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PDZ.com interview with Marc Guggenheim

Original interview transcript from PerfectDarkZero.com.

Marc Guggenheim is a noted television script and comic book writer who is based in Los Angeles. Rare brought Marc on board to help refine the Perfect Dark Zero Script. Read our exclusive interview with Marc as he discusses his involvement with the PDZ story.

ID Confirmed: Begin Transmission

Operative: Guggenheim, M.
Classification: Script Writer
Team: Rare
Mission: Perfect Dark Zero
Mission Parameters: Joanna Dark
Mission Hot Zone: Los Angeles

Marc Guggenheim is a TV script writer who may be more familiar to Perfect Dark Zero fans from his work on various comic books, including Aquaman published by DC Comics.  Rare chose Marc to help refine the PDZ script, and in our exclusive interview he talks about what it was like to make the transition from television and comics to the world of electronic games.

MGS: Tell us about your background and how you ended up living in Hollywood and writing for television?

Marc Guggenheim: Well, I grew up in New York, on Long Island. I’d been living in Boston for eight years and practicing as an attorney for five when I decided to make the move west. I’d been writing on the side for about five years at that point. I had a manager and I’d written a romantic comedy feature script that had gotten me a fair share of meetings. All of which conspired to delude me into thinking I could make it as a screenwriter. So I decided to quit my law firm job and move out to L.A. I knew I wanted to work in television, so I scheduled my move to coincide with television “staffing season” (the period in which TV staffs hire new writers). I ended up landing a Staff Writer position on “The Practice.”

MGS: Did you previously have other experience writing for games?

Marc Guggenheim: Nope.

MGS: How would you describe your experience working on Perfect Dark Zero for Rare and Microsoft?

Marc Guggenheim: Y’know, it was a real joy. Everyone at Rare and Microsoft was extremely cool and collaborative. It’s especially rewarding when you get to work with people who are cool with good senses of humor in addition to being smart and talented.

How would you describe the process for consulting on story and script on this game? Where did it begin and how did it go?

Basically, I got a call from my agents asking me if I’d be interested. After I literally jumped at the opportunity, I received a huge amount of story materials. The guys at Rare had already done a lot of thorough, great work. From my perspective, it was a matter of applying some screenwriting techniques to the story’s structure and execution so the narrative worked as well as a story as it did as a game.

I was supposed to fly to London to meet with the guys at Rare’s offices, but ended up going into production on an episode of Jack & Bobby sooner than expected, so Dale Murchie and Duncan Botwood were kind enough to fly out from London. We all met up in Redmond, Washington with Keith Cirillo, Chris Kimmell, Eric Trautmann, and others. I talked about some of my ideas for suggested fixes, additions, subtractions, and clarifications. We had a really good productive meeting that covered a lot of ground and generated a lot of good ideas. It was a good back-and-forth.

From that point, we retired to our respective continents and I set to work on revising the story along the lines we discussed. We had a lot of e-mail communications, many of which were quite humorous. Who knows? Maybe our script drafts and e-mail correspondence might make an interesting behind-the-scenes book.

After we were all happy with the story, Rare went off to program and I worked on the scripts for the cutscenes (the mini-movies between levels that help advance the plot), writing and revising them as needed, and revising the dialogue for the game’s level speech (the random bits of dialogue you hear during gameplay that give the game environment atmosphere and make the playing experience unique each time). One of my goals was to bring -- for lack of a better phrase -- Hollywood-style dialogue so the characters talk as if they’re in a movie.

MGS: What was your favorite part about working on PDZ?

Marc Guggenheim: I think it was the project itself. For one thing, I’m a videogame player (not a particularly good one, but I play), so having a role in the development of a game was just a really cool thing for me to do. Also, the talent and camaraderie of the Rare and Microsoft guys just made the creative parts of the process really enjoyable.

MGS: What have you learned from working on a game?

Marc Guggenheim: The strengths and weaknesses of the game medium’s ability to tell a story. Certain narrative techniques work better than others, some new ones need to be developed, etc. It’s very exciting to be telling a story in a medium that is still refining how it tells stories.

MGS: Would you do it again?

Marc Guggenheim: In a heartbeat.

MGS: What’s it like being an L.A.-based TV writer? What’s a day-in-the life for you?

Marc Guggenheim: There’s really no typical day. What I do and the hours I work totally depend upon what’s going on with whatever show I’m working on, how that show is run and what’s happening, production-wise, on any given day. In general, however, most days involve coming into the office around nine, catching up on e-mails and coffee -- very typical job stuff in that respect -- then either getting into the writers’ room to break story with the rest of the staff or closeting myself in my office to write whatever script or outline I might have due.

MGS: What are the similarities and differences between what you do for your daily job and what working on a game was like? Do the two mediums have anything in common in your opinion?

Marc Guggenheim: There’s actually quite a bit in common, particularly given the fact I was consulting purely on the story and dialogue side of the game (which, given my programming skills, or lack thereof, was a good thing for everybody, believe me). In both TV and games, you’re working to tell a compelling story that plays to the strengths of the medium you’re writing in and avoids the weaknesses. For example, the camera isn’t as “locked down” in games as it is in television; a videogame script can call for crazier angles and a lot more continuous movement. On the other hand, television is still better at hitting emotional notes -- though that will probably change as computer animation techniques evolve and improve. Which brings up another point: Each medium has its own production challenges. In both, you’re limited by certain budgetary and scheduling concerns, but in very different ways.

What’s exciting for me is the fact that videogames are becoming more cinematic (Perfect Dark Zero is a great example) and, therefore, coming closer to what I write in TV, comic books, and film. As the technology improves, videogames will tell stories of ever-increasing complexity and depth. The line between writer and audience will start to blur.


The Practice, (TV) Staff Writer - 2000-2001
Law & Order, (TV) Producer - 2001-2004
Jack & Bobby, (TV) Supervising Producer - 2004-2005
Aquaman, (Comic) Writer: Kiss of Death - 2005
CSI: Miami, (TV) Supervising Producer - 2005
In Justice, (TV) Supervising Producer - 2005-Present
Various Comics, Writer - In Development