EMBED WITH… LONDON

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My friends George Buckenham and Alice O’Connor kindly agreed to be written about as an introduction to my ‘embedding’ with strangers. George has been making games for years, both traditional and non-traditional; the central focus is on his outlook on games as a whole. Alice is Senior Editor for Shacknews but has more recently done design work for the sadly now disbanded Hide&Seek. They happen to live in the same flat. Both are heavily involved in setting up renowned London games & music event The Wild Rumpus. This details my week with them and the lead up to the event. All beautiful photographs of The Wild Rumpus were taken by Robin Baumgarten. The rest were taken, badly, by me.

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LONDON

There are two sleeping monsters to kill before I leave the craggy beaten shores of Great Britain: one I love, and one I hate. The nearest  convenient colossus is an hour away by train, looming in the darkness like a knobbled old fuckwit, grinding up all the talented people like Sarlacc. London.

When I first arrived in London two years ago I was a blonde. By the time I left, I was a brunette, limping under weight of self-esteem strangulation, a crooked diet and ugly personal struggles. The filthy drizzle-smeared veins of train lines, ambition drowned in caustic atmosphere had, in the end, punched the colour from my hair. Making my way back into the steepled January murk again, like a pilgrimage into Mordor, the train’s gentle lull lies to me about how I should feel about it. Looming shadows lean over the train as it pulls in to London Bridge, a grand kind of arrogance. New York’s narcissism is a fast-talking, loud, PAY ATTENTION TO ME one, but London lies on an expensive chaise longue and slow-waits until you notice that everything is controlled by him, and fuck you, because here you are again. 

Hated London. Polluted, angry, alcoholic London. I’m going to kill it this time. Slice, chiburi, noto tsuke, done. I listen to the Rolling Stones’ Doom and Gloom as I clamber through the train. This bag’s big enough for three changes of clothes, a laptop, and all of the stupid cables I intend to strangle London with. You defeated me last time, London. This time: Hundred Rending Legs. No mercy. Like Voldo’s foot to your neck. Finished.

Stepney Green’s Tube station is a quaint empty Victorian affair, all criss-cross wrought iron over pale green and white tiles, just as it would have been in 1901 when it opened. I walk, Elder Scrolls emburdened, up the steps on a well-worn walk to flatmates George Buckenham and Alice O’Connor’s place, in a 1960s concrete maisonette. I always hate the word ‘maisonette’, it conjures up images of a Cold War poster French housewife in a check pinny, pastel walls. This is not what it is.

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But because like the rest of the city East London ‘got fucked in the war’ (Alice), this area is home to a patchwork of looks. The Wire’s inner-city Baltimore combines an eternal fight between talented young poor people who have painted everything with fluorescent colour and burritos, Nathan Barley yuppies who want things to be chrome, and the multitude of accents of the families and students coming to seek a London fortune.

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LONDON INDIES

George and Alice live in their respective rooms in the rented maisonette with a third new flatmate, Tef, near a Stepney Fried Chicken takeout and ‘a pub that sells nice pies’ (Alice). They are part of a group of small developers that support each other here in London, through little gestures and monthly pub outings under the informal label of ‘London Indies’. The London Indies discuss builds of games, eat packets of crisps and share ideas. I have a fascination with their gentle concern for each other: for me London’s hostile living conditions are completely at odds with the way the small developers treat each other here. Familiar faces often turn up at London Indies such as Ed Key of ProteusAlex May of Eufloria, Ricky Haggett and Dick Hogg - many others often stop by to discuss things and show and test games. I am recently aware this group has developed a taste for gourmet burgers. This last thing is the fault of the newly London-installed Terry Cavanagh, primarily famous for his punishing games VVVVVV and Super Hexagon. The London Indies cheerfully soldier on in spite of the oppressive expense of living in the world’s most costly city.

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George answers the door: he’s got these beautiful long black eyelashes and clear pretty white skin so that he always looks at least twenty when he’s actually twenty-six. “I’m not looking forward to getting older,” he says, “because then I can’t annoy people this way. I could have been doing this way younger… I mean look at Rami [Ismail, of Vlambeer], Droqen [maker of Starseed Pilgrim].” Both of these developers are in their early twenties, and I tell him about William Pugh, developer on the successful The Stanley Parable, who is a bastard nineteen years old.

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Inside the flat is cramped, chilly, and has one of those old kitsch fireplaces with sheafs of wheat patterns on it that is now flaking white paint; screwdrivers and cardboard boxes populate the flat. This is a flat that makes every kind of game, not just the ones that sit on a computer screen.

—-

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JOURNALISTIC INTEGRITY

I am declaring right now for journalistic integrity, as I write on my third day in Stepney Green, that I have drunk at least ten cups of tea and about six gin and tonics, all supplied by Alice and George. Last night I played Netrunner with George until 2am, the Tron: Legacy soundtrack undulating through rectangular slices of cyberpunk nostalgia.  I lost as Corp, won as Runner. All the while, Maddy the cat made a squeaking noise sleeping in a cardboard box. One time she came up and sneezed on me and went away again. Maybe the cat is allergic to me. Perhaps that is why it is sleeping in a cardboard box. I am eating antihistamines.

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It is freezing in the flat so most of the time we wear jumpers and think about hot food and I try to type and sell interesting stuff. I have been on both BBC Radio Five Live and Resonance FM talking in a terrified manner about Patreon. Alice has been kindly letting me sleep in a single bed with her in her (very) small room. We have not yet spooned.

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Alice is tall, knowing, an Essex girl with blue hair and a grin like a Cheshire cat. Probably the kindest person I know, she also has a certain deliberance about her, like she is always certain of things. I have told Alice I think that the mouldy bathroom with an interesting variety of lagan and hair products is the centrepiece of her Stepney flat. On Saturday night Alice and I stopped to stare at the local old man pub ‘The Horn Of Plenty’ whilst it vibrated the entire neighbourhood with shit pop hit ‘Blurred Lines’ and flashed orange lights. George has worn his 868-HACK t-shirt from Michael Brough two days in a row and I have pointed this out and he has changed it. Over some gin and some tea, George has told me his life story, and his feelings on London.

SPARKS & GLAMOUR

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“I came into games not because I loved games, but because they were a really good example of … the intersection between people and technology,” George tells me. “How people work with machines. How machines can pretend to be humans. AI, HCI. I did a bunch of stuff on visual systems. Trying to imitate animals: write code that can navigate the same way animals do. Most HCI is reasonably boring if you look at it, and then you look at games, games are fucking… That’s basically all it is. HCIs. Human Computer Interaction.” George is fiddling with some sort of plastic tiling toy where the tiles slot into each other like Tetris.

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George is just as kind as Alice, in a shyer, more considered way. He and I met at Rock Paper Shotgun drinks two years ago when Alice tried to get me to proposition him after rounds of awful tequila. At the time, I needed a place to live in London, and Alice was quite sure moving in with a boy was the best way to attain a cheap (free) rental. The Sexual Favours move. I didn’t end up propositioning George, but I always wondered if he’d overheard this drunken babble. Instead of propositioning him we just hung out over the next few years; I slowly realised that George is this background magician. A sort of stealth games operative. He’s at every event, everywhere, quietly orchestrating his secret games projects like an amiable, screwdriver-wielding Sam Fisher.

George got a Cognitive Science MA from the University of Edinburgh in 2009 which he says was “half AI, half psychology” and it was necessary to learn how to code during that time. He made Hell Is Other People because he was impatient to make games, and moved to London to be with friends he missed after graduating. He started a job at a telecoms company, and visited a lot of Cambridge game jams, where he made the prototype for his game CUBES, which would eventually be released on iOS in 2012. He befriended Alice at London Indies. He got a job as Technical Lead at PLA Studios in March 2011, doing work for hire projects like get182.com (for Blink-182) and Fantasea (for Azealia Banks). George now works for Die Gute Fabrik, makers of Johann Sebastian Joust, programming an adventure exploration game called Mutazione. This is his day job; much of my time will be spent peeking over his shoulder at the beautiful scenery in the Unity engine’s window.

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“Do you think that’s the draw of videogames?” I ask. “The lights. The sparks. The glamour of it?”

“Yeah totally,” he says, lying on the couch like I’m a therapist. As soon as I have this thought I feel a bit fucked up. “It’s the same thing when I was young,” he muses. “I remember being really excited when you can press the Enter key and suddenly the screen does all this crazy stuff and you made that happen, an amazingly complicated bit of machinery. As part of my dissertation I ended up making an amazingly complicated bit of machinery, unnecessarily complicated. But I ended up being able to go to the command line and press a button and some lights would turn on. And then I could go to the command line and press a button and those lights would turn off. And when I got that working I spent about twenty minutes turning the lights on and off and going ‘This is amazing! Amazing!’”

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George is adamant that though he had an Amstrad in his house when he was growing up, it’s not the thing that made him a programmer or made him want to make games. This seems in contrast to all those Silicon Valley brogrammer types that always claim programming talent is funnelled through childhood or the stereotype that the makers of games were making games as soon as they could work a computer. It seems like what makes George want to be involved in games now is that it enables him to experiment with what he’s interested in.

There’s always this latent feeling in the games industry like we should be serving the games, but I get the very strong feeling that games serve George. He makes them serve his own curiosities and then puts them in the world to observe how people interact with them. This is probably why his work is so often unconventional: George developed a game last year called Punch The Custard, where you get two bowls of custard hooked up to a circuit, and two players literally just punch into the bowl of custard over and over to see which person can do it fastest.

The score is displayed via a monitor. I saw it in action at Gamecity, and it was hilarious to watch as well as to play. It looks extremely rude. It’s a spectacle. He says he thought of the title first and worked from there. Of course he did.

THE WILD RUMPUS

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It was in August 2011 in a glamorous Nandos (a sordid middle-class chicken hut chain where every dish tastes like cayenne pepper dissolved in lemon juice) that George says he was asked to help form a committee to hold something called ‘The Wild Rumpus’. The Wild Rumpus is game roughhousing: the informal event takes place in a hired bar, features simple lo-fi multiplayer games you can play with friends between drinks. They use projectors and huge screens, and the games are always visually mesmerising, competitively thrilling, or require players to engage in social theatre lubricated by beer. It’s always busy, and there is as much pleasure in spectating the bright colours and social friction that the games bring as there is in actually playing games there. “Closer in spirit to party, playground, or even drinking games, these are all games that you can’t play at home on your own” it is declared. The atmosphere is in between that of a game night with friends and an electro-pop club night with extremely well-behaved patrons.

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The Splintercade at The Wild Rumpus, the result of Alice’s labours

When I ask George what the intention is when he makes games he says it depends what sort of game it is he’s making. For Mutazione, he says the intention is to delight the player via intersection of magical vistas, ethereal music, and narrative elements. With his own work, he wants to experiment on the player, be surprised by their reactions. With The Wild Rumpus, it’s all about the spectating. People come off the street to see the games being played at The Wild Rumpus, he said to me one morning. “And if they go away without ever having played one of the games, that’s okay,” he says.

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Since George’s First Great Nandos Proposition there have been nine successful The Wild Rumpus events, although five officially, and they attract people who have never played games as well as those who make and play them. George and Alice both contribute their DIY talents to organising The Wild Rumpus events, whilst Marie Foulston has moved to Toronto to continue orchestrating operations from abroad. Richard Hogg, Ricky Haggett and Pat Ashe assist in organising from England. George helped build The Beast, an arcade cabinet that has housed any number of original arcade games, and he and Alice also made the custom joypads for Tenya Wanya Teens, a game that requires a whole bank of the joypad’s buttons to flash different colours throughout the game. Both of these things are items of beauty.

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George and The Beast

This week is the run up to the tenth Wild Rumpus. Alice tells me she’s been stealing abandoned wooden palettes from streets to paint for The Wild Rumpus Splintercade (shown three pictures up, with a screen embedded into the palettes). They are stacked on their balcony next to an ashtray with a mound of cigarettes in it.

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“One’s pretty filthy,” she said, pulling at her cropped hair with a half-grin as she regards the palettes. “It’ll take too much work to clean it up. I’ll have to go and find another one.” A few days later pretty much everything in the flat is covered in blue paint, including Alice’s arms and desk, and there is a saw hazardously abandoned in the middle of the living room floor; I blunder over it whilst gathering laptop cables. Gladly I survive with all limbs.

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Orange and blue balcony

—-

MUTAZIONE & DIE GUTE FABRIK

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I ask George if he’d quit work on Mutazione to work for a big studio. “I’d rather not work in games than get paid badly and also work really hard on stuff that I don’t own,” he says. His experience working in programming outside of games has hugely affected how he thinks about work inside the games industry. “Getting paid less than I would working outside of games doing a similar thing” is not something he says he’s keen on. “I’m kind of itching to expand outside of games,” he muses. “I really want to do VJing. People who do graphics for live shows. I’m doing a whole bunch of stuff with graphics and I find that really interesting.”

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Now as I sit here, the proposed soundtrack for Mutazione is echoing gently around the room. The sounds of glockenspiel notes and bells are otherworldly, making me feel calm and less allergic to the cat, who is a catnip junkie rolling around on the floor.

Kay, the main character in Mutazione, is this little 2D girl on-screen. She seems friendly but expressionless walking from one screen to the other past neon-lit buildings. There is a strong sense of place in the game, as if Kay were negotiating dreamworlds become tangible. George regularly Skypes the rest of the Die Gute Fabrik team across the world: Nils Deneken in Copenhagen, Douglas Wilson in New York, and Alessandro Coronas in Sardinia. I listened to their debates one afternoon: should they polish now or after the story elements have been put in place? Should they get the time of day lighting working before putting in story elements? What state should the game look in before submitting the build to show investors? Doug reminds the team the transitions have to be smooth to make it pleasant to play. Afterwards, I ask George if working remotely is difficult. Does he wish they were in an office together? The answer is yes: sometimes it’s difficult to show the team what has been added and how if they’re not there in front of your monitor. Instead, text and screenshots is all they go on. But office space and visas are expensive, and the internet makes everything possible. George gets to work on this as well as fiddling around with monitor splitter cables for London games events.

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FUCKING PARTY

We are invited to go to Terry Cavanagh’s new flat in Aldgate for his 30th birthday. As we leave, Alice says to George, “I saw a Christmas tree on one end of Cephas Street, and a Christmas tree stand on the other end, you know. The tree might be too dead to use though.” Apparently they are planning on nicking those as well. I ask why. “For Christmas,” Alice says. (It is a month after Christmas.) What the fuck are they going to use a dead Christmas tree for? Days later I ask her what she was going to do with it. “Something,” she says. “Maybe The Wild Rumpus. I hadn’t thought that far ahead.”

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Alice’s trademark grin

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Terry’s new flat in Aldgate requires one to go through huge glass doors and take the lift up six floors; inside the corridors resemble a pinewood-doored hotel. It’s the first time, I think, in the UK, that I’ve ever been in a stairwell that didn’t resemble murky hundred-year-old dungeon steps (they are our specialty), and the first time I’ve ever been in an apartment building in London that has a concierge. Part of me wants to ask the concierge about the weirdest thing he’s ever seen happen in the building, but I doubt he’d be able to tell me and frankly I look like the sort of flotsam that Terry might end up getting chucked out of the flat for.

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Terry Cavanagh, courtesy of Indiecade

Terry Cavanagh is the sort of person everyone wishes they were: prolific, talented, modest, gentle, soft-spoken, slightly mischievous when drunk. Though it would make him blush to hear it, he is always thought of fondly. The first time I ever really spoke to him was in a goth-rock bar last year in San Francisco at 3am, where we bought overpriced slices of pizza and attempted to find the mysterious melodious Jenn Frank, who is the voice of Terry’s game Super Hexagon. Recently Terry’s years of work putting out game after game has paid off. It’s enabled him to move to the aforementioned most expensive city in the world, and his long-time co-conspirator Stephen Lavelle, aka Increpare, has also moved in with him here. If you put both of their games end to end, you could probably reach the sun.

I bring Terry hexagon-shaped chocolates, and Terry confesses he is ill. He is drinking tea and looks extremely infectious. I delight in Stephen showing me around the flat - Terry and he are both curiously proud of their closet, in which they have put what looks like a year’s supply of toilet roll. I didn’t know that Terry played the guitar, but there are at least two sitting in his room, and Stephen tells me Terry plays the accordion too. Stephen shows me the bathroom, and his proud stash of German shower gels (bulk ordered) ‘Speick Natural Deo Dusch’. There are at least six bottles of it in a line in the bathroom. It smells like Man.

Alex May is at the party. He makes me a margarita and tells me about his new game: it’s a procedural game about growing trees. I hold back on making a Eufloria ‘off-shoot’ joke. I tell him I think we’re on the brink of a bedroom coding revival like in the Spectrum days: small developers reinvesting money in each other, and supporting each other, like Cliffski funding Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris’s Redshirt. He agrees; he thinks it’s an exciting time to be around. I talk to Holly Gramazio, a producer on Tiny Games, who has recently gone freelance after Hide&Seek’s closure.image

Holly talks about the Arts Council’s interest in games. She wants me to write about the events she’ll put on. Meanwhile, Terry has received a giant chocolate birthday cake. There is a unanimous decision amongst the attendees that he should headbutt it. He does so; chocolate chips fly everywhere. Later, he will punch the cake, and it will fragment across the floor. He is mischievous when drunk.

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I am on the balcony with Increpare, whose game Slave of God is one of the most profound games I’ve ever played. The air is on frost edge. London is too bright to show us stars in the sky, but the balcony overlooks an old Victorian factory, and over to the right, the lights of Canary Wharf are almost a good enough substitute for constellations.

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I remember the first time I looked out over Canary Wharf’s jagged lines pocked with white; it reminds me of M83 and being stiflingly heartbroken. I do not like this city very much, I think, but I love that these people can exist in it. I love that they are making things. London tries so hard to prevent it. But people are making things.

Back inside RedEye Ste Curran sternly gives me tax advice - “I know you won’t listen to me” (I think about listening to him) and then we decide to go out to a bar. The night gets blurry here: it ends with my being in a kebab shop with Terry and George, and the next morning I awake in Alice’s bed fully clothed with no glasses on and a curious taste of old chicken in my mouth.

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CASUALTIES OF JOURNALISM

It is Thursday; I’ve lost my glasses, I’m hungover. I’ve been here for five days. I suspect Maddy the cat has slept on my head at least once. My throat feels like it’s swelling up and my eyes constantly water. We are running out of Piriton. Maddy came and sat on me once on the couch; I sneezed very loudly on her and she ran away. This, my friends, is how you get revenge on cats.

Alice has spooned me. I was the small spoon. Alice has also secretly been feeding me vegan food and I begin to suspect this has weakened my immune system to let the cat germs in. Alice may be trying to kill me. I think I might have contracted Terry’s flu. George tells me that they are going to have International Karate at The Wild Rumpus. In my drug-addled, histamine-lined brain this seems unlikely.

Without my glasses George has begun to resemble Joseph Gordon Levitt and I have to write about a sex game for RPS. George has asked me at least three more times to play Netrunner with him. By Friday I would escape to a Bethnal Green cafe to de-cat, and then find Alice’d sent me to a vegan cafe. Part of me wonders if I will leave the flat alive. But outside the shelter of the flat where my friends live, London grinds away as if it knows I am coming for it. As if it knows I am trying to find its secrets. It has one last blow to strike against me.

—-

THE ENERGY TO HATE

It’s 1am the night before my last day, and I am walking home by myself across East London. The black air around me is frostbitten; I can see my own breath billow out in big curls of white mist as I walk quiet pavements. Young Blood by The Naked and Famous is playing in my ears. No one is around but a fox, who stops to look at me by a grass verge like they used to in New Cross.

Frostcold tears happen. I cry them silently all the way to Globe Road. I remember London. I remember when my home was here.

London was the first time I cried like adult women cry. Before London I’d never been sad. Before London I’d been in love, I’d been heartbroken, I’d been lonely, I’d been broke, I’d been horny and hungry and ambitious and frustrated and outraged and annoyed and even hypothermic close-to-gone. But London was the first time I’d ever really cried like I could cry my soul into death. In London, I cried in front of all of my heroes. Once, I cried for thirty minutes in front of Kieron Gillen, a writer and friend, who had somewhere else to be, and it is the most embarrassing memory I’ll ever have. To be that crippled in front of someone you want to be invincible to. To be that humiliated is really an achievement. Living in London was like walking through a pitch black tunnel, a crowbar in hand, bludgeoning whatever attacked, reading the echoes on corpses to find the exit. It was Half-Life overgrown and horrifying. I was disorientated when I left, and only now I understand I am in the sort of dark that is outside.

But there’s one thing that I understand, and it is that when all those emotional vertebrae broke and reformed they had a different quality. They began to have a word-making, listen to me quality. They began to know they were worth more. They began to need company. They began to make money. They began to trip switches. My metabolism, where before it was based in asking, is now based in fuck you. Where before it ran on agreement, is now run on sharpened revenge. You can be sure, London, that I do not agree. And I will never agree again.  London’s cruel breaking of me is a metal coating. Crying in front of your heroes is a sort of invincibility. This will be the last time I will find the energy to hate London. You can stand up and never sit down.

THE NIGHT OF THE WILD RUMPUS

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I awake to the sound of The Blitz; Alice and George have already gone to the set-up at BL-NK and next door are enacting some sort of bombardment to wake me. I tiptoe downstairs: the blue and orange-painted palettes are gone. But the paint splotches all over the flat remain.

A feeling of quiet dread and sadness comes over me. Last night Alice told me something as I climbed over her to occupy my space; the space between her and the wall in the early morning witching. This is the only place that has ever felt like home to her. She used to sleep in a room that was a throughway for the rest of her family, no door, feeling like she was intruding on others’ space constantly. This is the only place where she’s felt like she belonged. Where she is now creating things that make her happy. 

She told me that she loves feeling useful in a practical way; writing videogame news on the intangible internet for five years has made her crave physically helping others. She is excited by the prospect of being needed, and of making things. I lay transfixed by the wall and her body, my own smile and her happiness, hugging myself.

As I make some grey coffee I muse that tonight Alice will have her hands full as the bar empties of beer, the game cables will dislodge, and the DJ sets swap over. George and Alice aren’t getting paid to do it; it’s just a labour of love, and a bonus if they break even. Marie Foulston teeters over emails in Toronto, like an anxious mother. Ricky Haggett and Pat Ashe will be working hard too, their ever-present optimism lapping at the edges where the cables connect.

Days later I would ask George: in those late hours in our first alcoholic acquaintance, when Alice was loudly suggesting I proposition you, if I had asked. If I had asked, would you have said yes?

"Probably," he says.

Probably. But I wasn’t the sort to ask then. I am now, but London is over tonight.

In the evening, I zip up my boots to guard against the grey crags, archtrees, and everlasting dragons. I put extra layers on. The clasp on my bra feels rigid in the middle of my back, like a harness. I put warpaint on. 

Outside, it’s baltic. I couldn’t eat anything before I left. My eyes won’t stop watering. I know now: Terry has made me ill. London cackles through the rustle of the trees as I try to gather myself. 

I can hear the music far away. The BL-NK building is a concrete doorstop in Shoreditch’s hysterical throat.

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I walk into the party, hands in pockets against the chill. I’ve taken whatever pills I found in the flat hoping they weren’t cat medicine. I haven’t eaten anything; I feel light-headed. My glasses are still lost and so my vision blurs after a few metres; the music gently beats and flashes matt neon greens and reds through the doorway and I walk towards it in a daydream.

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Tom is playing a set. 

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Nidhogg, a two-player liquid-fast fencing simulator crams everyone towards its neon flesh. All night, people will fight for the controller and eat its feedback candy. Sugar of the most incredible reward. A tussle between strangers that feels more like an argument with someone before you fuck. Like both characters are Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and the directors had given them foils and a two-hour drunk.

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George and I tested this together this week, his fingers more used to the laptop controls, deftly stabbing me in the neck. But his beleaguered laptop, in the shadows of the London flat, struggled to allocate memory to the game. As I pressed to push my character into the air, sword arm outstretched, the laptop bucked and protested; the game slowed my avatar’s arm to George’s avatar. It seemed purposeful, balletic. The avatar slowed and slowed, and I thought I’d never seen anything as beautiful as this ugly orange silhouette, his jagged outline trip-falling towards his adored enemy, foil upheld, expectant. And then fast, it sped up, and we flung our weapons, picked them up, punched and retrieved and ran and lunged-to-the-head. It was the only kind of Nidhogg.

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The LHS bikeshed, a spaceship simulator in a repurposed caravan. Get through the gates or everyone dies. Everyone.

THE FINAL STAGE

And in the middle of the fray, I find beer. I am surrounded by the UK’s most incisive game makers. I gather the troops to slay the dragon.

George wants to experiment on the player. I want to know about the player. I want to know what the intention is. What do you want to do? Do you want to move them, excite them, anguish them? Do you want to entrance them? Do you want to trap them and keep them and fuck them over? First, Terry Cavanagh. I ask him what his intention is. “With every game it’s different,” he says, “But with Super Hexagon, I wanted them to be put in a trance state.” He wanted them to be mesmerised, put in the zone. He wanted them to be caught in the moving lines.

Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris of Redshirt says she looks for two things: first, “delight”, and second, “satire”. George Khandaker-Kokoris, her husband beside her, is also a game designer. I ask him what he looks for. “I want awe,” he said. “And design that makes people laugh.” I smile. They are married. They are two people who are similar, but are not the same. They overlap, but just enough.

Holly Gramazio, someone with more experience with real-world games, analogue games, tells me that she thinks of what action she wants the players to perform, and works backwards. She is the opposite of George: she thinks of an enjoyable or silly performance or spectacle, and reverse engineers it. George makes something experimental to almost record what sort of reaction is made - Holly knows the outcome, and structures her games appropriately.

But the most beautiful insight of the night comes from a late night, shouted conversation between Tom Armitage and I. He has just finished DJing his set. “It’s that old thing,” he tells me, squinting at his own thought-process, sweating beer in hand. “That old Volkswagen Beetle thing. At first glance, you see a curve. On second glance, you see three curves.” He gestures three humps. “On last glance, you see the details.”

He elaborates: FPSs are easy to sell to a player. On first glance, you see the beautiful vistas. The visual opportunities it opens to you. On second glance, you understand the systems in place (in FPSs, the ability to shoot someone). On third glance, you see the small details; the depth. And often, FPSs are short on that last thing. “You want to get all three right,” he says. Some players look for one of the glances over the others. Some designers design for only one of those glances. Tom says he wants to design for all three.

Super Pinata Pro counts up candy in the background; Kozilek jumps up and down to Luftrausers. That’s it. That’s the final piece.

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Tom hugs me goodbye. We promise to see each other more often for drinks.

The party is finishing up. Alice, George, Ricky and Pat are cleaning up, I am swept away by the plans for the afterparty, where my body collapses, ill and exhausted, into orange juice. In the morning, when I get up, George isn’t around. Alice takes me for brunch, but, as fate would have it, we end up in a Nandos. It is Alice’s first one. She says she was pleased with how The Wild Rumpus went. Nothing went wrong, although they didn’t show International Karate +, and The Beast was out of commission. George and her did good. The whole team did good. It was one of the biggest and best.

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She asks me if I’m excited to leave, and I say I’m afraid. But I will miss her. It was the best of times, it was worst of times. I had to kill London. But I did it. I feel like London is now just a blip on a world map. Edinburgh, my second, more beloved nemesis, waits on the scroll. STAGE CLEARED.

- Victories: Cat Boss, The Wild Rumpus, Mutazione soundtrack, Smart People
- Losses: glasses, health, sleep, money for drugs

> EXITS ARE EAST, WEST, HARVEY SMITH, KARLA ZIMONJA. 

> INITIATE KARLA ZIMONJA_