My Favourite Game

Au­thor Christo­pher Brook­myre on his ob­ses­sion with the PC FPS


“Quake felt like some­thing for those of us who were in­ter­ested in com­put­ers and lifting the bon­net”

Christo­pher Brook­myre is a Scot­tish nov­el­ist whose long­stand­ing pas­sion for gaming has found its way into many of his books. His de­but novel, Quite Ugly One Morn­ing, was re­leased in 1996 and was adapted for tele­vi­sion in 2004. But last year’s Bed­lam, a novel in which the pro­tag­o­nist finds him­self trapped in a videogame after an ex­per­i­ment goes awry, is go­ing one step fur­ther and ex­pand­ing its story with a be­spoke game set in the same uni­verse.

You’re help­ing to make a game that sends its pro­tag­o­nist through the ages of the FPS. Has that al­ways been a genre you’ve felt close to? Yeah. I re­mem­ber play­ing the orig­i­nal Duke Nukem and things like that, and then my first on­line ex­pe­ri­ence was Quake – I had a 14k mo­dem and the ping was over 300. The fram­er­ate was ter­ri­ble! But shortly after that, I took my com­puter apart for the first time and put in a 3D ac­cel­er­a­tor card and got a bet­ter mo­dem, and I got into Quake II at around the same time. I got heav­ily into Quake II and Quake III and the on­line clan scene in the late ’90s and early ’00s. I played in a Quake clan for years. I got caught up in the bur­geon­ing on­line cul­ture at the time. And it was a cul­ture – I could see that there was slang de­vel­op­ing, peo­ple were cre­at­ing their own mods, skins, maps, ev­ery­thing. To me, it was the new punk.

What about more re­cently? I’m very monog­a­mous when it comes to my gen­res! I played Se­ri­ous Sam, HalfLife, Half-Life 2, Sin, Por­tal and Por­tal 2, but in re­cent years the only FPS I’ve played an aw­ful lot of – apart from Doom 3 – is Team Fortress 2, mainly be­cause my son got me into it. But I’m get­ting old – I don’t have the re­flexes any more! I used to play against my son at Quake III, and I would give my­self a hand­i­cap, but now it has to be the other way around if I’m to stand any chance against him. Most re­cently I’ve been play­ing Alien: Iso­la­tion, and it couldn’t be any fur­ther from my nat­u­ral com­fort zone!

Grow­ing up as a writer play­ing games, did the qual­ity of game nar­ra­tive mat­ter to you? You know what, it re­ally didn’t. It was hugely in­spi­ra­tional. I wrote a book called One Fine Day In The Mid­dle Of The Night, and it was largely in­spired by the ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ing games like Quake and Quake II for the first time, creep­ing around hav­ing fire­fights with rocket launch­ers and ma­chine guns. I wanted to take that ex­cite­ment and put it into a novel. And in those days, you weren’t both­ered about the story; it was about im­mers­ing your­self in th­ese worlds you could ex­plore.

Has en­vi­ron­men­tal sto­ry­telling in games af­fected how you write nov­els? It’s been hugely in­flu­en­tial. When I wrote Pan­de­mo­nium, I’d played lots of Doom 3 and I wanted to bring that same sense of hor­ror and fear mar­ried to the era of the video nas­ties, which I grew up in. So I wanted to write a slasher-movie story, and Pan­de­mo­nium was about a bunch of teenagers away for a re­treat week­end after a school tragedy, but un­be­knownst to them they’re not far away from this top-se­cret un­der­ground mil­i­tary base which has a por­tal through which demons, or what look like demons, come into our world… And it pays its dues. For ex­am­ple, to­wards the end the teenagers are down in the se­cret mil­i­tary base, where every­body’s dead, and they come across all th­ese weapons and am­mu­ni­tion, and they’re all like, “Oh, great – we can re­ally fight back now!” But the one who’s a gamer is like, “No – bad sign. If there’s a shit­load of guns and ammo, that means there’s a ma­jor boss that’s go­ing to be round the cor­ner.”

We’re as­sum­ing it’s an FPS, but what’s your favourite game? I’d have to choose Quake II. At the time, it was the state of the art with its new en­gine. It looked like noth­ing else, and felt like noth­ing else. You had dy­namic light­ing for the first time prop­erly, and 3D ac­cel­er­a­tion… But mostly the rea­son it’s my favourite is the on­line cul­ture that grew around it. I just spent count­less hours on­line play­ing team death­match, freeze tag or jail­break – all the mods peo­ple dreamed up. It was a very cre­ative com­mu­nity and at the time it felt like some­thing for those of us who were in­ter­ested in com­put­ers and lifting the bon­net to tin­ker a lit­tle un­der­neath. Not much of it would stand up now, but it re­mains hugely in­flu­en­tial.

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