Well, here we are at the end of 2020, and just like I did in 2019, it’s time for me to look back and remember all the video-game articles I wrote over the course of the year – the header shows all the magazines I’ve had features in over the past 12 months.
Sometimes being a freelancer can be a lonely and somewhat thankless experience – and this year perhaps more so than ever before – so this annual appraisal of my work gives me a chance to give myself a bit of a pat on the back. Without fail, I always end up realising I’ve done more than I thought I had. But it’s been a roller-coaster of a year overall – in terms of writing work, I’ve gone from career highs to utter despair and back again.
The first lockdown back in March almost completely stripped away all my work overnight – the freelance budgets for many magazines and websites, like Eurogamer, EDGE and Retro Gamer, were either frozen or drastically reduced. Games websites like Eurogamer were getting record numbers of views while everyone was sat at home with nothing much to do except play video games, but at the same time advertisers were pulling out in droves, which left websites suddenly short of cash. And magazines drastically cut page budgets at the same time as only creating issues for subscribers, since there were no newsagents open to actually sell the regular issues.
So things were pretty dire, but one positive was that the drastic situation forced me to seek out work at different publications that still had freelance budgets available. I wrote my first feature for GamingBible back in April, all about video game PR stunts that went horribly wrong, and I followed that up in September with an interview with the developers of WipEout to celebrate the PlayStation’s 25th anniversary. I was really proud of that one, but sadly it appeared to pretty much sink without trace at the time – clearly it wasn’t quite right for GamingBible’s audience.
I also did a feature for The Indie Game Website – another site I’ve never written for before – on indie developers in lockdown. That was a really fun one to do: I asked a clutch of developers to send in pics of their lockdown workspaces and then quizzed them about their set-up. I was incredibly impressed that Joe Richardson works right next to the nappy-changing table – I have no idea how he managed to put The Procession to Calvary out this year while working under those conditions.
But my biggest achievement was finally getting something published in The Guardian, which has been an ambition of mine for years. I reviewed XCOM: Chimera Squad back in April (what a lovely surprise that game’s announcement was), and just last week I contributed reviews of Rivals and In Other Waters to a round-up of the ‘The video games you may have missed in 2020‘. Hopefully I can write much more for them in 2021.
I also wrote a couple of articles for L’Atelier, another new client, which is an analytical arm of the banking group BNP Paribas. They were looking for insights into the virtual economy, so I provided lengthy essays on the crowdfunding saga of Star Citizen and on the way that video games have served as social spaces in socially distanced times. Both were really enjoyable to write, and I’m hoping to do more for them next year.
Back in February, I went to Arcade Club in Bury to interview the owner Andy Palmer for a feature to be published in Eurogamer. It was meant to go up in March, but lockdown meant Arcade Club was closed for a big chunk of the year, so it wasn’t published until September. It was brilliant to speak with Andy, whose enthusiasm is wonderful to behold, and the Arcade Clubs in Bury and Leeds are almost magical places for game fans. I urge you to visit them if you can – lockdowns permitting – and it’s a real shame that Andy’s plans for expansion to other sites have been put on hold by the ‘rona. I have my fingers crossed that he can keep going through the rolling social restrictions.
I wrote my first article for Nintendo Life in February after attending a talk by NES creator Masayuki Uemura at the National Videogame Museum in Sheffield. Uemura-san claimed that the front flap was added to the NES because Nintendo was worried that the dry climate in some regions of the USA might cause a short circuit if children directly touched the cartridge connectors. I’d never heard that particular story before, so I was keen to write something about it, and I got in touch with the NL editor straight afterwards. Later in the year I interviewed the lead designer of Lego Super Mario for Nintendo Life, which was picked out as one of the website’s best articles of 2020. (Interestingly, in relation to that article, my post ‘Where’s Lego Luigi? A Theory‘ is A Most Agreeable Pastime’s most read feature of 2020, so clearly there are a lot of fans of Lego Super Mario out there.)
One sad piece of news came in September, when Future Publishing decided not to renew the licence for Kotaku UK, causing the site to close. As a result, all of the articles I’ve written for the site disappeared – although I had a few days’ notice of the closure, so I was able to back them all up. But the good news is that some of my features had also been republished on the main Kotaku US site, like the ones about the secret Douglas Adams RPG, old virtual reality machines and Scotland’s real-life Fallout vault, so not quite everything was wiped. The whole episode acted as a reminder that website articles are weirdly impermanent, whereas print, even though it reaches fewer people, will still be around for people to read for years to come.
And speaking of print, probably my proudest moment this year was writing my first ever cover feature for Retro Gamer. I pitched an article on the history of Turrican, and I was ecstatic to find out that the editor wanted to turn it into the main feature for that issue, at a whopping ten pages. I duly bought both the print and subscriber issues when it came out, and I’m planning to frame the subscriber cover as a reminder of this particular achievement.
I wrote quite a few Retro Gamer features this year, although the freezing of freelance budgets in the middle of 2020 meant there was a gap of a few months between issues. Here’s the full list:
- The Story of Special Reserve (issue 215)
- The History of Turrican (issue 214 cover feature)
- The Making of Lure of the Temptress (issue 211)
- The History of The Settlers (issue 209)
- The History of Destruction Derby (issue 208)
- The Making of Skidmarks and Super Skidmarks (issue 205)
- The History of Commandos (issue 204)
- It’s Good To Talk: Retro Gaming Podcasts Special (issue 203)
Finally, I wrote a few reviews for Wireframe magazine, namely ones on The Procession to Calvary (issue 40), Summer in Mara (issue 43) and Bartlow’s Dread Machine (issue 45). I really like Wireframe, and I’m hoping to get a few more features and reviews in there in the coming year.
But one thing I’ve found hard in 2020 is actually finding the inspiration for features. Normally I’d be off to various game conferences, meeting all sorts of interesting people and finding out really cool stories that could lead to articles. But there’s been none of that this year, and it’s hard to find creative inspiration when you’re stuck inside the same four walls. A few times in 2020 I’ve received calls for pitches from editors, only to find myself hitting a mental brick wall, unable to think of anything to pitch. It just goes to show how important it is in terms of personal creativity to be able to get out into the wider world and meet other human beings. Here’s hoping there will be more much-needed social interaction in 2021.
If you’re interested in reading more, head this way to find a full list of all the video-game articles I’ve ever written.