Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Forwards to something...

By the time I finished secondary school in 1985, our RPG obsession was in full swing. Our group now consisted of me, my brother (Sime), my cousin (Mr Cheeks) and some of my brother's friends. My brother and I pooled some money together to buy Star Frontiers, which remains one of my favourite RPGs, and as a group we played that a great deal for many years. Some of us had played Car Wars for a while in 1983, which is another good game, but me and my brother thought the RPG element was missing (we weren't aware of GURPS). We started to design our own version of CW-style game, originally called Freeway, which also had aliens in it called Slatzians. I can't remember why. When the Freeway Fighter Fighting Fantasy book came out, I changed the name of the game to Motormania, and also ditched the sci-fi elements. I still have some of the tables and a few characters, all carefully written up on file paper. We played that quite a lot too, and managed to test and include rules for helicopters and aircraft. This taught me a great deal about designing a game, which would come in handy in my later career. We started playing Twilight:2000 and Runequest. In 1984 or so, I'd played Traveller at school with Jaffa and Wiggy, although our actual play sessions tended to be done when hanging around outside at lunchtime.

By 1986, I started at a college, and met a few other people who were interested in RPGs - the most important one being a bloke called Porky. He joined our group and, since he could drive, his poor little mushroom-coloured Ford Fiesta had to put up with a bunch of us piling into it to go from one playing location to another. As some of us lived in the same village/a nearby village, we sometimes we would walk to someone else's house to play. People would also bike 7 or 8 miles to and from wherever we had our RPG session. Mind you, this implies some sort of order and sensibility. Nothing could be further from the truth. This photo gives some idea of what I mean:

L to R: me, Locock (near my shoulder), Sime, Chick, and Mr Cheeks. Leper stands in the background. Taken by Housey, at Housey's, 1986. I think we were playing Star Frontiers.

This one is a bit more sedate:

L to R: Frannie, Mr Cheeks, me, Locock (behind me), and Porky. The eagle-eyed among you may note that there's a Commodore C16 +4 just to the right of Porky's arse. Taken by Sime, at my place (okay, my mum's place), 1986 - possibly 1987.
The photos don't include some other key players, namely Scotty and Dods. Our sessions usually had this format: arrive, unpack our stuff and sort of arrange it on a table/floor/laps, make large amounts of tea, bicker, take the piss out of each other, start to play, bicker, take the piss, argue over a rule quibble, suggest/argue that someone may have been looking at the rulebook when they shouldn't have, drink tea, eat biscuits, bicker, take the piss, etc etc. This would go around in a loop for hours. So, if we were sat down for, say, 4 hours the actual amount of time actually role-playing was... well... I'd say about an hour. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. Oh, and there was always a chance that at least one of Locock's characters would die during each session (for example - one once managed to cut off his own leg and then bleed to death in a ditch). There were occasions where we would tape record our sessions - these will hopefully be digitised soon. I'd bought Call of Cthulhu and we only ever played that at night, by candlelight. To round off the effect I had a red candle melted to the top of a sheep's skull. Ooh. Scary.

We played RPGs on Saturdays and Sundays, usually all day if we could. In the intervening time, we were either thinking about or reading about RPGs - and/or computer games. That said, none of us actually owned D&D. We just knew the basic outline of the rules, etc and went from there, and would alternate who was the DM. Games we played many times: AD&D (1st Ed), Star Frontiers, Call of Cthulhu (2nd Ed), Twilight:2000, Traveller 2300AD, Runequest, and Dark Conspiracy. Games we played at least once (and sometimes only once): Talisman, Blood Bowl, Star Trek, MERP, Cyberpunk, CyberSpace, Judge Dredd, Paranoia, TMNT, Living Steel, Mechwarrior, and probably some others I've forgotten about. We also played Motormania, and Frannie invented two RPGs that we played quite often: Arena and ATK. We did sometimes buy official adventures to play, but 50% of our adventures were created, designed and run by us. I wrote a huge amount for Call of Cthulhu and Twilight:2000, for example.

This all continued on it's merry way until about 1992. We haven't played in any organised way since then, more's the pity. Our last RPG session was a drunken bout of Tales From The Floating Vagabond. We ended up going our seperate ways in some form or another. Maybe one day, if just for one day, we'll play again.

Fast-forward to 1996. I live in London. I'm unemployed and want a job in the computer games industry. I haven't a clue how to do this. I want to be a games artist. I apply to an advert in The Grauniad from a company looking to develop adventure and strategy games. I get an interview and take along my portfolio of painstakingly created drawings and paintings, and some crap 3D work. The 'company' is in reality just some rich bloke, on his own, trying to set up a company from his ludicriously posh flat. He hires me on the spot. My first job is actually as a designer. I have to design a paper prototype for a first-person adventure/shooter game based on ancient Egypt. I have no idea how to do this. I don't know what a game design document (GDD) is. So what do I do? I just write it all up like a D&D level, including maps, room descriptions, monsters, etc. I still have it to this day. He really likes it but it is never used - a crushing blow for me then, but little did I know at the time that this is de rigueur for games development. So I do some more work for him for a few months. He then fires me because he doesn't want to pay me any more. After a while I then get an interview at a development studio called Intelligent Games (IG). This goes well. After a second interview they hire me as a graphics artist. Nice. Once there (up until the time IG folds in 2002) I do graphics work, concept art, game design, character design, tons of stuff - excluding coding. I don't do coding. It gives me a headache.

During all that time, and since, D&D and RPGs were continually feeding into my work and how I rationalised ideas, art, design etc. It turns out that the computer games industry was - and still is - largely in debt to D&D. 

Some may not agree. 

But they're talking out of their arses...

Sometime soon - but maybe not tomorrow: On the physiology of the Otyugh...

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