Let it be known that I, Scott Alexander, am very excited about that fact that Serious Sam 3 has finally arrived. I am excited because I like to shoot hordes of teeming, ugly monsters with a credulity-straining arsenal that I apparently carry around invisibly. I am excited because I like the idea that I can wear a t-shirt into battle and never take cover. I am excited because I prefer picking up health packs instead of recharging my health through the magic of cowering from the enemy.
But the reason I’m most excited is that I wrote the script for this magnificently old-school lump of awesome. Which, of course, means I’m ever so slightly completely biased about it.
Now I am well aware that a good 98% this game consists of putting large amounts ammunition into large, fast monsters rather than having thoughtful, discursive dialogue with them about their interior lives, but in those few places where dialogue occurs, it is mine own. I cannot claim credit for the gameplay loop, the graphics or anything even resembling programming. What I did do was go toZagreband eat sausages and drink rakia and come up with crazy-ass plotlines and have Skype meetings in the middle of the night and try to please the crazy geniuses who made the original Sam games. I also threw some jokes in there that made me giggle like an 11 year-old in health class. I adored the original games in this series, and the chance to work on a new one, almost 10 years later, was an incredible thrill. The Croteam office is a truly unique and very special place, and it was a real privilege to see how they work up close. So now, I get to play a game I actually worked on. I’m just a little excited. I got involved in the game after working on some movie scripts with Mike Wilson, formerly of id, formerly of Gathering of Developers, formerly of Gamecock, formerly of many loony E3 parties, currently of Devolver Digital, the people publishing Sam 3. Gathering Of Developers published the original Sam games, but Croteam, as per GOD’s pro-developer publishing terms, retained their IP. When Mike approached me to see if I wanted to take a crack at Sam, I leaped at it. Not only had I played the hell out of the originals, I was guilty of that lowest of game critic traits, secretly harboring dreams of one day making games. I did pause briefly to consider the ethical implications of working on a game, while remaining a games journalist, but not for very long. Ultimately I decided it should not be a conflict so long as I strenuously disclosed my involvement and worked to avoid any situation that might compromise anyone’s integrity or credibility. In terms of promotional ethics, I was paid a straight fee to write the script, so I do not stand to directly gain or lose money from its success or failure (though, of course, success might help in getting more gigs like this, which is a benefit to me). Should I recuse myself from reviewing other shooters? Perhaps. But I’m not really in the formal long form review game too much to speak of. Most of what I write and broadcast is broadly consumer-facing. I’m of the opinion that most “normal” consumers don’t want to bog down in the minutiae of why a game got a 73 instead of a 76. They want to know if it’s fun, if it’s well made, if it sucks. I do a weekly spot on Playboy Radio, and commented on both Battlefield 3 and MW3 the weeks that came out. My comments were that they were both incredibly well made games, meant for different types of players. At the same time, I also disclosed my involvement with Sam 3. Which actually ended up being publicity for the game, of course.
To me, that passed the smell test, primarily because I don’t see gaming as a zero sum scenario. The gaming audience is a growing pool. Other games don’t need to do badly in order for this one to succeed. If anything, I think being an evangelist for gaming in general is the thing that’s going to do the most for this game. The more people play shooters, the more people might play this. Ultimately, of course, it’s up to the outlets I write for to decide whether they think my work on the creative side of the games industry, hurts my credibility with their audience. I made sure the Playboy Radio folk knew about the Sam situation before I sprung it on them on-air. In their case, they saw my involvement as a credibility booster rather than a liability. But it’s absolutely worth exploring and ethically belt-and-suspendering. I’m a big believer in the power of disclosure. And in being able to live with myself. I’m too much a lover of the medium to say a game is bad when it’s not (which doesn’t do much for the consumer, but is how I sleep at night). When I talk about Serious Sam 3, I make sure I put my disclosure out there before saying it’s the best-est videogame in the history of best videogames. I’m relying on my previous credibility with my audience at that point, and the fact that anyone listening to me (especially the gamers) know that I’m leaning into my deep bias for comedic effect. All of which is to say, you should go shoot many, many big ugly monsters with a credulity-straining arsenal while wearing a t-shirt, because Serious Sam 3 is the best-est game in the history of best games. (At least until the next one I help write.)
Critics Circle member Scott Alexander is the editor in chief of American Photo magazine. Previously, he was senior editor at Playboy, where he was in charge of game coverage for the magazine, among other duties.