Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw Talks About His Debut Novel, ‘Mogworld’
Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw is already a familiar face -- or at least a familiar stick figure -- to video game fans everywhere. With his hilarious "Zero Punctuation" series of reviews, the critical sensation (and sensational critic) has made a habit of fast-talking, razor-sharp takedowns of flawed video games, and, every now and then, highly conditional praises for the good stuff.
Now, the critic/game designer/humorist/hat aficionado can check off another box on his resume: Novelist. Dark Horse Books recently announced that they will be publishing "Mogworld" this August, Croshaw's debut novel about the adventures of a deceased NPC named Jim who has been brought back to life in the world of online RPGs.
Today, ComicsAlliance's Chris Sims sits down with Yahtzee for his first interview about the new project, his strange career path from game designer to critic to novelist, the trends in gaming that desperately need to go away, and the unlikely comic book character that needs his own game!
(Note: Most of the links in this article lead to videos with NSFW cussin'.)
ComicsAlliance: You're most widely known for the "Zero Punctuation" series of comedic reviews, but you've been involved in other kinds of writing as well, from sketch comedy to your series of adventure games to short-form humor essays you've done for your own site. Was the decision to do a full-length novel based on your experience with creating more serious, story-driven games, or did it come from a desire to do longer-form humor that would appeal to fans of ZP and Fully Ramblomatic?
Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw: Novels are what I've always wanted to do. Right from when I first read Douglas Adams as a small boy. Precociously I tried writing them at that age, and from then on I've always been in a state of working on a novel, although I rarely finish any. Behind all the other things, behind ZP, my site, my games, I've always been working on novels in the background, so it was less a case of making a decision than it finally working out.
It's been a life ambition of mine. You know how in "The Sims," you'd have a career track with like "army recruit" at the bottom and "astronaut" at the top? Well, "novelist" was at the top for me. Then maybe "bestselling novelist" just above it.CA: You've been pretty vocal before about your difficulties with MMORPGs -- and especially with MMORPG players -- so what was it about that kind of setting that made you want to spend an entire novel with it?
YC: I played "World of Warcraft" for a few months a couple of years back, and I remember being quite intrigued by the way the world was absolutely full of backstory -- it having followed on from all the "Warcraft" strategy games, after all -- but no more story could be created because of the MMO format. You kill a monster, complete a quest, pick a herb, and it all comes right back for the next guy. On top of that, time is frozen; no one ages or gets born, and nothing ever really changes. So I got to thinking: What would it be like to live in a place like that? Would a "Warcraft" character remember a time back in the RTS [real-time strategy] days when things weren't like this? Would they suspect a conspiracy? And when they die, and they saw those weird angel things that bring you back to life, would they think they were in on it?
CA: With the main character of the novel being a character in an actual game, will "Mogworld" have the same kind of awareness and humor that your fans have seen in ZP -- characters dealing with lousy controls, awkward inventory systems and having to literally buff themselves up before going into battle?
YC: The book's narrated by the main character, who is an NPC who believes his world to be "real," so there's a lot of humour that comes of him seeing odd behaviour that the reader recognises as game-related. We know why all the wandering adventurers are running around blowing all their money on armour and speaking in acronyms but from the narrator's perspective, they're all acting like lunatics. How would you explain the concept of a 'player' to an NPC? Some kind of weird, abstract thing that puppet-masters people from some inconceivable higher plain? That's another theme the book deals with.
CA: Dark Horse is typically known for comics, but with their recent books like Patrick Hughes' "Diary of Indignities" and their line of webcomic collections like "Achewood," "Wondermark!" and "Basic Instructions," there seems to be a concerted effort there to reach out to online creators. Is that how you ended up doing a book with the people who put out "Hellboy" and "Sin City"?
YC: There certainly does seem to be an effort to reach us internet folk. It was Rachel Edidin at DH who first contacted me, asking if I'd be interested in writing a book about gaming, and as luck would have it, I had a draft for "Mogworld" on hand. It's definitely a smart move for traditional media to reach out to the internet -- there's a lot of talent out there. And a lot of rubbish, too, but hey, rough with the smooth.
CA: DH also seema pretty open to the world of video games, both on the side of game companies -- with their upcoming "Mass Effect" tie-in being a recent example -- and the "professional fan"--with Penny Arcade. Did this make it easier to explain what you were getting at with the nuances of working with game-based humor?
YC: I remember saying when I was first pitching the book, there's definitely a lot of overlap between gamers and DH's usual sort of audience. Possibly because games and comics are both highly visual media, or because gamers and comic readers are both generally seen as huge nerds.
CA: Let's say Dark Horse decides to conquer the lucrative video game comics market, and they come to you as an expert in the field. What's the one game that you'd like to see expanded on through comics, and is there one you'd want to write personally?
YC: Thinking of recent games, I might like to write a comic based on Prototype, but probably not in the way the developers would intend. I'd write a comic about a determined, heroic-sounding man who talks about finding justice for the people who wronged him, and who then runs outside and piledrives an old lady fifty storeys into concrete. Then eats her.
CA: On the flipside, you've come out pretty positive on games like Spider-Man 2 and Batman: Arkham Asylum, so are there any other comics that could be translated into good video games that haven't already? Or any that wasted their potential so strongly -- we're looking at you here, "Hellboy" for PlayStation -- that they deserve a second chance?
YC: I'm a big fan of "Hellblazer." I think there was a tie-in game for the movie at one point, but the movie officially doesn't count. It might be interesting to do something that moves away from the usual two-fisted action of comic book adaptation, maybe de-emphasising combat in favour of stealth and manipulation - press X to sacrifice all your mates, perhaps.
As for properties that missed a trick, I'm sure there could be a better Iron Man game than the godawful movie tie-in they put out. I mean, Christ, it's a game about a dude with arm blasters and a jetpack. Half the work's been done for you.
CA: If you could completely eradicate one -- and only one -- trend in gaming, what would it be? Quick-time events? The brown filter that graphics get run through?
YC: It's hard to choose, but I'd like to make it mandatory for current-gen games to hire a writer. Like, a real one, not just a programmer who joined a poetry circle last week. You'd think with the team sizes and massive amounts of money getting thrown around on big game projects these days, they could bring in at least one person who knows what decent dialogue sounds like. Even "Arkham Asylum" had issues in this area. You'd think a property that has been worked on by so many great writers over the years -- the game was loosely based on the series by Grant Morrison, for Christ's sake -- could have found better writing than "I eat punks like that for breakfast."
CA: Is there going to be an audiobook version of "Mogworld," and if so, will it be read by a man speaking very fast into a headset mic?
YC: You'd be surprised how many people ask me that question. We're concentrating on the print version for now, but I wouldn't write it off completely. I might enjoy doing something like that, if I thought my throat could hold out for 100,000 words.
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