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Game Novels 3: You
by Greg Costikyan on 05/17/14 12:28:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


You is the first novel I've ever read that gives a sense of what it's actually like to be a game developer. Oh, there have been other good novels about games, but most that talk about game development (like, say, Reamde) are totally clueless about the actual process.  Not surprisingly, Grossman has a past as a game developer.

In a way, this is odd; we expect people who write fiction about the movie business, or publishing, to actually know something about the subject material; but perhaps the game industry is sufficiently novel that few people, and certainly few novelists, do know about it. This is absurd, of course; if there is to be fiction about the world's most important entertainment medium, it needs to be informed by reality.

The protagonist of You, Russell, goes to work as a game designer for a game company founded by friends he met as a teenager at computer camp, called Black Arts, and located in Masschusetts. (Grossman got his start in the industry working for Looking Glass, a Boston-area developer, on System Shock.)

He's working on N in a franchise, where N is greater than 2; but the code base for the game has never been restarted, and has just accreted over time. And the tech lead on the first game, Simon, a close friend, died some time ago. Nobody quite knows what's going on under the hood.

At the risk of spoilers, what's going on under the hood is something close to hard AI.

There is a palpable sense here of what it feels like to truly commit yourself to a project, in a do-or-die way; and of the often unreasonable demands that implies. And there's also a sense of how fucking horrible corporate politics, and publisher intervention, can be to the loyalty and enthusiasm of the team.

There's also some fairly unlikely folderol about the capabilities of the AI, and its implications beyond the narrow constraints of the game industry; but raising tension is a novelistic technique, to be sure.

Austin is an evocative writer, particularly adept with characters who have strong self-doubts; and there are times when the prose is excellent, from a purely word-to-word, literary perspective. (Although perhaps his first novel, Soon I Will Be Invincible is even stronger from that perspective.) Of the game-related novels I have read so far (both those reviewed previously and to come), he is likely the strongest writer, qua writer.

But in reading it, my basic feeling was: Oh thank fucking god! Someone has written a book that makes you actually understand what it feels like to be a game developer -- the heartbreaks along with the triumphs.

I'm sure most readers from outside the field won't look at it in quite the same way; and the book is not without flaws. The characters don't grow, much; some aspects of the posited technology are... highly unlikely. And the ending seems somewhat abrupt.

But there is far more to like than to dis here, and certainly, any game developer who likes fiction should pick this up.

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David Navarro
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I actually found "REAMDE" surprisingly informed about game development. At least --unlike, say, "Ready Player One"-- it doesn't call every developer a "programmer". Stephenson's involvement with Clang may have something to do with it.

Ron Dippold
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'Greg lifted his sunglasses to get a closer look at the laptop screen. Lounging in a Bahamas cabana was great for the soul, but the sun had moved, as it was wont to do. He sighed, finding his inner peace. He had been working on a new physics engine from the ground up for quite a while had consumed his thoughts the entire time. Four whole hours. It was nearly time to release it to the live servers. Time for another margarita.

While waiting for the oiled and tanned waiter to return, he perused twitter. More accolades. They could be so tiring. His brow furrowed. He typed rapidly.

> Idea: F2P as is in Free to PARTY. Game-changer. Disrupt. Done.

*ding* Sent. 10 seconds later his phone chirped to inform him his TED talk on the tweet was scheduled. Ah, and a missed call - Peter Molyneux looking for ideas again. He laughed heartily.

All was well as could be expected when you had to make do with Jose Cuervo rather than Don Julio 1942. Suddenly, clouds obscured the sun. A shot rang out. A panicked pool boy burst into the cabana at full speed. "Mister Greg!" he panted, "Your Dom Perignon fountain is dripping onto the Picassos again!"'

I imagined more like that.

Matthew Sheahan
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I loved the daylights out of You and think everybody, ever, should read it.

As far as representing dev, though, I found it a *bit* much when four teenage autodidact programmers started using software development lifecycle concepts. Like, well, yes, you're representing development, but you're doing it through a vehicle of people who would never, ever, ever do what you're representing.