Historical Dev Challenge: Shakespeare 1

Sometimes, one just has to wonder: is history chock-full of great game developers that were never able to realise their full potential? Would Julius Caesar have invented Pac-Man if he was given a computer instead of the Roman Empire? Could Aristotle use his Greek superpowers of reasoning and insight to create an experience that rivals Braid?

In this piece, we’ll be looking at a blow-by-blow assessment of William Shakespeare and his potential as a game developer in today’s mad world of mainstream extravaganzas and well-evolved indie communities.

Point 1: Age

Possibly Shakespeare’s greatest obstacle in game development today is relating to modern audiences. Mainly because he’s dead.

That little factoid aside, though: would Shakespeare be able to create something new and interesting to grab our attention at the next IGF? To be honest, probably not: even in his day, the Bard of Avon wasn’t particularly original with his work, and a lot of his stories borrowed very heavily from tales that were already in existence at the time.

If he developed games today, he’d probably have to focus on designing for high-profile IP such as Need for Speed and Guitar Hero, emphasising polish and delivery over exploring wild new territories. In fact, it’s almost certain that he would have thought of Plants vs Zombies before George Fan did, and would probably have done an even better job of it.

A lot of indies would like to think that old Bill would be siding with them, but bear in mind that most of his plays were written for a sponsor who funded and distributed his work. In other words, he totally sold out to a publisher. This isn’t inherently bad, though: the Will Shakespeare of yesteryear could easily have turned into the Will Wright of today.

Actually, if William Shakespeare was alive today, he would have founded Maxis. Fact.

Point 2: Narrative

Billy’s storytelling technique is arguably unrivalled. While his insistent use of old English may isolate him from some of today’s viewers, it’s not difficult to imagine that with a bit of modern rehashing, he’d be able to crank out a story-driven epic such as Planescape: Torment or Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy.

Even if his stories weren’t unique, their delivery certainly was. Shakespeare appealed to everyone: he could relate to audiences of nobles, working men, children and possibly even jocks. All without batting an eyelid. His texts were so chock-full of meaning and different layers that even today, most English teachers will gladly torment their students in an effort to uncover the full workings of his stupendously buffed mind.

He managed to make epics out of flat worlds and terrible voice actors, which probably means that he should have signed up with Bethesda to help them work on their scripting for Oblivion.

He would also have probably made some really kickass interactive fiction.

Point 3: Prototyping

Shakespeare is a freaking master of rapid prototyping. Let’s not try debate the issue. The sheer volume and unrelenting speed of his output was something that many devs today would consider almost godlike, possibly making him almost half as fast as Cactus.

Billy wrote in crappy conditions with crappy deadlines and the need to create something fun and shallow for audiences who demanded about a zillion plays every hour. For most people, this would end up something like instant noodles or 90% of the shows on MTV. But old Shake? Oh ho, no! He gave us Romeo and Juliet, King Lear and chicken a la king.

So not only could Will make a whole bunch of games really really quickly, but they would undoubtedly all be awesome. With the exception of Titus Andronicus.

Point 4: Art games

It is clear that within the furious debate of art games that ravages our community today, the Bard would be a key figure. For a start, Shakespeare working on games would be an instant brainhurt to anybody saying that games could never be comparable to Shakespeare.

But it would be interesting to see what he comes up with regardless: most of us think that William’s art lay solely in flowery words and enchanting thingies, but the fact is that his plays addressed a lot of pertinent issues in his time … as well as a great deal of taboos. Stuff that would have had most people hanged, drawn, quartered and fed to the little London fishies went pretty much under the radar because William hid them under the guise of fiction.

Issues such as sexuality, religion, race and those annoying people who never indicate before turning were all poked at extensively as Billy worked, affording his work a strange sense of liberty and insight that most people wouldn’t expect from his era. Imagine the ways in which he could get people thinking today!

And boy, could that guy push the ticket. If you think that stuff like The Gutter is grim and twisted, consider how Shakes basically condemned a goodly king to HELL because he was murdered before he could be duly shriven. Or the family which the playwright used as a base for his story about death, politics and a creepy level of incest. And then, of course, there was that asshole who provoked his best friend into murdering his own wife.

Hard-hitting stuff, people.


The resolution of this highly factual and scientifically-tested analysis is undeniable: William Shakespeare would have made a damn fine game developer. Not only could he read and write (a huge plus back in the day), but he actually kept an old ZX Spectrum in the basement of his Stratford home, and historians speculate that he would have risen to great prominence as a designer if electricity had been invented to power his computer in the first place.

Shakespeare, we salute you and your awesome potential as a famous game developer. Even if you fade into history as a mere playwright and poet, we gamers will always remember what you could have been.

About Nandrew

Rodain Joubert is a South African game developer based in Cape Town, currently working for QCF Design. He likes his job. He likes being opinionated on the Internet. He likes fighting evil with his heat ray vision. And he also likes cats. [Articles]

One thought on “Historical Dev Challenge: Shakespeare

  • Quinton

    I rate most of his games would be banned in Australia for their sexual content tbh.

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