Meet the Team: Story Writer – Hillary Benefiel
(May 29th, 2014)
Please introduce yourself and your role on The Twilight Zone game!
My name is Hillary and I wrote the story for the Twilight Zone game!
What were some of your favorite projects that you worked before getting the job writing for the game?
I used to have a job on a TV show where I wrote all the text you see onscreen. Websites, newspaper articles, ID cards, memos, whatever. So at any moment if you were watching the show in HD and paused on a document, it was never filler text. I often spent hours doing research, writing text, getting it approved by producers, and getting it cleared through legal all for it to appear for about five seconds. But every now and then, someone on the internet would post a screenshot of my work because they thought it was funny or cool. That usually made it all worthwhile. Well, that and the fact that I got paid for it.
How did you first get into writing?
I was a total space case as a kid. Spent all my time reading and playing video games. I don’t remember how exactly it started, I just remember locking myself in a room for hours on end writing stories. Usually of the fantasy or science fiction type. I think it was a nice escape from the real world, making up my own little worlds with my own little people. And getting the stuff that was bouncing around in my head out onto paper felt really good.
What inspires you as a writer and keeps you motivated?
I don’t stay as motivated as I should, to be honest. But I get inspired whenever experience fun, imaginative stories. The escapism involved in worldbuilding (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Mass Effect, Harry Potter, Dragonriders of Pern, etc. etc.) is so exciting and makes me want to run off and create worlds too. Other than that, I always write to music, preferably soundtracks and stuff without words. And rain. Something about rain is very conducive to creativity. Too bad we don’t get that in Los Angeles.
How is writing for video games different than writing for a different medium?
You have to think a lot more about interactivity. How the player will immediately interpret the things that you’re writing. It’s a lot more of a dialogue with the consumer than it is in other mediums. I remember being told that I should really avoid writing dialogue as questions since there’s no mechanic for the player to actually answer characters. I didn’t even consider that initially, but it makes sense! There are also a lot more technical requirements; scripts have general page limits, but in games the character limits are a lot stricter. Of course, that encourages some creativity when you’re writing dialogue, which can be a fun challenge.
What did you do to prepare for this job?
Rewatched every episode of The Twilight Zone referenced in the game at least three times each. At least. Seriously, if you haven’t watched the show in a while, you need to. It’s a great study in genre storytelling. Really, storytelling in general. And you can find episodes pretty much anywhere. DO IT.
What were the challenges for writing the story and how did you solve them?
One of the biggest challenges was being faithful to the voice of The Twilight Zone, its complete and unironic commitment to telling great science fiction stories and that cadence that’s unique to television of the late 50s/early 60s. Who knows whether I succeeded, but I definitely tried! There was also the desire to tell a story that would feel of the world without attempting to subvert the original canon. Because really, who the heck am I to do something like that?
What was your favorite part about working on this project?
Putting Twilight Zone episodes in the background to absorb the sound and feel of the show while writing the dialogue. It’s actually really relaxing. You should all try it some time.
What Twilight Zone episode is the most meaningful to you?
This is tough! Right now, I’m most familiar with the ones I watched for the game, so drawing from those, I would probably say “Mirror Image.” One thing I really loved upon rewatching episodes is that there are a lot of good female characters (see also: “Eye of the Beholder”), and Millicent is around my age (maybe I’m older; even the teenagers at the time looked way more mature than I do). On the surface, I love the contained one-location story with huge implications; the idea that there’s an invasion of doppelgangers from a different universe showing up and causing mischief (with the fun little twist at the end). But there’s also something very unnerving about the idea of being completely convinced that something is wrong and having nobody believe you. On a very personal level, it’s interesting to see a story where a young woman is freaking out because she knows there’s a problem, and all the older men are basically patting her on the head saying, “you poor, hysterical baby” as she loses her mind. Then you have the terrifying but almost satisfying twist where Paul sees his doppelganger and MILLICENT WAS RIGHT ALL ALONG. I don’t know if that part of it was intentional, but I like it.
Why do you think, over 50 years after it debuted, that Twilight Zone continues to resonate with people?
It’s a perfect storm of a lot of things. It’s, what, 156 different standalone stories (not including revival series)? That alone means most people can find at least one story that resonates with them. Besides that, they’re all such tightly-plotted, fun, imaginative what-if scenarios. The societal and political themes of paranoia, fascism, egotism, anti-intellectualism and so many more are still relevant (I mean, check out “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” for a great example). It’s easy as a viewer to put yourself in the characters’ shoes and wonder what you would do in these situations. And finally, the stories are so strong and simple. I mean, when I watched “To Serve Man,” which is arguably the most famous episode of the series, I knew the whole story and I was still horrified and grossed out at the human-eating twist. The Twilight Zone’s influence is still felt in a lot of genre storytelling today.
Any other projects that you’re working on?
Just putting together my own portfolio, hustling for that first TV writing job. Wish me luck!
What is the one bit of entertainment that you’re currently hooked on and why?
You mean besides Game of Thrones? I’m sort of obsessed with Twitch right now. It’s a website where people stream video of themselves playing video games. Some people even do it as their full-time jobs. Video games can be such a communal experience and Twitch takes it to the next level. It’s a fascinating format that has its own culture and everything… I could go on about it forever but I don’t want to turn this blog post into a big ad for Twitch. Hopefully one day we’ll see someone streaming the Twilight Zone game! If you do it, I will totally follow you.
The Monsters are Due on Maple Street
(May 24th, 2014)
Hello Twilight Zone Fans! This week’s episode highlight will focus on Episode 22 in Season 1, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.
This is definitely one of the most famous episodes of The Twilight Zone and is one of my personal favorite episodes. The plot of the episode begins with strange unexplained events happening in this little neighborhood block on Maple Street. First they see a strange shadow like something big is flying overhead and they hear a loud noise as if something just crashed nearby. Then the power to the entire block is cut, so the residents gather and begin discussing what they can do to try to figure out what is going on.
During this discussion a little boy plants the seeds in everyone’s head that this is likely an alien invasion and that the aliens are disguising themselves as humans to try to take over the planet. This is really where the catalyst of the story comes from. This little boy suggests the right idea at the right time, and it sticks with everyone in the group and begins to grow. Power begins to flicker on and off, cars are not starting and then begin to start suddenly, and everybody is begins to point fingers and cast suspicion around the group until it turns into an all out riot with and people killing each other.
The episode reveal at the end is that there is actually an alien invasion, but the aliens have simply been watching this group of neighbors destroy each other because of their own paranoia and fear. By manipulating the power, the aliens created panic and let the humans use that to destroy themselves.
The reason I love this episode is because it explores the idea that mankind can be manipulated to destroy themselves and that this idea is something that transcends advancements in technology and communications. The idea that man is ruled by paranoia and fear and was present in society in 60s when this episode aired, and is still very much relevant today. This episode was an an examination of human behavior more than anything else and that is why we chose to include it in our game.
What makes this location unique in our game is that it is one of the few outdoor locations we have. This allows us to have some more freedom in what kinds of objects we can place in the scene, as well gives the player some nice visual variety from the rest of the scenes.
Thanks again for joining us this week. We hope to see you next time in, The Twilight Zone.
(May 17th, 2014)
Welcome back to another installment of our weekly look at Twilight Zone history. This week we take a look at Episode 21 in Season 1, Mirror Image.
This week’s episode features a woman named Millicent Barnes who is waiting for a bus to take her away to a new city and new job. The odd shenanigans begin when she goes up to the ticket counter and the ticket agent tells Millicent that she has been to the counter three times already, but Millicent doesn’t remember any of this. Shortly following this, Millicent begins to see her bag appear in odd places and disappear from where she thinks she left it. She goes to the restroom to wash her hands, and then suddenly she sees a copy of herself in the mirror outside the restroom sitting on the bench. The episode continues with this mystery of some other version of Millicent appearing randomly and causing Millicent to appear crazy to those around her when she tries to explain to people what she is seeing.
This is one of the few episodes of Twilight Zone where the actual situation and what is going on in the episode is never explicitly laid out. The viewer is really free to fill in the blanks about what they think is happening. But the beauty about the writing in this episode is that, because the episode frames these sightings and odd occurrences in a negative light, Millicent, and by proxy the viewer, jump to a very fatalistic view of what is going on. Millicent thinks that there is an “evil” double from a parallel world who has come into her world somehow, and is now trying to eliminate and replace her. Of course when she tries to explain this to a fellow traveler, he thinks she’s crazy and calls the police to take her away. Now I admit, if I saw a double of myself in the same clothes in the same place and my bags were disappearing like hers, I might get a little worried. But there was no evidence at all that the double wanted to kill her. Maybe she was just playing around with her? It’s this open ended story and ability to facilitate discussion, that we love this episode and chose it to be included in our game.
For the scene in our game, we tried to capture everything that was shown in the episode. Since it was a limited backdrop for the episode, we were able to represent most of the iconic items and locations that you may recognize. This allows us to have a better connection to the episode and helps to make you feel immersed in the The Twilight Zone.
Thanks for joining us for this week’s episode breakdown, and remember folks:
“When not in use, turn off the juice, that’s what I always say.”