Back in November I was staying in a large but cold flat in the Castle district in Budapest. My only computing companion there was a creaky-but-faithful Dell laptop, bought in the second year of my degree for writing lecture notes and watching the odd video. (This was before smartphones were really a Thing and long before tablets.) It was, even then, Not Designed For Gaming™. Several years later with my once-precious desktop gaming computer sitting in storage at my parents’ house waiting to be sold, it was even less suitable.
That made it the perfect time for some gaming nostalgia expressed in the form of Escape Velocity: Nova, a sort of top-down 2D version of Elite where you pilot a spaceship in a hard-knock galaxy trying to earn a living and, hopefully, a better ship which will assist you in not dying. Nova was the third in the series, and the first to be ported from its native Mac environment to work on Windows.
It is a game that is so brilliant that it’s surprising it never went more mainstream, and yet so deeply flawed that it was hard for me to play it. At first, I noticed every flaw, every imperfection, every situation where had the game been designed just a bit more it would’ve been so much more fun. After a few days of trying so hard to resist, I grudglingly downloaded the development tools that allow players to edit the game (using plug-ins) to their liking. Over the next few play sessions I gradually added a series of simple edits to some of the more annoying mechanics. Then, giving in to myself one final time, I started to code a new minor storyline.
Storylines in EV are much like quest chains in MMOs or other RPGs. Read some text, accept or decline, go here or do that, read some more text, et cetera. Writing even a small quest chain in the rudimentary editing tools available on Windows is extremely hard work. I think I wrote all the necessary text for 5 missions, laid the groundwork for 2 or 3 more, and did the actual coding for 3 of them.
It was too much work to have fun.
EVN is an old, old game. Very few people play it. It’s wholely owned by a Mac-orientated company. There are open-source versions which have been in development for nearly a decade and still aren’t anywhere near finished. Why was I bothering to try to ‘fix’ it?
I guess with EVN, it’s just accessible enough to tempt me in. I have everything I need to delete the entire game database and re-write all the content from the bottom up to my own liking – it would just be a ridiculously mammoth undertaking.
And writing..! I was, in Budapest, finally beginning to again take seriously the idea that I can write – something I’ve not really done since I was in my teens. EVN gave the chance to begin to write characters and story which were mundane and short in form but could be exciting by virtue of their context in a video game.
I soon hit up against the reality that even a simple minor storyline would be far too much work to be justifiable (and, sadly, just not that much fun to do as the tools are so hard to use). But it helped. It got me writing in a less scary and perfectionist way than attempting short stories. It got my imagination going. It even made me wonder, in a tiny way, whether I could write for video games, or even be involved in the technicalities of game design. That last one is probably not something that I will ever act on, but who knows? With an interview for freelance writing for a website coming up, perhaps I will get employment as a writer. Even if that job doesn’t pan out, the seeds are now planted again for me to pursue freelance writing in some form of my own accord. Who knows – perhaps video game writing will come my way. I do feel I’d be good at it.
At the moment though, I’ve set EVN down again. It’s done its job both in entertaining me and stimulating me. I’m working on ideas for my own story universe in which to set short stories and maybe, eventually, novels. And I’m looking for opportunities to keep writing in small ways which will hopefully, slowly, make those stories easier to write.
I guess you could say that EVN was just broken enough to be stimulating – and perhaps that’s better than it being a truly great game?
Well. Probably not 😀
(screenshots in gallery shamelessly stolen from other sites.)