St. Albert native comes home this weekend
By: Derek Mitchell
| Posted: Saturday, Oct 20, 2012 06:00 am
Catch Drew Karpyshyn at STARFest: St. Albert Readers Festival as he delves into writing believable villains. He appears Sunday at 2 p .m. at the St. Albert Public Library.
St. Albert-born Drew Karpyshyn has always had a particular fascination with science fiction. In 2000, he answered a call for writers from Edmonton-based video game developer Bioware. This put him on the path to being lead writer behind some of the most recognizable games in gaming: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Mass Effect. I had the rare pleasure to speak with Drew from his home in Austin, Texas, where we talked everything from writing to gaming and beyond. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
On his journey into science fiction:
“Even as a younger reader, I’ve always gravitated towards the horror, science fiction, and fantasy genres because I like to read about stories wouldn’t actually happen in real life. I see it as a fun way to escape into a novel world.”
On delving into evil characters:
“Redemption is a key theme in my work and you can’t really have redemption unless you have some sort of fall first. Characters who don’t delve into that darkness are a bit unrealistic. We are never as good and virtuous and true as we want to be. So I’m always looking at the flawed hero. I like to explore the extreme and draw [my characters] down that path.”
On writing strong female characters:
“I don’t set out to treat my female characters differently. I like all my protagonists to be strong and proactive characters, who aren’t going to sit around helplessly. To me as a writer, it doesn’t matter if they’re male or female. When it comes to true strength – strength of will or determination – I don’t really think there’s a strong difference. I tend to focus on the individual characters and not on whether they’re male or female. I think that’s what allows them to be memorable and make them true characters.”
On his journey as a gamer:
“I played a lot of games up to university, putting hundreds and hundreds of hours into classic (PC) wizardry and dragon games. But I fell away from video games for almost 10 years. I hadn’t realized how advanced they had become until I saw the ad for Bioware. It was pretty impressive to me as a gamer that it had evolved so much from what I remembered. I’m not as into gaming as most people at Bioware. I don’t play every game that’s out there. I tend to focus on the story side of it. (Story is) a part of a Bioware game but it’s not a part of every game out there. So sometimes other games don’t really have an appeal for me.”
On the importance of story in gaming:
“A strong story and strong characters draws the players into the world so much more. Everything they experience has a more visceral impact. They care more about it if they can identify with the characters and the story. You get the sense that others game companies are starting to realize the importance of story. I like to think we (at Bioware) had a little bit to do with that.”
On the balance between graphics and
“You’re seeing more and more photorealism and digital acting. We are pushing more towards a cinematic storytelling. As we get better graphics, I don’t know if we’re leveraging them quite the way we should. People are spending so much time making sure things look photo-real, they may be might be missing out on other parts of storytelling or gameplay that they could be developing. How we as the creators use the technology is always a struggle. It’s easy to get distracted by the pretty, flashy things, but you have to have some depth of content behind it.”
On the link between gaming and reading:
“The thing I’ve really appreciated is, being a strong reader, you understand how stories unfold, how multiple characters and events tie in, how they connect. They’re not just random occurrences. There’s a theme that unites everything, draws it together, and gives you a direction. That comes from reading different kinds of literature. The other nice thing about being a reader with games, it really helped me understand what archetypes are out there, what sort of things people expect. If you don’t understand the history of that stuff, you don’t understand why things are the way they are. There’s a shared cultural history that comes from reading which gives depth to a lot ideas.”
On growing up in St. Albert:
“I enjoyed living in St. Albert. I was there through most of my school days. At the time – there are more schools now – there were only two high schools, so your friends (stayed the same) from junior high to high school. I’m still good friends with several of the people from my junior high and high school days. I really liked that sense of community we had growing up. We all grew up together.”
When he’s not teaching high school, St. Albert Catholic High School alumnus Derek Mitchell can be found attached to a video game console.