Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Roll Your Own Life (8) - Ghostwriting for the USA

First of all, may I just say thank you to everyone who offered their condolences and their offers of support after last week's blog post. I'm coping as best I can with plenty of writing distraction, but it's going to be a hard couple of weeks ahead, so this'll be a rather large post to tide you over until my return.

A little self portrait I did at the height of
my Ghostbusters writing in 1987
Onto happier thoughts, but still just as nostalgic, I left the history of my gaming with the decision to contact West End Games about writing for their awesome roleplaying game, Ghostbusters (see "Roll Your Own Life 6"). I was obsessed with the film, and loved the game. This was back in the time when VHS tapes of movies came out to rent before they were available to buy, and my copy of Ghostbusters was a new rental copy that my local video store let me purchase by paying them a little every week until I'd paid the mammoth £85 price tag.

I wrote a letter to West End Games and gushed about how cool and funny their game was, and they kindly supplied me the necessary release forms for budding authors. I saw this as a huge "Go For It!" sign, and promptly set to work.

The problem I had was that my life revolved around gaming and watching movies. So a lot of what I started writing was parodying movies in some way. Also, this was at a time that may seem alien to some... it was B.I. - Before Internet.

Writing was a laborious task involving a huge electric typewriter (not electronic, just electric) that had fans and stuff built in to keep it from overheating. It was about the size of a Volkswagen and when you needed to change the ink ribbon, the front lifted up like the hood of said car. Everything was typed up (double spaced), corrections made with those little Tippex Correction Strips, and then it was all photocopied and posted as a huge mass of A4 paper by airmail to New York to be read by those cool guys at West End Games.

So, what nonsense was I turning out?

The cover I did for Spooky Science.
This is a black and white photocopy
from 1986
I wrote two big adventures. The first was called "Spooky Science", a parody of Call of Cthulhu, Indiana Jones and Weird Science. 45,000 words of bizarreness where an automated computer system attached to the containment grid goes mad, a fitness cult open a portal to unleash their god, Yogurt-Soggoth, onto an unsuspecting New York, and the Ghostbusters have to escape from the Temple of Yogurt in an epic chase involving shopping trollies. I seem to remember the finale involving New York being flooded in yogurt, and the Ghostbusters arrive on the scene on wet-bikes.

Flicking through the photocopies of the manuscript that I'd recently uncovered, it isn't baaaad...  it's just filled with typos, and it's a little derivative. Mulu Pram, the high priest of Yogurt-Soggoth was an obvious rip-off, but it was a bit of a laugh, and a satirical dig at the fitness craze that was big at the time. I blame Olivia Newton-John. Hell, we all loved Olivia Newton-John at that time.

Anyway, I packaged it up, sent it off, then waited the expected three months for a reply from WEG.

I called New York, which in the days before Skype and Facetime was a costly and scary affair from the UK, and talked to someone at West End Games to confirm it had arrived okay. Then, a couple of months later, I received a reply. It was very positive, but explained that they'd already published a food-based adventure (with the first official scenario, Ghost Toasties) and I saw it as an encouragement to go ahead and write more.

The cover I'd supplied for Back to
Transylvania. Really, not good... (1987-8)
The second of the adventures I finished was "Back to Transylvania", a bizarre time travelling adventure where, through a freak accident in history, Dracula had started a vampire plague and the Ghostbusters had to travel back to 1859 in a time-travelling DeLorean to take on the dark master himself, to prevent the world becoming overrun by vampires.

Again, it drew heavily from Hammer movies, Back to the Future and even had a moment where the filming of the TV series Moonlighting was interrupted and Bruce Willis became a vampire (the scene that initially tips the Ghostbusters off that there's something strange in the neighbourhood).

The scenario also introduced new rules for having non-human Ghostbusters (mainly to include Scooby-Doo as a player-character) and a basic magic system.

Again, I photocopied it, and posted it off to New York, and eagerly awaited a response.

And again, I had a really nice response from the guys at West End. I'm sure it was Greg Costikyan who wrote to me (or it may have been Bill Slavicsek) to let me know what they thought. I have the letter somewhere (though it's in a pile of stuff that has moved since the "moving everything out of mum's house" thing happened), but I remember what it said even now, nearly 25 years later.

It said that "you can obviously write, but..." and then went on to explain that Bruce Willis and Scooby-Doo's owners may sue for using them in a comedy adventure like this. While I understood what they were saying, about not using real people or copyrighted characters, the key thing was that letter said I could write.

I'm sure it was Greg Costikyan (and if it wasn't I'm sorry, and this is directed at you) who wrote to me, and without that positive reply I would never have continued writing. I'd have just packed it in there and then, got a boring job in retail (this is called irony) or something, and given up. So whoever it was who wrote to me, thank you.

The cover to an adventure I didn't finish, based
on John Landis' fake movie title
"See You Next Wednesday" (1988)
Encouraged by this, I kept going, but I didn't get every far. I started work on a new scenario called "See You Next Doomsday" which was going to be a fairly basic zombies and "Evil Dead" inspired story, as I'd just seen Evil Dead II and the idea of a Sam Raimi style comedy-horror with the Ghostbusters sounded awesome to me. The title came from John Landis' "See You Next Wednesday", a non-existent movie that appeared in the background of a lot of Landis' films, which in turn inspired the RPG group's name.

I came to a grinding halt a handful of pages in, when I was inspired to do a different game... based upon the movie "A Nightmare on Elm Street" I ran a proper horror game (strangely, using the Indiana Jones RPG system from the original TSR game) which involved going into peoples' dreams and facing their night-terrors. It seemed to go down pretty well, so I thought about changing it and doing it a little more light-heartedly as a Ghostbusters scenario.

Again, taking its title from another John Landis movie, I started work on "Into the Nightmare", but real life interrupted, and I found myself a real job. It wouldn't be until many years later that I would go back to writing RPGs based on dreams...

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