Well, that was a full year. Still kind of frustrating, but I do think we are, as I really wanted us to, starting to accelerate. Going somewhere, if not quite as quickly as I’d like.
The biggest thing I did in 2015, of course, was work on Road to Gehenna. As usual, it took about three times as long as I thought it would, and man was it a lot of work. We basically wrote as much text for Gehenna as we did for the original Talos, if not a little bit more. And this time there were text adventures, too! Those were a lot of fun to write. In fact, they were a reminder that this sort of thing is something I really enjoy and am really good at, and I should do more of it. The same is true of Verena’s remake/expansion of her game Zombies and Elephants. It’s not done yet, but watching her work on it made me kind of jealous.
I can imagine a scenario for the next few years where most of the games I create by myself are interactive fiction, while I work on a variety of other games purely as a writer. I prefer scripting to “proper” programming by a solar year; designing narrative logic is fun and an organic part of telling a story. It’s the other stuff that drives me insane. (I do also enjoy game design in the more classical sense, and I don’t think I’d ever stick to purely making one type of game, but it would be nice to focus on using words to tell stories for a while.)
Then there was Serious Sam 4. I really wanted to get that gig, and I’m incredibly happy that I did. I didn’t expect to end up collaborating with Verena, but in retrospect it makes perfect sense – in fact, writing comedy together was how we first got to know each other, almost exactly ten years ago. We balance each other well in that regard. I tend to go a little Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy on my own, if you know what I mean, while she comes up with short, effective one-liners. The week we spent working on the script in the Croteam office was exhausting and exhilarating, and I’m very proud of the final result. There’s more to do, but if we can realize 80% of that script, it’ll be an awesome game.
One massive source of frustration is that I haven’t finished the updated version of The Sea Will Claim Everything or released The Council of Crows. The constant awareness of that failure is a terrible weight. I was certain I would be done this year, when something completely unforeseen destroyed my schedule: roof repairs. And our house being what it is, the roof is basically the (slanted) wall of both our bedroom and our office. For one and a half months, a bunch of guys spent all day hitting the roof with hammers. The noise was deafening, and the entire room was shaking. Hell, at times even my screen was shaking. I couldn’t work elsewhere, so I put on headphones and tried to soldier through, but at the end I was a nervous wreck. I worked on Lands of Dream stuff every single day, to the point of complete burnout, but my productivity was probably less than 50% of normal.
Generally speaking, there are two things that really make it hard for me to work: too much noise and a lack of light. So a month spent in darkness with the kind of noise they’d play to torture someone shaking the room all day… well, it wasn’t the optimal way to work. When they finally took the scaffolding down, my whole body relaxed for a second… and then I immediately got sick.
I’ve been ill a lot this year. It started with San Francisco, where we went for GDC. I think I got some sort of lethal combination of every strain of flu on the planet. Not only did my throat hurt like hell, plus fever and sneezing and coughing and all that, I also went fucking deaf! When I got back to Frankfurt, I just flat-out couldn’t hear. It took weeks for that to get better, and I had a relapse later in the year. (I could tell it was the same thing because the way my throat hurt was so specific – like having a long horizontal cut.) But that’s still better than the entire German side of my family, where everyone got horrible problems in the space of a month or so. Cancer sucks and capitalism’s inability to innovate more quickly is one of many reasons we need a better system.
In more positive news, we travelled a bit this year, and I enjoyed it a lot. San Francisco in particular was gorgeous. In many people’s mind the city is associated either with libertarian startup bullshit or with tiresome identity politics, and it’s certainly a city that’s increasingly hard to live in for working-class people, but the city itself is simply lovely. I frequently thought that this is what Thessaloniki might’ve been like if there had been a lot of money in Greece about a hundred years ago, and if all its beautiful historic buildings hadn’t been torn down by the greedy assholes who destroyed Greece in the name of the free market. The ordinary people I talked to (bus drivers, bakers, etc.) were all extremely friendly, and not in a “fake” way I’ve heard tourists complain about. Same was true in Boston, of which I sadly didn’t see much, as at that point I was basically patient zero of the Apocalypse Flu. It’s such a shame that the US is this hellhole of deranged capitalist policies that ruin people’s lives (the barbaric healthcare system, the militarized police… terrifying stuff), because it could be a genuinely amazing place.
As I mentioned above, we also went to Croatia this year. We didn’t have time to see much, what with the ten-hour days of writing Serious Sam, but I liked Zagreb. The shortest way of describing it is to say that it’s like a nicer, more human Germany. Like you injected some Mediterranean attitude into a Western European city. A lot of Croatian people have told me that Croatia is awful and Germany is so much better, but… well, no. The economic situation may be better in Germany, at least on paper, but that doesn’t always translate to quality of life. Anyway, Zagreb’s not my favourite city in the world, but it’s a city that feels like human beings can live there, which is more than I can say about any number of big cities in Germany.
I also spent quite a bit of time in Greece, more than I have in a while. I actually got used to being there, which made going back to Frankfurt exceptionally hard. The time I spent in Greece was also the time of extremely important political events, which culminated in an utter betrayal of democracy as Alexis Tsipras and the SYRIZA leadership signed an unconstitutional agreement with the European Union that has already begun to utterly obliterate what was left of Greece. I should’ve known this would happen, but it was still a shock, with dire consequences for millions of people, including family and friends. For one second, there was a chance to really make a difference, with a huge percentage of the people willing to fight, and Alexis Tsipras took it and used it to destroy not only his country, but pretty much the entire Left. Now he poses, grinning, with dictators and war criminals, and goes out of his way to enforce austerity policies that make his far-right predecessor Samaras look sane by comparison. (The people I admired in the party have all been purged, of course. In fact, almost the whole party is gone.)
To witness the energy and hope in the streets after the No vote, and then see it all crash and burn after the betrayal… I still feel emotionally exhausted from it, and it’s hard not to be constantly overwhelmed by anger and despair.
The refugee crisis was only just getting started when I was in Greece. I helped out some local volunteers for a day, distributing food and petitioning the mayor for portable toilets, but since then the situation has exploded, and the government response has been nothing short of catastrophic. The EU’s border policy is shameful, and the SYRIZA government has done nothing but demonstrate its uselessness and inhumanity.
The thought of all those people drowning in the Mediterranean, the sea that I love so much, gnaws at me day and night.
There were many good moments for me personally, of course. Meeting old friends, watching good movies (Tomorrowland, The Martian, Mad Max: Fury Road), good TV (Sense8, True Detective, BoJack Horseman), good books (should’ve made a list, have no idea what I read anymore), and so on. I’m still as happily married as ever. Our cat is still an adorable monster. But I have a distinct feeling of unease. Some of it is just due to living here, even though in some ways Frankfurt is probably one of the best places in Germany to live. I spent a great deal of time and energy this year trying to find a way of moving out of Germany to someplace more inspiring and more affordable, but so far I’ve not succeeded, mainly because the more affordable a place is, the more unlikely it is to have a decent internet connection. Of course, even changing our personal circumstances would only go so far to change this feeling of unease – most of it is due to the world going to hell in a handbasket.
At least this year didn’t feel empty. Stuff is happening. More stuff will happen next year. Where it’ll all lead… we’ll see.