Taking a moment out from promoting the console release of Lair of the Clockwork God, BAFTA-winning indie developer Dan Marshall writes about growing (and feeling) old in the world of video game development. (And draws a Bulbasaur from memory.)
I’m turning 40 in a couple of weeks. By the time this article runs, I’ll be well into my forties, crying into my All-Bran – which I now presumably have to eat every day for breakfast – and mentally eyeing up coffin prices. It’s all downhill from here.
One of the great things about growing up loving technology, surrounded by the latest tech, and going on to forge a career in video games, is that I always felt up-to-date with the latest hot youth trends, even if I had no personal interest in them.
When Pokémon came out, it was my first year at University. Cartoons about pocket monsters were the last thing on my list of interests at the time, and I immediately dismissed it. I was still aware of it, though. I never played it – I never played any of them – but I could probably bluff my way through a pub quiz on it, if only because I’ve absorbed a lot of information by osmosis over the years. I could probably draw a Bulbasaur from memory, even if I don’t actually know what the hell one is. [This was a red rag to a bull, so we called him on it. Now the artwork above makes sense, right? – Childish Dares Ed.]
It kept me “young”, you know? Knowing what the tiny people were up to, being subliminally drip-fed information about Fortnite even if neither my countryside internet connection nor my greying synapses could handle it, there was a connection there, a connection to a youth culture that kept me feeling like I was “in the know”. Which I’d like to say is important in my job as an indie game developer, but the actual truth is I’m not sensible enough to pay attention to “trends” or “metrics” or what-have-you, and I still just bloody-mindedly make whatever I want to make. I’m not spending 3 years of my life crafting games for other people, I’m doing it for me. I’d go mad, otherwise.
But I’d always wondered when old age would happen. That neat, underscored line in my life where I can no longer tolerate even the slightest incursion from things I reflexively deem “lesser”. When the young person stuff would be deemed so astonishingly unimportant that I actively seek to keep it out of my brain.
I remember when it first happened, and it was celebrity YouTubers. I remember people actively engaging in what I felt was just the most poorly-produced waffle, and mentally my brain just went: “You know what? This isn’t for us. Let’s bounce all information about this topic right out of the park, and get back to focussing on grown-up things like which brands of weedkiller are socially and morally acceptable to use and hey is that a new Ben Folds album and wait where was I?”
Most recently, it’s been Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I don’t understand people who are my peers, who are my age and have jobs that require them to wear a suit, and they’re getting all worked up over something that looks-and-sounds like the sort of thing my 4-year-old has grown out of. “Oh no, Teddy Tummy has sold my turnip collection to a badger, and now I need to sweep up all these leaves before sunset! What am I going to do?”
It’s. I mean… come on. I’m all for all sorts of games in every genre imaginable, not everything needs to show skulls smashing to pieces in Ultra HD 4k resolution at 60fps, but this one thing my brain has actively repelled.
I’m wrong, of course. It’s clearly a brilliant game. Maybe 4 years of children’s TV with my kid has made me slightly more on-edge about stuff with that ultra-kiddy preschooler tone. I’m 100% sure if you took Animal Crossing and replaced everything with spaceships I’d be all over it like a rash.
Besides, life’s too short to get angry, you know? Here I am, 40 already, and it’s all slipping away like grains from a Palossand’s arsehole. See? I told you I know Pokémon stuff, somehow.
Lair of the Clockwork God is out now on Nintendo Switch and Xbox One. It’s also available on PC, Mac and Linux via Steam and GOG.
Read our review of the game here (we loved it) and our extensive interview with the man himself, on the reception to Lair of the Clockwork God and the future of Ben and Dan.