Have you ever seen those Twitter threads where someone says they will do a tweet on a certain subject for every ‘like’ the original tweet gets? That’s how Nate Crowley’s book, 100 Best Video Games (That Never Existed) was born.
We recently spoke to Crowley about the creation of his book.
His promise was that, for every like his tweet got, he would tweet out a completely fictional game. The tweet ended up with 1,000 likes. After realising how popular the idea was, Crowley whittled this list down to 100 and pitched it as a book to Rebellion.- While Rebellion are primarily a videogame development studio, they are also a publishing house and the owners of 2000 AD - they have a team of creatives plenty capable of creating the art for these fabricated videogames.
With such a big number of made-up games to choose from you might wonder how Crowley managed to whittle it down. “I just chose the 100 silliest, really,” he tells me. “The full list had some that were just quite cute, although there’s a lot just straight up sci-fi games that I would like to see. But yeah, this 100 were just the really silly ones. Like Wrestle Chess, which is chess with WWE wrestlers. If the players mashed the buttons in frustration, it would zoom out to reveal two wrestlers were playing the game - they would flip the board and use it to wrestle.”
While most were plucked from Crowley’s imagination, one of the games, Seapuncher, is autobiographical. The game is positioned as a Streets of Rage-esque brawler where you trawl across the ocean floor in an antique diving suit, punching fish as chiptune sea shanties blast out over the action. Crowley actually lived this moment. Well, minus the sea shanties
In 2006, he had a job working in an aquarium. One weekend, a historical society came in to demo some antique diving suits in the big, six-meter-deep tanks. One of them was a brass monstrosity that weighed around nine stone, created before the invention of rubber, so that wearer’s hands simply poke outside of the suit and into the water. The society were looking for a volunteer to test it out, so Crowley put his name forward and got bolted in, before descending a ladder into the alien world of the aquarium tank.
Outside of the tank were two people from the society, one holding a wire to a phone that kept Crowley on comms, the other holding the air tube. As Crowley was waving at the schoolchildren on the outside of the tank, he was set upon by a fish: a wrasse that was annoyed at this metal giant invading its space. It started attacking his bare hands.
“It comes nipping at my knuckles but I just sort of shoo it away - that's the end of that, and I carry on with my walk around the tank,” Crowley remembers. “But then there's this fucking ZZZZZZT on the phone line, and I get jerked back, and I can't hear the phone bloke's voice. Or the air pump. Brown trousers time. Anyway, I panic for a second, then I realise my pipes must've gotten snagged on this big column of fake polystyrene rock in the middle of the tank, and the air pipe's bent shut.”
Crowley’s air supply is now drastically limited, so he starts following the pipe back, which isn’t an easy task because his hands are numb from the cold. “Then the fucking wrasse comes back, doesn't it?” Crowley says. “It's there, trying to snack away at my knuckles, battering at them again and again, and I just get this surge of pure monkey fear. It comes and hovers in front of my face plate and, not knowing what I'm doing, I just belt it across the chops with my free hand. That's when I see the schoolkids out of my peripheral vision, and realise they've just watched the friendly diver man freak out and twat a fish.”
Not only did this formative, fish-punching experience end up in a book, Rebellion actually made it into a game. Here’s a look at it:
Over two days, the studio held a game jam to create some of the pretend titles from Crowley’s book. It was a way for the developers to flex their creative muscles and have a bit of fun for Rebellion’s 25th anniversary. I was there to watch these games be created and came away amazed at how much these talented developers could do in just two days, in small teams of three.
Look, Are You Coming In Or Not - a game about a defecating cat on a space station - quickly went from a top-down prototype to a first-person, intergalactic pooper scooper sim - woosh, straight out the airlock. I also saw a full 3D model of Thomas the Tank Engine, if he were a Transformer, created and placed into a 3D fighting game in that time, as well as lycra-clad combatants that were made to go at it in Wrestle Chess. The team I was embedded with, however, created a Commodore 64 game called Work Kitchen Anecdote Bastard.
“So, picture the scene, right - you have an abysmal office job and it has got to three in the afternoon. The choice is to go to the kitchen to make an appalling instant coffee or to start smashing your head against whatever the nearest furniture is,” Crowley explains. “So you start making a coffee, and he's there, you know /the/ guy, you say anything and use it as a springboard to an incredibly dull story that you want nothing to do with, and you make a remark on what the weather’s like, and an hour later you're being told how to put up a shed and where to go buy varnish. That's the guy. This is the game of that guy.”
The developers - head of art Christopher Payton, head of creative Tim Jones, and web technology manager Miles Wilton - imagined it as a rhythm-action game where you have to time button presses in the office to keep up productivity. Once productivity drops, you are forced to go into the kitchen. That guy is there. He starts talking to you about a load of nonsense - guest written by yours truly [/finally, a more appropriate use for your feature writing - ed/] - and you have to time your responses to edge towards the door. If you annoy him too much, he goes into a rage, storms out of the kitchen, and kills your colleagues, dropping your productivity and thus your multiplier.
It was amazing enough for me to see these imagined games come to life in such a short space of time. But, for Crowley, it was surreal. “It's really weird if I think about it,” Crowley admits. “It feels like I've fallen into a fever dream. You know those kind of mad stress dreams that you have when you've got the flu. It's really odd. Like I walk to the back of that room, and everyone is wearing shirts with my book cover on.
“I've had the team behind Pub Fighter Architect come up to me and say, ‘We read the description in the book, but can you tell me a bit more about the world of Pub Fighter Architect?’. And I went, ‘Well, imagine it's perpetually six o‘clock in the evening on a Sunday in October and the only hobby in the world is darts’. That's the world. So it's really cool and I'm just walking around sort of talking about it to people making visions of my imaginary games. I'm having the time of my life.”