Image courtesy of www.pauljholden.com.
[b][i]Gordon Rennie is an award-winning comics writer and BAFTA-nominated games writer who likes to live dangerously by biting the hand that feeds him, although none of the studios he’s currently working for in any way resemble anything mentioned here. Honest.
He now writes an occasional column for SPOnG... this is the first... obviously.[/b][/i]
I write comics for a living. I tell people that when asked - it's generally not the sort of information you'd willingly volunteer about yourself, and, unless you’re a character in a Kevin Smith movie, it's definitely not ever going to get you laid - and the look I get back is part sceptical bemusement – that’s a job, is it? - but mostly just the kind of reaction you'd expect if you'd told them that you were severely autistic.
I also plot and script computer games for a living. I tell people that, and I still get the autism reaction, of course, but less of the sceptical bemusement thing. No-one reads comics these days, but everyone plays games, or at least knows someone who plays games (even if it's just a more junior and autistic-inclined member of their own family). They actually want to ask me questions about it, because they've got this vague impression that the games industry is some kind of magical wonderland where games designers skateboard into work round about noon-ish to development studios built on the same industrial model as Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, where fun grows on trees and money falls from the skies like passing spring showers. (Feel free to start laughing now, if you actually work in the games industry.)
I used to think something similar. It took my first visit to a real live development studio to disabuse me of such foolish notions.
They're not awful, or 21st century sweatshops where ruthlessly-exploited infant codemonkeys slave day and night over hot wireframe model-weaving looms. They're just... ever-so slightly desperately disappointing, like finding out for the first time that real-life lesbians aren't at all like your fervid teenage years Fiesta
magazine-fuelled imagination wanted them to be.
So, to make things clear, lesbians probably don’t really look like lingerie models and wander round the place in stocking and suspenders (although the world might possibly be a far better place if they did); games developers don’t skateboard into work in the mornings, (although maybe they do, at some place in the States where they make those interminable Tony Hawk
games) and development studios are disappointingly non-magical places to work.
They usually come in two varieties; ‘Corporate’ and ‘Ratty’. Personally, I prefer the more characterful ratty, with bits of old carpet on the floor and Health & Safety Executive-defying tangles of exposed wiring dangling from the ceilings. They have a comforting student flat feel about them, with hygienically-challenged communal loos where no woman has ever – or would ever want to – set foot, and offices fridges full of soft drinks and items of food all labelled with their individual owner’s name to stop some thieving bastard nicking it.
Of course, I’m just passing through these places on a day or two’s all-expenses-paid script meeting jaunt, so maybe I’d feel different if I actually, y’know, worked in any of them for a living. Sadly, though, the classic Great British Dilapidated Development Studio is becoming a thing of the past, as everyone moves out to shiny new offices in business parks on the outskirts of town, in anticipation of being bought over by large American games publishers. The roofless barn in Dundee where Dave Jones created Lemmings
and Grand Theft Auto
, and the office round the back of a Guilford bookies where Peter Molyneux created the entire games industry (including all the games that haven’t been made yet) are probably long gone, and if that’s not a national disgrace, then I don’t know what is.
So corporate it is now, with reserved parking spaces, real air-conditioning and foyers with artfully arranged displays the latest issues of Develop
for you to use as drinks mats when the nice lady at Reception (don’t let her presence or the suspiciously hygienic state of the office toilets fool you, though; some things never change, and games studios are thankfully still lady-free zones) brings you a coffee while you’re waiting for the guys in the studio to stop fannying about on YouTube and finally acknowledge your existence.
Is this the kind of future that generations of early games designer – brave pioneers, one and all – fought and suffered to secure? Then you remember whose shiny turbo sports car was sitting right there in the prime reserved parking spot outside the studio, and you think to yourself.....yes, it probably was. The jammy bastards.