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Wednesday
May222013

YOU: A NOVEL

Artwork created by Superbrothers staff for the book YOU: A Novel by Austin Grossman, published by Mulholland Books.

Q2 2013


In the spring of 2013, Austin Grossman's second book YOU: A Novel was published by Mulholland Books, this book featured artwork by staff at Superbrothers HQ.

The book was met with a generally quite positive critical response. The Guardian described it as "...arguably, the first literary product of gamer culture, and a significant addition to the canon of geek lit." 

Staff at Superbrothers had this to say about YOU:

Terms like 'gamer' and 'geek lit' make me itch, but speaking as someone who has grown up with videogames, and as someone actively involved in the process of creating them, I'm very grateful for YOU. It's a great, readable book with an engaging storyline and a perceptive, poetic insight into what makes videogame worlds and their creators tick. I recommend it.

Here is Austin Grossman, the author of YOU, describing how his experiences as a veteran videogame creator helped shape the book.

Note: Excerpts below are from Evan Narcisse's article These Games Made You published on Kotaku, that article is linked below this post (or here: link to kotaku), excerpts re-published here with permission.

"In my novel You, Russell Marsh quits law school in 1998 and gets a dream job at Black Arts Games, a small, critically acclaimed game studio in Cambridge, MA, making video games with his old friends (and one-time crush) from high school. He's rediscovering the thrill of pulling all-nighters at the dawn of a whole new medium, when he finds a weird bug in the software that might destroy their entire business. He begins tracing the bug from its start in 1983 through fifteen years of video game history, through all the interconnected games of Black Arts's different franchises.

You is a mystery story and it's a story about friendship, but it's been pointed out that it's also a capsule history of the game industry itself. And part of the fun of writing it was creating an alternate world of 80s and 90s video gaming, making up games that evoked the charm and fun of each phase of game history, fake versions of LucasArts style adventure games, roguelikes, RPG's, C64 games and Sega Genesis games, each with its period charm, characters and quirks.

It has also been pointed out that I myself worked at a small, critically acclaimed game studio in Cambridge MA in the mid-Nineties, called Looking Glass Studios, and some of the games I'm describing have a family resemblances to games we actually made like System Shock andUltima Underworld. I'm going to try and get out in front of the real/fictional debate and lay out a few of You's influences - the games behind the games - to forestall both accusations of plagiarism and potential legal action."

 

On the origins of Black Arts Games:

"You takes place over a fifteen-year span, following the same four people and the same four game characters between 1983 and 1998, while their lives change and the game industry changes around them. Ultima was my touchstone for what happens to a game franchise that continually mutates and adjusts to new graphics technologies and design ideas. It's the first experience I had of revisiting a fictional place, Britannia, and seeing it through the lens of different technologies, watching as the places and characters I had imagined from tile-based graphics on an Apple II, sprout color and definition and depth over the years. It's a unique feeling. There's a sense of wonder as you gain a newfound window into the fantasy otherworld, mixed with disappointment as the place you imagined is banished by the "real" one."

 


About Nick Prendergast & the Clandestine series:

"The Last Express is a legendary game by Jordan Mechner (KaratekaPrince of Persia), lost for many years but recently released for iOS. It's an adventure game, a branching story of mystery and intrigue set on the Orient Express in 1914, at the brink of the First World War. It's an original, a moment when someone used the CD-ROM technology to re-imagine what video games could be (as Myst had done). The Last Express is elegant, grown-up, multilingual, beautifully hand-drawn over rotoscoped actors in an art nouveau style. It was a critical hit and financial failure, but offered a glimpse of a road not taken for games.

In the novel, Clandestine is The Last Express reimagined, closer to a LucasArts adventure game: A young man, Nick Prendergast, is recruited to spy on Parisian high society in 1938 and swept up in a world of romance and intrigue in the last moments before historical disaster overtakes Europe. I wanted to imagine, in the same way, an interactive adventure set in a glittering lost world. In the novel, of course, the world sees the game's genius and makes it a hit. Until…

The tide of history changes all of us, even in video games. In the early 1990's first-person shooters have their impact, and the character of Nick Prendergast is re-imagined for the first-person shooter genre. Clandestine 1 took place in the drawing rooms of Paris, but inClandestine 2 through 7, the elegant young spy is retconned into a Cold War killing machine, a thick-necked, chain-gun-slinging Duke Nuke'Em knockoff who roams underground corridors gunning down Eastern Bloc guards and snapping necks in hyper-kinetic action set-pieces. Not that there's anything wrong with that! I tried to bring in some of the over-the-top feeling of the best late-nineties shooters. A little Duke Nuke'Em, a little GoldenEye."

 


A science fiction videogame from Black Arts Games:

"I worked on the first System Shock in 1994, precursor to System Shock 2, and of course some of its creative DNA was grafted into Bioshock. writing the initial design doc before leaving for grad school the first time. I pitched four or five different versions of the story before we agreed on the final choice - the derelict space station, the hacker, the rogue AI - but one of them stayed with me. By no coincidence, the fictional Black Arts Games makes an immersive first-person shooter with 1994-era technology, and thus YOU was my chance to develop the System Shock that could have been!

It stars a teenage girl, raised in the asteroid belt, who steals a spaceship and runs away from home. She stumbles on an enormous, ancient spaceship - a starship, actually, humanity's first interstellar colony ship, a self-contained ecosystem designed to cross to Alpha Centauri over thousands of years. But it never made it. Its AI went haywire, the ship stalled in the solar system, while civilization outside the ship collapsed, and inside, the ship's crew forgot their mission, and divided into warring tribes. Humanity's future is still there, hanging in the balance.

Of course, I pitched this in 1995, when interstellar travel was out and cyberpunk was in, and the idea of a teenaged girl as a player character looked a great deal riskier. I'm not complaining - the System Shock we got was brilliant. But I missed that story, and I'm satisfied to have finally given it its due." 

 

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  • Text excerpts above are posted with permission from the article These Games Made You from Evan Narcisse at Kotaku and author Austin Grossman. link to kotaku

 

  • For another article about YOU: A Novel here is The Novel That Will Change How People Think About Video Games from Kotaku's Evan Narcisse and author Austin Grossman. link to kotaku

 

  • The above artwork can be viewed here on Superbrothers HQ. link to artwork

 

 

 

  • YOU reviewed in The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2013/may/17/write-life-lived-on-computers