old, they could write better character dialogue than what Bungie’s writers have written for Variks.
Currently, Bungie is advertising in their “Story Experience” career section for a Fiction Team Lead, a Cinematic Lead, a Story Experience Lead, a Lead Writer, and a Narrative Designer. Seems even Bungie understands that their writing team is failing. But I’m not sure that creating half a dozen different writing leads is the solution. It’s like if your restaurant is making bad food so you hire a Vegetable Chef, a Meat Chef, a Spices and Sauces Chef, and a Dessert Chef. Yeah, you could do that, or you could hire one good chef and some cooks who know how to take orders.
Anyway, that’s a completely different issue.
AT LEAST THE VOICE ACTING IS GOOD
Before I go into a tirade of hatred, let me just give a huge shout out to the voice actor… if I could actually find his name anywhere online. Maybe he’ll be credited online at some point in the future. Until then…
Dear nameless voice actor! Kudos on doing a fantastic job conveying a sense of this alien character. You really make the most of the few lines you were given. It’s just too bad that Bungie didn’t give you anything to work with. The dialogue written by Bungie’s writers is lifeless and devoid of character, but you, anonymous voice actor, you are the only reason that Variks has any life or personality. I salute you.
[EDIT: Thanks to Sane Sanity for pointing out that the voice actor is Dee Bradley Baker. Good work Mr. Baker.]
I am genuinely furious about Variks’ dialogue. Here’s why: someone’s getting paid to write this crap.
Someone walked into Bungie studios, sat down at his desk, thought to himself,
“‘Fight. Win. Live.’ Yeah, that’s some good dialogue.”
He wrote it down, patted himself on the back, and gave himself a one hour coffee break as a reward.
He came back to his desk sent his writing to his boss, and when his boss read it, and his boss thinks,
“Wow, this is some great dialogue. ‘They are dead. You are not.’ Where does he come up with this stuff? Keep giving this guy a mid to high five figure salary, with benefits. He’s earned it. ‘Prepare for combat?’ Clearly, we hired the right man for the job.”
And that just enrages me. When someone is getting paid to do a job and they put absolutely no effort into it, and their results prove how unqualified they are for the job, that is just disgusting. There are people in this world who deserve that job. There are people who have struggled to get that job and failed because they didn’t know the right people or didn’t look good on paper. So it’s complete bullshit that some hack gets to work when someone qualified does not. (No, I’m not talking about myself. I have never tried to work as a writer let alone a writer in the games industry. I just hate when people get what they don’t deserve.)
IS IT REALLY THAT BAD?
Let’s take a look at some of this crap. It’s so stupid, vapid, and pointless that you could have NO dialogue and it wouldn’t change the player’s experience.
“Fight. Kill. Survive.”
“Fight. Win. Live.”
Sorry, I was confused about the rules of this FPS. Thanks for clarifying that with this completely pointless dialogue, Bungie.
“Impress me, yes? Fight and win.”
“Go back to airlock, yes?”
Putting “yes?” at the end of each sentence does not create a unique and interesting dialogue.
“Prepare for combat.”
“Mines must be dismantled. Or death!”
“Intercept important target, or you die.”
Any elaboration on why I die? No? Thanks Bungie.
These next two, I’m genuinely confused about whether they’re supposed to be comedy, or whether the writer expected us to take them seriously.
“They will try to kill you. Kill them back.”
“Kill them dead, Guardian.”
ANNOUNCING NEXT WAVE:
“Reinforcements. Ready for combat.”
“Reinforcements are coming.”
“More enemies, Guardian.”
“Be ready. More enemies on the way.”
“More enemies have been unleashed.”
Thank you for saying the exact same sentence in seven nearly identical ways. A simple sound effect, like a horn or an alarm would have accomplished just as much as all of these sentences.
“Success, Guardian. Success.”
“Success. You have done it.”
“Victory. Well earned.”
“Your victory tells the tale.”
“Enemies die. You live. Well done.”
“They are dead. You are not.”
Oh, am I not dead? Thanks for clearing that up Bungie. I hadn’t realized. THEY’RE dead. I’M alive. Phew, I was worried it was the other way around.
“Taste victory. It is sweet. You have won.”
I WILL TASTE NOTHING!!!
“You fought, you won. Your treasure awaits.”
Is my treasure some better dialogue?
So, looking at all of that dialogue you can clearly see that it’s basically a bunch of nothing. It conveys little to no information, and in some cases it tells the player something he’s already aware of (such as that he’s alive). In other cases (like the beginning of the next wave), a sound effect would communicate just as much as the spoken dialogue.
These lines of dialogue are so thin and skeletal that they’re not even rough drafts. This is placeholder dialogue. The kind of thing a writer whips up in about five minutes just to hold the place of the real dialogue he’ll eventually write later.
THE ONLY POSSIBLE SAVING GRACE
So, the only thing that could make this dialogue acceptable is if it actually is holding the place for the real dialogue.
If Bungie used placeholder dialogue in their Twitch reveal in order to avoid spoiling the real dialogue, then that would make sense. Then that would be okay.
Somehow I doubt that’s the case though.
THE DIALOGUE REVEALS HOW LITTLE EFFORT/TALENT THERE IS
So, the dialogue is generic, vapid, and useless. But, it’s not completely generic, which suggests that someone was actually trying… and failing.
At a quick glance we see some unique trends, such as sentence fragments, truncated phrases, and an occasional avoidance of articles (“the”, “a”, “an”) kind of similar to how Slavic languages don’t contain articles. It’s clear someone was trying to make the dialogue strange and alien, since it’s spoken by a character who is an alien.
But then, some of the sentences are complete sentences and some sentences do contain articles. So, it’s just inconsistent, and like many aspects of Destiny’s writing it feels like it was written by different people with different goals in mind. Or by one person who didn’t know what they were doing.
So, there’s some sort of effort going into it, but the result is garbage. There is enough effort to show that it’s a half-assed effort based on almost no talent.
ADDS NOTHING TO THE GAME
You’d think that after all the complaints from fans about lack of story in Destiny that Bungie would take as many opportunities they could to tell some sort of narrative.
The dialogue of a friendly Fallen character seems like the perfect opportunity to expand on lore, expand on story, reflect aspects of Fallen culture, and give us some background on the Prison of Elders or the Reef.
Variks’ dialogue does absolutely none of these things. As I’ve stated before, it actually does nothing at all.
Here’s some of the things he says regarding the races just before entering an arena, or right before fighting a boss:
“Hive spawn claw their way towards your light.”
“Bonewalkers of the Hive await. They will try to kill you. Kill them back.”
“Hive, creatures of the Darkness, arise. Kill them dead, Guardian.”
“Foot soldiers of the Cabal rise to the challenge. Kill them dead, Guardian.”
“Warbeasts of the Cabal await. They will try to kill you. Kill them back.”
Note that Variks’ dialogue tells us nothing useful or interesting about any of the races we’re about to fight. It is only informing us about which race we’re about to fight WHICH IS COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY AND USELESS.
The door to each arena is decorated with the trappings of each race, the tunnel leading to the arena contains the architecture of each race, and the arena itself is very obviously themed for every race.
The players get instant, visual communication as to what race they’re about to fight so Variks’ dialogue SERVES ABSOLUTELY NO PURPOSE. It is completely redundant and a waste of space.
“You face Fallen pirate scum. Prepare.”
Variks himself is a Fallen. He despises how far his culture has fallen. And the above line is the only thing he has to say about all that?
“Urrox the Flame Prince, scion of Oryx.”
“Valus Trau’ug, Cabal Juggernaut.”
“The Wretched Knight. Dark blade of the Hive.”
No stories about how these bosses were capture. No foreshadowing of their powers. Not even any god damn flavor.
SOMETHING THAT ACCOMPLISHES WHAT VARIKS’ DIALOGUE FAILS TO
In a previous blog post I mentioned one of my favorite grimoire cards, “Ghost Fragment: Fallen 2”.
This grimoire card is very well written, and tells us a lot about Fallen culture implicitly and not in a lazy explicit way. Let’s look at some choice bits from that vignette.
“A ROUTINE SUMMATION OF DARLINGS WON AND HEROICALLY HELD DURING THIS PROFITABLE CYCLE, AS COMPILED BY A DREG
ammunition of rich makes, quantity adequate to incinerate 6X6 foe
15 human body parts, kept for study, scorn
55 human adornments, full of glory and warm memory, worth the cost of their acquisition and more so
considerable experience in battle
4 dregs dead, rendering House of Winter weaker
1 dreg honoring self and House, leading to consideration of fabricated arms
I am absolutely baffled as to why the person who wrote this grimoire card wasn’t asked to also write Variks’ dialogue. When I give some examples of my own Variks’ dialogue I will be using the vignette in this grimoire card as my guideline.
That’s all for now.
Later, I will write another blogpost in which I rewrite Variks’ dialogue with my own. I’ll show the process I go through, my reasoning and rationale, the goals and how they would benefit Destiny as a whole, and the final product of my efforts.
It’s not meant to be an arrogant display of my self-perceived talent. It’s just that I’ve really skewered Bungie’s writers in this post and I don’t want to be all talk and no walk.
By rewriting Variks’ dialogue I’m helping to illustrate and explain my criticisms in this post, so anyone reading this can better understand why I think Variks’ dialogue is so bad if they don’t already. And also to show that I’m not just a whiny internet nerdlinger.