Basingstoke, a wholly unremarkable Hampshire town with a population just shy of a full Wembley Stadium, is to receive a video game in its "honour".
The inverted commas are necessary, as Puppy Games' isometric-style shooter isn't much of a celebratory statement – the final screen of a summer 2014 work-in-progress gameplay trailer delivering a depressing truth for many who call the place home: "You died in Basingstoke."
The summer 2014 work-in-progress gameplay trailer for Basingstoke
The above footage was followed just weeks ago by an Alpha gameplay trailer, which hasn't receded the original vision's doom and gloom whatsoever.
The after-dark environments appear overrun with nightmarish creatures for the player's character, ostensibly a police officer, to avoid or, if forced into confrontation, overcome however they can. It looks as if it'll play much like Puppy Games' throwback blast-'em-up Droid Assault, albeit on a three-dimensional plane, an experience somewhere between Diablo III and The Chaos Engine, with just a pinch of Resident Evil atmosphere and some great big block-head avatars in place of realistically dead people.
Despite being born in Winchester and spending the first 19 years of my life living just 25 miles south of Basingstoke, I've never actually spent much time there. Nights out for the teenage me would typically involve heading west, into Southampton, rather than hitting the M3 for a date with – as a quick Google search reliably informs me – whatever establishments came before the hip Basingstoke nightspots of today: Wonderland and Plush.
I'm pretty sure, though, that the Basingstoke of Basingstoke isn't that close to the real thing – although the town definitely does have a boozer by the name of The Kings Arms. Okay, the nearest one's in Whitchurch (on the B3400, if you're passing), but what's a 22-minute drive when you're thirsty?
Since my most memorable experience of Basingstoke was being kicked off a broken-down train at its station, I thought I'd best check with a native as to the town's current reputation. All horrific terrors and chainsaw-wielding coppers? Hardly, says Guardian writer Kate Hutchinson: "It's a place that isn't a university city, but it has lots of young people, so the high street is a bit like a cultural void – like Romford, or somewhere. It's where commuters come to die. Umm, everything revolves around the shopping centre. Hope that helps."
It sure does – it illustrates precisely why, in 2003, the first iteration of the Crap Towns book series declared Basingstoke the ninth-shittiest place to live in the UK. At the time of writing, it's no longer top 10 – congrats, Basingstokers – but nevertheless, it's still (apparently) one of those characterless commuter-belt communities that – while an economic hub, with the likes of Sun Life and BNP Paribas based within its limits – has no true tourist-trap draw to cause the curious passing motorist in.
Puppy Games' interpretation of Basingstoke might be wildly wide of the real-life mark, but that won't stop its release – in 2015 – sending a few gamers clicking the way of the town's online presence. You never know – the game could be a tearaway success and send a flood of fans the way of both the Anvil theatre and the theatres of its North Hampshire Hospital, the location for several scenes in the Channel 4 sitcom Green Wing. That's a big maybe – but let's say Basingstoke does dramatically increase the cultural significance of its inspirational municipality, where do developers go next?
I asked Facebook for suggestions of British towns of absolute dullness, and Facebook duly answered. Among the responses: "Anywhere outside of Zone 3"; "Shrewsbury: so dull even the locals can't be bothered to decide how it's pronounced"; "Peterborough's exciting if you're into racism, violence and a general lack of progress"; "I went to Birmingham once, and that was pretty boring".
However, four places stood out to me, on account of being raised by more than one person. So, any games devs looking to destroy a virtual build of an urban centre that isn't London, or New York, or Paris, maybe look to one of these British towns to burn come your next apocalypse event.
Says Visit Wiltshire: "Take time to wander through its quiet courtyards and alleyways, or enjoy a vibrant mix of traditional shops and pubs alongside modern outlets and stylish cafes and bars."
Says the tumblr blog, Swindon Is Shit: "Swindon has the chance to pull itself out of the mire of cultural inadequacy that it finds itself in... proving to everyone that it's not just shit. But, as usual, it is shit."
What's it actually got going for it? A low crime rate, apparently. Oh, and it has a "Magic Roundabout", thus summarised by the above blog: "...it says something about a town when its major landmark is a roundabout".
What a video game might do to the place: Swindon Is Shit states the place is a "nuclear testing area waiting to happen", so why not take that as a starting point for a classic post-fallout first-person shooter, set in the aftermath of a secret testing facility gone into meltdown? Just imagine, running and gunning your way through the shattered shell of The Brunel Centre and facing off against a mutant boss enemy within the bowels of Jack FM. It'd be brilliant, right? Possibly more fun than an evening at Mackenzies, anyway.
Says the Aylesbury Official Guide and Map: "Aylesbury continues to expand and development continues apace on the edges of town. Many more buildings will be constructed to accommodate the needs of business and commerce, as Aylesbury looks forward confidently to a prosperous future."
Says UrbanDictionary.com on Aylesbury: "Great place to go if you want to be beaten shitless."
What's it actually got going for it? It's pretty old. The history of the town can be traced as far back as 650BC. It's also got some famous ducks, which townsfolk used to walk the whole 40 miles to London. Fucking savages.
What a video game might do to the place: The Ducks That Ate Aylesbury. The title might need work, but think Zombies Ate My Neighbours, but with ducks. Lots and lots of hungry ducks, with a taste for Buckinghamshire blood. Splashes of 16bit claret and enough feathers to smother the life out of a whole town council. That'll teach them to walk a creature that, quite clearly, evolved to travel in a much faster fashion.
Says Wycombe District Council: "High Wycombe is a thriving market town providing the ideal setting for those who enjoy a bustling atmosphere, a good retail experience and lively nightlife. Despite recent modern developments, High Wycombe has a long history and still retains its historic and cultural charm and traditions."
Says Crap Towns Returns: "Recent news events have featured organised local gangs exploiting young girls for sex; the conviction of Wycombe-based international terrorists and extremists; gang-related kneecappings; and stabbings. The bigoted tripe that spews from the mouths of just about everyone creates an atmosphere of permanent hostility [that] just makes you want to get out. And once you do, you won't come back."
What's it actually got going for it? Honestly, from what the internet has to say about the place, not a lot. Some famous faces off the telly have called the place home at one time or another, from sixth Doctor (Who) Colin Baker to Godzilla's best pal Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Ian Dury was educated at the town's Royal Grammar School. Which is all just fine, I suppose.
What a video game might do to the place: If it's rapid destruction we're after, I can't see further than a contemporary spin on Rampage. Get that big old lizard Lizzie fired up on double shots and send her down a pixellated Frogmore Street. She can pit-stop at the Yates's, if she must, just so long as she flattens it after the special offers have run their course.
Says Visit Cheshire: "Known locally as Beartown, the pretty market town of Congleton is perfectly placed for a weekend getaway to Cheshire's Peak District."
Says I Live Here: "[The town has one nightclub], The Snooty Fox. Every weekend you'll find the park torchers and pig pleasurers enjoying... crap lager and alcopops, but as with everything in their tawdry lives the quality matters little. The booze merely ends up on the pavement outside the town hall by 3AM anyway."
What's it actually got going for it? There's an ancient longboat at the Congleton Museum, I suppose. Wikipedia claims that England's premier hipster footballer Daniel Sturridge is from the town, but I don't know – most other sources state he first saw the light of day under the Birmingham skies.
What (something sort of linked to) a video game might do to the place: We need the truth, Congleton. We're sending a whole bunch of frothing GamerGate fanatics down your ends to draw out the corruption as one might poison from a wound. And then they'll edit your Wikipedia entry accordingly, after posting some righteous prose on 8chan that only totally awesome dude-bros can appreciate. (Virtual fist-bumps all round.)
Failing that: known locally as Beartown? Well, then we're going for Banjo-Kazooie, albeit with bonus bazookas. Nothing says New High Score! like an anthropomorphised honey bear laying siege to a safe Tory seat.
Basingstoke, the game, is out some time in 2015.