Interviews

James Swallow

The Star Trek Voyager and Doctor Who scriptwriter discusses his work on Codemasters' RTS title Maelstrom

With an impressive bundle of scripts all scrunched up and tucked firmly under his belt, including scripts for Star Trek Voyager and Doctor Who, James Swallow is an accomplished science-fiction scriptwriter who's now turned his sights on Codemasters' new sci-fi RTS, Maelstrom. Where did this man come from? Where is he going? How big a lunch break does he get? We find all this out, and more...

Tell us how you became involved with Maelstrom...

James Swallow: Codemasters was interested in having an experienced scriptwriter involved in the project and it brought me up to the company headquarters in Leamington Spa for a chat. I think we hit it off pretty well early on, as we all seemed to be on the same page as to where the Maelstrom storyline was going to go. I came to the attention of the Codemasters gang through previous games scripts that I'd worked on.

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As a sci-fi writer, what does your average day consist of?

James Swallow: Writing and more writing, pretty much! I spend a couple of hours online (answering emails, researching stuff and so on) and maybe a bit of time playing games, reading or watching DVDs when the day is done. Generally, I work a 10am-6pm day with an hour for lunch, six days a week. I set a minimum word-count or page-count goal for myself each day and work to that. I've been writing full-time now for nearly nine years, and I still get a buzz from making stuff up for a living.

How did you start out in science fiction writing?

James Swallow: I used to write for fanzines and I got to the point where I was good enough to start earning money from it - writing for professional magazines in turn got me credits, and that in turn opened the door to writing books and scripts. I never would have got a chance to write for a Star Trek TV show if I hadn't met the producers through writing for Star Trek Monthly.

With Maelstrom, how much freedom were you given to write the story you wanted to write?

James Swallow: The core storyline for Maelstrom was a group effort. In the early stages the team at Codies brought me the broad strokes of what kind of plot they wanted, and I in turn offered them ways to open it out and add layers of character detail and background to the world. They've pretty much let me run with it!

What are your impressions of the game so far?

James Swallow: I think RTS games need a unique hook to make people excited about them, and for Maelstrom that hook is the dynamic environment. Along with the diverse characters of the three main factions, it's the ability to shift and alter the landscape, the water and even the weather in the Maelstrom world that's really impressed me about the game. I'm really looking forward to playing the finished version.

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The Maelstrom plot takes its history from here, now, and carries us to Armageddon. How does it feel, scripting our death as a race?

James Swallow: Ha! Well, I have to admit it's something I've done before (in my Doctor Who story, among others). But Maelstrom's story is not really about the end of humankind - it's about the struggle to stop that from happening. The truth is, we live in a pretty grim world in real life (when I was growing up it was the threat of nuclear war - now it's global warming and international terrorism), but I like to think that we're an intelligent enough species not to wipe ourselves out. If Maelstrom's story has a message, it's that if we don't work together, we're going to be easy prey for the first evil alien invaders who happen along...

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