My Favourite Game
The comedian and writer on using games as a mental reboot, script tinkering for assassins, and getting to grips with a ZX81
Comedian Danny Wallace on a not-really-haunted-at-all ZX81
After a spell doing odd jobs around the Sega Power office in 1992, the 16-year-old Danny Wallace found himself juggling GCSEs with game reviews. That early exposure to multitasking seems to have provided a sturdy foundation on which to build a varied career – he’s since tackled writing, directing, presenting and, of course, voice acting in the Assassin’s Creed series and Thomas Was Alone. With that in mind, we ask whether he’d like games to feature more heavily on his CV.
You’ve worked at both ends of the videogame budget spectrum – how different were those experiences? Yes, I have a very De Niro approach to videogames: a blockbuster, then an indie. With Mike [Bithell], we get together, talk, then do it. With Ubisoft, it’s a much more involved process, since they get me writing and consulting too. I did quite a bit of work on Assassin’s Creed Syndicate this year on other characters too, and when it comes to my character, Shaun Hastings, they let me mess around a lot and improvise. With Mike, it’s voice only, and with Ubisoft it’s the whole wearing-a-helmet-cam and drawing dots on your face [thing], but the core of it is the same.
Do you have a preference when it comes to the styles of working? No, they’re both great fun. With Thomas Was Alone, Mike’s first game, it was just a case of trying not to ruin things. The design, the gameplay, the thoughtfulness and the music all made it quite special. My job was to try to pull that all together without being overbearing.
Do you see your videogame voice work as a side project, or is it a part of your career that you’d like to expand upon? I find it fun, but I’ve never had a career plan. My whole thing is: go where the fun is, but crucially, try to do the fun well so it might lead to more fun somewhere down the line. It’s nice to have different routes you can go down from time to time. I’d be up for more games work, but it’s up to other people to ask me.
Going back, what’s your earliest gaming memory? Sitting in my dad’s office with the ZX81 our neighbour gave us when they upgraded to a Spectrum. My parents were downstairs and I got really freaked out because the game started playing itself. I assumed a ghost was playing Space Invaders, when in fact it was on demo mode.
And how about the first game that really grabbed you? We got a BBC Model B and I remember playing Chuckie Egg and realising how much fun it was. Then I saved up and bought The Way Of The Exploding Fist for about £1.50 from Woolworths. But it wasn’t until the Mega Drive that I got fully involved – obsessed, even. I’d devour the magazines, save up for whatever I could, and inveigled my way into Sega Power as a teenager. That was insane. Now I was getting free games and money to write about them. It was my golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
What kind of player are you now? I like multiplayer. I like being outwitted by actual people, and trying to outwit [others]. The earlier Call Of Duty games were great for that.
Do you match wits much now? It’s part of my writing process sometimes. You hit a wall, or you can’t think of a better line… so you switch on the PS4, play for 20 minutes and it frees something up in your brain.
We talk to a lot of comics for MFG – is there a natural overlap between comedy and games? Comics tend to work at night and wake up tired, so those guys have more of their day free. My friends list, because of my job, tends to have a lot of comics and comedy writers on it. The fact you can talk to your mates while playing leads to some fun afternoons, but I tend to know comics who are quite disciplined and have other responsibilities. Playing games reminds everybody of being in their 20s, and being able to spend all day on Driver.
“I got freaked out because the game started playing itself. I assumed a ghost was playing Space Invaders”
So which game would you choose to spend all day playing if you could? Probably multiplayer GoldenEye on the N64. I lost a summer to it and bonded with countless people over it. It was one of those games you became insanely good at. You’d play it at 10am, 6pm, 2am – whenever. It was never not fun. That’s the mark of a good game.