Rhianna Pratchett on the Art of Writing Video Game Characters
It’s 2007. Your partner asks you why the little, evil dudes in a certain game called Overlord speak as if they were stolen from a Monty Python sketch. Your terse response—being an evil Overlord while commanding a horde of unruly minions is hard goddamn work, after all—is that someone was paid a good amount of money to make them sound that way.
But the question sticks in your mind as the in-game banter continues to amuse, so much so that you find yourself laughing out loud. As the credits roll, you make sure to note the person responsible for the quips and barbs: Rhianna Pratchett. After a quick Google search, you find that she’s the daughter of the famous Discworld author Terry Pratchett, and that she began as a gaming journalist before crossing over to write for games rather than about them.
Since her breakthrough in Overlord, Pratchett has gone on to work on some of gaming’s biggest franchises—Mirror’s Edge, Thief, Bioshock, and Tomb Raider—and even won the prestigious Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing award at the 2016 Writers Guild of America Awards for her work on Rise of the Tomb Raider .
Pratchett recently spoke with WIRED about her illustrious career so far—including her latest game, Lost Words: Beyond the Page , a narrative platformer available for PC and all major consoles right now.
This interview has been edited for both clarity and length.
WIRED: What’s the first thing you remember writing? For me, it was a short Christmas story in the first or second grade.
RP: I’m not sure, but there was a competition when I was in primary school. And my dad had set the competition to write a short story. Now, being a fair-minded man, he wanted me to be able to enter as well, so he said, “I won’t judge it. I’ll just give the prize,” which I think was a gift certificate for a book.
The headmaster of the school actually judged the contest. And I wrote a story about a little girl that goes back to Viking times. I was quite obsessed with Vikings at the time because I’d seen some gentlemen dressed up as Vikings going around the valley that we lived in. And I didn’t really understand the concept of LARPing back then, or I guess then it was sort of live action reenactment.
I had my Asterix thermos and lunchbox with me at the time, so I remember that they drank water out of my Asterix thermos. And I gave one of the Vikings my apple then my dad wrote to my teacher saying if Rhianna talks about seeing Vikings over the weekend, it’s perfectly true. And so I do remember writing that story and being slightly sheepish about winning the competition.
WIRED: So running across those LARPing Vikings is what inspired the story then?
RP: Yeah, it sort of inspired a love of Vikings. I was a big fan of Asterix, and Asterix is very good at teaching kids about history in quite a subtle way. Like you were learning about history without realizing you were learning, which is always the key to getting kids interested in history and things like that. You know, I just realized 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 an Asterix story called Asterix and the Magic Carpet .
WIRED: Very cool. So, extrapolating off of that: What is the first game you recall sucking you into its world specifically, via the narrative or story?
RP: There was a lot of game playing that I used to do with dad because I was an only child, so I didn’t have any siblings to play with. So dad became a bit like an older brother, and he was very into electronics and computers and technology of all kinds, and I would sit next to him in his office. And while he played games, I would get out the graph paper, and I would draw the maps for him. Later, I heard from a friend of the family—and I don’t remember this, but it sounds like something he might do—he used to pay me to complete the early levels of things like Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy , if he couldn’t be bothered to.
Author Jerry Bonner