Postcards From The Clipping Plane
Conveniently ignoring the serious side of videogame development
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