In the same way music journalists get accused of being failed musicians, games journalists get tarred with being failed games developers or (perhaps more insidiously) using it as a stepping stone to working in games development. The only real reason to go into games writing is because you want to write about games. Nothing wrong with having a desire to go into development (and even if you don’t, thinking about games 24-7 does tend to prod you in that direction), but for it to be your primary reason is weak. Why don’t just get your fellatio skills up to par and go suck off a producer at a major publisher, and save a few years of heartbreak and deadlines? It’s far more dignified.
That said, I’ve found myself involved in a creative role in a couple of game projects. I often get the urge to do more. And then I sober up.
I can blame Deus Ex for many things. As the ever-cheery Alec Meer asked me, after I handed in another feature that had mysteriously warped post-commissioning to be about the fall-out of Looking Glass’ closure, “Isn’t there anything else you’d like to write about?”. And I can only retort: “I dunno. Is there?”.
I loved Deus Ex, and when the SDK was released thought of ways I could play with the tools and the concept. While it was originally planned to be dirty and punky, my inexperience lead to the team bloating. Bloating with genuine talent, with at least four people who probably had egos and vision enough to be heading their own group, but bloating nevertheless. What was meant to be a short, sharp punk-pop mod became something a little more akin to post-punk, its experimental edges becoming more so, its interest more metacritical on both the form and its parent game. It was pulp, but it was very smart pulp.
And it took fucking forever.
We only ever got out one part, which showcases virtually everyone’s work, and of which I’m hugely proud. Best described as the most elaborate briefing sequence in the history of gaming, most players take about an hour to get through it. If you’re rushing, you can do it in ten minutes. If you’re completist, you’re looking at somewhere between three and four hours until you see everything that depressive secret-agent Charlotte (Theme tune: Still Life by Suede) and assorted friends have to say.
While there’s extensive further details on the Cassandra site and its forum, the best way to discover what it’s about is to simply play it. At least the first five minutes, at which point you’ll meet Debbie, an idea plan to re-use at some future point.
At the other end of the creative-control writing spectrum came this. Chaos League was a French strategy game which played out like American Football with an array of Tolkeinesque races and a much higher violence quotent. I was approached by British Publisher Digital Jesters to ask if I’d be interested in localising its script for them. This involved taking a babel-fish level translation and transforming it into something useable and suitable for the British market.
Essentially, this involved changing virtually everything about the script. Jokes were pepped up (metaphors were hugely more lurid after I got hold of them), the commentators were given distinct personalities (Clearly ripped off from Best Of Show) and things which took a typically Gaelic approach to sexual politics neutered.
It seemed to work: while commentary is almost only ever mentioned to mock, it actually picked up some compliments from a sizeable portion of reviewers. On a personal level, I was pleased to get an incredibly geeky “It’s a good crowd here today/Hmmm. Looks more like a Neutral/Chaotic one to me” gag immortalised in a videogame.