I joined the video gaming industry as a player in the very early 1980’s, when I stumbled onto one of the first arcades in my hometown set up in the basement of the Crystal Tavern. The cocktail-table release of Space Invaders was the jewel of the place, but I was better at Galaxian. The standing console versions of Donkey King, Asteroids and Centipede took more of my lunch money than any schoolyard bully.
I discovered PC gaming via the text adventures and rpg’s, and soon left Leather Goddesses of Phobos and The Lurking Horror behind in favor of Ultima IV and Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. I still have many guilty favorites from the 1990’s, and fond memories of many classic games on their first release. It was an extremely fertile period, in which so many of today’s powerhouse genres and franchises were born. Meridian 59, one of the first multi-user dungeons. Doom. Fallout.
I published my first reviews in the PC gaming press in 1995 and made my first contribution as a game developer in 1999, with the release of Homeworld. As of 2011, there are ten successful releases on my resume. Eternal thanks to the fans who supported each and every one.
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Homeworld was developed by Relic Entertainment in the late 1990’s. During the development cycle, the publisher, Sierra Entertainment, was satisfied with the majority of the work done by Relic to create an innovative, exciting science fiction title.
Martin Cirulis was hired by Sierra to work briefly with the Relic team as a freelance gun-for-hire. After having reviewed the basic premise for the game and the technology that Relic had developed for gameplay, he scripted the game’s story campaign, including all dialogue and speech events, and wrote the majority of the game’s manual, in particular the descriptive passages on the available ships.
My role in the making of Homeworld was somewhat smaller. While Cirulis worked independently on the script, he brought me in to help create the culture and history of Kharak and its people. For fans of the game and its lore, I helped to develop the basic social structure and cultural institutions of the Kushan, and I was directly responsible for writing the Kiith Histories of the Soban, Manaan and Paktu groups. Because we worked jointly on our contribution to Homeworld, Martin Cirulis and I are credited under a joint pseudonym, “Marcus Skyler”.
Paktu believes fiercely in independence, and despises priests and dictators. Its people are optimistic, innovative, and venturesome—and when things are darkest, someone will almost always repeat the kith’s motto: “I can smell the sea.”
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Ground Control was developed in Sweden by Massive Entertainment, and published by Sierra in 2000. After having worked successfully with the Relic team, Sierra Entertainment felt confident that Martin Cirulis could to help polish the single-player campaign and to add some color and depth to the background fiction of the game. He was sent to Sweden to meet with the team, review the gameplay features and premise of the game, and work out some story content.
As with Homeworld, Martin Cirulis wrote the script for the single-player campaign of Ground Control, although he did not have any input in casting and directing the voice actors who performed the lines. My contribution to Ground Control was simply in producing fictional background material which was offered on the game’s promotional website, and published in gaming magazines to stir interest in the game.
This was actually quite an interesting job, and gave me the chance to experiment with a variety of fictional styles, including vignettes, diary entries, and comic book scripting. Once again, Martin Cirulis and I were credited for our work on Ground Control as “Marcus Skyler”.
In retrospect, one of the most interesting features of Ground Control was the ability to play through the game as a female character. One of the two playable factions of the game was led by a strong, competent female commander. I enjoyed writing about Major Sarah J. Parker in the game’s background fiction; honestly, I think computer gaming could use more characters like her. Someone should give that lady her own game!
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Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura was developed by Troika Games and published by Sierra in 2001. Unlike Ground Control and Homeworld, the developers of Arcanum did not need a script or a campaign for the title. What they were looking for was an extremely colorful manual, with a great deal of Victorian-inspired background fiction, as well as some promotional fiction teasers for their website.
Arcanum was a rewarding project in many ways. I got the chance to try my hand at steampunk fiction, which was a great deal of fun and allowed me to indulge my love of Charles Darwin and Richard Francis Burton, two Victorian gentlemen I’ve always greatly admired. The game is also a fan favorite, and many people who do not know of my other work have played it.
Arcanum was also the last time I used the “Marcus Skyler” pseudonym. Although Martin Cirulis and I have continued to work together on other projects, we have been credited independently since 2001, as the division of labor has been much more clear.
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Homeworld: Cataclysm was developed by Barking Dog Studios, another Vancouver-based development studio. The publisher of Homeworld, Sierra Entertainment, wanted to release an expansion, but the team at Relic was occupied with the development of other titles. Martin Cirulis was hired by Barking Dog to provide design input and script a single-player for the expansion, and also directed the voice-acting for the game. Once again I joined the team as a freelance writer to provide some content for the manual and the game’s universe.
I provided several pieces of background fiction to the manual of Cataclysm, and I also did some voice-acting for the game. The studio recording sessions were a lot of fun.
The Oracle of Tala was also much visited in ancient times, not only for the sculptures on the temple grounds, but for the mysterious rites practiced by its temple women. Here the Somtaaw dedicated prayers and ceremonies not to the Celestial Father and Son, but to Kharak Herself. The World Goddess is depicted in most of the temple’s tapestries as a graceful Lady, dressed desert-fashion in flowing robes. She wears a veil to cover Her face, like a Manaani traveler. Sometimes the hand She raises to hold that veil in place is bare, stripped to the bone; the Veiled Lady is associated with the mysteries of death, and Her veil is a metaphor for all that we do not know and cannot understand.
The temple women of Tala were said to have the gift of prophecy, and they were often consulted before any serious undertaking was planned; they also were visited by those who had lost loved ones in the desert, and asked to perform funeral rites for those whose bodies would never be found. Some of the prophecies and pronouncements of the Somtaaw’s Oracle have become quite famous. For example, legend has it that the Tala’sa turned away pilgrims who came in 491 to make an offering for the souls of the Paktu, when it was believed that the kiiths of the First Migration had been lost in the sands of the Great Banded. “Come again and offer for the soul of Majiir Paktu in another season,” she told them, speaking on behalf of the Goddess. “He has not yet come to me.”
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