Kickstarter isn’t what it was. Back in 2013, the pitch “Dungeon Keeper in space” garnered Maia £140,000. Skip ahead three years and another charming pitch – “Dwarf Fortress meets Elite” – barely scraped £10,000. That’s absolutely no reflection of the quality of the product. After all, despite being a one-man game, Sol Trader is well on course to hit its release window of June 2016 as a stable, intriguing game. It’s just a reflection on the changed times for indies; today, the determinant of success seems to be a tightening social web of ‘in’ indie developers and press, and its creator Chris Parsons isn’t part of that web.
Video games don’t often do subtle or literate. Games like Gears of War and Call of Duty succeed with no philosophical hinterland or characters worth talking about. Cutesy games are sickeningly so, shooting heroes speak in single syllables, and sincere indie games beat you over the head with how much everyone is suffering. Few seem to learn from the thousand years of fiction at our fingertips. And then there’s The Count Lucanor, which might be the purest distillation of the Gothic novel as a game.
As I stab him with a hidden screwdriver for the umpteenth time, dump his body in a convenient chest freezer, and saunter away dressed as a makeup artist, I absentmindedly think that perhaps he would have appreciated this – to go out on a high, his career at a peak in both professions. To die at the right time is a blessing, surely? I set the fireworks show off early, in his honour.
You don’t know Sergey Galyonkin. His childhood in the Ukraine, his Olympic success, his life in Cyprus, his work behind the scenes at Wargaming. All this is of no interest to you – and why would it be? But what Sergey does in his spare time – a persona called Steam Spy – has developers hanging on his words and with good reason. Steam Spy has used loopholes in the Steam community system to drag hugely interesting and valuable game data out of the network, package it up smartly, and give it away for free.
When people I’ve not seen for a while ask me ‘what are you working on right now?’, I give them this kind of glassy look that says ‘how long do you have?’ It’s this kind of look:
This has been a hard, good year. Apart from coping with a new baby, I’ve probably worked for a wider range of media than ever before, and finally haven’t needed to chase work. Indeed, I’ve had to turn work down on occasion, or at least show a distinct lack of enthusiasm and raise my rates to put people off. That hasn’t always worked, so I’ve been *very* tired this year. What did I do this year? Ahaha. This:
Achtung: Cthulhu: Dark Tales from the Secret War
A short story for a collection. It’s about Llandudno, Oswald Moseley, Alistair Crowley and is a bit of a farce, really. I must stop writing farces. You can buy it here.
The 100 most influential video games for a book that’s 100 lists of 100 things. This was written in 2014, I think, so I wonder if it’ll be out of date by the time Quarto releases it in 2016?
Design: The Whole Story
Six chapters for a book about the history of design, published by Quarto. I covered subjects as diverse as the creation of disposable culture, military paraphernalia, and the internet revolution.
Unannounced Book Project 1
A book about the culture of Minecraft with Alec Meer. Has a publisher!
Unannounced Book Project 2
A book about videogames and philosophy with Jordan Erica Webber. Has a publisher!
There’s so much to list here that I don’t think I can be arsed including it all. So here are the highlights of the last year!
The magazine of the Royal Geographical society sent me to the former coal town of Ostrava in the Czech Republic to cover Europe’s biggest air show. Again, it’s fun writing outside of my comfort zone, but the piece reads unexpectedly well – I’ll be showing it off when it’s out in January… thanks to the editor Paul Presley for setting it up!
BBC Radio 5 – Let’s Talk About Tech
We did two end of year’s discussion of video games for Radio 5 here and here. I’ve just relistened to the second one and it’s actually a damn good discussion, if messy at the end.
The New Statesman
I did a simulation of the British political party manifestoes for this well-regarded left wing website. Lots of fun!
I did a few articles about Global Development for the Graun. I now know about Global Development, kind of.
I think I may be one of PCG’s longest-running writers. Longest-writing runners? Whatever. This is my 14th year working for them. IIRC, my interview consisted of Kieron Gillen introducing me to Matt Pierce, the editor, as he was walking by. He asked, frowning, “what’s your favourite game?” I said System Shock. He stopped, shrugged, said, “Hired” and walked on. Cue 14 years.
I did a couple of pieces for these guys, which completes my set of the huge games and tech media. I think I’ve written for every one that’s got a UK branch now, so I can turn them into a big robot or something.
Techradar / T3
I got back into doing hardware reviews and list features for these two tech sites, because the pay is good for the work needed. I can’t say it’s wonderfully enjoyable, but I do appreciate the income.
Max PC / PC Format
PC Format, the first magazine that gave me a writing job, was closed this year. It had been on life support for ages, but because it supplied articles to Techradar and because it was incredibly easy to sell ads for, it kept going even as its sales dropped to unheard-of lows. However, as PC Format only had one remaining staff member at the end (the delightful Alan Dexter), it was incredibly cheap to produce – and he’s now moved onto Max PC, North America’s biggest PC magazine. So I’ve moved with him and are writing for them…
Three Moves Ahead
Had a nice chat with Rob Zacny on this podcast about the superb Shadow of the Horned Rat, presaging Total War: Warhammer.
And tons more sites, like Expert Reviews, Kotaku, OXM…
I’ve done a lot of consultancy this year too, for a range of clients. Much of it was done through the amazing Martin Korda at Videogame Consulting. I owe Martin a huge amount, both personally and professionally – he’s been astoundingly supportive this last year.
Sadly, the only projects I’m not NDAed to the hilt about were The Witcher III: Wild Hunt and Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries, but I do get to say this awesome sentence; “I worked on some of this year’s biggest games”. That’s pretty wonderful.
I also did media training for a bunch of developers, at the request of UKIE and PR firm Indigo Pearl. That’s where you help people get acclimatised to talking to the media, because otherwise we’ll just eat them up.
Seriously, lots of developers are terrified of talking to journalists or scared about being asked difficult questions. For these sessions, I run mock interviews that go substantially through their CV and their corporate history, pushing them harder and harder depending on how well they respond. My aim is to both put their mind at ease and ensured that they were prepared for the worst sort of questions they should face from the media, whatever their capability – including telling them the questions that they should just ignore.
Photography was ridiculous this year, even if it was only a minor part of my time. (I never push for more work because of discomfort over the colourblindness – I just take what comes.) I continued to manage the event photography for the Develop Conference, as well as Tandem Events other symposia. I also took pictures for several other clients, including Edge Magazine, Blizzard, Warner Bros and Pokemon.
The highlight though was taking photos of celebs like Mark Hamill, Gillian Anderson, Mark Strong, John Rhys Davies and Gary Oldman for the Star Citizen filming at Ealing Studios. Thank you to Gareth Williams for sorting that one out!
I’ve been working on five games this year, variously as a writer, narrative designer and designer,. I can’t really talk about any of them, but obviously it’s hugely exciting for me to be involved in them. I’m guessing that my developer chums won’t mind me mentioning that I’m doing this, but I’ll update the list below with studio names once I’ve checked in with the relevant devs.
Unannounced Game Project 1
Unannounced Game Project 2
Unannounced Game Project 3
Unannounced Game Project 4
Unannounced Game Project 5
And that’s it! Five years of fulltime freelance writing under my belt. My god. How long can I keep this up?