I am once again immersed in alien worlds, creating whole civilisations and their histories, which as ever involves a lot of staring out of the window, and the odd beer here and there. My Lego Bionicle credentials seem to have reached a German games company, and for the last few weeks I have been back and forth to Hamburg, meeting Product Owners with great ideas who need back stories, characters, world descriptions, and of course monsters, that give justification to their internal pitches. As jobs go, there are much, much worse – spending days thinking up new aliens, and new names for said aliens, beats the hell out of delivering groceries to the depths of the rural South West.
It has its headaches of course – when we created Bionicle, over fifteen years ago now, we were largely in uncharted waters, and it wasn’t so difficult to be original. I’m not denigrating our originality of course – what Bob, Martin, Christian and I created was very much something special. But it’s harder now. There’s just so much more out there, some of which of course was inspired by what we did, but mostly inspired by the freedom that this now massive games industry can deliver. The days are almost entirely gone, outside Japan, where you can have long-running big concept sci-fi animation series, but in the games industry, everything is possible. Suddenly, I’m getting excited again, for the first time in a LONG time.
Obviously I can’t say what the game’s about, or who the company is, but they seriously want the whole long-running hidden agenda conspiracy theory back story thing, and more characters than you can shake a stick at, all of whom need their own back stories, and future stories. But even better than Bionicle, we can just kill as many aliens as we want, and as graphically as we want.
That was one of the hardest things about Bionicle – it was action/adventure, with big bad guys who needed killing, but our main characters weren’t allowed to directly kill anything, because our market was too young. So we came up with a theory – my model was Terminator 2, in which the teenage John Connor ordered Arnie that he couldn’t kill anyone. He injured a LOT of people, but never actually killed anyone. In return, Bob Thompson came up with the genius phrase ‘Smart Heroic Thinking’, which basically meant our heroes couldn’t directly kill the bad guys, but if they happened to do something that meant the bad guys died as a secondary consequence, then that was OK. Lego had initially been very wary of the concept at all, let alone with the idea of violence, but thankfully, once Bionicle took off, they relaxed, but it still didn’t mean that our heroes could directly kill anyone or anything.
But I’m in games now – killing is the name of the game, as long as they’re robots or aliens. But you’ve played a million shoot/blast/beat-em up games I’m sure. My job now is to invest those kind of games with the depth, and, I hope, intelligence and longevity with which we managed to invest Bionicle.
Time will tell, of course – but very much having fun again…