Richard Morgan, Crysis 2, and the PR jackpot

Richard Morgan triggered more than a little stir in the gaming community earlier this week, when he celebrated his winning the Crysis sequel job by doing a drive-by on the writing in various other games . . . Halo is “full of bullshit archetypal characters” . . . Arkham Asylum features “the stupid girl with big tits” . . . Call of Duty:  Modern Warfare 2 is “just a bunch of mission levels” . .  you get the idea.   Predictably, the gaming community reacted like a bee hive getting poked with a stick.

The key word being:  predictably.

Richard knows what he’s doing, of course. Indeed, he does it every time he embarks on a new venture in his career, the last one being when he announced the release of his first fantasy novel by digging up the corpse of J.R.R. Tolkein and sodomizing it.  I exaggerate….but judging from the way Tolkein’s legions reacted to his criticism that Lord of the Rings was essentially a puerile piece of crap, you’d have think that’s exactly what happened.

But all that was going on was Richard getting more attention for his book.  Same way he just got that much more attention for the Crysis sequel.  Knowing him, he’ll probably do a pretty good job with it too . . unlike a lot of writers with a genius for self-promotion, Richard actually delivers the goods, as anyone who’s read ALTERED CARBON can tell you.

And he picks his targets carefully.  Were he to pen a mainstream novel, he’d have an article in the Guardian about how Hemingway was too drunk to write his way out of a paper bag.  If he writes a scifi movie script, we’ll have a rant about how everything from Star Wars on sucks balls.  Part of it may just be the natural ambition of a writer who wants to take everything he does to the next level.  But most of it’s a matter of page-views and eyeballs.  Looking at the man’s career thus far, it’s kinda hard to argue with the results.

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24 Responses to “Richard Morgan, Crysis 2, and the PR jackpot”

  1. MikeCollins Says:

    It’s funny that Morgan continues to do this and people keep reacting. We both know I;m a fan of his books though I admit I have begun to tuen out his persona. For me his act was becoming grating. Don’t get me wrong I am waiting for his next book like the rest of his fans but I’m not actively seeking out what he’s talking about.

  2. AlexJCavanaugh Says:

    If it works for him! Not a tactic I could ever employ though. Would you?

  3. Andrew Says:

    I don’t know that saying Star Wars will gain him any extra publicity – a lot of people pretty much already know that. It’sa a good tactic though, one that seems to be working. I didn’t see his Tolkien rant, but I’m thinking he’s really not one to talk about ‘bullshit archetypal characters’, given that his protagonist is generally the same person between Altered Carbon, Thirteen/Black Man and The Steel Remains. I certainly don’t think that Tolkien’s crap, but hey, he’s entitled to his own opinion – I just hope that he’s being honest about it.

  4. jW Says:

    Following the links you posted, he does what he does with a certain artistry. Notice how he offers enough details in the Tolkien critique to first prove he’s a fantasy fanboy…before proceeding to skull-f@&$ Tolkien’s corpse. So it’s “I’m one of you”, then to imply “I’m better because he sucks.”

    He takes a similar tact with the FPS critique. I’m one of you (details from a jaded gamer), then implies he’s better (because they all suck). He was more aggressive here because gamers are an irreverent audience…and everyone’s jaded after the first few hundred hours of play anyway.

    A smart, irresistable pitch for the jaded audience. Wonder if he’s so abrasive in RL?

  5. Richard Says:

    “Wonder if he’s so abrasive in RL?”

    No, he’s quite charming :-)

    I’m going to try to start a counter-meme here, because this has been inflated beyond ridiculous. Little test – check out each of the comments I actually made (as opposed to the modified article titling and the Chinese whisper re-iterations across the web) and tell me which one isn’t actually true/accurate. Second little test: check how many titles I claimed not to like, then how many I said I did like; compare.

  6. Richard Says:

    Third little test – ask me why I haven’t for fuck’s sake learnt by now that web journalism will always take the chunk of what you said most guaranteed to enrage the largest number of potential browsers and succinctly ignore the rest.

  7. MikeCollins Says:

    Hey Richard :)

    I think it’s great promotion for you either way. It gets people talking about you and your work. Of course sites like io9 are going to take the pieces likely to generate buzz. But don’t you think that your comments can be taken as flame bait? You know how big a fan of yours I am(from all the YMB interviews you were nice enough to do with us way back when) so I hope you don’t take much offense. I do think that you’re way too intelligent to not think that you’re stirring up a hornet’s nest. If anything I liken your comments to what comic writer Mark Millar does where he goes over the top knowing that some people will agree and others will react vocally.

    You’re right in that I am only going off of the bits I saw on io9 and not the full context. I will freely admit that.

  8. Richard Says:

    Hey Mike – yes, I remember YMB very fondly indeed.

    I think my attitude to the hornets’ nest issue can be best summed up by the phrase “don’t really give a fuck” – I was asked a lot of questions by a lot of different people and I answered them honestly, openly and enthusiastically, pretty much the way I would have if we’d been chatting in a pub (which we almost were – it was a hotel bar/dining area). I honestly never gave much thought to what the reaction would be. In the end, these are my unvarnished opinions and (as you’ll remember from the YMB interviews) I don’t mind sharing them.

    Truly, I’m not really bothered by all the defensive fan-boy shit and hatemail – I’ve seen it all before in an attenuated form elsewhere – but I have been quite gob-smacked by the extent to which some of the Io9 posters have more or less rubbished the idea of quality as a worthwhile goal; don’t hire a decent writer, it’s only a video game, don’t bother with story, it’s only a video game, don’t try to do anything fresh or strong, it’s only a video game – I mean, quality’s a tough gig in any arena, but I’ve rarely seen such a concerted stampede away from the whole concept. And I can’t help feeling this is exactly why we end up with so much crap popular culture right across the board, games, comics, movies, genre fiction, you name it. Why on Earth would anyone bother to do quality work if they think this is their demographic talking?

  9. MikeCollins Says:

    Well you end up with crap because that’s what a lot of people either like or will settle for. Not everyone wants to be challenged by their entertainment. I don’t read much of the comments on io9 to be honest. I think it’s an overly negative place as far as comments go though they do cover a good assortment of things that interest me.

    To answer your last question, it’s not what your demographic thinks. it’s a small group of people online who don’t like you for one reason on another I suppose.. or more likely, they don’t know you any deeper than the blurbs they have read.

    The comments of yours that made me blanch were in regards to Peter Watts. In fairness to you I am not going to be one of those people who says I took offense to something and refuse to man up and say what it was or say it directly. I did post on your blog as well but that was such a shitstorm I’m not sure you managed to read all the comments before throwing your hands up and forgetting it :)

    Anyway, hope all is well with you and I am really looking forward to your new book when it hits. Good to see you hear. Dave is a great writer and an online buddy. I think you two would get on pretty well.

    Good on you for coming here and talking directly.

  10. TimS Says:

    Richard, Personally, I don’t think that is your demographic talking.

    That’s the people who hang around and shout on the internet. They’re ike the people in pubs who try and join in converstaions because, well, who wouldn’t want to listen to them.

    For every one person who’s shouting about you badmouthing Halo, there’ll be a whole load more who think “Yeah, it was a good game but, it really could have been improved”. Unfortunately, they don’t see why they should try and out-yell the loud one’s, so the ‘discussion’ is a little one sided. I include myself in that group, arguing with the vocal minority is just a giant waste of time, in my experience.

    Personally, I LIKE games that have decent writing, characterisation and concept behind them. The same way I enjoy books, films, tv that has the same…I’m weird like that. :-D

  11. Erik Says:

    I can’t seem to find a link to the full transcript so I will just base this on what I have read on Kotaku and io9. I am a gamer.. played all the games mentioned specifically in the io9 article and can’t really disagree with the critique for the most part. Modern Warfare 2’s story was an abomination that made no sense and was really pretty ludicrous from start to finish. Halo is as Halo has always been. The problem is, and I don’t want to sound like one of these people arguing the point that “it’s just a video game” but I am going to have to kind of go there. Both of those franchises in particular are king of the heap because of the multiplayer gameplay. The story is secondary. Halo 3 set the record when it came out for sales. Modern Warfare 2 destroyed that record and set the bar so high I wonder if it can be topped. Regardless, my point being, those sales were so high because the FPS gamers knew they were getting what would be one of the best online fragfests available. I can’t count the number of friends of mine on Xbox Live that are online playing MW2 and have never played through the single player campaign. So, it’s really no surprise to me that the writing and story would take a back seat.

    Now on to the Arkham Asylum comment. “You’re not going to have like in, say, Arkham Asylum, ‘The Joker’ and the stupid girl with the big tits. That’s ****ing bullshit, man … that’s comic book.” Umm.. you do realize this is a video game based on a comic book, right? I haven’t heard anyone praising AA because it’s a literary masterpiece. The praise for it is based on how great the game controls are. It get’s hyped because it really lets you feel like you are Batman and you are a f*** badass. And regardless of the plot or anything else, the environments created lend a lot to the overall mood that you would expect from a Batman comic or movie.

    I unfortunately haven’t had a chance to read any of Richard Morgan’s books yet. Altered Carbon is on my Amazon wishlist right now and if I don’t get it for my birthday next week, I am ordering it for myself. I have heard nothing but praise for his work and I hope Crysis 2 can set a new bar for game writing. I don’t think it’s a very high bar to hurdle. I can point to the original Modern Warfare as being about the only truly great plot from a FPS. I think there are a few gaming companies out there that do look to make a great narrative. Bioware’s Mass Effect series is a pretty good example and with it’s success, maybe others will try to follow suit.

    Hey David, how about an Autumn Rain based video game?

  12. TimS Says:

    I don’t play games online, so I’ve never played MW2. From what I’ve heard, the campaign is there as a kind of long tutorial. So why bother putting in a plot at all? Seriously, if your market is for online play, just make a bunch of maps available with varying level AI instead. Be upfront about it.

    The thing I find the most frustrating is that you can make FPS games with a great plot but, a lot of the time people don’t bother unless there is no online play.

  13. Jess Horsley Says:

    I’m a reader and a gamer and I play games because of the stories and characters. If the story sucks or I can’t at least relate to the characters, I won’t play it…or I won’t play it for very long.

    That said, when I read in this month’s Game Informer that Richard Morgan was writing Crysis 2, I cried a little bit inside. Not because I don’t think it’s brilliant to have an amazing storyteller writing a video game, but because this could potentially mean video gamer studios may soon have to start caring about the stories they’re telling.

    Mike said it best above “Not everyone wants to be challenged by their entertainment.” I would go so far as to say “Few want to be challenged by their entertainment.” After all, if one has to work at understanding it or caring about it, it’s not entertaining, it’s work. That said, I’d put most gamers in that “few” category. Very few games have a solid story base and those that do have become so convoluted, that they’re dying for a rewrite just so new gamers will pick them up (and not be confused). EXAMPLE: Metal Gear Solid. I personally love the series, but HOLY CRAP, what’s with all the cloning, the cyborg ninjas (my favorite part!), and the guys getting old so fast? Not to mention the guy who’s hand takes over his body?!? HUH? WHAT? Exactly…

    I personally don’t play many FPS – I can’t stand the controls on most of them and I’ve yet to play one I enjoyed more than a 3rd person game like Dead Space or Gears of War, but I’ll probably pick up Crysis 2…if not for the game play, then the story. Thanks Richard for giving this a go and (hopefully) raising the bar a bit more in the video game industry.

  14. David Williams Says:

    Richard — I think you DO give a fuck . . that’s why you’re here speaking your piece. And I appreciate it!

    But I also think Mike C. has a point. . . you *know* that the fanboys are gonna react in a certain way if you throw certain trigger-words at them. That’s why they’re fanboys. In the same way, journalists will print the most controversial stuff you say to say to ‘em. That’s why they’re journalists. So when they publish stuff you’ve told them that actually ends up selling *more* copies of your product, why get angry with ‘em? Even if you don’t agree with my interpretation that you’re playing them like a fiddle, you can afford to laugh all the way to the bank.

    And I agree with you on the lack of ambition in much of gamewriting. My involvement in the Homeworld sequel fizzled when it became clear that not only was the story not a priority, there wasn’t even a priority on making the story coherent. I continue to think video games are where movies were in the 1920s . . just scratching the surface of what they will ultimately achieve. I’m looking forward to seeing you raise the bar, my friend.

  15. Richard Says:

    @ Erik

    Arkham Asylum – I agree with you pretty much 100%; it’s the only game that has ever made me enjoy melee combat as an ongoing mode; the game-play dynamics were great, the artwork was cool…..(these are all things I actually said in interview, but of course they’ve been white-washed over in favour of the “Morgan says AA is crap” dynamic) However:

    For whatever reasons (IP lock-up by Vertigo maybe) the story-telling was for shit and time after time I literally forgot why it was I was doing what I was doing. In fact, once I discovered the training sections were to all intents and purposes excerpted slabs of the main story, I pretty much abandoned the campaign and played those instead. In the end, I never actually finished the game, and that was because the story-telling failed.

    And I really think the female character work was cheap and sleazy verging on blatantly sexist – comic-book origins yeah, but it highlighted the very worst of those origins. The great Batman stories of the last several decades (Dark Knight Returns, Killing Joke etc……) have garnered so much praise and attention specifically because they *step away* from such bargain basement dross – it would have been nice to see some of *that* comic-book basis imported into the game, but no chance – that would have mitigated against that ol’ Lowest Common Denominator.

    @ Mike – Peter Watts comments? I backed (still back) the man to the hilt, I think he’s been martyred to a law enforcement sector totally out of control. What are you talking about?

    @ David – You’re wrong, so wrong, about the conscious dynamics of this – I literally just talked to those guys, gave my opinions good or bad. Never gave a second thought to how it would come out. Hand on heart, man.

    As to giving a fuck, I give a fuck that I’ve been misrepresented; I don’t like people lying about me. Apart from that – hey, I’m just here for the pub conversation :-)

  16. Gustaf Erikson Says:

    I agree with the “defense” of Halo and Modern Warfare in some way: the meat of the games in the multiplayer. That said, Halo actually has some backstory (part of the Bungie genes, look at the Marathon universe) and even if the protagonists are barely cardboard cutouts there’s a sense of a rich background and universe there.

    MW2 had me laughing out loud many times. It was total bullshit, lacking CoD4’s sly pokes at American hoo-ah antics in the Middle East, and just strained credulity. The Russians invade the continental US by air? Right. A sub can cross the Pacific in a few hours? OK.

    Battlefield: Bad Company 2’s plot is more explicitely sciencefictional but is much better imho.

    I don’t really get mad when games are just adequately written. I get mad when they suck donkey balls, like MW2. Here’s hoping Crysis 2 is both a great game and has a decent story.

  17. MikeCollins Says:


    In regards to Watts I was talking about you;re two blog posts about him. Mainly the first one. I get that you back him, Dave does too, I just thought you veered straight off into the jackbooted American thug thing. At least that’s how I interpreted it.

  18. Cole Drewes Says:

    I had to get on here and post. I just became a fan og Morgan. I’m reading through Broken Angles, and I have to say so far I’m enjoying his books, and style of writing. I’m a huge video game buff, just like everyone else on this posts! Maybe we all won’t yell out that we are geeks, but we get mad when people mess with what we love. If someone were to bash Bladerunner I’m sure that person would to be put into the witness protection program. I remeber the first time I played Halo, I was amazed. It was the firs time purchased my own console as an adult, and the xbox just came out. I stayed up all night and played it. Now Halo is like so many other games, but I’ve realized its not the story in games that catch you, its the interaction with the character and world. The story could blow, but the game itself could be amazing. I loved playing Hulk Ultimate Destruction on xbox. The game had no story at all, the missions were the same, but i had fun just going around tearing shit apart. Games rarley have a Hollywood storyline to them anymore, but when they do its amazing, why do gaming companies shy away from this. I loved the first Mass Effect, it made me buy an old copy of Knights of the Old Republic, which looks dated, but the story line is still great. Mass Effect 2 is more action, still a great story but it didn’t suck me in like the first one, and easy to forget. I’m playing Splinter Cell Conviction now, and its a 4 hour game…..4 hour game…… which is crazy. Your telling me that you have spent 2-3 years making a game, and its only 4 hours long. The game is good but didn’t suck me in like the Double agent game did. Where did good story telling in video games go? Come up with something new, but throw an amzing story on top of that as well. We pay $59.99 to play a 4 hour long piece of crap that Gamestop takes back for $5.00. Well that’s my vent for the day! And Arkham Asylum was a good game. The story wasn’t the best, but it was great to see the little tidbits with characters from the stories tied into the game. Good for fans of batman like me, but the story should have been darker, but it was pretty good to kick ass in batmans boots.

  19. Richard Says:

    @ Mike – ah, okay, got you.

    Look (as I said in the posts) what galled/scared me was not so much the incident itself, but the reaction of scads of American citizens posting about it, who seemed to think that what happened to Watts was normal verging on acceptable, i.e. that any tiniest failure to meet Authority with anything other than craven obedience should be taken as sufficient provocation to justify physical violence and imprisonment. The blog headings were used advisedly, to juxtapose this neo-fascist cant with the self-image of the US as a beacon of freedom, democracy and human dignity.

    You’ll know, if you’ve read my blog on other occasions, that I have no time for abuse of power, no matter which nation is instituting it; and certainly the British police have their moments – as Jean Charles de Menezes would testify, if he hadn’t been shot so thoroughly to death by British police officers. This shit can happen anywhere. The difference is that when that particular incident happened, I didn’t catch any British citizens going on about how Menezes pretty much had it coming. We were all pretty horrified over here, because I think most Brits (and probably most Europeans) see police power as, at best, a necessary evil, and something to be suspicious of at all times. It just depresses me to see consciousness in the US stepping away from a similarly irreverent and healthy disrespect for the organs of government and power, and into what appears to be, all hyperbole aside, a proto-fascist state of compliance. These are dangerous times for western liberal (and secular) democracy, and we need to spot the canaries in the gold mine while they’re still breathing. I was angry (I’m still angry) about this shit, and I think it needed to be called to the max.

  20. MikeCollins Says:

    I’m not sure that I agree with you at all on the US being a proto-fascist state of compliance. People have never been so openly questioning of our government in my lifetime(38 years). If anything distrust and disgust in the government is pretty high right now. People are sick of it.

    I’m not familiar with the Menzies thing and will take a look. Also I think if you wade through the Watts posts you will see that there were reasoned posts as well as people thinking he had it coming(of which I am not one them). My biggest issue with the whole Watts meme was that based on a post by a self admitted friend of Watts, Cory Doctrow spun a narrative of wrongdoing. Now like I said here on Dave’s site that I am not saying that either side was right or wrong. I wasn’t there and didn’t see what happened. I also know that people have a way of not realizing how they themselves might be escalating a situation. So in all honesty I have no idea what happened with Watts and why the guards acted the way they did, nor do I have any idea how Watts acted when they stopped him. I think anyone getting beaten because of a traffic stop is pretty ridiculous.

    On the whole of people posting that he got what he deserved, dude take a look at peoples comments on any topic like that and you are almost always going to see the assholes come out in force. It’s easy to be a jerkoff on the internet. Of course that doesn’t excuse it but assholes are assholes and I wouldn’t let a handful of assholes on the internet stand proxy for any sort of majority.

  21. MikeCollins Says:


    Ok didn’t realize Menzies was the name of the person shot right after the UK bus and subway bombings.

  22. Erik Says:

    @ Richard – OK, I can agree with the more complete picture you provide about your critique with Arkham Asylum. I loved the game, but I didn’t finish it either. I’m going to blame Mass Effect 2 for that. Looking back, the story was indeed fairly thin, and was just enough to give you an excuse to move from one bad guy filled area to the next. Is that interview available in it’s entirety online? I would like to read it if so.

    @ David – I don’t know if I would totally agree with the idea that the gaming industry is where movies were in the 1920’s. There have already been numerous examples of great games in this thread alone and there are a ton of others. I actually would go so far to say it is somewhat unfair to compare to the two industries directly. One produces non-interactive entertainment. It passes or fails solely on the quality of the story and the acting ability of the cast. The game industry relies on that as well, but also more importantly, there is the interactive component where the game has to be fun, intuitive, etc. So you can’t expect ALL games to have world class writing, since obviously some games are going to just be simple little diversions such as a game like Geometry Wars.
    Obviously we aren’t talking about the casual games here. :-) I think the history of video games is peppered with gems.. much like the movie industry. I would point out games like the old Wing Commander series, specifically when the started putting in live actors in the mid 90’s (WC4 was amazing in particular). Anyway, we can all probably chip in examples.. I would just say that I see every year games are getting better and better. The original Xbox had 2 titles that I actually played all the way through. Halo and Beyond Good and Evil. I have about 30 games for my Xbox 360 and have finished at least half of those because the quality is just better. With all that said, I really do hope to see the trend continue. And getting some established authors into the mix (alongside some established movie producers nowadays) can’t hurt at all!

  23. David Williams Says:

    @ Erik: I’m not saying that there aren’t plenty of great games out there right now. All I’m saying is that this is an art/medium that remains in its early stages . .and I’m also not going for a one-on-one comparison between games and movies; personally, I think that video games will ultimately be recognized as one of the great forms of cultural endeavor in their own right.

    RE the Peter Watts situation: for those of you not up to date with it, check out his blog for the latest The claim that he had choked a police officer was shredded by his lawyer in court. He was found guilty of not following a border officer’s orders (i.e., failing to immediately get down on the ground when he was told). Sentencing is April 26nd.

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