“The Composite City where all human potentials are spread out in a vast silent market… minarets, palms, mountains, jungle… a sluggish river jumping with vicious fish, vast weed-grown parks where boys lie in long grass, play cryptic games.”

Yesterday’s Twitter musing raised the idea of a GTA game featuring an old man: wandering the streets, smoking, reminiscing. This led me to suggest a Williams Burroughs game, “Interzone”, where you battle the forces of control by distributing fucked up ideas across the city. So let’s outline a design for Interzone.

“No narrative, all side quests,” says Greg J Smith. That suits the Burroughsian idea, of course. And yet you can see how a Burroughs quest structure might work: a fragmentary mass of clues leading towards one inevitability. “The Old Writer would write himself out of death.” The endgame would be immortality, access to The Western Lands, and you’d find your way in the city. There might not be a story – perfect for the random sandbox play of the city in which a player is wandering, exploring, struggling – but that doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be an ending.

“A ghost in daylight on a crowded street.”

Visually the game world lands part way between Junkie and Naked Lunch. Part New York, part Tangiers. It’s a familiar city, but there’s something wrong with everything. Clearly the GTA city of Interzone would have to be far more tangled and jungloid than any game city we care to suggest.

“Our national drug is alcohol. We tend to regard the use of any other drug with special horror.”

Two game mechanisms for Interzone.

The first is morphia: addiction. The Old Writer will have have to make contact with various individuals across the city so that he can stay in control of himself. The longer you go without a hit, the harsher visuals and audio becomes, the more complex interactions are. But one contact will run dry, you’ll always have to search for another: following spectral junkies, looking for clues. Too long and you begin to lose control: the avatar wanders on his own, ravenous for junk. Eventually it’s unplayable: too bright and grating to look at, too difficult to control. And yet you’re facing a tricky kind of videogame resource management: take too much and you’re fade out, overdosing, resetting to zero. Wake up in a bed in a dark room, sunlight through a single dirty pane.

“A paranoid man is a man who knows a little about what’s going on.”

The second mechanism is the Cut Up. You are constantly under threat of being captured: seized by agents of control. They only way to deal with it is to disrupt their activities, to keep them off your tail, dealing with other things. You distribute fucked up ideas to key locations. Pamphlets dropped off with key people, reducing the likelihood of the forces of control appear to deal with you. At higher levels you begin leaving tape recorders filled with subliminal messages running, an area-of-affect attack, context bombs. Parasitic upgrades.

The last resort – a thing of brutal finality, and your most limited resource – are the handguns that Burroughs loved. Just nine rounds in your automatic. Nine chances to escape control. Nine lives.

Cut word lines — Cut music lines — Smash the control images — Smash the control machine — Burn the books — Kill the priests — Kill! Kill! Kill!

5 Responses to “Interzone”

  • Oruga Says:

    What a great idea. This must be done.

    Mmmh… I should start reading Burroughs. What book I read first?

  • Rossignol Says:

    Junkie, as it just gets weirder from there.

  • chad Says:

    This is beautiful and an honor to a great [tho also insidious] thinker.
    “Just when you think the earth is exclusively populated by Shits, you meet a Johnson.”



  • Jonty Says:

    I’d buy it.

  • mandaya Says:

    for first-time readers of Burroughs, I actually wouldn’t recommend Junkie, as the book isn’t really a good indicator of what makes WSB special. A good starting point IMHO is “Word Virus”, a WSB reader by james grauerholz, but “Cities of the red night” is ultimately the most absorbing to read, as here he seamlessly integrates Lovecraftean fantasy, noir, SF and vintage Burroughs into a staggering read.
    Burroughs game: yes please! maybe we should put Dan Pinchbeck of The Chinese Room onto this.