So, I’ve been a games journalist for 15 years. First work was in 1995, when I did my first work for Amiga Power which has been long since lost. I joined PC Gamer in 1998, where I was for five years. I don’t own the copyright to my work of that period, bar the occasional reminisced-about exception I was given permission to lob online, so that’s kind of out of bounds. But I’ve left enough traces online since going freelance in 2003 to make me think it worthwhile compiling a short list of what I think is my best work – or, at least, the best work which other people seemed to like – and try as hard as I can to avoid linking to the review which people still haven’t quite forgiven me for…
- While I did a lot of reviews for PCG, my sort-of natural home gravitated towards Eurogamer, who basically let me review whatever I wanted, in pretty much whatever way I wanted and didn’t ask me to get grabs for box-outs and/or get annoyed when I’ve handed in another selection of screenshots which are all just of walls (I’m about the worst screenshoter in the entire industry, and make art-eds despair). Which lead to the occasional public mocking, like with the Darwinia review. But hey! I still like it and Introversion did too. People sometimes miss that I’m giggling.
- Sometimes they don’t. My general rule is that a review should tonally match the game it describes. Earth Defence Force 2017 is one of the most stupid games on the planet, and all the better for it. I tried to keep up.
- My Boiling Point review was me pushing Eurogamer about as far as I could – though if they’d let me include pictures of my beard growth as I requested in my very first review for them (Knights of the Old Republic), that could have put those boundaries even further. My favourite thing about the Boiling Point review is imagining the confused head-scratching over at Metacritic.
- And my last review for EG was Darkfall, which is the closest I’ve ever felt to being Mr Wolf from Pulp Fiction. Brain goop on the back seat? Bramwell called me to see if I could mop some of it up. Not making a complete hash of a close-to-impossible job is about as good as it gets.
- While I think my best reviews turned up at EG, when it came to the really big features, PC Gamer remained the ideal place to play. The three editors of the period – Mark Donald, Ross Atherton and Tim Edwards – commissioned some lunatic stuff which I suspect no-one else in the British games press would have commissioned. I think the best three were my character analysis of SHODAN in System Shock 2 (“The Girl Who Wanted To Be God”), my excited yabbering explaining why ZangbandTK was splendid (“Confessions Of A Dungeon Hack”) and Journey Into The Cradle.
- Actually, “…Journey” deserves a paragraph to itself. 10 pages about a single level in Thief: Deadly Shadows, and if I had to choose one piece from my entire career to save, Journey Into The Cradle would be it. I’ve a soft spot for it for another reason. After I’d reviewed it, Thief: DS Creative lead Randy Smith mentioned that the original inspiration came from me interviewing him for an earlier Fear feature. As in, doing the interview coalesced his thoughts on fear in games and the Cradle was his attempt to put them into action. And then I end up writing another 10 pages on that level. In other words, criticism inspiring art inspiring criticism. That’s the gold standard for me. That’s how, at its absolute optimum, this should work. Also, features splendid maps courtesy of Mark Wynne and makes me miss print terribly.
- Yeah, probably can’t get away with not mentioning The War. For the record, despite the stories which grew around this, I was totally sober when I wrote it. Perhaps surprisingly.
- The Escapist was the other major organ I regularly wrote for. Basically, they were a home for the mid-length essay. If I had something which was worth 2000 words, I could normally find a home for it at the Escapist. They also had the most polite, professional proofers in games press, actually mailing back your copy with the changes they wanted to make. Frankly, it’s not done like that in the UK. My favourite stuff tended to be hard-angles on a single game – like how Sensible Soccer taught me to understand real football, using Guitar Hero to explain what I called the input fallacy and actually getting a chance to do an extended, serious take on Super Columbine Massacre RPG! (Though there’s some more editorial notes on it here).
- I think the best thing I did for them was the first thing I did for them. I wrote Culture Wargames for their launch issue, which is me arguing how games are expressive via how they choose to simulate something. Simulations aren’t neutral. If there’s any one thing I’ve written which I’d give to people who are questioning what videogames can do, I’d give them this one.
- I actually, the single piece I’d give was the intro to the book Jim and I edited about games which was killed before it launched. At least the writers all got paid. The essay was basically an extended version of Culture Wargames, and I’ve never released it. Another survivor of the book was my essay on Sex and the Sims, Erotisim. If the Cradle is the one thing I’m most proud of, I think Erotisim may be the second.
- And then there’s RPS which is tricky – it’s been the sort of place where the writing has been pretty damn random and reactive on the state to what’s actually been going on. I think the best example of that is my look at No Russian. It’s probably the angriest thing I’ve written in the last seven years. My pre-2000 writing was totally ANGRY YOUNG MAN. This was a little flashback to that, mixed with the sort of perspective being an old fuck can gift you.
- RPS was also the natural home of the writing literally no-one else would publish – because no-one else has the money to actually pay for it. I’m talking about multi-part game diaries and thought-pieces. My favourite pair were using a magnetic-game-compendium to hang a series of games-theory essays off and the epic Gameboys From Hell series. Quinns and I did RPS’ part of this Solium Infernum series and the further we went into it, the more electric it felt.
- And you could also just do some goofy shit. My fave two pieces of pissing around was Leigh and me deciding who we fancied in the Red Alert 3 trailer and trying to break into PC Zone’s office to steal their Deus Ex 3 assets.
- Also, we could be enormously sentimental. I think most people loved the Gaming Made Me series, but I loved doing my own part. It’s one of the times I felt I managed to balance game detail and auto-bio nonsense.
- And here’s my review of Deus Ex: Invisible War.