My Favourite Game
The author on making up games, failing to make one, and relaxing with Civilization
Author Nate Crowley on making up games without making any
Nate Crowley is a sci-fi author who got his publishing career started after taking a Twitter joke with a best friend too far. His new book, 100 Best Video Games (That Never Existed), is based on a Twitter thread started late last year when he decided to create a fictional game for every like received. Here, he discusses how making up game names is, funnily enough, much easier than actually making the things.
Where did you even begin to come up with so many game ideas? What’s really funny is my cat was just whining to get into the room and then immediately started whining to get out again, which was the inspiration for the first game in the book, Look, Are You Coming In Or Not? So there was at least that much inspiration from real life. Probably one in five of them I thought of a mechanic I quite liked and then came up with a tweet to go around it. Those ones weren’t very funny, to be fair.
What was it like having game concept artists illustrate the games for you? Fucking amazing. These were real professionals, who all had far better things to do, and I was being given their time to say things like, “Can you draw me a really sad looking policeman?” or, “Can you put a different hat on that wolf please?” I went mad with power!
What made you decide to give the book a chronological structure? I was quite interested at looking at some of the social concepts around games history. For instance, just looking into the Atari crash, and the flood of utter shit that came into the market in the early ’80s, especially some atrocities like Custer’s Revenge. I thought the moral panic about games happened in the ’90s when I was a kid, but when you look back at it there was some awful stuff happening.
What are your early memories of videogames? My first gaming experience was those RM Nimbuses they used to have in school. There was a game called Barrels, this really empty-feeling clone of the original Donkey Kong, where these little barrels would roll down ramps and you were a little man in a cowboy hat trying to get cocktails. That’s how I remember it anyway. But we got our first PC in 1996 when I was 12 and I got TIE Fighter – I played it from just after Christmas dinner until 3am.
You tried putting your money where your mouth is and making a game. Where did it all go wrong? I applied for funding from Failbetter’s micro-publishing scheme. I started making a Twine game about a haunted sales-training manual called Big Mike Lunchtime’s Business Training ’95. I had great fun with it, but I found I was spending 5 per cent of my working time writing and 95 per cent being inept at coding. In the end, I had to have an adult conversation with Failbetter and we decided they would not be supporting it anymore. I was massively relieved at that because I didn’t want to produce something substandard connected with their name. They were extremely good about it, I couldn’t have hoped for them to be more professional.
Do you still find time to play games? I’ll play a few, but navigating the wonderful world of the Steam Sale is like the way medieval sailors were afraid to cross the Atlantic: I just don’t think I can comprehend it. I do play quite a lot of Hearthstone, because you can just play around for 10 minutes and it’s utterly satisfying. I start games of Civ to unwind. I never play them through to conclusion, I find the endgame a bit of a grind, but I love the sense of possibility in setting up cities and trade routes, and having these desperate little wars with spearmen and archers.
“When I was 12 I got TIE Fighter – I played it from just after Christmas dinner to 3am”
And what is your favourite game? Dwarf Fortress, even though I’ve not played it in five years because I don’t think I’d be capable of it anymore. The sheer complexity of the simulation means you just end up with the most astonishing emergent storytelling. Even the bugs that came in during development were incredible. Like they programmed the ability for birds to lay eggs but some tiny change to the code meant the geese, instead of laying eggs, would lay iron thrones, so you would have geese flying at your fortress just shitting out iron thrones. That was amazing.