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“I heard on Glenn Rubenstein and Brian Brushwood’s TWiT webshow on YouTube that you were Brian Hook’s first choice to write the script for Duke Nukem Forever, and that you actually turned in a draft and it was all kinds of awesome. I haven’t heard this mentioned anywhere else, I was just hoping you could elaborate or deny?”

-Paul H, via email

The webshow in question can be found here and the bit where they mention me is at just after the one hour mark, round abouts. I hadn’t actually seen this until Paul H drew my attention to it, but it’s certainly made me wonder about what might have been. Yes, at one point a couple of years back I was approached to possibly write for Duke Nukem Forever.

Trust me, I would have talked about this a lot more if it weren’t for two things: partly the uncertainty over whether it violated some unspoken non-disclosure arrangement, which I guess isn’t an issue anymore if that video I linked can have a former 3D realms developer gab off about it, but mostly because it wasn’t a terribly interesting story, at least not from my perspective. Brian Hook emailed me asking if I was available for game scriptwriting, and I said yes, because I was. I was asked to do an audition piece so I knocked up a quick and dirty script for a scene that was basically taking all the piss. And don’t ask to see it because it was a couple of hard drives ago.

Until I watched the video above I didn’t even know if anyone had even liked the piece at all, which is probably why I don’t talk about it. All I got told was that it didn’t suit the tone they were going for. I was taking the piss out of Duke himself and they wanted Duke to be relatively straight while the world and the people around him were silly. I didn’t submit a revised audition because that didn’t make any sense to me at all. I would think the only way an action hero as typically 90’s as Duke Nukem could survive today would be with as much irony as possible. I said as much, and thus ended my potential glittering career with 3D Realms.

As I said, a story nowhere near as interesting as one in which I actually did write for DNF. Would have been nice to practice what I preach on that level of development. Hit me up, developers, I’ve had some free afternoons lately.

Anyway, it was Infamous 2 I reviewed last week and on the subject of game writing it’s a pretty impressive example of it. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the story (of the good run, anyway, disregarding the moral choice bullshit, but even the evil run has some emotional heartache towards the end). I guess it became a little too dependent on magic space energy doing whatever the plot felt like making it doing, but this is a series about a bloke who shoots electricity out of his hands fighting psychic trash golems and South African ice soldiers, so at least you can’t accuse it of being inconsistent.

But part of why I enjoyed the story so much is that it actually ended. Without wishing to spoil – a sentence which is fast becoming my personal equivalent of ‘I’m not racist, but’ – Infamous as a franchise cannot go anywhere after 2. The plot (both of them) comes to a decisive end. And that, I respect. In an industry where shooting for a trilogy seems to be standard business practice as opposed to any consideration of whether the story needs it or not, in which plots being left open for sequels or ending on a disappointing cliffhanger are the rule rather than the exception, bringing things to a definite and satisfying close is a rare and pleasing thing to see. Fair play to Sucker Punch, Infamous 1 set up a sequel and Infamous 2 was exactly the sequel that was promised, bringing the apocalyptic end.

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Since Sucker Punch have proved with the rest of the game that they definitely know what they’re doing, I like to think that they ended things after Infamous 2 because they realized that the moral choice system was bollocks, but they’d already committed themselves to a sequel and it was kind of the whole selling point. I’ve never played their previous games before, the Sly Cooper series, but now I kind of want to. All in all, well done Sucker Punch, they deserve to be bigger names than they are.

Another thing I haven’t mentioned yet – you may have noticed that this is one of those schizophrenic XP columns where I don’t have any one subject that can fill the whole space – is the user-generated content. A set of tools are provided to allow you to create your own side missions anywhere within the Infamous 2 sandbox, and the potential seems to be quite extensive. You might expect me to say the same thing I said about Little Big Planet, that the majority of average people are talentless shits who just want to make pop culture references and giggle, but I actually really like this feature to Infamous 2. Yes, I did try a couple of player-designed UGC missions and they were basically just ‘fifty monsters spawn in a big group, kill them all’, but unlike Little Big Planet, the game isn’t trying to base its entire experience around this.

It’s just another extra thing to do. Creators don’t have to design the environment from scratch because the entire sandbox is already there, and there’s bound to be a location somewhere to suit any purpose, while players can ask the game to just scatter the UGC missions about without having to go out of their way to download them. When you play a sandbox game sooner or later you hit the time-killing period where you just wander around looking for shit to do, and with this system the period could hypothetically go on forever with constant new experiences. It doesn’t matter how good they are as long as they pass the time. When I was poor and only owned one sandbox game, that being Spiderman 2, I scoured every inch of PS2-era Manhattan looking for anything other than those four or five bloody random missions to do and something like this would have been a great improvement.

However, the problem with these crowdsource concepts is that they’re expected to self-regulate by having players rate the experience, and I noticed Infamous 2 suffering the same problem the GHTunes thing on Guitar Hero had – if you force the players to give marks out of five, virtually everything gets an average of three stars, because that’s the default option and most people aren’t committed enough to the game to not just skip through the dialogs as fast as possible to get back to gameplay. I’ve always distrusted the five star rating in its every aspect, so I had a brainwave: why not just keep it to a binary selection, like or dislike? Anyone can answer that, it’s not like the ‘strongly disagree/disagree/don’t care/agree/strongly agree’ arrangement that forces me to quantify my every feeling. Looking at the number of likes versus dislikes would give a much cleaner and more direct impression of a UGC mission’s quality.

It seems to work for YouTube. Although that may be a bad example, because other things that work for YouTube are shitheads and planking.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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