Post­cards From The Clip­ping Plane

Con­ve­niently ig­nor­ing the se­ri­ous side of videogame de­vel­op­ment

EDGE - - SECTIONS - JAMES LEACH James Leach is a BAFTA Award-win­ning free­lance writer whose work fea­tures in games and on tele­vi­sion and ra­dio

Candy Crush Saga isn’t the only game James Leach hasn’t played

I’ve never played Candy Crush Saga. This isn’t some an­noy­ing hip­ster­ish stance, like re­fus­ing to watch a Star Wars film, or never drink­ing vanilla de­caf sourced from Irkutsk. I just haven’t. I don’t even know what it is.

As a so-called industry pro­fes­sional, I prob­a­bly should. If I had a quid for ev­ery time I’ve been asked if I’ve played this game or that game, I’d have a jar con­tain­ing a load of quid. The peo­ple who do it most are de­vel­op­ers, sim­ply as a short­cut – a way of not hav­ing to ex­plain some highly spe­cialised fea­ture or facet they need me to know about in the con­text of the game they want me to help with. But it’s a tricky one, as the truth is that ev­ery year, more and more games are re­leased, and since I can’t even hope to play them all, the ra­tio of games I’ve played to the num­ber of games that ex­ist is de­creas­ing.

It’s em­bar­rass­ing, though, to be asked whether I’ve played Chasm Of Obliv­ion or some other in­ter­change­ably generic ti­tle and to have to say no. Say­ing yes and hop­ing to get away with it is never an op­tion. That’s a well-stocked mine­field. The first thing that can go wrong is sim­ple in­com­pre­hen­sion.

They’ll say, “Our game needs to do the thing, that… oh, have you played Book Of Mercury?” I say I have. I don’t even know that

Book Of Mercury is a thing. It sounds dan­ger­ous and, frankly, if it is in fact a book, tricky to read at room tem­per­a­ture. So they cheer­fully go on. “You know the split­form par­ti­cle el­e­ment? We’re go­ing for a gritty re­take on that. With­out those ir­ri­tat­ing pho­ton maps but we like the bit when Hiru re­sets the Higgs bosons to mate with the star core. You know.” Hav­ing mired my­self, I spend 60 min­utes nod­ding at the gib­ber­ish they’re now telling me. And I note that I have to buy Book

Of Mercury stat, and find out what they’re talk­ing about. And I find out that it’s a 1990 Neo Geo game that no one bought.

The next prob­lem is sim­ply get­ting it wrong. Am I aware, they ask, of Call Of Duty: Red Ops? It’s vi­tal that I am. I sigh with re­lief –

I know Call Of Duty well. The con­ver­sa­tion forges on and I ra­di­ate con­fi­dence. I even tell them what I liked about the game, and what would work in the project we’re un­der­tak­ing. There are three blank faces op­po­site me. And one dis­gusted/an­gry one. It turns out that I am re­fer­ring to Call Of Duty: Blue Ops. Which, as we all know, was a puz­zle game off­shoot set in Ne­olithic times that in­volved build­ing Stone­henge while early Nazis threw peb­bles from a nearby long bar­row. I’ve made a fool of my­self and wasted ev­ery­body’s time. I spend the train jour­ney home crum­pling up my notes and won­der­ing whether now is the time to be­come a kitchen fit­ter. Al­though I know what would hap­pen. Some­one would ask me if I know the Monaco with oak doors. I’m dili­gent and am con­vinced I do. So I fit the Mont­pe­lier suite with all the labur­num ex­tras, and I get sum­mar­ily ex­e­cuted.

Even gen­uinely know­ing games isn’t enough. A pro­ducer once asked me if I was fa­mil­iar with the Bull­frog game Syn­di­cate

Wars. I was pleased to tell him I’d ac­tu­ally worked on it. He nod­ded and asked me if I’d ac­tu­ally played it. And again, I was very clear about the fact I’d worked on it. He was a tough cookie and asked again if I’d played it. I knew be­yond all doubt that, for a year, I’d worked on that game and I told him so. He ended up ask­ing that one same ques­tion 17 times be­fore I left to pick up a job ap­pli­ca­tion form from Moben three doors down.

But my fear is not that com­pli­cated. When some­one who’s hir­ing me asks me any­thing, I re­ally want to say yes. I want to pro­vide so­lu­tions. I cer­tainly don’t want to be the one per­son in the industry who hasn’t played

Re­flec­tion Of The Vam­pire Pt VII. Imag­ine the shame. So only once in my life have I turned the ta­bles. Dragged to a far-off meet­ing, I was kept wait­ing for ages, I didn’t get to see the peo­ple I ex­pected, I was treated like an af­ter­thought. So when we talked about the job, I tried out a new tac­tic. I told them that what they wanted from their story had worked well in the King­dom Power Rush games. Chiefly in the sec­ond episode, The Caves Of

Ramil­lian. Of course, I’d just made all this up. The team nod­ded and I felt su­pe­rior for a sec­ond. Then two of them got their phones out and started Googling. Blush­ing, I had to tell them how ‘Ramil­lian’ was spelt. For some rea­son, they told me, it didn’t ap­pear to be men­tioned by any­one, ever. So, pan­ick­ing, I put them off the scent by talk­ing about Candy

Crush Saga, ask­ing to use the bath­room, and furtively trig­ger­ing the fire alarm. So there we have it. Ret­ro­spec­tive shame, ba­si­cally, is the rea­son I can never play Candy Crush Saga.

I cer­tainly don’t want to be the one per­son in the industry who hasn’t played Re­flec­tion Of The Vam­pire Pt VII

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