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Life After Doom - Video Games' Visionaries

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 9 Sep 2014 16:00
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Doom Cover Art

So last week we were talking about Daikatana, and it's status as a sort of tentpole example of auteurism gone wrong. Which makes it an important study for me in particular, since I'm the one who's always moaning about the faceless, corporate, committee-designed industry of today and how it could use a dose of auteurism.

Now, of course having one visionary taking charge and responsibility for the project isn't always going to result in a good game. It hinges on the skill of that one person. But I argue for it mainly because it makes things a hell of a lot more interesting. The usual characteristic of committee-designed games is being bland as fuck, as its features are pinned one by one to the happy middleground that every member of the committee agrees is basically fine. A lone director can take charge and push the features to the fringe, and this can result in a bold, challenging work, or it can create something so cartoonishly misguided that its awfulness becomes a thrill ride in itself. Either of which is still better than a cowardly mediocrity. You can party in a black suit, you can party in a white suit, but a grey suit? Good for meeting the girlfriend's parents, maybe.

But John Romero managed to get into a position to make his ill-fated dream project by leveraging the fact that he worked on Doom and Quake, two of the most important titles in the history of PC game development. The world was a lot smaller back then, and the entire credits list for Doom could fit on a single screen in big letters. A surprisingly large percentage of the names on that screen became big names off the back of it. We already know what opportunities John Romero found with that on his resume, but let's see where it took some of the other names on the list. Specifically, the ones with extensive Wikipedia pages.

American McGee

Named in an unfortunate incident in which his parents mistook the 'name' box for the 'nationality' one on the birth certificate, and I'm going to keep making that joke until I've heard at least one person laugh at it, American McGee seems to like doing the Clive Barker thing where he sticks his name on the front of all his game titles. He went from Id to Electronic Arts after Quake 2, and made what is probably his most notable game, American McGee's Alice; a twisted take on Alice in Wonderland (aren't they all) with a platform-combat focus.

After that, he passed the noughties making games like American McGee presents Scrapland and American McGee presents Bad Day L.A., neither of which set the world ablaze (although the second one might have pissed a few fires out). Eventually he returned to the last point when everything seemed to be working out alright, and made a sequel to Alice, Madness Returns. I reviewed this in ZP, and felt could most charitably be described as alright, if a bit pretentious.

In 2013 American McGee attempted a Kickstarter campaign for a new property called American McGee's Ozombie, which failed to meet its funding goal, presumably because zombie games in Kickstarter stand out like a chipolata at a thumb wrestling tournament. But then he did another Kickstarter, for a film project called Alice: Otherlands, and that one succeeded. I'm guessing American McGee's motto at this point is 'There's Always Alice.'

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