Free Radical

by Shamus Young

Copyright 2011 Shamus Young

Smashwords Edition

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

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This book happened by accident. It was supposed to be a short story. It evolved into a longer one, and eventually into a novel. How it became what it is today may be of some interest.

In 2001 I was re-playing some of my older computer games. This was partly due to nostalgia, partly to see if they still ran. Most did. A few didn't. What struck me most wasn't how primitive the graphics were, but how terrible the storytelling was. Before the days of CD-ROMs, games had a hard time building any sort of narrative. There was no room for voice acting on floppy disks. The graphics where too primitive to show facial expressions, and the characters were too simple for them to emote any other way. The only real means of storytelling was to give the player a bunch of blocky, hard-to-read text to fill in the basics. In a lot of ways it was similar to the days of silent movies, when the action would stop so the audience could read some prose explaining what was going on. In both mediums, there were many cases where the authors did indeed have a great story to tell but they didn't yet have the means to convey it in a compelling manner.

A perfect example of this is the opening movie from the 1994 classic System Shock. It's a simple, two-minute introduction that contains a bare skeleton of a story; more of a premise than introduction. The only characters you see are the protagonist and the villains. The main character has no real identity other than what the player imagines. He eventually does a lot of interesting things, but we in the audience never get to know why. He doesn't even have a name. The various other characters in the story would simply refer to him as "Hacker".

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