Interviews// Sorcery!

Posted 29 Mar 2013 10:00 by
Jon (left) and Joe
Jon (left) and Joe
In 1983 Steve Jackson, one of the three founders of Games Workshop and creator of the Fighting Fantasy series of game-books began writing a four part series. This series was called Sorcery! and they were more adult orientated than the other Fighting Fantasy books and thus significantly more challenging. They also included a spell book from which the player could draw from, provided they know the letters that summoned the spell.

Sorcery! is the iOS version of the first of the four books and is being developed by British developer Inkle Studios. We spoke to Jon Ingold and Joseph Humfrey about Sorcery! while at PAX East 2013.

SPOnG: Tell about Inkle Studios and your history in the industry.

Jon Ingold (JI): Inkle Studios is a UK based company that has been going for a year and a half. There is two of us, myself and Joseph Humfrey and we were both at Playstation. We met making PS3 games and discovered that we had a common interest in stories and interactive stories. It was about a year and half ago that tablets were just starting to become something you saw everywhere, although not quite as ubiquitous as they are now.

SPOnG: It is quite extraordinary how popular they have become. When they first came out people wondered why anyone would want an iPhone that was five times bigger!

JI: Exactly! Despite that reception we began to look at them and sensed that it might bring about a kind of lean back gameplay, where you curl up on your sofa with your iPad and relax with it.

SPOnG: What else can you tell us about your background in the industry?

JI: Joseph worked at Rare on the DS version of Viva Piņata and I started out by writing text adventure games back when I was a student. Amazingly, I'm not really sure how now, that got me a job at Playstation as a narrative designer. I've done a few career's fairs and people have asked me how I became a designer and my response is I honestly don't know!

I was at Playstation for four years and worked on a game called TV Super-Stars. Not a great title, but it had a lot of scope to it so I learnt a lot of design lessons from that. But it wasn't the direction I wanted to go. So I formed Inkle Studios and brought together what I learnt from text adventures and bringing them to console games. Joseph knows more about the visuals and stuff.

We started working with book publishers and through those projects met Steve Jackson. He said that he was interested in adapting Sorcery! but was interested in doing something new with it. So rather than just making a game-book like all of the others on iOS. Now I appreciate that people are doing that and they're doing it very well. But Steve wanted to do something different with Sorcery!.

We spent a while tossing around ideas on what that could be and Steve was really good as he gave us a steer then gave us the freedom to get on an iterate and just try things out.

SPOnG: So tell us about the game and how it turned out.

JI: Sorcery!is almost complete now, with a month off of being finished. We hope to launch on 4th May providing the certification process goes through smoothly. The game is a version of what a game-book can be. It is all based around a map as Sorcery! is a journey that takes place over four books, in which you travel from your homeland across this wild wilderness. The game is based on the contents of Book One of Sorcery! and the player travels across the land contained in that tome.

SPOnG: Has the map always been the core of the game?

JI: Sorcery! was always about the journey, so I kind of had an ah-ha moment in what when they wrote the books what they really were interested in was Dungeons and Dragons. As fun as that game was, it was unapproachable due to its complexity. The Fighting Fantasy game-books were there as an entry level thing.

So, we thought we'd extend that by rather than making a game-book, let's make a table-top role playing game. Where the iPad is the dungeon master and is slick as anything. Anyone can use it, none of that stat building, none of the character creation, just the journey. By approaching the game in this way, moving a little figure across a map made perfect sense. The player is having this journey in this space and the iPad is narrating to you what is going on.

SPOnG: Aside from navigation, what else can you tell us about how the game interacts with the player?

JI: Sorcery! detects what choices the player makes as they make their journey through the game. I remembers every single one made. So if you're an inquisitive player, it will adapt the text to reflect that. It will also present to the player different choices and non-player characters will respond based on previous actions.

SPOnG: Is it fair to say that Sorcery! is not 100% accurate from the original source material?

JI: It's not no. The content of the first book is there, but the way it has been presented and in some cases structured is very different. There are many more choices available in Sorcery! then there were in the original text. The original was just a book and therefore limited by that medium. Sorcery! delivers dynamically generated text, it isn't pre-canned as it changes based on what choices the player has made.
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