Glasgow & West Scotland

Novelist Christopher Brookmyre: My life in five games

video game controllers Image copyright Thinkstock

Glaswegian novelist Christopher Brookmyre has written the plot for a new video game called Bedlam, based on his book of the same name.

A keen gamer since he was a boy, here the writer sets out the five games closest to his heart.

They include Jet Set Willy, a game of 30 years ago, through to the more recent Serious Sam, which Brookmyre plays with his son.

Jet Set Willy

Image copyright Handout
Image caption Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy gave Christopher Brookmyre his first taste of gaming

I got a ZX Spectrum for Christmas 1982, and upgraded from 16k to a whopping - count 'em missus - 48k a few months later, which was enough to run what was effectively the first open-world video game.

Up until this point, games had usually taken place in environments contained within a single screen, which had to be completed before the player was rewarded with access to the next one.

Manic Miner, adored though it was, had followed this model.

Players became grindingly over-familiar with the early levels, traversing them over and over again in their quest to glimpse virgin territory, usually for about three seconds before killed.

  • Today, Jet Set Willy is described as a classic arcade game.
  • It was released in 1984 as a sequel to 1983's game Manic Miner.
  • The game's character, Miner Willy, has to tidy up his house after a party.

Manic Miner's legendary sequel allowed the player to roam free, exploring anywhere their split-second timing allowed them to reach.

Willy's mansion consequently felt like a true place rather than a sequence of screens.


During my perma-skint student years, I whiled away many evenings at my mate Andy's house, enjoying the technological advancement of his Commodore Amiga, which left the Spectrum in its wake.

  • A strategy game.
  • It was originally released in 1989.
  • The game marked a change from arcade-style games to a more "cerebral and challenging" style of gaming.

Populous is credited with the invention of the "god game", and there is a case for it blazing the trail for real-time strategy games too.

For the first time, instead of navigating an environment, the player could shape it: raising the land, flattening mountains, raining down volcanism and, of course, being worshipped by your people.

Although only one person was manning the mouse, it was usually a team effort in terms of devising tactics and suggesting new ways to exploit divine powers.

Quake II

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Working at home can be an impediment to making new friends, even in somewhere as friendly, hospitable and welcoming as Aberdeen (my comment may contain traces of sarcasm), where I had moved in 1998.

  • Quake II is a first-person shooter, a game in which the player experiences the action through the eyes of the protagonist.
  • Players play a marine fighting aliens in a conflict set in the future.
  • It was released in 1997.

Add to this my wife's long hours and on-call commitments as a junior doctor, and you will begin to appreciate my gratitude for the phenomenon that was Quake 2.

This was the pioneering days of multiplayer gaming, throwing up a vibrant and creative online community as we took advantage of the comparatively stable net code id Software had developed, doing battle for hours at a time in clan leagues, tournaments and free-for-alls.

Doom 3

Image copyright Bethesda Softworks LLC

After five nomadic years I had settled down by 2003, and it was my pleasure on my wife's on-call nights, once my son was safely asleep, to immerse myself in the horrors of a demon-infested research base on Mars.

  • Doom is set in the ruins of an ancient Martian civilisation.
  • Like Quake II, it is a first-person shooter.
  • Players are part of a detachment of marines fighting alien creatures.

Contrary to the impressions given by years of moral panic and tabloid hysteria, I'd never thought a video game could be genuinely frightening.

Then came Doom 3, with its constant steam-choked darkness, penetrable only by a flashlight which you had to hold instead of a gun.

I recall playing the game late at night with the lights off and my headphones on, but not for long.

Serious Sam

Image copyright AP
Image caption Brookmyre said Serious Sam offered something different from first-person shooters like Halo, above

Although Serious Sam was released several years before Doom 3, it really came into its own for me as the first game I regularly played in co-op mode with my son.

  • Serious Sam is another first-person shooter.
  • It was developed by Croatia-based Croteam.
  • Originally released for playing on PCs, but has since gone on to be made available on other platforms.

Apart from the option of having no blood (or indeed replacing it with flowers), what made it particularly suitable for a younger player was that it eschewed complex artificial intelligence and tactical sophistication in favour of filling the screen with literally hundreds of enemies.

This made for a frenetic, chaotic and incomparably fun multiplayer experience.

To this day, my son regularly fires up Serious Sam with his mates as it beats the hell out of po-faced first-person shooters like Call of Duty or Halo.

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