Chronicles of Craddock 2019Image Not Found.
Welcome to the 2019 edition of Chronicles of Craddock, a yearly blog in which I look back at my writing year that was, and offer a glimpse into what I'll be working on in the new year.
If you want to compare my progress on 2017's various projects to the hopes and dreams I had for them as I wrote the 2016 edition of this column, click here to read other Chronicles of Craddock posts. Otherwise fix yourself a drink, sit back, and get to reading. These blogs are as much a writing exercise for me as they are a detailed report for you, my readers. I hope you enjoy!
2019: Year in Review
For at least two Chronicles of Craddock blogs, I've started by summarizing the previous year as my busiest ever. This one will be no different. 2019 brought new challenges and a jam-packed schedule. I'm proud of what I accomplished, but I also have some regrets. Let's dig into the good, bad, and ugly.
As always, my work at Shacknews stands out to me. I've been the long reads editor at Shack since 2017, which means, in essence, I'm paid to write long-form features the size of books. Some of those features have become actual books! Let's talk about those. First, some background.
Rocket Jump: Quake and the Golden Age of First-Person Shooters is Shacknews' flagship long read. We started as a Quake fan site, so, naturally, I poured all of my energy into writing a comprehensive look at the development of id Software's seminal trilogy of Quake shooters (Quake 4 was omitted only because it wasn't developed in-house at id, though I'd love to explore it in a future long read) in the fall of 2017. Rocket Jump documented the making of other shooters made during the '90s that were directly or indirectly influenced by Quake.
In 2018, my biggest long read was Beneath a Starless Sky: Pillars of Eternity and the Infinity Engine Era of RPGs. It's my largest long read to date, and goes into exhaustive detail on Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity 1 and II titles, as well as classic roleplaying games that inspired it, such as Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale.
(After publishing a book, I usually post a "book breakdown" that goes into detail on the process of planning, writing, and publishing a book. If you're interested, you'll find Rocket Jump's book breakdown here, and Beneath a Starless Sky's right here.)
I'm pleased to announce that Rocket Jump and Beneath a Starless Sky are available on Kindle and in paperback! You can always read Shacknews long reads for free at the website, and subscribers to our Mercury program can download epub versions of the books for free. For everyone else, we're proud to offer those and—coming soon—other long reads in Kindle and paperback formats.
I set a goal of writing three Shacknews Long Reads (formerly known as Selects) in 2018. That was downsized to two after the first, Beneath a Starless Sky, became my most comprehensive yet. In other freelance writing news, I branched out by writing exclusives for USgamer and Venture Beat.
As a general note, you can keep tabs on (most of) my published articles by visiting my journos portfolio, a sort of digital portfolio where I link to some of my favorite pieces.
I also wrote three brand-new long reads in 2019.
Icon of Sin: Doom and the Making of John Romero's Sigil (Feature)
Lengthy conversations about video game design with industry legend John Romero remain a highlight of my career. I was fortunate to talk with him about one of his latest projects, Sigil, a nine-level expansion for The Ultimate Doom, prior to its release as a free map pack. Romero built Sigil for the original Doom as a celebration of the game's 25th anniversary in 2018—eyeing spring 2019 for release—and positioning it as the game's unofficial fifth episode. The cool thing is Bethesda, id Software's owner, updated its re-release of classic Doom titles to include fan-made content, including Sigil—effectively making it the official fifth episode. Congratulations, John!
Survive or Kill: How Behaviour Interactive Rebooted Deathgarden (Feature)
Survive or Kill was based on a fascinating premise: What if a publisher had launched a game that failed, and only had one chance to go back to the drawing board and launch it again? Behaviour Interactive's Deathgarden was that game, and my boss at Shacknews, CEO and editor-in-chief Asif Khan, asked me to interview Deathgarden's developers about the process. Behaviour flew me and a freelance cameraman out to Montreal, Quebec, for a day of gameplay and interviews. It was one of my favorite projects of 2019, and I'm proud of how the long read turned out.
Better Together: Stories of EverQuest (Feature)
There are, unofficially, two categories of long reads: long reads, and epic long reads. Rocket Jump and Beneath a Starless Sky qualify as the "epic" variety. They're massive, covering dozens of interviews and spanning years of history. I really only have one of those in me every year; long reads are feature articles, but the amount of time and energy I invest in them make them books. For 2019, EverQuest was the deserving subject of an epic long read. The game celebrated its 20th anniversary in March. That's a lot of years, so I narrowed my focus to the game's genesis—its influences and origin. Personally, it marked the only occasions where I had the privilege of speaking with co-lead designer and engineer Brad McQuaid, who passed away several months after our conversations. Speaking to the developers who influenced my personal and professional lives is an honor and privilege, and I was so glad to have the chance to talk with Brad.
I only (ha-ha, "only") published two books in 2019, but they were bangers, as the kids like to say. I'll discuss them in reverse chronological order below.
Stay Awhile and Listen: Book II – Heaven, Hell, and Secret Cow Levels
(Kindle | Paperback coming soon)
After years of working on other projects to grow as a writer, and to cleanse my palette, I finally returned to Stay Awhile and Listen. I'd successfully crowdfunded Book II in 2018, and never intended it to be published so late. In fact, the paperback version isn't finished, but we're almost there.
Kickstarter backers received their digital copies of Book II on October 30. The Kindle edition went on sale on December 12. If you haven't read it yet, go get it now!
I didn't write a book breakdown for Book II, for a reason I'll delve into in tandem with an overview of the second book I published in 2019.
Arcade Perfect: How Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat, and Other Coin-Op Classics Invaded the Living Room
Writing about classic games is difficult. It's well-trodden ground thanks to the proliferation of streamers and YouTubers who love to show off their collection of oldie-but-goodie games. So, with every article or book I write about retro games, I look for angles that either haven't been explored at all (an increasingly difficult prospect) or haven't been delved nearly as deeply as I, a fan of reading and watching these stories as well as writing them, would like.
Arcade Perfect is about the conversion of classic arcade games to home consoles: Mortal Kombat 1 and 2, Street Fighter 2, NBA Jam, Pac-Man, Pong, and more. I had a blast writing this book, and I feel it represents my best effort at narrative nonfiction yet.
Unfortunately, Arcade Perfect was a labor of love that didn't turn out quite the way I wanted. That's not to say I'm not proud of it. I am. I still recommend you read it if the subject matter interests you even slightly. The problem lies in its editing.
I do not have an ego. Well, I suppose I do, but it's infinitesimal. I've always prided myself on my ability to take constructive criticism and work hard to apply it. It always stings to hear that a story isn't as good as you believe it is, but if you're a creator intending to flourish in an increasingly competitive field, you'll swallow your pride and do what's best for your work.
I didn't write and edit Arcade Perfect operating under the belief that I didn't need an editor. That I was more than good enough to turn out a perfect book on my own. The reality is that while I make a good living, I was unable to fit a professional editor into my budget. Stay Awhile and Listen: Book II benefitted from an editor because I factored it into my funding goal on Kickstarter. Arcade Perfect was not as lucky.
I don't mean to make the book out to be a mess. It's not. I read through it three times, aloud, and eliminated countless typos, grammatical errors, and factual gaffes. I just couldn't catch all of them, and there were (and still are) enough that the book doesn't flow as well as I'd like. Think of it like vacuuming a floor with a vacuum that's starting to give up the ghost. It still works, but leaves behind so many bits of dirt that anyone walking across your floor can't help but see them. The rest of your house is so clean it gleams, but that carpet is just dirty enough that it makes every other room dirty by association.
There are indie authors who stridently believe that all indie projects should include editors in one's budget. That is not always possible. It's just not. It sucks, but it's the truth.
All is not lost. The book has sold well enough for me to bring an editor on board. In fact, revisions are in progress. I wish I had done that from the beginning, but I couldn't, and that was that.
I maintain that I am proud of this book. It's very good. It just needs to be better. You can judge for yourself by reading some of the widespread coverage the book received, below:
- Chapter excerpt: Mortal Kombat (Polygon)
- Chapter excerpt: Donkey Kong (ArsTechnica)
- Chapter excerpt: Double Dragon (Vice)
- Chapter Excerpt: Street Fighter 2 (Shacknews)
- Chapter Excerpt: NBA Jam (USgamer)
- Chapter Excerpt: Pac-Man (Video Games Chronicle)
- Praise for Arcade Perfect – Endorsements from Mortal Kombat co-creator John Tobias, former Sega of America president Tom Kalinske, and more
I haven't had nearly as much time to devote to fiction since finishing final edits on Point of Fate (Gairden Chronicles 2), but I try to carve out time for a short story or three each year. In February, I wrote "Where Green Things Grew," a story about druid girls showing great courage in the face of adversity. It was accepted by writer/editor Rhonda Parrish and published in her anthology, Earth: Giants, Golems, & Gargoyles. It's only $4 on Kindle, so I hope you'll check it out and let me know what you think.
2020: Looking Ahead
I can't go into detail on what I'm working on now, because they're books that are being shopped to agents. I can say they're fiction, and that I'm very excited about them. I'll share more when I'm able.
I hope you'll enjoy those end results as much as I'm enjoying the peaks and valleys of writing them. That's writing: ups and downs. That's life, too.
Thanks for reading, and happy new year,