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Between time, space and bad fan fiction

April 8th, 2008

A while back I wrote about my dislike of modern video games. To bring everyone up to speed, let me sum it up:

They no longer make games like they used to. I know that makes me sound like a video game dinosaur (I am), but it’s true.

I grew up on graphic adventures, games where characters would interact with the environment, picking up and us-ing objects to achieve their goal. These games prized intellect and creativity over reflexes and skill. 

“Escape from Monkey Island,” released in 2000, was the last graphic adventure from a major publisher, LucasArts, best known for Star Wars games. There are, to be fair, smaller independent companies that still make these games, or even release them online, one chapter at a time.

With me so far? Cool.

Late Monday night I was online looking for screenshots from the old LucasArts game “Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders” (don’t ask). “Zak…” is about a tabloid reporter who discovers an alien conspiracy to take over the world by making everyone dumber. He travels to exotic locations like Stonehenge, the Bermuda Triangle and Kat-mandu, falls in love and saves the world.

In looking for Zak McKracken art, I discovered Zak McKracken sequels.

LucasArts, of course, never made the games. They’re too busy churning out Star Wars tie-ins (which I suspect is like printing money) and the occasional Indiana Jones title. As far as I can tell, they didn’t sell the Zak McKracken license.

These are fan sequels. Some look pretty good. One, “Zak McKracken Between Time and Space” is supposedly coming out later this month. The trailer looks pretty awesome, like any game you’d buy in the store.

But, it’s technically fan fiction, so it’s going to have to be a free download.

I’d heard of fan fiction and even fan films. But this was news to me. These are game designers who are investing hundreds — if not thousands — of hours, writing, scoring and designing a game that they will never profit from. Sure, they might get a job at a good company (maybe LucasArts’ human resources department will notice), but that’s not why they’ve invested all of this time and energy into the game.

These guys just really love Zak McKracken. 

They’re not the only ones frustrated with the companies who used to make these games. I did some additional pok-ing around and found a few other defunct-properties with fan sequels in the works (“Maniac Mansion,” “Kings Quest” to name a couple).

My only brush with fan fiction (and I didn’t even know what it was then) was in elementary school, when I tried to pass off plots of my favorite video games as creative writing. I couldn’t imagine doing it now, unless LucasArts writes me a big check to be part of an official Monkey Island 5 team.

A couple of my friends are into fan fiction. I try to stay the hell away—most of it is “Mary Jane,” (where the narra-tor imagines himself or herself a new character within the fictional world, saves the day and beds the character of their choice) or “slash” (romantically pairing two incongruous characters. Google “Kirk/Spock” or “Hermione/Snape” and you’ll want to stick a fork in your eyes).

Look, I’m all for “Zak McKracken Between Time and Space.” I’m sure I’ll play it. But as much as I’d love to be a 12 again, spending a snow day with Zak and a bowl of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Cereal, those days are gone.

I’d love for these designers to create something new. Maybe they are creating something new and Zak is just a pet project on the side. They’re obviously very talented and I can’t fault them for wanting to share their love of Zak McKracken.

Last winter at the New York Comiccon a girl asked comic book (and “Lost”) writer Brian K. Vaughan what he thought of the fanfiction people were writing about his characters.

He told her, and I’m paraphrasing, it was awesome, that it was like his characters had secret lives he never knew about (and joked about the naughty bits). Then he became serious and said to have fun with the characters but that she had to give something back. For every fan fiction she wrote she had to create something new, so she wasn’t just recy-cling other people’s ideas, but contributing something new to the world.

That’s a compromise I can get behind.

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072

Want to find out more about “Zak McKracken Between Time and Space”? Visit zak2.org

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