Well, what a year! It’s been a weird one and no mistake. I confess to hoping that the rapid rollout of coronavirus vaccines at the start of 2021 might have heralded a return to relative normality, but that return is slow in coming – or rather, it comes and it goes. As I write, the UK is due to enter another wave of social restrictions after Christmas, and there’s a scramble to distribute booster vaccines to counter the omicron variant. It makes me wonder when this cursed pandemic will ever end – something I’m sure all of us are thinking.
In terms of work, I’ve mainly had to focus on more-lucrative marketing stuff rather than less-well-paid-but-infinitely-more-interesting video games features as a result of the financial black hole inflicted by COVID in 2020. Still, I did fire off the odd interesting article here and there – and in March, I made a big career decision by dropping (almost) all of my copy-editing work to focus solely on writing, a career pivot that has been years in coming.
One big moment came in October, when I attended EGX in London. The last games show I went to was back in 2019, and I hadn’t realised how much I missed going to these things. They’re a great opportunity to meet writers, editors, developers and PR folk who otherwise I only know of through emails, as well as a fantastic chance to discover new games. Above all, they’re a wellspring of inspiration – something that’s been lacking of late as I’ve been stuck behind the same old four walls.
EGX – and Play Blackpool a few weeks later – provided direct inspiration for several articles. I wrote a preview of Silt for EDGE issue 366 after seeing it at EGX, and I did a Nintendo Life feature on Lowtek and their efforts to make new games for the NES after meeting Alistair Low at Play Blackpool. Plus I have more features in the works based on meetings at these conferences, so watch this space! Pandemic permitting, I’m hoping to go to many more games shows in 2022, because they’re such a great source of inspiration, not to mention a big boost to my motivation to write.
Speaking of Nintendo Life, I did a couple of other features for them this year. I particularly enjoyed breaking down the Zelda formula into its constituent parts in an attempt to find out what makes a Zelda game feel like a Zelda game. I also did an email interview on the making of the Lego Super Mario 64 Question Mark Block, which was a bit of a headache, to be honest. It took weeks and weeks of coordinating with PRs, and in the end the responses arrived long after the Lego set had been released. The answers were somewhat underwhelming, too, reading more like a press release – it just goes to show that face-to-face interviews are always preferable if you can get them.
And what a contrast it was with the interview I did with Violet Berlin for Retro Gamer! That six-page feature for issue 221 was probably my favourite article of the year, and Violet was an absolute joy to talk to. We had a very long, wide-ranging chat, and I could easily have filled another six pages with snippets from her fascinating life. I did several other features for Retro Gamer, too: for issue 217 I spoke to Sensible Software’s Jon Hare about the making of Wizkid, and in the following issue I wrote a section on games magazines for the Back to the 90s cover feature. Then in issue 220 I spoke to veteran game designer Chris Crawford about the making of the brilliant Balance of Power, and in issue 224 I chatted with Garry Kitchen about The Simpsons: Bart Vs The Space Mutants.
Then there’s the one that got away. I pitched an article on the history of Super Monkey Ball based on promised email interviews with some of the Sega higher-ups, and it was all set to be the cover feature. But the interview responses kept being delayed, and in the end I had to reluctantly relinquish the feature because the delayed deadline clashed with my family holiday. Martyn Carroll ended up writing it instead, and I have to say, he did a fantastic job.
In September, I wrote my first article for arts website WhyNow, which was a brief history of stop-motion video games, focusing on the upcoming Vokabulantis. I find stop-motion games absolutely fascinating, so this is something I’ve been wanting to write for a while.
I also wrote more insight features for l’Atelier. One was a broad look at who owns the games industry, analysing the top 25 games companies and what their future fortunes might look like, while the second was an attempt to define the metaverse and look at which companies are trying to make it a reality. I pitched the latter after Epic’s Tim Sweeney made a big play about Fortnite being a metaverse at the Epic v. Apple trial this year, and it was only a few weeks later that Facebook morphed into Meta, causing the whole metaverse discussion to kick off again. As you’ll read in the article, I’m somewhat sceptical of the whole thing.
Finally, two of my favourite articles were for The Guardian. In one, I reviewed the deliciously bonkers Boyfriend Dungeon, which really endeared me with its wonderful writing and only narrowly missed out on making my best games of the year list. In the other, I spoke to various industry folk about the trend for releasing new games on outdated systems, a sector I find absolutely fascinating. I think we’re going to see a lot more of this stuff in future as people rediscover their love for physical media, or as younger generations discover it for the first time. Having said that, it’s only ever going to be a niche part of the industry, as the trend towards digital games is almost unstoppable. Still, as with vinyl, I can envisage a small but healthy market being sustained around brand new games cartridges.
And that’s about it – hopefully you’ve enjoyed some of the stuff I’ve written this year, and I’m hoping to write many more video-game features in 2022, in conjunction with visits to shows like EGX Rezzed, Develop, Gamescom and more. We’ll see how that plan goes, and whether the pandemic puts any more spanners in the works. There’s also a big secret project that I’ve been beavering away on for a big chunk of this year, which – all being well – should see the light of day in 2022. I’m dying to talk about it, but I’ll hold fire just now. Fingers crossed it all comes off!
Have a great Christmas, and see you all in the New Year. And if you want to take a look at all the stuff I wrote about games in 2019 and 2020, click on the links below. See you back here in 2022!
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.