David L. Craddock is one of the major voices in long-form videogame journalism, having written books about Diablo, Shovel Knight, and Pillars of Eternity, among others. He also just released a print edition of his book Rocket Jump, which explores the history of the classic first-person shooter Quake.
“I just love telling the stories of how games are made, and meeting the people behind them,” Craddock says in Episode 397 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “The opportunity to actually sit down and pick the brains of John Romero and John Carmack and that crew was just too good for me to pass up.”
Unfortunately he’s found that there’s more to games journalism than meeting your idols. Reporting the facts has a tendency to put writers in an awkward position with publishers and developers. The potential for blowback was especially high with Rocket Jump, which originally appeared as an article on Shacknews. In the course of his investigation, Craddock heard countless horror stories about toxic behavior on the part of game developers. He credits his editor Asif Khan for publishing his findings regardless of the consequences. “I really, really respected him for that,” Craddock says, “because he wanted me to do my journalist thing. He wanted me to get the story.”
And while Craddock was definitely disappointed by much of what he learned about the behavior of some of his heroes, nothing can diminish his enthusiasm for classic games of the 1990s and ’00s.
“Computer games were just so wildly innovative at the time,” he says. “It was this kind of perfect moment. Their art still looks good today, the gameplay had been refined and yet you could still see it growing. It was just a magical time.”
Listen to the complete interview with David L. Craddock in Episode 397 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
David L. Craddock on Quake:
“A lot of people ask me, because of Rocket Jump, ‘Don’t you think it would be really cool if id would reboot Quake? Wouldn’t that just be awesome if they gave it the Doom 2016 treatment?’ And I say, ‘No, Quake is dead.’ And I can’t even really go into the reasons why, and it makes me a little sad, but Doom has always been the big breadwinner there. … [Asif Khan] said, ‘How much of a chance of success would you give Quake Champions?’ And I said, ‘Honestly? I don’t think this game has much of a chance.’ Because if you haven’t played Quake, you’re going to step into a deathmatch, and you’re going to get blown to smithereens, and you’re going to say, ‘Screw this game,’ and go back to Overwatch.”
David L. Craddock on Diablo III:
“Diablo III has the best endgame [in the series], which is a double-edged sword, because until you get to the late stages—which is hitting level 70—the progression in that game is just abysmally dull. … In Diablo II, you can get to the most advanced skills of your skill tree by the time you hit level 30, but the max level is 99. So this gives you opportunities to sample almost every skill in your skill tree and decide which ones you like. Most players play through the game once and then don’t play it again. The people that play through the different difficulty levels, statistically they are a very, very small percentage of players. But Diablo III‘s designers made the base game so that you couldn’t see everything the game had to offer unless you played it over and over, when most players didn’t do that.”
David L. Craddock on first-person shooters:
“Games take so long to make—and are so expensive to make—that we’re seeing a lot of genres winnowed down to one or two examples. The [first-person shooter] is a perfect example. Sure, there are a lot of really cool indie FPS games out there, and they do well, for indie games. But in the AAA space? Look at the variety of the ’90s. There were so many different types of shooters. You had Doom, Duke Nukem, Quake, Unreal, and also weird stuff, like Kingpin. Now, if you look at blockbuster-budget FPS games, it’s Call of Duty and Battlefield. … Just today it came out that, in the last decade, 10 of the 15 best-selling games were all Call of Duty games. That shows you that there’s not a lot of breathing room for first-person shooters in particular that want to try something else.”
David L. Craddock on games journalism:
“My advice is that you need to learn how to write. I work with so many people in the enthusiast press, and I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus—I sound like a snob, but I don’t mean to, genuinely. They can’t write. They’re just kind of ‘happy to be here,’ as the saying goes. … If you can’t write, you’re not going to last long. You need to have the fundamentals down. I remember back in Nintendo Power, kids would write letters saying, ‘I can beat Mario in 15 minutes. Can I have a job?’ And the editors said, ‘Well, it takes a lot more than that to work at Nintendo.’ And it really does. You need to come into this prepared to learn a craft and how to apply it, and not just be able to recite every Pokémon ever made.”