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
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.