Christopher Brookmyre’s Bedlam is now out on PC, Xbox One and PS4. You can read Andy’s review of it here, but Sean has keenly followed the game’s progress over the past year and enjoyed his time with the game and its concept. He also a massive book nerd, so we got him to chat with the author of the book and the game, Christopher Brookmyre and ask him a few questions.
Sean Cleaver: So how did this novel turn in to a game, and how did you decide to change the protagonist’s dynamic in both forms, book and game?
Christopher Brookmyre: A lot of it was assisted by the fact it was conceived of as one thing, when I was writing the novel I’d already written the outline for the game. So I was picturing a first person perspective, which is what you do when you’re writing a novel. You genuinely are picturing how the world looks to one character at a time. But when it came to adapting it for the game, it’s all about the dialogue at that point, because you can only describe so much. Obviously the level designers bring that to life so it was all about telling the story through the things characters were going to overhear and I think it’s quite satisfying to the player instead of them being held up and forced to watch a CGI cutscene, no matter how impressive the CGI cutscene is, you still feel like this is the bit where you’re no longer interacting with the game. You’re just watching something. I think it’s far more satisfying to the player if they are overhearing things. And not everything they overhear is necessarily relevant. I think that’s sometimes the trick, to give texture and detail to the dialogue to create characters but really kind of drip feed the clues as to what’s going on. The fun part with that was creating a character like Heather (Athena) and making her vulnerable and yet confident in herself at times. So it was a great vehicle for creative swearing, very, very well brought to life by Kirsty Strain.
SC: That’s another interesting dynamic as you’ve got some of the cast of comedy show Burnistoun to voice the characters in the game, adding this very Scottish nuance to the vocal performances. How did that come about and how did you decide to change the lead character from the book in Ross Baker, to Athena in the game?
CB: I suppose the first stage was having decided to have a new protagonist. Having quite early on in the development we discussed how we didn’t want you to play as Ross Baker because I think if you’re playing as a character who’s story has already been told effectively, I think that kind of takes you out of it a wee bit, you like to think it’s you doing it. The point of reference we had very early on was how exciting it was when you played Half Life’s Opposing Force expansion pack when you occasional catch a glimpse of Gordon Freeman who you played as before but you see that he’s still out there. And we thought that would be exciting for anyone who read the book to be in the same universe as the book and that Ross Baker would be in there too and you’d be trying to catch up to him. We thought it would be better if you felt like you were telling your own story. And I didn’t want to just create a whole new character, because I thought that would essentially be creating Ross Baker with a different name, so that’s why I thought I’d make it a woman and that will give me as a writer a whole new impetuous. The novel and the game is an affectionate pastiche of tropes and conventions of video games. So to make it from a female point of view gave it a whole new dimension for me. So I wrote it all out and I had great fun with it but at that point, I didn’t know who was going to play the character.
I’d done some stuff on stage with Rob Florence. he was creating a section of the Glasgow film festival and he did a video game event with guests on stage, and we talked about the game. And every so often he’d get in touch and ask how it was going and how it was developing. It was one of those lightbulb moments and I thought “why don’t I ask him if he wants to do the voice?” And then when I thought about that, I thought what about Kirsty Strain? The thing that struck me was that these were people that did Sketch Comedy and in that you have to create many different characters. So I thought they’d be ideal for doing Bedlam because they might have to voice a few characters. As it happened they didn’t so much. Kirsty does a few other voices in there, but when you’ve got characters that you’re going to hear a lot of, you don’t want them to do too many voices.
We had a fantastic time doing it because it was one long day in a studio in Glasgow. Kirsty wasn’t quite as well versed in gaming so I would sometimes have to explain what it was that her character was reacting to or why she was saying it in the way she was saying it, but she just brought such qualities of vulnerability and charm to it that she nailed her lines. And in the afternoon that day when Robert was in we absolutely battered through that recording, and he at one point stopped me and said “are you not going to give me any direction?”, but because he’s so well versed in games culture he knew exactly what he was doing with every line, he was nailing every line first time. But that was a fantastic experience for me and almost every other voice in the game apart from those two is me, because we obviously didn’t have the budget for a massive cast. One of the god like voices you hear at some point in the Real Time Strategy world in the story is voiced by Harvey Summers who did the music and sound design for the game. But almost everyone else is me with various clever sound effects so it doesn’t all sound like me.
SC: Of course the biggest thing in this is that you’re a gamer, so what kind of games are you playing now?
CB: The whole project was like a big love letter to games down the years. I can’t lay claim to being such a big gamer now in recent years, I know it sounds terribly grown up but I’ve just been so busy doing various novels and actually working on the game and everything that goes with it. But my son’s a big gamer so most of my gaming is done vicariously over his shoulder. Which means I do stay up to date with what’s going on but I don’t get to play as much. But I was hugely involved in the early, what I regard as pioneering, days of online gaming culture in the UK. I played in clans for Quake 2 and Quake 3. I’ve written about it quite a bit and what really appealed to me as a project was that I could really just write about the things I love. That’s something I’ve tried to do with lots of my books, is write something I’m passionate about.
I’m getting to see it but my son has his PC in the same room as mine. So I see what he’s playing but I’m really not getting to play much at all these days. Every so often there will be a gap in the schedule so I get to play something. So I played Alien Isolation, or cupboard simulator as I started to think of it, and that was terrifying. I think my glory days are brought out in the novel. Anyone who knows games will be able to see there’s a point at which whoever wrote this has ceased to evolve. Which is why there is very much an emphasis on the late 90s and early 2000s shooters in there. But I’m fascinated by what I do see and how much more sophisticated the games are able to get, and in that I suppose I’m talking about open-world games and RPGs. What amuses me about the FPS, as Bedlam is very much about the evolution of the FPS and it’s evolved in a lot of ways but there’s a lot of ways that it hasn’t evolved at all. I mean the gameplay dynamic of Doom is still in there and whatever FPS comes out next.
SC: So now you’ve seen it all brought to virtual life, what’s your favourite level in the game?
CB: Oh!, Well… I played a lot of the early levels far more because of how the early access structure allowed me to go through them. But for me the one I like the most is the Planetfire, the second of the Planetfire levels was kind of up in the clouds, because I like if anything for me it sums up what we were trying to do with the game, it’s that you’re in this quite modern looking, quite comparatively polished in terms of the graphics, and I loved the level design but most importantly, you’re being strafed by a sort of voxellated, pixellated 3D version of a 2D arcade game Defender type ship. So that to me is what we were trying to do, it’s as if something escaped from one game in to another. So being strafed by this Defender 2D thing whilst running around in a far more futuristic looking shooter, that I think there’s something quite elegant about that level so I really kind of like it.