Good point-and-click games and good investigative journalism have more in common than you might think. Both start slow, for instance: getting the boring basics of the situation can lead you to throw your hands up in frustration and give up. But if you have patience and commitment, both can send you down a rabbit hole of addictive obsession. Watergate: The Video Game proves that they're two great tastes that taste great together. Debuting just a few days ago, it's an old-school, Shadowgate-like adventure that puts you in the shoes of Bob Woodward during his finest hour. It starts out as a pretty straightforward retelling of All the President's Men, but quickly gets trippy. Pretty soon, you're digging up the skeleton of Checkers Nixon and confronting H.R. Haldeman with a mystical broadsword offered to you by Ben Bradlee.
The game is the brainchild of writer and improviser Samuel Kim. I caught up with him to investigate the secrets behind this mini-masterpiece.
Motherboard: Why did you make this game? Were you feeling a deep hatred for Bob Woodward while playing Shadowgate or something?
Samuel Kim: A friend and I were drinking and reminiscing about old video games—as man-children from the 80s do—and the idea sprang from an offhand joke: "Hey, there ought to be a sequel to Shadowgate called Watergate!" It was probably the same bolt of creative inspiration that struck the director of Pokeacuntus.
Thrilling phone-call action!
I bear no ill will towards Bob Woodward. This was meant to be an affectionate tribute to his work. Granted, he's not what he used to be; if he's standing next to a computer running speech-to-text software, it's scientifically impossible to tell them apart. But in my opinion, his work during the Watergate era earns him a lifetime pass. Even when he's being politely threatened by the Obama Administration.
Get him, Bob!
How long did it take to put together? At any point, did you stop and say, "Why the hell am I making a point-and-click game about Watergate?"
It took about six months to make. Around the time I got started, I broke up with my girlfriend of six years and my therapist suggested that I distract myself—so I holed up in my apartment with a laptop, a dog-eared copy of All the President's Men, and three books about game programming. Half a year later, I emerged from my hermitage with the completed game and a severe vitamin D deficiency.
This intern in Miami is a jerk.
The story starts out pretty close to the narrative of All the President's Men, then gets surreal around when Woodward and Bernstein show up in Miami. Was the original plan to have the game just follow the real story, and then you got bored and decided to turn it into this acid-trip, alternate-history bloodbath?
Originally, I wanted to pay homage to old school investigative journalism, which is why a large part of the gameplay revolves around careful observation and calling up leads on the telephone. Then I realized that "old school investigative journalism" made for a soul-crushingly boring video game, so I decided to take some teensy liberties with history.
Is there any particular reason the user is able to give Bob Woodward chlamydia with that prostitute near the White House? Is there a secret use for the chlamydia that I didn't notice?
You get syphilis, not chlamydia. And I put that in there as a public service announcement about the dangers of syphilis, e.g., you can no longer tell the difference between syphilis and chlamydia.
Oops. Sorry. Well, what's your favorite moment in the game?
I enjoyed all the things you can do that's outside the main narrative -- for instance, you can see what happens when Woodward decides not to pursue the Watergate story. And I have to admit, writing the various horrifying ways you can die was a lot of fun. I'm particularly happy with the line "The back of your head ejaculates your medulla oblongata." I was not hugged very much as a child.
An ignoble death.
What's the story behind the music? I'm especially interested in the chiptune cover of "The Man in Me" that plays during the shooting minigame.
I borrowed a lot of samples from Shadowgate and various other Nintendo games using a very liberal interpretation of the fair use doctrine. Whatever is keeping Girl Talk out of prison is how I'll eventually justify it in court.
The version of "Man in Me" was done by a brilliant chiptune musician named Chipocrite. He recently released an entire album of 8-bit renditions of The Big Lebowski soundtrack. It's wonderful stuff.
This happens after Bob drops acid.
What kind of response have you gotten?
I got some nice comments here and there, but I am appalled by the lack of cease and desist letters. Then again, I haven't publicized this game very much, so I'm surprised to receive any feedback at all. If you drew a Venn diagram of the game's intended audience, the center—fans of Haldeman humor and 90s adventure games—is approximately three people and John Dean.
What's next? A King's Quest-style game about exposing Abu Ghraib?
I'm thinking about working on a version of Contra that's about the Iran-Contra Affair. You play as Oliver North and you fund the anti-Sandinista rebels with the Konami code.