“If there's a way to cram more misery into one building's history, I can't think of it.”"
Guy's got a point.
Finally making real progress on a feature that's been bubbling around the internal cauldron for the last four or five months - since Thief 3 came out, essentially. It's about the Cradle - the penultimate level in the game, and the absolute stand-out. Of course, it's the one which any reviewer worth of the name barely touched on in the review, except tangentially. I was talking about my friend's reaction to it in my introduction paragraph and dodged the issue later on. Walker didn't even do that much, instead having "The Cradle Rocks" as a cross-head or something.
In a traditional review, you clearly can't talk about it too much, because a horror-based segment is based on surprised. If someone had told me about Ring's ending, it wouldn't have worked nearly as effectively. In some cases, even knowing there's an "Ending" breaks the film a little - look at Audition.
But that's just another of the weaknesses in a traditional review. We could easily inverse the idea - that it isn't what you shouldn't talk about, it's *all* you should talk about. If someone asks you about Thief, you're going to tell them about The Cradle. For a review not to do that is... just awkward.
So, here's the alternative. An entire Feature - somewhere between 6-8 pages, by my current maths - about a single level in a videogame. Spoiler central. It's for the people who have played the level, and want to understand it better, or for people who will *never* play it, and want to take a little holiday. Or, by implication, the fact it even *exists* to be a prompt for people to actually go and play the bastard thing, just so they can read it.
It's kinda NGJ. It wasn't originally, but I realise it's probably time someone attempted to do a serious piece of this stuff about a single player game, just to set a precedent that it can be done. Zangband gave a shot in that direction, but was a little too mired in its analytical nature and the fact it was a for a game no-one really knows anything about. It was one of those "Dogs doing a card trick" articles. Everyone was so amazed that Gamer did six pages on a Rogue clone that they didn't quite process what it was about (Though that excuse rings hollow when There - a fairly similarly "Huh?" game - was made to sing by Always Black in his "Possessing Barbie" feature, which you should all rush to the shops and read. It's a cleverer, subtler piece than Bow Nigger, and the state in the art in this bollocks). Someone needs to do an emotive piece about a game, and Thief is pretty good fodder for this. Not perfect - I think the inevitable Rome: Total War piece will be the real breakthrough - but enough to lay down some foundations for other people to build on.
That's about half of it - probably less, and I've worked an oddball structure which may work or fall flat on its face. I'll know by tomorrow, one way or the other (It's to nab the Cradle's structure itself and try and approach the truth tangentially through vignettes). The other half of the article - maybe more - is pushing the analytical thing in a slightly new direction. Sarcastically, I describe it as a "Re-invention of the Tips article", because I enjoy winding people up. Rather than using devices like maps to say how to best complete the level, I'm using maps to underline what's going on, what you probably missed and how to put the whole thing together. The Exam notes for the cradle, basically. The final addition to the project is that I got chatting to Null - the Cradle's designer - and while originally all I wanted him to do was to scan by linearised version of the Cradle's plot to see if any of it is just completely off the wall, he had glorious plans for something which I immediately saw a way to subvert for high-quality videogames journalism entertainment. So there's a couple of pages of interview stuff too.
I'm probably going to feel some more out about this tomorrow here, in between actually writing the game. Main thought: I've got to actually unnerve the readers, in a way that doesn't involve showing pictures of me dressed up in Mime.
However, if you want a real videogaming horror story, then you can always trust EA to provide.