Postcards From The Clipping Plane
Conveniently ignoring the serious side of videogame development
Ten New Year’s resolutions for devs, suggested by James Leach
As we approach a new year of games writing, the time has come once more to create a set of resolutions to apply to the titles being created in 2016. Of course, like all resolutions, they’re not worth anything and can get conveniently forgotten by March, but it’s the principle of the thing.
The first resolution is to avoid flashbacks. I mean, who really likes flashbacks? It’s impossible to see them without being aware that it’s the most obvious way of telling you what you need to know or, worse, what you should already know. When you’re in front of a flashback, you’re not in the game or the story. You’re simply learning something you’ll need to call on later. And worse, you’re thinking, ‘When will this flashback be over?’
Resolution two is not hiring famous people as voices. The problem here is so many games are delighted to have secured the services of a star that they play up to it. “Wow. We’ve got Billy Famous-guy. Let’s write stuff that sounds like Dr Murder because, ha ha, he’s famous for playing Dr Murder in those films. Everyone will be aware that we’ve got Dr Murder on board. Our work here is done.” The trouble is that a year later the game has a series of outof-context and, gasp, unfunny asides, which only serve to remind the player that Billy Famous-guy was in a career downturn, had just come out of rehab and was going through a messy divorce, but can still impose his own brand of anarchy on three videogame dialogue writers and a bored audio engineer.
Resolution three is a biggie. We’re going to steer clear of obvious plot twists. Yes, of course, a decent tale will have unexpected moments. Stories are by definition about overcoming obstacles and having the characters change and learn from them. But this year we’re not going to employ the following tropes: (a) colleagues who turn out to be working for the other side; (b) devices that we spend the game retrieving only to end up unknowingly delivering to the foe, and we’ve done the heavy lifting for the bad guys all along; and (c) the game-changing uber weapon we’ve been toting turns out not to be the weapon, after all – we’re the weapon.
Resolution four. No. We’re not going to try to write a new Trevor Philips-type character. Not now. Not ever. Shut up.
Resolution five. What if the zombies are us? What if the zombies are normal people driven to the edge by being constantly exposed to the Daily Mail website? What if we’re driven to zombiedom by the world we’ve knowingly bought into? We’d have to shuffle towards an increasingly panicky army and police force, sure of victory only through our sheer numbers. This resolution isn’t a negative one. I really want to make this game. And 2016 is the year it’ll happen. I just need a mindless team of hundreds to code it for me.
Resolution six. Let’s not keep believing that finding out what happens next is its own reward. Yes, we can see there’s a possibly fixable shuttle to that tantalisingly close and beguiling land over there. We know that’s where we’re headed, but we’re already aware that what awaits us is a differently coloured map and the same weaponry but with twice the power. Oh, and the enemies there will be just slightly more than twice as hard to mow down.
There isn’t a resolution seven. Unless you can unlock it. That will require the hidden resolution five b, which you missed. Go back. It’ll be worth it. Or simply go to the Edge website and download it.
Women. They’re resolution eight. All I need to say is untapped market. I could add the words social media, safeguards and kittens. None of this matters because females play the games they like, not the games that are written for them. Or do they? We should ask some. Should we? Oh, this is a minefield.
Resolution nine. Any game in which you have to follow or escort an NPC who travels faster than you can walk but slower than you can run must be cancelled, and those working on it must have their eyes put out. Bonus ear damage to the developer via a pool cue may be awarded if the NPC repeatedly utters no more than four random phrases along the lines of “keep up” or “where are you going?”
Resolution ten is a simple one. Let’s not aim for edginess by putting swearing, harsh rap music and achingly now phrases like ‘on fleek’ and ‘ FOMO’ in our games. As an industry we’re chiefly fortysomething white guys who drive inappropriately sporty cars and prop our sunglasses on our heads. Our teenage children will not thank us for trying to be like them.
And there it is. A simple credo for a better videogame industry in 2016.
Any game in which you follow an NPC who travels faster than you can walk but slower than you can run must be cancelled