Christopher Brookmyre is a Scottish novelist whose longstanding passion for gaming has found its way into many of his books. His debut novel, Quite Ugly One Morning, was released in 1996 and was adapted for television in 2004. But last year’s Bedlam, a novel in which the protagonist finds himself trapped in a videogame after an experiment goes awry, is going one step further and expanding its story with a bespoke
game set in the same universe.
You’re helping to make a game that sends its protagonist through the ages of the FPS. Has that always been a genre you’ve felt close to?
Yeah. I remember playing the original Duke Nukem and things like that, and then my first online experience was Quake – I had a 14k modem and the ping was over 300. The framerate was terrible! But shortly after that, I took my computer apart for the first time and put in a 3D accelerator card and got a better modem, and I got into Quake II at around the same time. I got heavily into Quake II and Quake III and the online clan scene in the late ’90s and early ’00s. I played in a Quake clan for years. I got caught up in the burgeoning online culture at the time. And it was a culture – I could see that there was slang developing, people were creating their own mods, skins, maps, everything. To me, it was the new punk.
What about more recently?
I’m very monogamous when it comes to my genres! I played Serious Sam, Half-Life, Half-Life 2, Sin, Portal and Portal 2, but in recent years the only FPS I’ve played an awful lot of – apart from Doom 3 – is Team Fortress 2, mainly because my son got me into it. But I’m getting old – I don’t have the reflexes any more! I used to play against my son at Quake III, and I would give myself a handicap, but now it has to be the other way around if I’m to stand any chance against him. Most recently I’ve been playing Alien: Isolation, and it couldn’t be any further from my natural comfort zone!
Growing up as a writer playing games, did the quality of game narrative matter to you?
You know what, it really didn’t. It was hugely inspirational. I wrote a book called One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night, and it was largely inspired by the experience of playing games like Quake and Quake II for the first time, creeping around having firefights with rocket launchers and machine guns. I wanted to take that excitement and put it into a novel. And in those days, you weren’t bothered about the story; it was about immersing yourself in these worlds you could explore.
Has environmental storytelling in games affected how you write novels?
It’s been hugely influential. When I wrote Pandemonium, I’d played lots of Doom 3 and I wanted to bring that same sense of horror and fear married to the era of the video nasties, which I grew up in. So I wanted to write a slasher-movie story, and Pandemonium was about a bunch of teenagers away for a retreat weekend after a school tragedy, but unbeknownst to them they’re not far away from this top-secret underground military base which has a portal through which demons, or what look like demons, come into our world… And it pays its dues. For example, towards the end the teenagers are down in the secret military base, where everybody’s dead, and they come across all these weapons and ammunition, and they’re all like, “Oh, great – we can really fight back now!” But the one who’s a gamer is like, “No – bad sign. If there’s a shitload of guns and ammo, that means there’s a major boss that’s going to be round the corner.”
We’re assuming it’s an FPS, but what’s your favourite game?
I’d have to choose Quake II. At the time, it was the state of the art with its new engine. It looked like nothing else, and felt like nothing else. You had dynamic lighting for the first time properly, and 3D acceleration… But mostly the reason it’s my favourite is the online culture that grew around it. I just spent countless hours online playing team deathmatch, freeze tag or jailbreak – all the mods people dreamed up. It was a very creative community and at the time it felt like something for those of us who were interested in computers and lifting the bonnet to tinker a little underneath. Not much of it would stand up now, but it remains hugely influential.