Now It Can Be Told, Sort Of

Original artist unknown. If you know who it is, please inform me so I may credit them. Many of you are aware that at any one time I am, in addition to my novels, working on various Seekrit Projects, some of which pan out, and some of which do not. Here’s one that did not: For much of last year, I was working on a video game for a major game maker. Which major game maker? I cannot say. Which game? I will not tell. In both cases my Non-Disclosure Agreement is probably still in play, even as I’m otherwise no longer working on the game and as far as I know the game itself is no longer being planned. I will say this: Man, if that game had ever seen the light of day, it would have been so very cool. But not every project works out. Life is like that in the big world.

I will also say that despite the project not moving forward, I don’t regret devoting a whole bunch of time to it last year. I got to work with some really fun and creative people in a field that I didn’t already know, and in doing so I learned a bunch of new skills and also got a good look at the current state of the video game industry. All of which was really valuable and worth the time investment, and the investment of creative energy. Also, I got paid well for my time, which helps, too.

Would I work on a video game project again? Absolutely, as long as there was time in my schedule and I was working with people I admired, on a project that was worth doing. As with everything these days my time is at a premium so I have to make sure that what I’m doing is what I really want to be doing, because otherwise there are other things I’ll want to be doing more. This is not a bad state to be in.

And before you ask: Why yes, I have some new Seekrit Projects I’m thinking about and working on. No, I can’t tell you about them yet. Then they wouldn’t seekrit, would they. But yes: they are very cool indeed.

36 Comments on “Now It Can Be Told, Sort Of”

  1. Oh look, someone pasted a picture of John Scalzi in my dictionary, right next to the entry for “TEASE!”

  2. Many years ago, I was at a conference where the head of the NSF said, “We fund basic research. So if the hypothesis is proved in more than 30% of our grants, we don’t think we’re doing our job.”

    I think about that every time a project I’ve invested a ton of energy into falls apart, and I don’t really worry about it. The price of doing cool things is that some of them don’t work out.

  3. Oh yeah? Well I was working on super sekrit stuff that I can’t tell you about either too!

    In fact . . . it was super sekrit spy stuff! That’s right! But that’s all I can say! *nod*

  4. You’re just trying to hide the fact that you’ve been working on Duke Nukem Forever. “No longer planned,” indeed.

  5. Word on the street is the publisher thought “Angry Cats” was too derivative.

    Better luck next time.

  6. I’d really love to hear more about what you learned about the video game industry, and about what a writer does in a game making team. Obviously only things you can tell without violating non-disclosure, but really, it would cool to know more about this field.

  7. I’m wondering if you can tell us more about why the game is ‘no longer being planned.’ I guess, I’m trying to estimate the odds of it ever resuscitating. Is it the game company? Some go out of business before completion, others change plans due to restructuring, or merging/getting bought out by another company. Is it the dev team? Some games go ‘poof’ because the core development team get reassigned to other projects, or leave a company for greener pastures. Is it a rights issue? Some games rely on IP from non-game companies, and games fizzle out when those non-game companies change their minds, or get tired of waiting for games to be finished.

    Anyway, just curious if you can give more details there, or even just your own educated guess as to whether the game may ever see the light of day, or if you think it’s buried and gone.

  8. Too bad it didn’t pan out. I think *Mellow Birds would have been great!

    *I’m sure the gameplay would have been to fling doobies at the pigs.

  9. Very cool – I hope you get to do more video game work in the future. I recently broke down and joined the 21st century and bought an XBox 360. I’ve been really impressed with the quality of the writing in a number of the games I’ve played – much better than the stilted and generally baaaad dialog and stories I remember from the last time I did much gaming. I guess with the increased budgets these days they can afford to bring in actual writers. Love to hear more details about your experience if/when you’re able to share.

  10. Thank you. That’s actually reassuring. Tells me there’s still a presence out there to care about it, which means there’s always hope.

  11. I would like to see more of this. Videogame writing is getting better, but it’s still cliche-ridden. Having actual writers involved in the game development from the start helps prevent that. (Ever wonder why Bioware games are so damn good? Now you know. In fact, of all the studios with the good sense to hire Scalzi, Bioware would be at the top of the list.)

    Incidentally, I’d like to see a new award category for Hugos/Nebulas/etc. for “Best Videogame” (or “Best Dramatic Presentation, Interactive Form” to be absurdly technical). We want to encourage more Mass Effects and Bioshocks, and fewer Metroid Other M’s and Borderlands.

  12. This is worse than that time in fourth grade when Laura Trynacity told me she had a secret and would refuse to tell me for the entire year. She’d torment me with the knowledge of this secret while I was riding the school bus or playing Transformers at recess or trying to finish my Mad Minutes (ugh). I still had the hope she’d finally reveal the secret to me. When she finally decided it was time, she’d realized she forgot what it was. So, I’ll have to live my life never knowing what it was.

    Now, here I am not knowing what your secret projects was, but knowing it was probably hundred flavours of awesome. But flavours that will never touch my tongue and cause me to dance upon rainbows.

    Though it is pretty cool that you got to work in an entirely new field. I had a fleeting opportunity to once work on a video game project but things fell apart before anything began. I am sure it was a fun and different kind of challenge to write (the creative?) for a video game.

    Oh well, now you have more time to either write novels or torment us with more secrets (just like Laura).

  13. Oh man I hope it’s a Brain Pal. It’s almost every morning I think to myself, “Brain Pal, where’s my keys.” And there’s been no answer. So far. It would be so cool to finally have an answer. Sometimes it’s lonely in there.

    Chang. “*crunch crunch crunch* Mmmmm, bacon. Pteh! Pteh! Was is that? Cat fur?”

  14. Well, John, as long as you got paid for your work… Many projects don’t go anywhere, so getting the paycheck cashed is always important.

    Dr. Phil

  15. I’d like to see you get together with Erik and Chet of Valve and create some new IP.

    If it happens, can I beta-test? That’s all I ask.

  16. …as far as I know the game itself is no longer being planned

    That is SO the way of the video game industry. My brother worked on a couple of games for Interplay/Black Isle before it went kablooey, including the original Fallout 3.

    And I’m still waiting for the Old Man’s War FPS, dude. Impatiently, I might add.

  17. My ex-husband works in the game industry, and it works just like that. About half the projects get axed before they’re even announced to the public. It’s kind of sad for him in those cases when the project was one he really liked, but it’s all right from a job security standpoint because there’s more demand than there is supply for game developers. They lose their jobs on a regular basis, but they always get snapped up again.

  18. So, did you get to meet Karen Traviss? Now that’s a star!

    Jack Tingle

  19. I feel your pain; as a writer with a substantial number of videogame projects on his resume, I can tell you that for every game I’ve worked on there are two that got spiked before getting off the ground. Sadly, it’s the nature of the business.

    Incidentally, I’d like to see a new award category for Hugos/Nebulas/etc. for “Best Videogame” (or “Best Dramatic Presentation, Interactive Form” to be absurdly technical). We want to encourage more Mass Effects and Bioshocks, and fewer Metroid Other M’s and Borderlands.

    I heartily endorse MasterThief’s statement. I should note, though, that we do have a couple of good game writing awards already, although those are all within the industry.

    But it’s always great to see someone with profile writing for games; even if that particular project never made it out to market, it shows a willingness among the developers and publishers to use experienced writers, and that can only be a good thing.

  20. @#15. “We want to encourage more Mass Effects and Bioshocks, and fewer Metroid Other M’s and Borderlands.

    I agree with most of that statement, but whole-heartedly disagree with your assessment of Borderlands, one of the best multi-player games of this generations, IMHO. Not sure why you didn’t like it or the writing in it (which was, IMHO, appropriately funny to the games sparse narrative and appropriately stayed out of it’s way). Did Borderlands feature a particularly deep or compelling story? Not at all. But it wasn’t supposed to; it was supposed to provide an excuse to kill guys, take their guns and then kill more guys with those guns to get…more guns. I particularly enjoyed the writing in some of the DLC, for that matter (except for Roxie, which was poor).

    Metroid Other M, on the other hand, was flatly terrible. Not quite ‘master of unlocking’ terrible, but still horrid. The rest of the game was pretty weak, as well.

  21. speaking of FPS stuff, re: the ‘what a person in an fps would look like in real life’ link, just wanted to note that if you remove the grenade launcher from.the guys hand, you get something comparable to the standard loadout for someone in heavy weapons section of an infantry unit. its actually not that unrealistic of a photo.

    (cue piano)

    the more you know…

  22. Since you brought the subject up – after two non-fiction books about films, any chance you’ll ever do a book about video games? Your post about discovering the dark side of the force through the Jedi Academy game from two years ago still ranks among the most memorable Whatever posts for me.

  23. @32 Not sure why you didn’t like it or the writing in it (which was, IMHO, appropriately funny to the games sparse narrative and appropriately stayed out of it’s way).

    That ending, god that horrible, horrible ending. The game itself was quite solid from a design and playability point of view but it really felt like they put little effort into the plot. It chugs along nicely in the background as a treasure hunt Mcguffin to drive travel, meeting different factions, and betrayal and stays nicely out of the way. Then at the last moment it veers completely into left field turning the ‘treasure’ vault into an alien prison (when up till the last level everything was humans/mutants/animals/robots) which there had been no hints or indications that set up this ‘cunning twist’. All this isn’t even explained until afterwards as well when you get the epilogue which basically goes ‘heres the real plot, no you can’t interact with it, don’t you feel foolish for being tricked (despite having no chance of avoiding it), HAHAHAHA’.

    Beyond being incoherent and bad writing it was particularly poor an approach for a interactive game because of how deprotagonizing it was. Even worse than that though is the fact that in a game about getting new and awesome loot and you’ve been chasing this mysterious alien arms cache all game after you beat the final boss you get exactly ZERO loot. Sure the game is finished but they’ve got the higher difficulties that you can start over and replay but the reward for beating the game is none of the incremental rewards (xp, cash, loot items) and a ‘big reveal’ that shows you to have been a hapless dupe all along.

    I was so insulted by the ending of the game that I first looked online to see if it was one of those ‘you have to beat it X times/this way to get the ‘real’ ending’ situations and then when I realised it wasn’t I immediately deleted it off my machine and wrote a SCATHING email to the developers. Despite having quite enjoyed the entire play experience I feel so betrayed by the awful writing that I simply can’t bring myself to play it again and have not picked up any of the downloadable content (thus depriving the developer of cash) despite them being reputed to be quite fun and avoiding repeating the same mistake of ignoring the writing.

  24. But the Android’s Dream video game is still on, right? Or are we not supposed to talk about that either?