Post­cards From The Clip­ping Plane

Con­ve­niently ig­nor­ing the se­ri­ous side of videogame devel­op­ment

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

James Leach on how nam­ing a game can be as hard as mak­ing it

I can’t even take com­fort in the idea of let­ting The Peo­ple de­cide. We do not need Gamey McGame­face

I’ve just been asked to do one of my favourite things. Some­thing I love but I still find im­por­tant to the point of be­ing scary. Some friends who run an in­de­pen­dent game devel­op­ment com­pany Skyped me to see if I’d give their next project a de­cent name.

Names are such a big deal that it beats me how any­one is ac­tu­ally brave enough to name any­thing. And I speak as one who’s named lots of things, in­clud­ing a child. If you ac­tu­ally stop to imag­ine the thing you’ve named be­ing used, printed on things, talked about and judged, you’d be for­given for call­ing ev­ery­thing ‘Project X’. Although that doesn’t work as well with chil­dren, as my daugh­ter PlaceHold­er_Ti­tle would at­test.

Peo­ple who bother to share their opin­ions on the In­ter­net are largely agreed that the best game names are Metal Gear Solid, Deus Ex and Max Payne, and it’s easy to see why. They’re tough, pow­er­ful and you’re not em­bar­rassed to say them in pub­lic. That’s the key, although I once had a con­ver­sa­tion with some­one that went on far too long as I tried to work out why he was so look­ing for­ward to, as he called it, Due Sex. It re­minded me of the mag­a­zine I once worked at, where we would put 5p into a cup ev­ery time a reader re­ferred to ‘Rouge Trooper’. By that Christ­mas we had enough for a large night out.

So as I sat and failed to think of a de­cent name for the in­die game, I thought of my all-time favourite. It was a Mega Drive ef­fort (I know, I know) by Tech­nosoft called Herzog

Zwei. I have no idea why I loved it, re­ally, but I did and still do. At a pinch, I’d say it was the tough­ness thing, cou­pled with the ex­otic Ger­manic vibe. I never played the orig­i­nal

Herzog be­cause the name wasn’t as cool, and be­cause it was only avail­able on MSX, which no­body can re­mem­ber, but Herzog Zwei was, as far as I’m con­cerned, the dog’s as a name and as a game.

Names, it seems, work bet­ter if they don’t en­tirely make sense. As I say, they’re good in Ger­man, an en­tirely made-up lan­guage, Latin, a dead lan­guage, or sim­ply just words. Af­ter

Theme Park, Bull­frog Pro­duc­tions, where I worked, made a sim­i­lar game set in a hospi­tal. We ang­sted about what to call it and I pushed hard for Theme Hospi­tal, be­cause it made no sense, and be­cause if we’d done loads more, we could have put ‘ Theme’ in front of all of them. I still wish we’d made

Theme Prison, although I would pos­si­bly have fought to name it Umkreisen En­ten Zehn, just be­cause, you know.

Such ran­dom ti­tle brav­ery can go too far, though. There was, in 1989, a game called

Tongue Of The Fat­man. That’s like tak­ing the del­i­cate world of nam­ing and car­pet-bomb­ing it. I have no idea if the game it­self was any good, and nei­ther do you, be­cause you were in no way pre­pared to even pick it off a shelf.

Tongue Of The Fat­man. ‘Fat­man’ was ac­tu­ally one word, but not even that res­cues it. I mean, peo­ple pre­sum­ably slaved over cre­at­ing that game. And not even iron­i­cally, be­cause you can­not slave iron­i­cally for more than a day, and Lord knows I’ve tried.

The civil­ian ver­sion of game nam­ing is of course the gamertag. I’ve had pro­found Xbox bat­tles with some­one called, pleas­ingly, Mor­talWom­bat, and have both but­tocks handed to me on sev­eral oc­ca­sions in Grand

Theft Auto V by Apoca­lyp­stick. These peo­ple know what they’re do­ing. They treat gamertags like celebri­ties treat the nam­ing of their real-life chil­dren; it can be silly and fun for both be­cause they know they’ll al­ways win. The world is a bet­ter place owing to all this. As a kid I used to feel sorry for the Sovi­etera chil­dren my age who’d have to drudge through icy dark­ness to at­tend soul-crush­ingly ti­tled places like, for ex­am­ple, School 16. Nowa­days, as a par­ent, I sim­ply won­der whether lit­tle Ivan had lived just out­side the catch­ment area for schools 1 to 15. I bet School 1 was over­sub­scribed.

Any­way, I have yet to come up with a good name for the in­die game. Dis­tracted by the likes of Nin­jabread Man, Spanky’s Quest and Frog­ger: Hel­met Chaos, which are all real games, I can’t even take com­fort in the idea of let­ting The Peo­ple de­cide. We do not need

Gamey McGame­face. Although on the flip­side I’d hap­pily play Call Of Duty: Hitler Did

Noth­ing Wrong. Nope, the trick is sim­ply to name with hon­est con­fi­dence. Back in the day, Taito once went with Panic Restau­rant. That tells you so much about the game, you didn’t even need to play it. The last word must surely go to the brand-new tester at Bull­frog who once watched us ‘work­ing late’, play­ing Tom

Clancy’s Rain­bow Six on LAN: “With a name like that, I reckon the first five were cuter”.

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