Screenwriters segue to vidgame plots

'Wanted' scribe Chris Morgan the latest to switch

In the past, flashy graphics and fast action were enough for videogame audiences.

But as the average player gets older, plotlines are becoming more than an afterthought.

More developers are looking outside for help, recruiting Hollywood screenwriters and established authors.

Scribe Chris Morgan (“Wanted,” “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”) is the latest to make the shift, signing with Red Eagle Games as the story director for a series of upcoming games based on Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” books.

Morgan will oversee the writing on the titles, working with executive producers and writers to help develop story arcs and helping to digest the book series’ 10,000 pages and over 1,700 characters.

“There are a lot of good writers in the games business,” says Rick Selvage, co-founder of Red Eagle. “However, I don’t think stories have been the compelling driver in many games to date. Game play has been the thing that has motivated people to buy. We believe story is going to become more important to players.”

Morgan and Red Eagle Games were introduced through Universal. Selvage, though, will not say if Morgan is writing the forthcoming “Wheel of Time” film, which he is co-producing.

Morgan is hardly the first screenwriter to make the jump to the gaming world. James Wan, executive producer of the “Saw” series and the scripter of its first and third installments, is penning the videogame adaptation of the slasher films. David McKenna (“American History X,” “Get Carter” and “Blow”) wrote the script for Vivendi’s “Scarface: The World Is Yours.”

The hunt for quality writers doesn’t end at the film world. Chair Entertainment is working with science-fiction author Orson Scott Card on “Shadow Complex,” due for release on Xbox Live on Aug. 19.

Rather than simply adapting one of Card’s works, Chair approached the author with the basic idea of a story: a near-future civil war in the U.S. Card was asked to come up with a way that such an event might happen. Card then wrote a book, “Empire,” that established the universe of the game. Chair, meanwhile, built an action game that could exist within the world Card created.

“We have a world with a lot of detail and a lot of characters,” Card says. “But I’m writing a novel in which good gaming has to take place. I leave lots of places where guys are going on missions that I don’t write about, but they can fill that in with a game … I deliberately leave a hole so the game’s design can fill in.”

Card’s second book in the series, “Hidden Empire,” is due out in December. (The game doesn’t share the book series name due to a mid-development name change.)

Card is actually a veteran of several vidgame writing gigs. He got his start in 1990, contributing to LucasArts’ “The Secret of Monkey Island” and has worked on several titles since.

“I’m a game lover,” he says. “I’m a game addict. I progress from game to game to game like the progression of opium to heroin to morphine. … It’s not as if you look at my involvement with videogames and there was any sort of plan. I came in wherever I was invited.”

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