RPS is eight this year. Bloody Nora! Longest job I’ve ever held. It’s crazy to think back to early 2007, when I was unexpectedly invited to join Jim, Kieron and John in their nascent plans to build our own PC gaming website. We were bemused that there wasn’t a great site of that kind around back then, and we were sick of the vagaries of freelance work. We had no idea if it would work. We’d never have believed it would last this long.
We were young punks then. The site has young punks now, of course, but I am an elder statesman as games journalists go, and no longer have the anger I did in those first few years. There is no shortage of RPS articles in which I’m moaning about something or someone, and these I do not care to pull from the archives. It’s those where I was enthusiastic or wonder-struck that I do. This, then, are my own ego-surfing highlights.
The first diary series I ever wrote for RPS concerned my first direct experience of Ultima Online. In 2007 it was already a shadow of its former self, but it remained singular in both its scope and its systems. To come to it only versed in the ways of post-Warcraft MMOs presented any number of beautiful confusions. Just trying to figure out the unknown, and the obtuse, was a delight. And why did no-one have any shoes? I wince at plenty of the writing here, but man, I could do with resurrecting the spirit of adventure I had then.
Gone Home arrived during my paternity leave (onto which I tacked a three month sabbatical, in the name of sanity), which was something of a gift. I could play it, and think about it, without the pressure to write about it; I was also blissfully unaware of the mounting rage against it from Certain Types Of Internet People, so I could react to it entirely personally. It lodged in my head and continued to push emotional buttons for several weeks – and at nerves which were raw in the wake of becoming a new dad. The result was this, looking at one of its downplayed sub-plots and how it echoed my own experience of fathers.
It fell to me to write the eulogy for City Of Heroes, the superheroic MMO which is at least partially responsible for the founding of RPS. I suspect it always mattered to me a little more than it did to Kieron, Jim and John, as I was the PC Format outsider to their PC Gamer gang at that time, and it was exciting to feel that I was infiltrating the PC gaming intelligentsia. So I mourned the game’s loss, and the death of my beloved character the Entomologist. Little did I know that I’d see him again years later.
Six months after the birth of my daughter, I was still a mess of emotions, and reacted heavily to anything which discussed fatherhood. And so I wrote the divided review: one piece responding to the underwhelming practical reality of familial introspection/haunted house game The Novelist, and another my emotional response to the stories it told underneath its limitations. Part of me thinks every review should do this: wot it is, and wot I felt.
I cringe plenty at the writing here, but include it because of the sheer enthusiasm at encountering the joyfully absurd in something I’d presumed to be perfunctory. When a game which looks straightforward – give the people some fantasy battles and some Warcrafty graphics – turns out to be riddled with jokes and wild ideas, I’m overjoyed. King’s Bounty: The Legend was a revelation, which only makes it doubly sad that the series then simply rested on its laurels for several entirely forgettable games.
Bloody hell, imagine if I’d posted this in the latter half of last year. Perhaps I should have done. This was a rare instance of my anger and contempt for games’ often exploitative ways coalescing into something that wasn’t simply complaint. StarCraft II’s male gaze presented through the medium of butt photography. People rolled their eyes at me even then, but now even Blizzard acknowledge that they need to do better when it comes to inclusivity.
The big man himself called me out on this years later, declaring to all and sundry on Twitter that it was done purely for the hits. Not even slightly. This was me at my most honest, looking at the transcript of an interview I’d bungled and reasoning that the only interesting thing about it was my thought process during said bungling. In a world of carefully-controlled hype, I also felt that I could provide others with rare insight and openness about how these kinds of dev/media encounters really work. Unfortunately for the makers of BioShock: Infinite, this did mean I wasn’t simply promoting their game for them. For the record, I deeply regret taking this concept to a second part – I stretched the point too far.
Another diary, this time revisiting the third, and greatest, Elder Scrolls game years after the fact. It was a world of wonder and strangeness, filled with ideas, so far away from the ruthless commercialism of Oblivion and Skyrim, and my much-modded return to it felt like a true adventure. Shan’t see its like again, I fear.
Sometimes a game lends itself to crude replication via basic HTML. I had fun.
Aka ‘the diary I most wish I’d had time to finish.’ Back then, my playing a football manager game all day for weeks simply wasn’t viable for the site. But I should have done. A relative football ignoramus treating Sports Interactive’s deathless management series in the spirit of a roleplaying game – which is what it really is, underneath all the shorts’n’socks trappings – offered potential for narrative and comedy gold. Especially when played by a myopic Cacodemon. One day I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back.
I physically wince reading this – angry young me at his angriest, putting all his energy into moaning – but it fascinates me. Why did I sit down and write broken poetry about gaming’s reliably irritating locked, indestructible door trope? Why was this RPS’ most-read post for the longest time? And why are games still full of locked doors after all this time?
I still don’t really know why I did this. I guess I was just really, really into breakfast back then. But I will always be pleased that a dozen-odd developers all gave me their best tips for poaching an egg, and 147 people then joined in with their own eggy wisdom. I should like to somehow commune with 2011-me and do things like this again.
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