Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: an interview with Anthony Huso

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 27, 2010

Anthony Huso is video game designer at Arkane Studios. He’s also an author and has recently had his first novel, The Last Page, published by Tor books. He was kind enough to answer some questions for me about his book, his career, and his gaming past.

Anthony’s website

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Could you give us a little bit of background on your professional career and what it is you do now at Arkane Studios?

I started out in games modding for Thief the Dark Project. For me, games really provided me with an interactive story and the chance to tell stories through games was what got me excited about making games. Currently I’m a designer at Arkane Studios, recently acquired by ZeniMax. I’ve worked at Arkane Studios since 2004 doing design work and some writing.

In your infinite spare time you’re also a writer and have recently published your first novel, The Last Page. Would it be possible to give us a synopsis of the book?

Sure. The book follows two very different characters and therefore two very different threads of action. In the shortest way possible, I might say that the book follows, on one hand, the esoteric happenings within a country called the Duchy of Stonehold. On the other hand, you get the more visceral, grounded, and political part of the same country’s story. Essentially there is a power-couple at the head of the Duchy of Stonehold and it is through the eyes of this duo that both the subplots and main plot evolve.

In an interview you did with Ricardo Bare, you mentioned that most fantasy these days is of the canned variety. What sets your novel apart from this?

I try not to be a basher of other people’s writing. I think that we’re lucky to have a variety of styles within any given genre and anything that gets people (especially kids) reading is a Good Thing. (No. My book is not for kids.) That said, I have no interest in recapping gorgons and dragons and on elves and so forth. Established fantasy tropes are not my thing.

What I prefer is to combine fringe mythologies, things that I think very few people will have ever heard of, and reconstitute them for my purposes. I toss in a heavy amount of my own imagination: stuff I think is just crazy and outlandish. In my writing, I’m going for weird. I want to create a place that is so strange that the characters are often just as shocked as the reader. In addition to this, I want the place to be familiar, sometimes surprisingly so: especially to an American audience. I push the envelope of that familiarity sometimes by mentioning things like “aspirin” in a setting that is clearly nowhere close to North America. The goal is, of course, to generate unsettling familiarity with a place, a plot, and a group of people where everything is really utterly bizarre.

There’s one other thing I do, which is to try and twist archetypes into unrecognizable shapes. Of those who have read The Last Page, I wonder how many really noticed that Sena is a witch with a cottage, a broom and a cat familiar. I think I did, or at least I hope I did, a fairly good job of playing with that archetype in a way that’s nearly invisible. The downside of playing these sorts of games is that it makes writing a synopsis tricky. The Last Page, in blurb form, seems to be about a witch and her prince. The whole thing sounds like a cute little fairy tale.

In your acknowledgements for the book you write, “Additionally, nothing in this book would be what it is without the infinite lost hours of Poy (Phanty), Chappy (Vlon), Tone (Rill) and Mike (Karakael) or “Jason: the Hermit” (and his assorted bloody sacrifices).” I’m curious as to what these infinite hours were lost to. Would you mind explaining?

Sure. Those are the guys I role played with back in high school. We literally lost thousands of hours at the gaming table playing Gygax’s modules and making up our own. Several of the participants had long-lasting characters. But poor Jason…well, it seemed like he was rolling up a new set of stats every week. I’m an advocate of gaming, even though I haven’t played anything that required a twenty-sider since 1995. I’m not embarrassed of this often lampooned past time at all. You could almost say, what with my parent’s divorce and all, that gaming practically saved my life.

Also you mention, “I wrote this book because it Rained.” Again, I’m curious.

This one I’m going to keep private, but I think that’s ok. Everyone needs a little mystery, right?

What is next for you on the writing/publishing front?

I’m currently working through my editorial revisions on the sequel to The Last Page: a book called Black Bottle that I hope will be out late next year.

On your blog you write about your one and only experience with an MMO and how that was enough for one lifetime. Would you mind explaining what that experience was like and how you came to that decision?

I opted to play an incredibly hard core, very deep (mechanically) Chinese-born MMO called Perfect World. The server was based in Malaysia and it had players from all over the world. My OCD got the best of me, I’m afraid, and I wound up creating arguably one of the top 2 archer characters on the server. This endeavor took a fabulous amount of time and money and I would never repeat it. On the other hand, it will certainly be one of my most memorable gaming experiences of all time. And I’ve saved all the screenshots to prove it.

I take it you’re still a gamer then. What would be your games of choice these days?

These days I mostly play Magic the Gathering Online. Despite the current state of the client, it’s hard to fuck up Garfield’s incredibly brilliant and robust mechanics. I have a blast making decks and pwning noobs at the two-headed giant table. I do however always try to be polite. Yes it’s a super nerd game but it lets me stay home with the kids and still socialize a bit. If you haven’t tried Magic in a while, you should come check it out. The client is being redesigned as we speak — so the rumor goes — and videos of the new version that I scrounged up on the internet look promising.

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

It’s absolutely a threat. Which is why I mostly stick to Magic these days. I can play a hand in thirty minutes and be done. In my case, I’m afraid, abstinence of “real gaming” has been the essential prescription for more hours on the typewriter so-to-speak.

Would you say your gaming background has had any effect on you as a writer? Please explain.

Absolutely. I love games like Thief, Halo — you can see a list on my webpage. Good games are great at evoking mood, tension, anticipation: stuff you’d hope to find in a book, right? Games and movies and other books all pour into a compost pile of sorts that I turn with my pitchfork and let cook. That compost grows all kinds of new characters and ideas.

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

My brother and I played Halo co-op through the campaign at least twenty times. It got to the point where we had most of the dialog memorized and started making up special rules, like: Heroic — pistols and fists are the only legal weapons. It was literally a blast. Sitting in front of the big screen, eating home-made pico de gallo, trying to escape the imminent explosion of the Autumn…it occurred to us as we listening to that pelican captain tell Cortana that she couldn’t pick us up because: “Negative, I’ve been engaged…” Well, we just laughed because it sounded to us like she couldn’t save our asses or she’d be late for her wedding.

How do you tend to escape these days?

I read. I play with the kids. I watch a little TV or head to the Alamo Drafthouse for a movie. Pretty standard stuff, I guess.

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

Write because you have to…not because you want to make money or be famous. Write because when you go to bed at night you see people and places and you imagine wild adventures, and because you feel that if you do not write these things down, you might go insane.

You wake up to a just and verdant world where The Last Page has been made into an MMORPG. What character or class would you play and why?

I’d definitely be a holomorph. Cutting myself just a little too deep to cast the next spell seems a wonderfully funny way to die…and hey, since I’m going to respawn, I might as well laugh.

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

Nope, other than a kind thank you to Randolph Carter for having me. If you ever come across the silver key, let me know. I want to come with.

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