Cam Rogers is a writer currently living in Australia. In addition to working on the Quantum Break game, he is also the author of the newly released novel, Quantum Break: Zero State. The book is set in an alternate universe; exploring new junction moments and presenting a different take on the backstories of community-favourite characters.
This week, the novel celebrated its launch day beside Quantum Break, and is available in hardback, paperback and on the Kindle. An extract of the book can be read on Tor.com, HERE.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Cam about his work:
How did you become involved with Quantum Break: Zero State?
Mikki, Tyler and I worked on Quantum Break from day one, building the characters, world and plot. We were a few months in when Sam first ran the idea of doing a novel by me, so it was hanging out in the backs of our minds since then.
How would you describe yourself as a writer and what do you think are your strengths?
That’s a question you’d be better posing to people who’ve worked with me. How about I make a few suggestions, and people can make of them what they will?
These things that have served me well as a writer:
The project comes first – not ego. Grow about two inches of rhinoskin. Become un-insultable. Weigh every criticism and piece of feedback objectively against your grasp of the project and the state it is in. Be impartial in this. There is value to most criticism: it will either improve the work or improve your ability assess feedback. It’ll also make you very easy to work with, and that counts for a lot.
Read widely. Good stuff and bad stuff. Screenplays, novels, fiction, non-fiction. Weigh, assess, collect, add to your technique, improve.
‘I’ll remember that’ is the Devil’s whisper. Carry a notepad or open a file on your phone. Every time – every time – you come across anything that strikes you as cool, or truthful, or well-phrased, or interesting… write it down. Be it a phrase, fact, joke, word, detail, scene, scenario, character trait, quote… anything. You’ll have moments – more than you’ll be able to count – where you’ll long for the right idea at the right moment. That file will save you and make your work so much better.
Be interested in people. Put yourself in their shoes. Don’t judge. When you encounter something shocking about a person, put yourself inside their experience in that moment, and use your understanding of people and psychology to work backwards through that experience to arrive at a point where you can understand them. Then open that file and write it all down.
Stories want to tell themselves. You’re the medium through which it happens. Learn to work with cause-and-effect. Ask questions about questions. Don’t be afraid to torture your characters.
Google the term ‘memory palace’. The more confident you are with containing the whole of your story in-mind – especially the larger and more complex ones – the faster you’ll be able to plot, rearrange, troubleshoot, fine-tune, optimize and improve the project.
Exercise. Body and mind are intertwined. Drink a liter of water before you leave the house for the day, and get about forty grams of protein – about a can of beans’ worth.
Self-care. Sometimes you have to work yourself hard, but don’t make it a career habit. You can work seven days a week and get it done faster, but if you take a day or two off routinely the work will be of far better quality. That’s almost always more important.
What were you doing before you started work at Remedy?
I’ve done the usual spread of weird jobs. I’ve cut up chicken beneath a kebab shop with a defecting Soviet Olympic weightlifter, worked for the Crime Management Unit of the Queensland Police Service, trained as an actor and director, held down the graveyard shift at a 24-hour video store in one of the livelier parts of Melbourne. I’ve written novels and young adult fiction, visited about a dozen countries as a travel journo. Currently I’m the writer on The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land [Next Games], and recently finished world building and narrative design duties on Winterstate [PlayRaven].
|Cam / Photo taken by Mikko Rautalahti|
How did you find the transition when you began working on the game at Remedy?
Well, I visited Finland in 2010 and fell in love with the country. After I returned to Australia I spent some time trying to work out how I’d be able to live in Finland. Then my friend, the author Adrian Bott, pointed out that Remedy was looking to hire a writer. I’ve played every Max Payne game through way more than once, really liked what they did with Alan Wake, and knew Remedy as a company that valued good storytelling.
Nine months, three rounds, two Skype calls, one spec script and a trip to Finland later they whittled down the applicants and I was hired.
So the transition was smooth. There’s a freedom to working on a novel but it can feel isolating and static. Collaboration can be vibrant, connected… and riffing with people who inhabit the same wavelength is an enormous amount of fun. So the transition was easy. I was thrilled to be in Finland again.
How did you find the transition between the game and the book?
That I helped build Quantum Break meant I could get into writing the novel almost immediately – once I’d worked through how to make this alternate timeline story familiar to, yet different from, the story in the game. Sam and I knew there was no point in just retelling the story of the game – a novel had to bring something new to Quantum Break, and exploiting the alternate timeline element was the best and most relevant way to do that.
I made the most of the advantages that a novel has: unlimited budget and a little more time for character development, dialog, subplot and choreography. We get a look at some things that weren’t in the game. Certain things about Beth, and Hatch, and more.
What made you choose to tell a different take on the story?
As I said, Sam and I both knew from the start that this was the best way to create a fresh and relevant perspective on the cornerstone events of the Quantum Break universe, to investigate facets that may not get a lot of screen time in the game. Same journey, different path, tough choices, new events, different outcome. That we had another frame in which our characters and stories could show what they do best was really appealing.
How different will the book be compared to the game?
The setting, timeframe, characters, premise and 2-3 key events remain the same – but the timeline is unique, as is the setup, where it goes and how it resolves. It also features a few new characters.
The setup of the novel hinges a little more on events in Jack and Paul’s past, when they were younger and the best of friends. The novel deals with all the core events of the game, but also tackles its own conflicts and runs to its own tensions. In the course of taking that journey it also gives insight into elements that the game wasn’t able to.
Quantum Break: Zero State takes a somewhat wider view of the world than what you see in the game, and we learn a little more about people like Beth and Hatch, for example.
It sounds like certain things had to remain the same to make it a Quantum Break story, how did you make the decision to keep some things the same and to change others?
Good ideas that were relevant to the story stayed, those that weren’t had to go.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book?
Beyond the necessary landmark events the trick was not repeating things which a player would be too familiar with, while still keeping the story relevant. The focus was on ‘is this both fresh and relevant?’ and ‘does it give someone who has played the game a sense of ‘Ooooh, right!’” Another focus, and this was key, was ensuring that Zero State stood on its own as a work of fiction – that it can be enjoyed by someone who has never played a videogame or has the first clue what the Quantum Break game is about.
What do you think is the most engaging aspect of the Quantum Break franchise?
I think it’s a combination of things: characters you can identify with engaging in a kind of action that’s new and exciting, while providing a type of control over story that players haven’t had before. It’s the fun of a shooter combined with the fascination of incrementally building a Rube Goldberg machine out of various choices and discovering how that plays out. It’s agency; playing God, in a way, over the lives of the characters not only in a game (which we’ve had before) but a television show as well.
You do it here, they live it there. That’s just a little bit intoxicating.
Did you have a routine or method for getting into the writing mood for Zero State? And if so, did it differ from when you wrote The Music of Razors?
When I wrote The Music of Razors I was living in Melbourne. I’d write 4-6 hours a day. I was spending two nights a week at clubs at that point, dancing for 6-8 hours. It worked wonders for sorting out problems. As with any exercise things tend to defrag themselves if you suspend yourself from the equation for a while. The knot untangles. Several times a night something would occur to me, I’d step outside, get a pen and scrap of paper from the girl on the door and note down whatever had just formed up in my head. The final chapter fell into my head in three disordered pieces over the course of a night that way.
Zero State was a completely different deal. The plan was to have the book release the same day as the game, so the deadline was strict. I optimized my time down to five-minute gaps on Google Calendar, moved into a smaller and more focused living space and got into it immediately. Wake early, shower, dress, walk two blocks, get coffee. Come back. Work standing. Earphones. Cue up Harold Budd’s The White Arcades. Go.
After a week or so I was conditioned: the opening strains of the first track would drop me into a focus hole that lasted for forty minutes, minimum. If I was aware the album had ended I took a 15-minute break, then repeated. I exercised as regularly as I could, took social breaks about once a week.
I did that for about four months. I can’t listen to that album any more.
Do you have any plans to celebrate the launch of the book and the game?
Working in Helsinki kept me away from a lot of friends for about four years. These are the people who know me best. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the capstone of that time away than to spend it in their company.
You can follow his adventures on his Twitter account, HERE.