Novelists can be very snobbish about what they’re prepared to cite as inspirations. Among the more literary writers, there’s a strand who won’t even admit to being inspired by cinema, despite its being the most pervasively influential narrative art-form of the past hundred years. So as you can imagine, the number of writers who are prepared to admit to being inspired by video games is vanishingly small, but I stand proudly among them.
My novel A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away was an attempt to take a literary snapshot of the pioneering days of online gaming culture, and similarly my SF horror novel Pandaemonium featured a character who imagined the action before him as though he was viewing it in a video game. As it turned out, both of these books had caught the attention of the guys at video games developer RedBedlam, and a few years ago they got in touch to ask whether I’d be interested in working with them to develop a first-person shooter.
We met up and talked for hours about the role games had played in our lives, going all the way back to the Eighties, and discussed the way games have evolved over that time. Rather than come up with another generic sci-fi or warfare shooter, I thought it would be interesting to develop a game that explored this evolution of games and of the relationship we have with them. Someone at the meeting suggested the Tron-like idea of a character being transported inside a computer game, and I went off and thought about this for a few weeks.
It was a model that had been explored plenty of times before, but when I asked myself how it could be done differently, I suddenly had my Eureka moment. Normally, the character who has found himself transported to some fantastical world is instantly the centre of importance, often the subject of some messianic prophecy. So I thought: what if you found yourself in the world of a classic FPS game, but instead of being the hero or even the villain, you discover you’re one of the grunts that gets mowed down by the real player in the first level as cannon fodder.
From there, the possibilities grew exponentially, and I realised that the best way to develop the story for the game would be the way I knew best: to write a novel about it.
Having just written a couple of fairly gritty crime novels, it was terrific, liberating fun to pull out all the stops and channel my imagination into creating not just one fantasy world, but an entire network of them. The hero of Bedlam, Ross Baker, undergoes an experimental neuro-scan one morning at work, and exits the cubicle to find himself in the middle of an inter-stellar war. However, he eventually realises that he hasn’t been transported in space and time, but into a game called Starfire, a Nineties FPS he remembers from his teen years, around the time of his parents’ divorce.
In time he does find a way out of Starfire, but only into another game, one from the present day; and then into another and another, until he realises he is in an interlinked universe of game worlds: from the ZX Spectrum classic Jet Set Willy to modern-day RPGs such as Skyrim, via the likes of Doom, GTA and Serious Sam.
Now, with the novel out in paperback, my game worlds are still evolving, as the project is in the advanced stages of development at RedBedlam, and due for release this September.