Before I went through my time playing Mario Kart Wii at Nintendo, I prattled on about taking risks as a video game developer; where the God of War team spent millions of Sony’s dollars, and still had doubts about the sheer awesomeness of Kratos’ bladed ballet of blood. But the “no risk, no reward” tactics are all part of the rich tapestry woven into the industry. Well, unless you’re making a sequel, or your company’s marketing department is making all of the gameplay decisions. And at a risk of over-utilizing this inapt medieval metaphor to a teeth-clenchingly trite conclusion, you need to thread your own needle if you’re hoping to join those working on, or parasitically feeding off (in the case of video game reviewers) the latest and greatest video games.
I tumbled into the video game industry just after finishing a University degree in History, in Sheffield; a town famous as the setting for the movie The Full Monty. As no-one was particularly eager to see my flabby torso or other flappy bits, I used my very first credit card, and imported one of the very first PlayStations available in Japan. It cost me $2,000. And that’s with the wrong video cables, no power adapter, and without Ridge Racer or Battle Arena Toshinden. I imported, and played Ridge Racer – unfortunately in black-and-white – until my hands cramped, my eyes turned a strange shade of pink, and my thesis was two months’ late. I then hooked up my PC to a serial cable, and played Deathmatch Doom with my housemate, who’s now the Editorial Director at GameSpy. At this point, I’d like to give thanks to Ken Kutaragi and John Carmack for planting the embryonic alien in my brain that hatched, and piloted me into my first video game job.
- PlayStation + Ridge Racer + Battle Arena Toshinden in 1995:
- $2,200 in student loans.
- PlayStation + Ridge Racer + Battle Arena Toshinden in 2008:
- $30 if you’re lucky.
After somehow managing to obtain a History degree, I realized that my aimless wandering towards a teaching job could be circumvented into writing about the second wave of video games on the PlayStation and Sega Saturn. I made a Doom map that was published in PC Zone, a feat far less impressive than it sounds as it was bundled with 299 other maps, and stuck to the front of the magazine to be peeled off and stolen from newsstands. Back in my parents’ house, I realized I needed to get my particular brand of waffling prose into the hands of a video game magazine editor. So I wrote a fanzine. On paper. With screenshots scanned from imported copies of GameFan magazine “A what?” you might be thinking. But this was back when the internet was wowing us with Ascii characters and the latest in MUD text adventures; there were no blogs. I created the fanzine entirely in Microsoft Word, called it “PlayStation Frenzy”, a name that still causes douche chills each time I think about it, and sent it to every publisher in the world.
Nowadays, a career in the video game industry is a lot more straightforward; you can send links to your hilarious and satirical video blog, and start making millions the Zero Punctuation way. Or you can go to college and (as I recommend in my Video Game Careers book, which I’m hawking incessantly over the forthcoming months) choose a pertinent degree, parlaying that into a career in video games. Me? I got rejected dozens of times, until one man; an Editor in Chief called Richard Leadbetter, summoned me to his London Doom Base one dark and overcast September day, and offered me a chance to work on my first magazine. My hapless exploits at this magazine, showcasing more difficulties of breaking into this industry, will be revealed next time.
Just finished: A couple of chapters on creating some of the most fearsome Spore creatures the galaxy has ever seen.
Currently: Leafing through my copy of the Mario Kart Wii Guide. On sale now!
About to: Check on all the various Phases of the Spore game, and model a critter on Great Cthulhu, if my tentacle allocation allows.