Interview with Pierre Corbinais, Haven’s writer

Posted by on 10.22.20

Pierre Corbinais has been writing for and about games for a decade now and he is the writer of Haven. He’s mostly known for Bury Me My Love, a reality-inspired fiction about love and exile, and ‘Til Cows tear us apart, a two-cowgirls’ road-movie in space but also created a lot of other small games during various game jams. Haven is the biggest project he worked on so far (and he can’t wait for you to play it).

What’s your opinion about romance in video games? What is good and bad, from your point of view?

My main opinion about romance in video games is that we don’t see enough of it, and when you think about it, it’s actually a bit baffling. Romances are everywhere except in video games: I don’t know about the other countries, but in France, every year without fail, the best selling novels are love stories. Turn on a mainstream radio and there’s a fairly good chance that a love song will be playing. And romance (whether it is comedy or drama) had always been one of the strongest film genres: While released more than 20 years ago, Titanic still is the third highest grossing film of all times (#1 in France!), how crazy is that? Everything points to think that people LOVE romances, but a bunch of exceptions aside, we don’t have romance in games, at best we have flirting (in dating sims or RPGs). Why is that? There is this idea floating around that video games are mostly played by men and that men aren’t into romance, but I think both these assumptions are untrue. To me, the main reason why there is so few romances in game is that we, game creators, still don’t really know how to make them. It’s “easy” to make a game where you shoot people (“If bullet collides with enemy then enemy = dead”, but how do you program a game about falling in love? Being in love? Falling out of love? Everything must be rethought, reinvented. That’s a tough job, and a lot of work, but what a great challenge!

Where would you like to see the genre go? What kind of romance story or style would you like to see in a video game?

I would like it to go in every directions, form-wise and content-wise. There are so many different love stories to tell, and so many ways to interact with them to invent. Just try to imagine how every video game genre could be twisted to become a love story: What is a First Person Romance? What is a relationship management game? A heart racing game? A love puzzle?
And we’re not even talking about the new genres that might emerge.
As for the content, there is a subreddit called r/relationships where people share relationships stories (romantic or not) to get advice from the community. I love browsing through the posts there. They are sometimes funny, sometimes grave, sometimes relatable, sometimes just plain weird… I think these posts tell a lot about what being human is, about what loving is, and I’d like every single one of them to be turned into a video game.

Haven has quite a modern treatment in terms of dialogs, compared to traditional RPGs. Was it difficult to come up with that? How do people react to that style?

Haven’s dialogue style came up pretty naturally. While you can find some epicness in the game, I felt it was more about the little things, the daily life, and I needed the dialogues to reflect that. Yu and Kay shouldn’t talk like badass-and-somehow-also-super-witty heroes, they should talk like us, with our hesitations, verbal tics, cursing… I’m really into alternative comics that tell “slice of life” stories (Hernandez brothers’ Love & Rockets, Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise, Vanyda’s The Building Opposite to cite a few), I probably draw this style of writing from there.
I didn’t get the chance to see a lot of people playing the game so far so I’m yet not sure how people will react to that style, but the team and voice-actors seemed to like it! The very first dialogue I wrote to try out that style and see if it fitted the game ended up becoming Haven’s first scene.

There’s also a lot of humour in the game. Do you think it’s a way to make the players have fun or to make them get attached to the characters?

Yes, people usually enjoy to laugh and smile, so why not allow that? But humor is also a useful tool for Haven’s narrative structure. In Haven there are a lot of dialogue scenes that aren’t there to make the story advance toward an ending. They’re just slices of life meant to create attachment to the characters, chill moments spent in the Nest. How can you satisfyingly end such scenes that don’t really lead anywhere plot-wise? There aren’t that many solutions: You can end it with something cute, something deep, or something funny. Juggling with the three is the best way to keep the player surprised, and thus entertained.

Do you have a special process for writing dialogs? What’s your one advice for writing dialogs?

Writing is a very weird and personal thing, the more I talk with other writers the more I realise there aren’t two writing processes alike. Some people will tell you that you need to precisely know where your dialogue is going beforehand, me, I tend to just go with the flow and let the characters decide for themselves. Most of the time, when I start writing a dialogue scene, I have no idea how it’s gonna end. This is a terrible thing to do when you work in movies for example, because movies only lasts 90mn and you don’t have one minute to spare. But I think it works pretty well with video games, especially when you want your dialogues to branch in different directions: not having an ending in mind is a great way to allow the emergence of multiple ones.
As for the advice I will give this very simple one: whenever you’re stuck in your writing, drop your pen (or keyboard, or typewriter) and go outside. Walk. Sit in a park. Have a coffee (and don’t forget your notebook in case the inspiration comes back). Breaks aren’t a waste of time, sitting in front of an empty page is.

Finally, everyone wants to know. Are you more a Yu or Kay person?

I put a lot of myself in both characters, Kay got my poor sense of humour and Yu my terrible sense of direction, but I’m probably more a Kay person overall. Yet, when playing the game, I mostly play Yu. Go figure.


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