My Favourite Game

The sci-fi au­thor on be­ing EA’s go-to guy, be­com­ing a man of leisure, and dis­cov­er­ing games later than most

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Sci-fi au­thor Richard Mor­gan on dis­cov­er­ing games later than most

The 2002 re­lease of Richard Mor­gan’s de­but cy­ber-punk-meets-hard-boiled-de­tec­tive novel, Al­tered Car­bon, met with crit­i­cal ac­claim and was fol­lowed by a film deal. The movie’s still in the works, but Mor­gan has gone on to com­plete two sep­a­rate trilo­gies and two stand­alone nov­els, while also work­ing on graphic nov­els and han­dling writ­ing du­ties for Cr­y­sis 2 and Syn­di­cate. Un­usu­ally for a mod­ern sci-fi au­thor, though, he didn’t pick up a con­troller un­til his late 30s. Al­tered Car­bon is based on a re-sleev­ing con­cept whereby stored con­scious­ness can be trans­ferred to a new body. There are par­al­lels with the no­tion of lives in games – did that in­spire you? The in­ter­est­ing thing about my re­la­tion­ship with videogames is that I re­ally hadn’t played them un­til af­ter I got pub­lished. Partly that was a case of not hav­ing the leisure time or the spare cash, or re­ally the sta­bil­ity, be­cause I was an English­language teacher and I was work­ing in dif­fer­ent coun­tries. You don’t own much when you live like that, so own­ing a game plat­form wasn’t fea­si­ble, re­ally. But ev­ery now and then I’d glimpse what was go­ing on. I re­mem­ber see­ing an ad for what must have been a very early PS1 game where these kids were hunt­ing a dragon, creep­ing around these cor­ri­dors, and sud­denly the dragon rears up on them. I re­mem­ber be­ing blown away by the re­al­i­sa­tion that there was this in­ter­nal space be­ing gen­er­ated by the con­sole. How did your cir­cum­stances change? I got the book and movie deals, and sud­denly be­came a gen­tle­man of leisure! So I just started look­ing around for things to fill up the spare time I sud­denly had. I started play­ing videogames from around the end of 2002, and Al­tered Car­bon was writ­ten five years be­fore that. So the re-sleev­ing thing is pure co­in­ci­dence. But it’s pos­si­bly the rea­son I got in­vited into games in the first place – when I first got in­vited in by the guys at EA, I found that I had quite a few big fans of the book. I imag­ine they made that con­nec­tion too. How did that play out? Ini­tially they wanted me to work with them on Star­breeze’s Syn­di­cate. But that had a lot of re­sets and shifts of what was go­ing on. So although I got taken on in 2008 to work on it, dur­ing that the Cr­y­sis 2 thing came up. And so I got shoved over to Frank­furt to meet the Cry­tek gang, and started work­ing for them. The two projects ran more or less in par­al­lel, with Syn­di­cate more on and off be­cause there were so many ques­tions and re­thinks. While I was do­ing those I also did some con­sul­ta­tions on other games which I can’t talk about. I think there were two I ac­tu­ally wrote for, but one got canned and the other moved in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion and we parted ways. But for a while there I was EA’s go-to, which was great. How did writ­ing for games com­pare to work­ing on your own nov­els? They’re di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed, which is fun. For me it was great: I’d had six years of sit­ting in my room and typ­ing, be­cause that’s what we do. Writ­ing for a game, you’re cre­at­ing a num­ber of load-bear­ing el­e­ments that are go­ing to be slot­ted into this rather grander struc­ture, so it’s in­tensely co­op­er­a­tive. You spend a lot of time in meet­ings try­ing to thrash out what needs to get done, and it’s also very task-based: “Right, look, we need a cutscene to take care of X – can you do that?” I’d bang that out, it’d get sent back a cou­ple of times, I’d re-draft, even­tu­ally some­one signs off on it, and it’s task done. For a nov­el­ist that’s great be­cause with a novel there are no de­liv­er­ables apart from the novel it­self. So the fact that you’re do­ing lit­tle bits of work that are in­stant re­quire­ment, in­stant de­liv­ery, in­stant feed­back, in­stant fix – that’s very ex­hil­a­rat­ing.

“When I first got in­vited in by the guys at EA, I found that I had quite a few big fans of the book”

Other than the games you’ve worked on, which one is your favourite? De­spite there be­ing some re­ally great games since, I still think The Suf­fer­ing is the best game I’ve played in terms of the level of emo­tional in­ten­sity, and the level of the­matic con­sis­tency. The ex­tent to which you’re be­ing given an ex­pe­ri­ence that re­ally makes you think and holds to­gether and lay­ers things – I still haven’t seen any­thing bet­ter. The Last Of Us is a phe­nom­e­nal game that I loved, but even that didn’t re­ally touch the same depths, I don’t think. It was chas­ing dif­fer­ent goals, it wasn’t a psy­cho­log­i­cal mind fuck in the same way The Suf­fer­ing is. I still think The Suf­fer­ing did things that no other game I’ve played since has re­ally quite man­aged to im­prove on.

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