My Favourite Game

The author on mak­ing up games, fail­ing to make one, and re­lax­ing with Civ­i­liza­tion

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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.

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