Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Archive for November, 2009

Reading the text: Rusel DeMaria interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on November 24, 2009

Rusel DeMaria, founder of Prima’s strategy guide division and a strategy guide veteran in his own right, is now Assistant Director for David Perry’s Game Consultants. An advocate of positive impact games, Rusel talks about his book Reset: Changing the Way We Look at Video Games and delves a bit into his own gaming past and shares some of his optimism for the future of video games.

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Could you take a minute and explain what your book Reset: Changing the Way We Look at Video Games is about?

Reset was the result of many years of thinking and discussing the potential of games to teach and inspire people while remaining true to their entertainment and marketing goals. I first started thinking about this conscious approach to game design in the mid 1990s when I was working on a game set in the French Resistance. I realized that I could create a game that modeled the tension, the action and the conflict of that time, and it could be a totally killer game, complete with assassination missions, escort missions, espionage and sabotage. There was plenty of action and strategy in the game design I came up with. However, I also realized that the game could teach. It could teach history in a variety of ways, and I worked with two French historians and interviewed several survivors of the Resistance in developing the game. I also realized that the game could model the danger and tension of being in an environment occupied by a relentless and brutal enemy, where the slightest misstep could end in death or imprisonment, and yet you had to reach out and find and recruit people to the cause. This was a very human element to the game I came up with.

After designing my Resistance game, I realized that a game designer could look more deeply into the structure of the game and create elements that could in some way enrich the player, above and beyond the entertainment value of the game.

Now I also want to make it clear that I had already been inspired by other great designers. Games like SimCity and Civilization were great models for me, as were the series of “games with consequences” from Peter Molyneux. Various financial games, starting with the old Blue Chip games like Millionaire and culminating with more recent games like Zoo Tycoon also inspired my thinking.

So I want to be clear that I didn’t invent anything new in Reset, but I tried to introduce it as a conscious design element – that you could add content that teaches, models, simulates or in some way inspires people just the way you would add Easter Eggs and other bonus elements to a game. It’s a design mindset more than any one method or technology.

Why did you decide to write this book?

Back in the late 1990s I had become passionate about the idea of what I now call “positive impact games,” but that I was calling “games for change” back then. I had done a couple of roundtables at GDC, and the turnout was decent, including some experienced game veterans who supported the idea. However, I didn’t know how to make that interest grow into something tangible, and ultimately I gave up on promoting the idea.

Then, a few years back Will Wright wrote me and told me I should check out the new Serious Games initiatives, including one called Games for Change. I went to some of the conferences put on by the serious games people and realized that, while we had a lot in common, and I was inspired by their work, we also were looking at the subject from different perspectives. Many of the people fueling the Serious Games development were academics who were exploring ways to use game technology to accomplish specific goals. In contrast, I wanted to design, and to inspire others to design, mainstream games that contained elements that accomplished similar goals, but with the fun and the marketability as the first order of business.

So, I wanted to have a way to codify and promote my ideas, and being a book writer, I naturally decided it was time to put it down on pages and see if I could inspire people that way.

What audience did you have in mind when writing this?

At first, I wrote the entire book with industry professionals and gamers, parents, educators and politicians in mind. In other words, gamers and non-gamers. After reviewing the first version of the book, my publisher and I decided that it was not possible to write to both audiences in the same book. Non-gamers would not be interested in (or would not follow) the level of detail that gamers and designers would expect, and gamers would find the information needed to reach non-gamers to be insufficient or rudimentary. So I completely rewrote the book with non-gamers in mind, as we decided that we wanted to reach that audience with the message, not only the fact that games had a positive potential, but how and why that could be implemented. In the end, I did my best to deconstruct games in terms of theories of learning and play.

Are you yourself a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

Of course, I am a gamer. I played my first video game in 1967 (Spacewar!) and once home consoles hit the market in the early 1970s, I began playing and have never stopped.

Of course, I grew up playing card games and board games, as I grew up in a time when video games did not exist. However, I have played on nearly all the console systems to date, and have lived through the history of PC games. I still play games on consoles, PC and now iPhone. I can’t really tell you how many games I’ve played, but it’s a lot, and of course, I written several dozen strategy guides in which I was even more deeply immersed in those games than normal.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

Of course I have. I played turn-based online worlds on the Fido networks in the 1980s, and began playing MMOs when Meridian 59 first appeared. I played pretty much every MMO for years, at least until WoW, though today I can’t keep up with them. I still try to get a look at the new online games when I get a chance, but I don’t have time to get sucked in completely anymore.

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer?

That’s a bit of a strange question. Everything I do in my life has an effect on me as a writer, and given the thousands of hours I’ve played games, there’s no doubt that they’ve affected me. Of course, most of my published writing has been in the game field, certainly in the past 20 years or so, meaning that games have been the central theme of my writing. But if I were writing fiction again, I know that games I’ve played would inspire some of my thoughts. However, if I write about politics or self-help, for instance, I probably wouldn’t draw to heavily on my game experiences.

Speaking of gaming, are you still a gamer these days? If so, what do you enjoy playing?

Because of time issues, I mostly play iPhone games, though I am also checking out several of the Facebook and casual games that come out. Sometimes I only spend enough time to understand the basic structure and design elements of a game. Other times I get sucked in and play the game until I’ve pretty much maxxed out my experience of it.

How else do you tend to escape these days?

Besides games, I practice tai chi, watch movies and take walks in forests. Sometimes I also climb trees, but not so much recently.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

Write. (As my mentor Theodore Sturgeon used to say, “A writer will write in the dirt with a sharp stick if nothing else is available.” He also used to say “Ask the next question.” That was his motto, and a great one for a writer.)

As someone who is no stranger to writing strategy guides for video games, there’s something I’ve often wondered about the authors. Do you basically play the game to death, backwards and forwards, learning and experiencing everything you possibly can so that you can write as detailed a guide as possible, or does the company making the game often help out with the content or at least allowing the author access to tools and information that make life easier for the author?

It varies. Sometimes I’ve had to completely master a game and figure out all its secrets. Often I did that with other players of exceptional skills. Sometimes I did it on my own. More often than not, these days, you get a lot of help from the company, which is necessary in getting the strat guide on the market the day the game releases. In the old days, when I first started Prima’s strategy guide division, there was no fixed deadline for the book, though we tried to come as close as possible to the release date. But there were no rules for strategy guides then. Now there are all kinds of expectations, and the art of writing them has evolved considerably. Back in the early 1990s, I was very experimental, trying different formats and approaches to strat guides, including writing them as novels in which the hints and clues for completing the game were embedded in the writing, or in which the story of the game was expanded, as I did in both the X-Wing and TIE Fighter strat guides. I don’t think anyone tries those techniques now, nor do they have time for too much extra work.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

Continue to expect the game industry to evolve, and as a gamer or designer, continue to push the genre to go further, not only technically, but in terms of meaning and relevance to our lives. Think of the evolution of movies, which very quickly began to tackle the most critical moments of our times and to create commentary on the human condition. Today, there are movies for all kinds of purposes, and many of them are pure fluff, but there are many movies that touch us, make us think or document what’s going on in the world for all to see. Games can do that, too, and with the extra power of giving us choice over our actions and a chance to see different consequences to different decisions.

I was recently present when Clint Hocking was being interviewed, and the interviewer mentioned how uncomfortable he was playing Far Cry 2, where he was essentially playing the bad people in an African setting. Hocking’s answer? “Good. You should feel uncomfortable.” This is a brilliant example of using a great game to make someone think and feel and question a real issue in the world. There are a lot of ways to add value to our gaming experience. I can’t think of all of them. I’m hoping a new generation of game designers will level up our industry to become more powerful and more relevant to our lives, to our society, and to the world as a whole. It’s always fun to blow things up or cut down a mob of enemies, but we can do more, and I think it’s a requirement of our future growth.

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Reading the text: James Barclay interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on November 19, 2009

British author James Barclay is perhaps best known for his high fantasy Raven novels. Thanks to Pyr, who has recently published the first trilogy here in the states and will soon be publishing the second trilogy, James’ work should be readily available at your local bookstore or library. Check him out.

No stranger to the world of gaming, James talks unabashedly about his gaming background, what his long road to publication was like, offers some helpful advice to the would-be-writer, and recounts his adventures playing Boot Hill with a gang of incompetent outlaws.

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Author’s website:

http://www.jamesbarclay.com/

Could you explain what your Chronicles of the Raven series is about?

The Raven are the premier mercenary team on the Northern Continent of Balaia. Peerless in their trade, they have been fighting together for ten years. Six warriors and an elven mage who make a habit of never being on the losing side. But after a decade of fighting, they are just beginning to lose their edge. That’s age for you, particularly when your job is standing in line, fighting all day.

Thinking of retirement, they take just one more job, body-guarding a mage named Denser who is carrying a valuable artefact to deliver to his masters. It is a fateful decision. Without going into enormous detail, Denser isn’t quite what he seems and he leads the Raven into an increasingly desperate bid to save the world.

And so it goes… The Raven never do quite get to retire but they aren’t really mercenaries any more either. They are a group of people who, for better or worse, find themselves at the centre of conflict and cast as heroes or villains at every stroke. They are old friends. They bicker and moan, they fall out. They are mortal and fallible. But they are utterly loyal to each other. They have an unbreakable bond which sets them apart from the rest.

While the four colleges of magic bicker and fight, the Wesmen from across the mountains are gaining in strength and unity. To the south across the ocean, the elven nation is stirring as an old magic rears its head. Amongst it all, the Raven do what the Raven do. Because it’s all they can do. For some people, the world will never become a place that no longer needs you.

The books are written to be fast-paced heroic action fantasy. The Raven are characters readers have grown to love because they feel real. They are heroes but they are vulnerable. You get thrills, you get joy and you get sorrow. You get love and loss. You get men, elves and dragons, but not as you might expect them. You get betrayal, battle, desperation and the sweet taste of victory. What you don’t get is bored.

Pyr is just now publishing your first US editions of the series which were originally published in the UK almost 10 years ago. It’s very nice to see the books coming out here, but I’m just curious how this all came about. Would you mind explaining it?

Well, the wait to be published in the US has been a long and frustrating one. I never really worked out why they didn’t sell in the US in the early days but that’s just life, I guess. So you wait and work and never give up. I have an excellent US agent who felt the same way. That sometime, if we kept at it, we’d find a publisher. Then Pyr and the magnificent Lou Anders happened along. A newish imprint for science fiction and fantasy who looked across the Atlantic and were interested in what was happening here as well as finding talent closer to home.

They’d already enjoyed success with new UK fantasy authors like Joe Abercrombie and Tom Lloyd (both splendid people. Joe is a big gamer by the way, not sure about Tom) and when Lou enquired about the US rights to The Raven he was surprised and delighted to find they were still available. He snapped them up and the rest of history. The Chronicles trilogy, Dawnthief, Noonshade and Nightchild are all published now and we have just tied up a deal for Pyr to publish the Legends trilogy, Elfsorrow, Shadowheart and Demonstorm, beginning late in 2010. This is great news. I’m very excited about it.

Stepping back a bit, what was the process like for you in getting your first novel published?

Oh blimey, it was long. That’s what I remember most. And frustrating and depressing. It required the acquisition of a very thick skin and a firm belief that the sheaf of rejections meant nothing and that I would get a deal sometime…

Loads of writers have experienced that and all you can do is work harder, improve and resubmit. Eventually I got a bite. I submitted letter, synopsis and chapters as requested to Gollancz and heard back that they were really interested but wanted more development of the idea. What my editor-to-be said was that the work as it stood was fine but was like a skeleton without the flesh on the bones. He wanted to feel more about the world and what The Raven’s actions meant. So, off I went and did considerable redrafting, finally delivering a complete manuscript for consideration sometime in mid-1998.

The call to say I was to be published remains among the happiest moments of my life. I was at my desk, being an Advertising Manager for an investment company at the time. A decent job but not my dream job. I took the call standing up and had to sit down sharply before my legs gave way. ‘You’re now an author,’ said my editor. ‘How does that sound?’ I think I was wearing a stupid grin and there were a few tears as well. When the phone went down and I convinced myself it was not all a dream, I took the department out for champagne.

Funny thing is, after that, there is this interminable wait to be published. What with contracts, editing, copy-editing, setting, covers, final proof-reading and all that, Dawnthief did not appear on the shelves for a year. Of course, I had another book to write because Gollancz bought the whole trilogy but the desire to see my book on the shelves just grew and grew.

Two other moments of great emotion were seeing my books for the first time, actually getting my hands on a copy. And seeing one on the shelves of a bookstore for the first time. That made me well-up too. These are feelings to savour because they only come round once. I still love seeing my books on shelves but the first experience is truly unique. I hope as many of your readers as possible get to experience it.

Are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I have been a massive gamer for thirty years now. I’m forty four and I first picked up percentile dice at the age of fourteen when my brother ran a Dungeons and Dragons night for his mates round our house. I totally fell in love with it and it wasn’t long before I’d set up a group with my own friends and we were playing far too much for my parent’s liking since we were all supposed to be studying for exams and the like.

Thinking about it, my gaming past goes right back to my early years. I’m one of four children and our whole family used to sit round a table on a Sunday afternoon to play a board game. Cluedo, Totopoly, Mine A Million, Helmsman, card games as well. Some of those games may be totally unfamiliar.

But I guess the die was cast. From D&D, we went to AD&D of course but never really liked the system. Eventually, we moved to the brilliant Dragon Quest system and we played that for six years until college was over and we all went our separate geographic ways. During that time, though DQ was the central plank, we played Bushido, Boot Hill, Car Wars, Space Opera, Toon and Gamma World too.

My history of video games is no less long. I was brought up on the coast, in a town called Felixstowe in Suffolk. We had a couple of arcades and I spent far too much time and money playing sports and shooter games there. That led directly to playing games on the earliest of computers and consoles. The ZX Spectrum, Commodore PET and Commodore 64, finally settling on the Commodore Amiga which was a fabulous console for its time. Late 80s I think.

Then PCs happened. Oh Lordy. I’ve played games on PCs since the late 80s and early 90s. Real classics like Red Baron still spring to mind. I’m primarily an FPS, sports and strategy game player and I won’t bore you with every title. Some highlights are Command & Conquer, FIFA Football, Return To Castle Wolfenstein, Dungeon Keeper, Lemmings, Severance, Championship Manager, Grand Prix, Medal of Honour, Call of Duty, Medieval: Total War, Civilisation, Ghost Recon. There’ll be others but you get the picture

Right now, I’m playing Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood and, the moment it drops through the door, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

Yes, occasionally. A game I left out of that last list is Guild Wars. It was good fun. A few of my old gaming mates and I used to meet up and do quests. But I haven’t played it for months now and doubt I’ll go back to it. I’ve sampled Call of Duty online but to be honest, I find it all rather random and don’t bother with it too much. Maybe I’m just rubbish at it but I spend far too much time dead. I prefer campaign based games these days. I still get together with three friends every now and again. We link our PCs up and sit around a table and reminisce while playing games like Ghost Recon and Call of Duty. Great fun.

Would you mind sharing an interesting and/or amusing story from your gaming past?

There are many that I still smile about. I think we were the most incompetent bunch of outlaws in Boot Hill history. We’ve dropped lit dynamite in the wagons we were driving, gone to sell grog to the Indians and found ourselves wandering the plain in just our long johns, tried to rob a train only to grease the wrong part of the rails and get taken apart by a Gatling gun. But the crowning idiocy was trying to get bounty on a notorious gang, follow them to their hideout, spread ourselves around to cover every door and window and only then decide to discuss in loud voices exactly what we were planning to do. Following the countdown, we rushed the place and were terribly surprised to find them waiting for us. Not a one of us survived.

I’ve got so many more. Some real triumphs from DQ, like managing to hack the forelimb clean off a basilisk while looking in a mirror to avoid being turned to stone. That caused serious celebration and spilled coffee as I recall.

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer?

Yep. Huge. The Raven is based on the group of characters from my Dragon Quest days. Hirad, The Unknown Warrior, Richmond, Ras, Thraun, Erienne, Ilkar and Denser. All were rolled up characters when they started, immortalised now in print. The influences are all there to see in Dawnthief, which is a classic quest novel in many requests. But the link fades as the novels progress.

Would you say there is grind involved in the writing process?

Occasionally. Not every day is a good writing day. Reading and re-reading your work does get dull. It is a solitary profession and that can mess with your mind sometimes. But look, no job is all joy and no sheer hard work. No job worth doing anyway. Those who work hardest at their craft tend to get the best rewards. For a writer, that means spending countless hours in front of the PC getting words on paper. When it’s going well, it’s beautiful. When you can’t see the way to the end of the scene, it’s horrible and frustrating. But a writer writes. If you walk away the book won’t write itself.

Don’t get me wrong, I utterly love my job as a writer. I am extremely lucky to be getting paid for doing the thing I love most. If I could get paid acting work, I’d be even happier but you can’t have everything (though I’m working on it…). The point is, a professional sports person only reaches the top through practice on the training ground. Ask Tiger Woods why he’s the best. Roger Federer, Phil Taylor (if you’re a darts fan), Venus and Serena Williams. A writer only improves by writing, rewriting and rewriting again. Not all of it is joyful. That’s life and I’m not complaining.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

I’d say right up there is getting an email from a fan who has really loved my work. Someone who has got from the book everything I hoped they would. Reading such messages makes all the off days and difficult stuff so utterly worthwhile. Please, write to your favourite authors and tell them why you enjoyed the book. I don’t care how big they are, the personal stories always matter.

There are also the days when you sit down and never want to stop. Days when you’ve written three thousand words by lunch time and you know that they are all good. Days when the work is finally done and you are so buzzed you can’t concentrate on anything.

That’s two things but there you go.

When do you find time to write?

Well, I’m lucky enough to be a full-time author so I get four days a week. On a Tuesday, I look after my son, Oscar. There is no better way to spend a day off than with him. He’s three next birthday and the reason why I get up in the morning and do what I do. He goes to nursery the other week days and that’s when I get writing. I also tend to do some work in the evenings. Emails, interviews, reading. Not too much. Wind-down time is really important.

How do you tend to escape these days?

There isn’t too much time for escaping but when I need to I will still put on a game and get lost in the action. That still works. I watch films on DVD, things like Flash Forward on the TV. I also turn off the mobile phone and leave the house. Being out of contact is liberating. Just for an hour or so. We have a dog I walk every morning and that is a good way to get rid of any demons and tension before the day starts. I play tennis occasionally and we go out on our push bikes as a family when we all need a change from the walls of the house and garden. I’m not a big reader these days. I do read but time is so short and I’m normally knackered come the end of the day and end up snoozing into my book, however compelling it is.

So its lots of small things used to break up a day. Best of all is being with Oscar. Children are amazing and watching him grow and learn and blossom is the best way to forget anything bad ever happened.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

Picking up on some of what I said earlier, I think there are a few things every writer needs to know or appreciate. Some of it sounds really glib but I’m surprised how often I hear from people who don’t apply the basics.

For starters, a writer writes. If you don’t write, you aren’t going to finish a book, a short story a poem or even a letter. That means you have to sit down and do it. Just a bit every day until it’s done. A great piece of advice I got from another author, Stan Nicholls, when I was starting out was “write to a finish”, another way of saying this is, “don’t get it right, get it written”. A basic error is to go over and over and over the section you’ve done, trying to get it perfect. For one thing, it never will be perfect and for another, it’s stopping you getting to the end. That is the time to go back, read, rewrite and improve.

And here’s a quick editing tip. When you reread, read out loud. If you stumble over words or they don’t sound right in your ears, they probably aren’t. Time to change them.

When you’re submitting, submit exactly to guidelines. Generally, that’s a letter, a synopsis and the opening three chapters but publishers and agents have individual quirks. All of it is equally important. My editor says that if you can’t write a letter you can’t write a book and he will judge a writer on that because he gets such a high volume of submissions. He doesn’t have the time for anything else. He needs to be interested enough to move to the synopsis. Always, always send in the first three chapters. If you don’t it only begs the question, why if you don’t. The opening of your book has to grab editors like it must readers. But you know all that.

Another quick tip. Try and find the name of the editor or agent you are sending your submission to (this is after you’ve established that they will be remotely interested in your sort of work). This gets it to their desk, not merely the department in general. A quick phone call to the publisher or agent should get you the info you need. Also, importantly, this does mean that you can expand your possible number of submissions. If a publisher has four fantasy editors, there is no reason why you shouldn’t submit to each one in turn. Just not all at the same time. Ever.

And finally. Getting rejected is hard. Waiting for responses is interminable. Most of us get knocked back a few times. Even such giants as JK Rowling and Stephen Donaldsdon have been turned down before being accepted (and boy are some editors regretting those decisions). All it means is that one person on one day didn’t like your stuff. You just have to suck that up and submit to someone else (after you’ve made sure your submission is absolutely as good as you can make it). Believe in yourself. If you don’t , no one else can be expected to.

You wake up to a world where your Chronicles of the Raven series has been made into an RPG. What character race and class would you play and why?

Elven mage. Definitely. I get to live a long time, though not necessarily forever. I’m naturally good at casting because mana, the fuel of magic, is an integral part of me. I have an excellent range of spells I can learn, both offensive and defensive, healing and harming. I’m pretty tough in terms of constitution and if I’m really scared, I can run back to my homeland and call on some seriously hard bastards who will come to my aid… probably.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

Yeah. Don’t let anyone tell you that gaming is a waste of time. Clearly it isn’t. My early gaming years have had a direct and massively positive influence on my career. Gaming means you aren’t getting into trouble anywhere else. It’s only anti-social to those who have a) never tried or b) never actually been online or linked up on a LAN. Surely this is more productive than sitting round a table in a pub with a few mates, sending texts to other people.

Be proud of the genre you read. For some reason I still can’t fathom, there are authors who deny they are sci-fi or fantasy authors and readers who deny they read the genre. Fantasy and SF contain nearly all the best ideas, wonderful imaginations and beautifully realized worlds and characters. I am proud of what I write. Join me!

Oh, and finally, go look on the Xbox live site and find the trailer thing about Project Natal. This is the future of console gaming…. It’s controller-free, it really is.

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One shot: Redshift’s Elendil and Sylon interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on November 18, 2009

I recently purchased an iPhone and much like a child with a new toy I began downloading applications for it with abandon. Looking through the RPG offerings that are out there I settled upon a few that looked promising. Dungeon Hunter was the first one I actually bought, and although it’s  an impressive looking game with enjoyable combat, I felt it lacked depth and didn’t hold my interest for long.

Eventually I discovered The Quest, a rather unassuming title from Redshift. I haven’t downloaded an application since. I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to do the game justice, but luckily, others already have.

TouchMyApps reviewVideo review from Classic Game Room

Here is an interview I did with Redshift’s Elendil and Sylon, the two behind The Quest.  It’s Elendil that does the talking and supplies the answers for Sylon where necessary.  These guys hail from Hungary and their love of classic RPGs comes through loud and clear.

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Redshift’s website:

http://www.redshift.hu/

Am I correct in understanding that Redshift is a company with only two employees?

Yes, we are just two guys. “Employees” is not the right word. We have a small company and we both are the owner of half of it. We don’t have employees.  Sometimes we get help from others in fields of making music, writing correct English and things like that, but basically Redshift’s games always were the creation of two people.

Right now we are Elendil (programmer and all around technical/business/public relations guy) and Sylon (graphic artist, story crafter, level designer and the like).

I (Elendil) am a long time friend of Sylon, however he started Redshift quite a while ago with Stewe, another programmer. I joined in when we started creating The Quest (initally for Palm and PocketPC). Stewe had no experience with graphics programming, one of my favorites, so I created everything relating to graphics in the Quest, especially the custom 3D engine, but Stewe programmed everything else.

After the sales of The Quest dried up on Palm and PocketPC (they were not that good to begin with), Stewe left for a stable job with regular income, but me and Sylon decided to try and continue. First we created Dungeoned for the PocketPC, but it was a miserable failure. We hope that was because the PocketPC market died and not because the game isn’t good.  Soon we’ll find out when we finish porting it to the iPhone.  After that I ported The Quest to the iPhone, we released it and it was worth it. We certainly haven’t gotten rich at all, but we pulled in enough money to pay the bills and continue developing games.

How did you guys meet and how did the company get started?

We met on the net and we keep in touch the same way. We live quite far apart in different cities.

Redshift started back in 2001 with developing Dragonfire, a small fun Diablo-like fantasy action game for the Nokia 9200 phone. Quickly we realized that we should move on to the palm/pocket pc market because the Nokia was too small to keep a game developer group alive. In 2003 (after the unsuccessful development and negotiations about Civilization’s mobile version) we made Legacy, an oldschool role playing game for the palm/ppc market. It was a big success and won numerous awards including the ‘game of the year’ in its genre.

If it’s not too much trouble, would you mind discussing your backgrounds in making games?

Nothing serious. Before all these games we worked alone on our personal projects – like drawing, writing, programming just for fun.  Sylon painted fantasy book covers for Hungarian publishers, while I just wrote 3D routines and did programming experimentations for myself.

So you’ve developed games for other platforms in the past. How does making games for the iPhone compare to those?

From a technical point of view, it’s not much different. I program in C++ on every platform, so it’s just downloading the Software Development Kit and learning what options are available. Even on the iPhone the Quest is 99% C++, with only a little Objective-C “glue”. Of course for the iPhone I had to buy a MacBook (I’ve never used a Mac before that) and learn to use XCode, instead of Visual Studio on Windows, but it’s not that different, really.

Dealing with Apple was a bit strange.  They demanded official identifications that we are a company when we applied for developer status, for example.

The App Store approval process is problematic too, just recently we had to remove The Quest from the App Store, because of a crash bug. If not for the long approval process, we could have released a fixed version within hours, but we had to wait nearly a month instead. It was very frustrating.

The Quest is a surprisingly deep and satisfying RPG experience. I keep telling myself as I punch around on the screen and get drawn further and further into the game, that I’m playing this on a phone. This shouldn’t be happening, right?

I think we approach development differently than most developers who create programs for mobile devices.

We like to create games which we would like to play, which are mostly RPGs. It doesn’t really matter for us that the game will run on a phone and not on a PC. And the richness of the experience doesn’t really depend on the capabilities of the device, it only depends on the amount of work we put into it.

Do you see a lot of unrealized potential for the iPhone in regards to the future of gaming?

I can certainly imagine that people will continue to create innovative and interesting games for the iPhone, which will use the features of the device to great effect.

However, personally I’m not really interested in those.  I’d like to create great RPGs (and maybe other kinds of games) which will not really depend on any iPhone specific features. For me the iPhone is a computer with a screen for output and with multitouch for input and that’s enough. I’d rather have my games playable on other platforms than adapt the gameplay to be iPhone specific. We are interested in creating really fun games, but not games which only work on a touch screen for example.

Speaking of The Quest, what  influences—games, literature, what have you–went into making the game?  I’m guessing Might & Magic  would have been one.

Sylon is a big fan of old school RPGs like Black Crypt, Eye of The Beholder and Dungeon Master. I don’t think he ever played the Might & Magic RPGs.  However, he played Heroes of Might & Magic III a lot.

Stewe (who apart from programming, helped a lot with the story and game mechanics too) really liked Morrowind, I think the influences are obvious.

Of course the Quest is the successor of Legacy, so that’s a big influence too.

As for literature, Sylon can’t name anything specific, but he certainly is a big reader of fantasy.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been in a town and get asked by friendly ladies on the street if I’d like to dip my wick. So far I haven’t come across any wax or other candle making supplies where this would be beneficial. Am I missing something here?

Hmm… You are joking, right? :)

As for the many “mature” allusions in the game, Sylon likes the “dark, gritty and realistic” kind of fantasy and it shows in his writing.  The game was more or less intended for mature audiences. What you see is actually what’s left after a lot of cutting and toning down.

Which of the games you’ve worked on are you the most pleased with?

It’s definitely The Quest. During its development we thought we can’t make it better, but of course now we know we can make an even better RPG, and we will.

Would you mind taking a minute and talking a little bit about your own gaming backgrounds (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I played a bit of D&D and other systems (Vampire the Masqureade comes to mind) at the table, but not much.

However I really like computer games, the very first one was Boulder Dash on the Commodore 64, which I played on a Black&White TV at my mother’s workplace. I don’t remember how old I was, I think around 10.

After that for a long while I was an “omnivore” of computer games, I played everything I could get my hands on, initally on C64 than later on PC. Later it become clear that what I really like is RPGs.  My favorite ones are the Baldur’s Gate series and the two Ultima Underworlds, but I’ve played a lot. Except console RPGs, I’ve never owned any game console. However I’ve played all the Final Fantasies up to ten, but I’m not really impressed. They have certain qualities, but overall they are very childish and repetitive and what I’ve seen from other console RPGs, they are not much different.

This doesn’t mean that in the future I might not create a more “console-ish” RPG, to reach a wider audience, but I certainly won’t try to imitate their idiotic storylines.

I also like some FPS games like the Doom, Quake and Half-Life series, but only some.

I’m sure it’s not all work at Redshift headquarters. So, what games are you guys playing these days?

Sylon plays with almost nothing. Back in the beginning of the 90s he loved the Amiga and games like Eye of the Beholder, Black Crypt and Ishar on that machine. On the PC, he mostly loved only two series: Doom/Quake (for action) and Heroes of Might and Magic (for strategy). That’s all – even if he wants to play a little nowadays he goes back to these games. But most of the time making games is totally satisfying for him.

Currently I play my older games, because I want to buy a new computer for the new games, but right now my family largely lives on my income, so I’d rather not spend it on less important things.

So I play the Tomb Raider series (I really like the old ones, up to the fourth. One interesting tidbit: Although I like girls, Lara Croft is completely uninteresting to me.  Actually I find most males apparent infatuation with big boobed fantasy girls rather baffling. I just like the exploration and puzzle solving.) And I play Diablo (going through with a Necromancer at last), and Starcraft, and Settlers 3 and Battle Isle (the first one).  Of course I don’t play all of them everyday or even once in a week. Just when I have some time I play with one of them.

What I don’t play is online games. I never played them and most likely never will. I don’t find playing with other people online interesting at all.  It’s not that I’d find the concept inherently unappealing, it’s just that I haven’t found anything worthy of my time. And finding people to play with is even harder than finding a good program. Much, much harder.

Are you working on any current projects you’d care to talk about?

Yes – we are working hard on the iPhone version of Dungeoned. Then we’ll make a fantasy card game. After that we’ll develop our following ‘big’ title – the next step in our way of making RPGs. It has no title and no exact concept yet so we can’t tell you too much about it, but one thing is for sure: it will be bigger, better, more beautiful and deeper than The Quest.

What advice would you have for someone who wanted to try their hand at developing games for the iPhone?

Honest advice? Don’t do it. We don’t need the competition. :D

But more seriously, it seems to me that the iPhone nowadays is not the indie developer’s “dream” any more. The App Store is very crowded and is getting more crowded continuously. The App prices are way too low for normal sized games and it’s extremely hard to be seen.

So I see two ways. The first is to build something which appeals to a lot of people, don’t spend too much time or money on it (but make it high quality of course) and hope that it will become popular.

Or create a very good game, try to make it known to as many people as you can and hope that it will become popular.  And of course don’t expect much money.

We are actually shooting for the second scenario. We keep our spending as low as we can (we don’t pay any employees).  We don’t spend much, so we hope we can live from the money we get from the App Store.

The point is, don’t expect much from the iPhone. More than likely you will not make enough money from it to even to cover your expenses.

But if you don’t expect to quit your day job, it can be fun to create games for the iPhone.

You wake up to a world where you are the head of a company (of more than two employees, that is) developing a game for the iPhone. You have unlimited funds and resources available to you. Please describe the kind of game you would make.

It would definitely be the best RPG ever created. :)

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Reading the text: David Farland interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on November 16, 2009

David Farland is the pseudonym of fantasy and science fiction author Dave Wolverton. In this interview Dave discusses the premise of his epic fantasy series The Runelords, his own gaming background as well as his experience working in the game industry including his involvement with the StarCraft expansion Brood War.

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Author’s website:

http://www.davidfarland.net/

Could you take a minute and explain, for those who are unfamiliar with your epic Runelords series, what the basic premise happens to be?

runelordsPart of the basic premise has to do with the magic system. In the world of the Runelords, the lords are able to draw attributes from their vassals. Thus, a lord might take the strength from a strong man, the grace from a dancer, the wit from a wise man, or the glamour from someone who is beautiful.

Of course when you do this, the lord gains tremendous powers, but a man who gives up his wit becomes an idiot, a man who grants strength becomes a weakling and might die if his heart becomes too weak to beat.

The attributes are drawn out using magical branding irons called “forcibles,” which are destroyed in the process, and the attribute “flows” to the lord so long as both people remain alive. If the lord should happen to die, the attribute would flow back to the person who granted it. If the vassal dies, then the lord loses that attribute, and thus is weakened.

So in the world of the Runelords, the lords must take great care to protect and maintain those who have granted attributes. The lords can exhibit almost godlike powers–and in this world, the easiest way to overthrow a god is to kill those have given themselves to him.

The people sustain this system because there are great dangers in their world. The biggest of them are creatures called “reavers,” subterranean carnivores whose exoskeletons serve as natural armor. Reavers can grow to be larger than elephants, and a single reaver can wipe out an entire village. Thus, the people NEED to have lords with super powers to protect them.

Are you or have you ever been a gamer?

Yes. I used to do it quite a bit.

What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

Years ago, I started playing board strategy games with my little brother, along with D&D. In the early eighties, my brother and I developed our own variant, which included simplified magic rules, a 20D system for figuring hits and criticals, and advanced archery rules.

For a few years, I ran a game as a DM. I did it three nights a week on a slow week, just about every night if not. We had about a dozen friends that met.

So I thought about becoming a game developer quite a bit.

starcraft brood warJust after I wrote the first Runelords novel, in fact, I began working for a small videogame company called Saffire in Utah. My first job was to land a contract for StarCraft’s Brood War, which I did. I was then asked to be the co-leader of the design team, and I came up with a lot of fun things for the game. I even threw my “Reavers” into the game. (If you’ve played, the Zerg Lurkers were based on my reavers.)

After that I worked on a few other games, usually just scripting them. Most were little things, like Xena: the Talisman of Fate. That was a simple fight game. I worked on another that was much more fun, called Barbarians. It was a fantasy role-playing game, but the company that made it went bankrupt before the game was ever released. I helped write and design a few other things.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

Not too much. I play a few online games from time to time, but I have to admit that I’ve learned to avoid them, since they interfere with my writing.

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer?

Sure. I tend to think a lot about achieving interesting balances in my story–balance between a character’s powers and those of his or her enemies. But to be honest, I’ve been that way since I was a kid drawing monsters on the kitchen floor. My mother used to worry that I was insane as a child–always drawing epic battles with knights and monsters. So I suspect that my writing actually has had more of an effect on my game design, rather than the other way around.

When do you find time to write?

One never finds time; one has to “make” time to write.

How do you tend to escape these days?

I still let off steam playing simple games like Diablo. I keep thinking that I’d like to play some World of Warcraft, but it has sucked the life out of so many of my friends. Still, I’m thinking I might get a MMUOG for Christmas.

chaosboundWould you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

Sure, lots of them. In fact, for the past two years I’ve been giving it away for free. Check out my site and sign up for my daily kick in the pants. I also teach writing workshops, for those who are interested. Some of my past students who have gone on to do well include Stephenie Meyer, Brandon Sanderson, Brandon Mull, and dozens of others.

You wake up to a world where your Runelords series has been made into an MMORPG. What class would you play and why? A lord or perhaps even a vassal?

Ah, I’ve actually had a couple of companies ask about making Runelords videogames, but we couldn’t do it until recently. The rights were tied up with movies.

So what class would I be? I’d actually want to play a benevolent wolf lord, just hanging out, protecting my people, fighting reavers and big government.

Are there any current writing projects you wouldn’t mind discussing here?

I’m finishing up the final book in the Runelords series right now. I also have a bunch of other projects in the wind, all of which, unfortunately, must remain a secret for a few weeks. Not all of them are locked down. I do have some more interest in a Runelords videogame, and I’m going to start looking for a company that might be interested in doing a Runelords paper-based RPG. Beyond that, I’ve recently been asked to work on a large movie project, and though the producer has said they want to hire me, I don’t want to jinx it yet. There are lots of other things, too, but I’d prefer not to talk about them at the moment. Let’s see what the next few weeks bring. . . .

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Reading the text: Alan DeNiro interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on November 13, 2009

Alan DeNiro is a writer of speculative fiction who has just published his first novel Total Oblivion, More or Less.  Here he talks about the book, writing interactive fiction, and gets into his own gaming background as well as offering some tips for the would-be-writers out there.

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Author’s website:

Goblin Mercantile Exchange

Could you take a minute and explain what your novel Total Oblivion, More or Less is about?

total oblivion, more or lessThe novel begins with ancient European tribes–Scythians, Avars, and the like–invading Minnesota, and the rest of the United States, from up north somewhere. Technology stops working and the invaders are able to conquer wide swaths of land until a mysterious empire, from down south somewhere, manages to repulse them and set up very tenuous security. The novel is narrated by Macy, an ordinary 16-year-old girl living in St. Paul, with has a dysfunctional family, who finds her life turned upside-down by these events. She and her family are forced to a refugee camp on an island on what used to be a state park. They manage to escape and make their way down the Mississippi on a converted steamboat to try to get to St. Louis, where Macy’s father may or may not have a job waiting for him. That’s the first big chunk of the novel–much more ensues!

Would you mind describing what the process was like for you in getting this novel published?

It was rather disjointed; I had been working on this novel for quite some time (about 4-5 years), and had an agent, but we parted amicably in regards to where the revisions were going. Then after a lot of dead-ends it came together fairly quickly–I found new agent (Colleen Lindsay) when she was just starting at FinePrint; I was her first client actually! Some months later the book was bought by Bantam Spectra (now just Spectra–there was some reshuffling at Random House after the book was bought). It found a great home, but there was still a lot of work left to do on it: quite a bit of copyediting and revisions. Which in the end made it a much better book.

Are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

Yes, I’ve been a huge gamer for most of my life. It started when I was 10 years old with the D&D Basic “red box” and I haven’t really stopped since. I also had a Texas Instruments TI994/A (16K RAM! Woo-hoo!) and have great memories of games like Parsec and also playing Scott Adams’ Pirate Adventure using a cassette player to load the game. I have been pretty eclectic with games and haven’t fixated continually on one mode for very long. I haven’t had much chance to play too many pen and paper RPGs of late but I’ve been interested in some of the “indie” and “story games” systems (and ideas) that are out there. I also have a DS and Wii and play my fair share of computer games.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

Yeah, a fair amount. I played a lot of MUDs throughout the years and actually have a character in one now (Icesus), which has a gloriously convoluted system of mechanics. My wife also got me into Eve this year, though I’ve let that lapse the last month or so. Oh, and Free Realms. Free Realms has been a nice way to wind down after work, even though it feels somewhat like a series of mini-games that happen to look like part of a MMORPG. But it’s still a blast. Probably the one actually I had spent the most time in is Kingdom of Loathing, which amused me to no end. The experience has been really different depending on what the creators have hoped to do, and taking those visual and textual clues as a player and running with them. But I’m really interested when there is a measure of surprise in a world, where everything isn’t quite so scripted.

kingdom of loathingAs someone who obviously appreciates the written word and the art of narrative, do you tend to read the quest text and immerse yourself as much as possible into the story of the game you are playing?

It’s an interesting question but I think what draws me in the most are the mood and atmosphere. For example, with Eve, there’s that loneliness of deep space–and then coming across a weird super-sized artifact in the middle of an asteroid–that’s pretty cool. That sense of mystery. I think you can develop that mystery in various ways, sometimes with text, sometimes not. It can be tricky to actually develop story in games–and how to have the right “triggers” to move a story forward. There have been a lot of interesting games in the interactive fiction world, actually, that have experimented with these ideas.

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer?

I think in two somewhat related ways. First, in terms of content: the way people interact with games and online worlds is something I’m really interested in exploring through my fiction. Secondly, the potential of non-linear storytelling in games has definitely had an affect on my own “linear” writing. The big question is: how do you keep a work of fiction “open” for a reader–to give them glimpses of an entire world (in other words, the APPEARANCE of a sandbox). So much of fiction is about what you don’t write as much as what you write.  And in game design, it’s much of the same. Even in the most open world there are still going to be limitations to the map and barriers (some more restrictive than others). So you have to learn (speaking about fiction again) how to work inside those limitations.

You’ve written some interactive fiction. For those who don’t know, would you mind explaining what this is and perhaps talk about your Deadline Enchanter?

Sure–interactive fiction, in a big way, is the original crucible of much of what we’d consider computer gaming, and particularly adventure gaming (with games such as Crowther and Woods’ Collossal Cave Adventure and Infocom’s Zork series). I’m bad at explaining technological things, but from Wikipedia, IF is gaming in which “players use text commands to control characters and influence the environment.” That’s as succinct as a definition as I can think of.  Anyway, after textual IF died as a commercial genre in the late 80s or so, the tools to create IF became available to hobbyists and writers.  And the field is still going pretty strongly; in fact, it’s a great way for game designers to try out new ideas. There are some IF games released in the last 15 years or so that match the complexity, breadth, and gaming “punch” as any big-budget console game–the games just happen to be done in words rather than graphics. Plus 99.9% are free and widely available on the Internet–so you can’t go wrong with that.

Anyway, I’ve completed and released three works of IF myself, and the one I’m happiest with is the most recent, called Deadline Enchanter. It’s a little bit hard to explain without giving away too many spoilers, but I tried to play with notions of player complicity in a game and point of view. It’s also set in a Faerie Folk city in the middle of the Dakotas. The game won an XYZZY award for Best Use of Medium that year, and that’s something I was absolutely thrilled and humbled by, since I’ve come really late to this game-designing thing.

Where would you point people who are interested in exploring more interactive fiction?

For finding games: The Interactive Fiction Database can get you set up with interpreters (to play the game files) and finding games that suit your desired genre.

For designing your own games, I can’t recommend Inform 7, as an IF-friendly programming language, enough. Believe me, if I can do it, anyone can. There are also languages such as TADS and Hugo, so you might want to poke around a bit to find what you need.

Would you say there is grind involved in the writing process?

There is; not as much in the original moments of creation but in the revision process. The trick is to make revision and editing as exciting as when you first put the words for a project down on a page.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

Realizing that characters do and say things that you really didn’t expect. I know that sounds kind of goofy, but it happens all the time. It all comes down to the characters for me and what kinds of emotions and decisions they are working through.

When do you find time to write?

That…is an excellent question. I have a full-time day job, so it can be a struggle. Mostly cram sessions on the weekends and during lunch breaks when I can.

Many of the authors I’ve interviewed view gaming as a potential threat to their productivity as a writer. As someone who has and continues to game, how have you managed to reconcile these activities in your life?

Excellent question! I think it can be a real challenge to strike the right balance. Lord knows I’m astoundingly capable of procrastination. But, aside from the “research” component (that is to say, I tend to write a lot about how people incorporate fantasy into their own lives, and gaming is a prime example of that), I do think that the storytelling within games continues to grow and evolve at a rapid pace, and that in and of itself is exciting and gives me ideas about my own fiction. Also, with the content delivery (to use a really arid term) of books on the cusp of changing on the digital end of things, I’m really curious–and actually hopeful–about the merging of different storytelling media. Who’s to say in ten years what some novels might look like? Some might very well have, on whatever near-future digital platform, some gaming component that augments the novel. Or vice-versa. It all depends on what story one needs to tell.  What are the best tools to carry that out? The great thing is, more and more tools are becoming available to us. And in that, I’m pretty agnostic about form. I love static fiction, but it’s a means to an end, just like the poems I write, or the interactive fiction. So in that light, aside from having fun with my gaming, I try to play many games like a writer reads novels–you’re reading for enjoyment, sure, but you’re keeping an eye on the craft as well.

How do you tend to escape these days?

Some of the aforementioned games, playing and taking walks with our two dogs, fostering kittens, and working on the yard. Pretty mundane stuff.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

alan deniro1. Don’t worry about trends. There are stories only you can tell and those are the stories other people are going to want to hear.

2. Treat editing as part of the creative process.

3. Find a group of like-minded peers; it’s a lonely business and you need support and to give support to other writers.

4. Pay attention to writing in other cultures and other genres; reading divergent materials is what’s going to allow your own voice to grow.

5. Have fun. If you’re finding a project too grueling, take a break from it and move to something else in a somewhat different genre or medium, and come back with a fresh perspective.

You wake up to a world where Total Oblivion, More or Less has been made into an MMORPG. What character would you play and why?

Hmm, probably Em, who is the captain of a submarine that may or may not date back to the Byzantine Empire, and is much, much larger on the inside than outside. Anyway, she is a resident bad-ass in the novel.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

Really appreciate the opportunity to chat on your blog!

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Reading the text: Robin Hobb interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on November 3, 2009

Robin Hobb is a fantasy writer who has more than ten novels to her credit. She’s currently at work on a two-part story, called The Rain Wilds Chronicles. Here she discusses these new books, recounts, rather fondly, her memories of second-hand gaming, what being a writing mother has been like, and how she unwinds these days by battling a few acres of farm land while dual-wielding a machete and weed burner.

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Author’s website:

http://www.robinhobb.com/

Would you mind talking a little bit about your new series, The Rain Wilds Chronicles, and telling us when we can expect the first book to come out?

dragon keeper2The Rain Wilds Chronicles is a book in two parts. I far exceeded my word limit in the manuscript, so rather than cut the story, we divided it into two volumes. The first is Dragon Keeper, appearing in January of 2010 and the second will be Dragon Haven. That one will come out in April or May of 2010.

Dragon Keeper returns to the setting of the Liveship Traders trilogy, the Rain Wilds. A problem faces the Rain Wild Traders. The dragons that hatched on the grounds at the base of the tree-dwelling city are growing rapidly. Malformed by too late of a migration, they are unable to feed themselves and are irritable and dangerous creatures. Dragon Keeper is the tale of how the city intends both to solve their problem with the dragons and be rid of some ‘non-productive’ citizens. An eccentric wife of a wealthy Bingtown Trader and a river captain become part of the expedition. But there are rumors that the Duke of Chalced would pay richly for ‘dragon parts’ that may halt or reverse his aging. So the expedition may face more dangers than just the acid river and the wild country that surrounds it.

And Dragon Haven will, of course, finish the tale of their quest/ banishment.

Were you a big reader as a child/young adult? What were some of your favorite books and/or authors growing up?

I spent most of my childhood reading, and my favorite reading has always had fantastic elements. Books of mythology, Mary Poppins, the Oz books, books of fairy tales, anything that had an element of magic or wonder fed the hunger. As a teenager, I discovered The Lord of the Rings, and my reading was never the same. It was the first time I’d seen fantasy takem so seriously and in such a detailed and adult manner. It validated fantasy for me and I suddenly knew that was what I wanted to write.

There wasn’t a lot of fantasy of that sort that was easily available to me at the time. I think Peter S. Beagle was the next writer that really resonated for me, and then Fritz Leiber and his tales of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser came my way. Once I had found those, I was able to back track and discover Conan the Barbarian, and Doc Savage and all the rest of the pulp. I was onto the mother lode, and read everything I could get my hands on. Fantasy is a very wide genre; for me, in includes SF and mythology and beast fable.

We are so spoiled now, with a vast supply of fantasy and SF every month. I remember when it was much easier to be ‘well read’ in our genre. Now there is no way to keep up with it all. It remains my favorite genre, but I also enjoy mysteries, mostly detective or police procedural. Add fantasy to either of those, and I’m very happy.

What are you reading these days?

My current read is Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, a steam punk novel set in an alternate Seattle in the Gold Rush days. The backdrop for this tale is an alternate Seattle that has suffered a great calamity that has altered their history substantially from ours. I already recommend it.

What has particularly impressed you about this book?

Her research. Her steam punk Seattle is built on the Seattle that did exist at the time. Gritty is probably a word that has been over-used, so I’ll say that her technique gives a very solid and real feel to the city and what it might be like in that alternate history.

I’ve been in your basement. Well, I’ve seen a picture of your basement at any rate, and I can just make out the corner of a Risk box. So, I have to ask, are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I grew up with the very old board games, such as Monopoly, Scrabble and Clue, as well as strategy games such as Battleship, Risk, Go, and chess. They were fun but other than Clue, they didn’t really have much in the way of role-playing. My kids were the ones who first discovered Dungeons and Dragons and brought them home. We still have a lower book shelf full of boxes of the old gaming modules. And of course we fondly recall the Choose Your Own Adventure books that were out about then, too.

I started the kids out with me as DM for the first canned adventures that came with the modules, but they quickly surpassed me. Our house became gaming central for my son and his friends, but my mom-role was largely to provide provender for the gamers. I loved ‘auditing’ the games and watching how seriously they took designing the dungeons and painting the figurines and all of the side ventures that went into gaming.

baldur's gateFor my youngest child, born in the early 90’s, gaming came in the form of floppies and then disks and game consoles, and finally online stuff. She still retreats to Baldur’s Gate to replay a favorite section if a day has gone very badly in real life. Some games are very much a comfort zone for her and for her friends. For a time there, when Pokemon was hot, I had a gaggle of neighborhood kids that I walked down to the local card store every Wednesday night. And that was a lot of fun for me. I recall one fellow who created the All Digglett deck, and proved that you could actually win with it, under the right circumstances! The kids collected the badges and had all the paraphernalia . . . I was actually sad to see it fade. Other card games came after that, but they weren’t really aimed at my daughter. Not even Magic held her for long.

So, most of my gaming experience has been of the second-hand variety. With so much on-line gaming, I do miss the rolling dice and table top games that used to bring the teenagers into my home. Now they play on line.

Have you by chance ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

I think that early on I realized that gaming, online worlds and even the Internet connection presented a very real danger to me as a writer! Seriously. I can handle one obsession at a time, and writing is a career where the obsessive parts of it are actually very helpful to me. Online gaming presents a very strong lure to me. After a couple of very small trials, I realized that it would be an ‘all or nothing’ occupation for me. And I do mean an ‘occupation’ as in something that would occupy all my life and time. At that time, with work and a family and a small farm to take care of, I had precious little ‘free’ time. I knew I could give it to gaming, or to writing. I made a conscious decision that I had to play in my own world inside my own head. So, I still feel a lot of envy when I walk past my daughter’s desk and see all this cool stuff happening on her monitor. But I have to keep walking and sit at my own desk and start piling up the words on the screen instead. I don’t think I could game and still find the time to put out a big hardback every year.

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer?

The effect has been a rather indirect one. At the time I was writing Assassin’s Apprentice, my son was about 15 and heavily into his games. Even if the session was not at my house, the whole scenario and action was recounted when he came home. The big thing was that it directed a flow of teenage boys through my home, guys of all different kinds. I think that Fitz’s character development and his interactions with others owe a lot to there being a lot of live research material available at the time. It also gave me a pool of young men to bounce ideas off. And it let me see what sort of characters and situations were riveting and which ones were marched past quickly.

Everything is grist for the writing mill.

Would you say there is grind involved in the writing process?

The grind is what I mentioned above. It’s looking at wonderful fascinating pastimes and saying, “If I start that, it will eat into my writing time.” It’s not just gaming. I really envy writers who manage to crochet or costume or have amazing hobbies in photography or rock climbing. I need to write every day, rain or shine, regardless of what distractions are tempting me. Every days, I need to get the words on the page (or the pixels on the screen.) By keeping that discipline, I can then say when the day is done, “Now I can put my attention where I want it.” But most often that means doing something with family, often grandchildren. There simply are never enough hours in the day.

But the grind is also what I love about it. I do it all myself and there is such a tremendous satisfaction in the moment that those last words are typed.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

Setting my own hours. When my kids were younger, it was wonderful to be a ‘stay at home’ mom who also have a career that was about as profitable as a part time or minimum wage job. That’s a pragmatic answer.

The other answer is that I love what I do, and I can make a living at it. Is there any bigger blessing in life? Having worked in restaurants and retail and door-to-door surveys and all sorts of other jobs, I will tell you that getting up and spending the day with my characters is an extreme pleasure. Every aspect of the story, every decision is mine. Yes, an obsession. J

When do you find time to write?

Well, I’m a full time writer these days, so it’s a 6AM to 11PM job on the days I want it to be.

When I was younger and working outside the home and having kids, it was harder. Some things, such as gaming and watching idle television, simply had to go. I still had favorite TV shows, for example, but I couldn’t sit down and just channel surf all evening. Dinner over, dishes done, kids on homework, me on the word processor. When they were really small, a notebook (paper kind!) was my best friend. Sit on a bench at the playground or on the floor by the bathtub and write. Write on the bus, while waiting at the doctor’s office, while the kids were at the roller rink . . . you can get a lot of words that way. And when you type it all in at the end of the day, it’s a revision and elaboration process that multiplies those words.

I also had and have a messy house and a jungly yard. We all make choices about what is important in our lives. And once we know what is important, that is where we put our time.

How do you tend to escape these days?

dragon havenI have a few acres and a rotting old house down in the McKenna, Washington area. There’s a pond and always endless physical work to be done. I battle the blackberry canes with a machete and a weed burner. I’ve got a lot of birds and wildlife down there. In the summer, my husband offers free judo clinics and overnight camps for our judoka down there, and that is great fun. A lot of the kids have never been to an overnight camp or out to the countryside, so to them it seems extremely wild while to me it’s merely rural. We have fruit trees and grape vines and deer (yum). And solitude. I don’t enjoy the constant noise of my suburban home. Leaf blowers make me homicidal. If you ever hear of a serial killer wiping out people who are using a 12 horsepower leaf blower at 6 AM to move three leaves, come knocking at my door. Because I spend so much time here in the basement in front of my keyboard and screen, I love it when I can go outside and work all day and wind up dirty and exhausted. But then you stand up on the road, and look at what you’ve accomplished that day, be it tree planting or ditch digging, and you can actually SEE what you changed. That’s such a wonderful sensation.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

Start today. Write. Finish what you start. Submit what you finish. Repeat. Don’t get caught up in the ‘someday I’m going to do that’ trap. Don’t blog and tell yourself that it puts you on the road to being a published fiction writer. It just makes you a blogger. Get your stories down on paper now. Don’t wait. The stories that you can and would write today are irreplaceable. The story you will write at 15 can’t wait until you are 30. It won’t be the same story. It will be gone. Don’t write a lot of stuff in other people’s worlds. You are not a cookie press pushing out dough into a pre-set shape. You’re a writer. If you don’t write your own characters and worlds now, today, no one ever will.

If you don’t write them now, your characters will shrivel up and die, unknown, unread, unmourned, and it will be ALL YOUR FAULT!

(Isn’t guilt a wonderful motivator?)

You wake up to a wonderful world where your Elderlings universe has been made into an MMO. What character would you play and why?

Oh, too late for that! I’m a writer. I get to be all my characters, every day. I also get to be the cinematographer, the producer, the set designer, the costumer, the dialogue coach . . . I get to be all of it all the time.

In a way, I guess, I’m running a single player, all expenses paid, no special effects budget limit, no memory limit game all the time. And so far, I’ve never had to buy more memory or a faster processor! Not even a graphics card!

And I do keep a log of it for all the rest of you.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

Do what you love.

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