Bedlam, for those who don’t know, is a genre-jumping game based on the works by author Christopher Brookmyre. It’s a game which throws players across various different genres as they battle it out to get the game’s protagonist Heather Quinn, back home.
We managed to catch up with Brookmyre to talk about the game’s development, how it feels having his work made into a video game, and how taking his ideas and making them into a real life video game.
Let’s face it, books about games being made into games isn’t exactly an overdone genre, and with such freedom found in Brookmyre’s novels, it offered a wealth of possibilities to the game, but where to start? How difficult is it to make written words into a playable video game? Well according to Brookmyre, not too difficult, actually.
“In this case not that hard because the whole project was conceived initially as a game,” he revealed. “The developers got in touch with me because they’d read “A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away” and “Pandemonium” which are replete with gaming references and asked if I’d work with them on developing an FPS.”
It seems the nature of the novels worked perfectly in making it come to life as a video game. In fact, creating the overall idea for the game and making it a reality worked well, complementing Brookmyre’s skills as an author.
“When I started to flesh out the concept and outline the story, I realised I was effectively outlining a novel and that might be the best way to develop the characters and develop the philosophical underpinning of the whole thing. So I went off and wrote the novel when they were trying to raise finance for the game, and it turned out that having a published novel was quite a handy thing if you’re trying to show investors that you’re serious.”
Once that had been achieved, it was then down to making it into a video game.
“When we had the green light to make the game it was a question of really working on the art of the possible seeing what was plausible with the budget that we had so I suppose one of the first things was to say, the book has got all these different worlds in it and we had to decide which ones we were going to try and transfer into the game. Fortunately it was quite a simple decision, there was a massive futuristic driving game world in the book and obviously we weren’t going to have that, there’s also a world entirely populated and curated by Daily Mail readers, and we couldn’t really have that either so, we stuck with the core spine of the story.”
“we’ve got ambitions for a sequel because the overall concept of the game lends itself to being taken further.”
As for the future of the game, and the future of Brookmyre’s novels, we were surprised to hear that he’d already released two new novels since the game launched and was gearing up to release another in January. For fans of the game however, he also added that if the game did well and had the chance to do another, it would definitely be considered, and now there’s even more material to work with, it shouldn’t be that hard to come up with ideas.
“Since writing Bedlam I’ve published two novels. Flesh Wounds came out after Bedlam and earlier this year a book called Dead Girl Walking, and I’ve got my next novel which is out in January, that’s all done, and I’m working on a new one just now, so there’s quite a few in the pipeline,” he revealed.
“In terms of the game, if the game goes well, we’ve got ambitions for a sequel because the overall concept of the game lends itself to being taken further. It’s the idea of the villains of the piece, the integrity they can take over any game world and control the NPCs so that really would allow for all kinds of hilarious possibilities.”
“We could have like, a FIFA type-game, where suddenly the players or indeed the crowd could essentially be a drone zombie army that you’d have to take on. Someone else suggested we could have Rock Band or Guitar Hero-type game where you could actually be having combat on the guitar neck. So there’s all kinds of possibilities there. As many games as there are out there, there are possibilities I think we’ve all probably fantasised about.”
With such a broad canvas of ideas to work with, Brookmyre revealed that while at times the budget was a constraint, it was fantastic to be able to use those constraints as creative decisions, and because of just that, they came up with some much better features within the game.
“I don’t think we can ever talk about getting everything we wanted in any game no matter what the budget. The budget I think was around half a million pounds for a small team, so I think what we’ve managed to get on the screen is actually quite remarkable given those constraints,” he admitted.
“But you can take those constraints and turn them into creative decisions. Early on we realised we won’t be having any cut-scenes for instance, because they cost a fortune, and also that we couldn’t have lip-syncing of characters when they’re talking to immediately I get told that so I go off and work with that and come up with an idea that for communication it’ll be comms that you’re hearing over the airwaves or emails that you might intercept, while you’re exploring and that means that we can tell the stoey in a way that’s more satisfying for the player because they put the story together themselves by what they’ve heard, rather than being held up while they watch a CGI cut-scene of two characters explaining the plot to them.
“So a lot of the things, that were on one level, were constraints, actually became quite useful to us in terms of telling the story.”
“My original vision was that it would be a secret level as a sort of throw back to 90s shooters”
There were however ideas which Brookmyre would have liked into the game which these constraints proved too tough to overcome. One example was one of the game’s more favourable scenes which involved a fake multiplayer mode. This was originally set to be a hidden level, but creating something such as this proved to be too much of a gamble.
“There’s always those things I would have loved to be able to do but in terms of the time that it would take and the level of staffing it would have taken. But a good example of something we did include, was the spoof multiplayer section of the game that fakes the multiplayer experience down to being trolled obnoxious American teenagers. My original vision was that it would be a secret level as a sort of throw back to 90s shooters where there was sort of bonus levels that you hand to find the hidden entrance to. I thought that was fun because it would be a nod to that era of gaming, but once you’ve built that and you’ve got a small budget, you really can’t afford the gamble of having built something that someone might not see, so that kind of thing we made sure just became part of the core gameplay rather than a bonus.”
Speaking of that particular level, Brookmyre let us into a bit of behind the scenes on that particular level.
“It was my son’s idea, he’s a big gamer and he was saying we should have a sort of fake multiplayer. He wrote all of that dialog and he voiced all those teenagers, he did different accents and there’s some very clever work been done so that they sound like different people, but I just think it was an excuse for him to swear a lot,” he revealed.
On the development front, one of the main challenges that Brookmyre and the team found was the change of the protagonist from Ross Baker to Heather Quinn, but it was a challenge welcomed by all as it opened doors to something different, and that’s a game filled with Sottish wit and British humour.
“Yeah, I think one of the things I was delighted about was that the dev team were all based in Brighton. At first I was anticipating being told ‘Don’t go full Glasgow’ in case it was alienating, but actually they were encouraging that, they liked the idea of it and I think they realised that the whole Malcom Tucker ethos of created Glaswegian swearing was actually going to be a plus point. And I think that’s true, we have quite a generic notion as to who the hero’s going to be, it’s going to usually be some white male American with an extremely ill developed sense of international relations, should I say, and I think it was fun for me to be wiring about the world of gaming from that female perspective as it allowed me to comment on the depiction on women in games and the treatment of women if they suddenly go online and people realise its a woman on a server, that kind of thing, but mostly it was about keeping it light.
“The idea was to have our protagonist who was quipping who was making jokes about things and not taking it all too seriously. I think the downside of how far the FPS has come, technologically it can do amazing things but its taking itself really really seriously these days, and the sense of humour has been lost from it a little bit.
“It’s funny, I think we’ve been fortunate in the game has this default setting of subtitles coming on so people aren’t complaining that they can’t make out what’s being said. But I did notice when it was in Early Access and a lot of American sites were reviewing it or doing let’s plays, they didn’t have trouble understanding it thanks to the subtitles, but they all kept talking about the Irish accent.”
“someone who’s a fud is kind of a bit pathetic! You’d always be a ‘wee fud.'”
Speaking of the Scottish dialect and slang, we just had to ask Brookmyre what the term “fud” meant. We had some idea, but we just wanted to hear it from him.
“It’s probably one of the more polite terms in Glasweigan slang for the lower part of a female, but generally you very seldom hear it applied as such,” he laughed. “You mainly hear it referred to a person and it’s a very very dismissive. If you were calling someone a fud rather than a cunt, someone who’s a cunt might be a formidable individual but someone who’s a fud is kind of a bit pathetic! You’d always be a ‘wee fud.'”
In terms of the game, in our review we rated the game down for its control scheme being a little loose, but we always wondered whether it was intentional.
“I’m not really the person to ask about that because I wasn’t party to those discussions. I think really from its inception, the way they talk about how we’d notice how games had evolved, obviously the run and gun ethos had changed to the cover shooter, and I think we all were kind of nostalgic to running around a lot more rather than hiding behind walls all the time.
“I think there was really a bit of both, in that the dev team probably thought that there’d be something quite liberating about having that freedom of movement in all these other worlds, but probably also that there’d be logistical considerations.
“We certainly did talk about how we didn’t want the player to have to deal with a change of control system for instance, or we talked about maybe changing how the health could go from med packs to health regeneration that kind of thing and again we thought it’d be quite confusing to the player if suddenly changed. And also in terms of the story it would be that Heather would kind of be the same throughout, she’s become a cyborg and would have a certain HUD throughout, there was probably a combination of the two.”
As for gaming, Brookmyre discussed some of the game’s he’d grew up with and touched upon what he believed was the golden era of gaming, something which I believe many can agree on.
“I’m struggling for time to play these days really, but the first games I can remember playing.. I had a really proto-console once upon a time, the name of which I can’t even remember, it did Pong and similar equivalents using a paddle where you turned a dial rather than moving a joystick. I also had a ZX Spectrum so I have really early great memories of playing things like Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy and games like Jetpack so that was my early days.
“My kind of gaming glory days, well I had a Commodore Amiga and so I had great fun playing Lemmings and Kick-off 2, but the golden age for me was the late 90s early 00s, when I really got heavily into Quake, I was in clans, and online leagues, all of that stuff.”
Bedlam is available now on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Chris Brookmyre’s latest novel Dead Girl Walking is set to launch on January 22, 2015.