Thursday, 15 September 2016

The inkle Interview

Ahead of the Sorcery! 4 preview party later today, the Warlock summoned Jon Ingold of inkle studios - the team behind the app adaptations of Steve Jackson's seminal gamebook series - to the depths of Firetop Mountain for interrogation...

The Warlock: How long have inkle been working on the Sorcery! apps for?

Inkle: We've been working on the Sorcery! series for just shy of four years now, from our first conversations with Steve about ideas for the series, through to wrapping up the final bug-fixes on Part 4's Steam build. It's been a huge undertaking for us as a studio - I think, when we started, we imagined we'd put out one game every six months or so, in fairly faithful fashion, but it quickly became clear that there was an opportunity here to do something much more exciting. So the games have taken a bit longer than we expected! But we're fairly sure they've been worth the wait so far.

We can't wait to get The Crown of Kings out there - we love the idea of people having the whole adventure to play through and we've been enjoying referencing as many early decisions as possible in the last part.

When it comes to inkle's Sorcery! adaptation, of what are you most proud?

There are a lot of features that we're really happy with. Basing the game around a map, for instance, which completely changed how the game felt. And we're really excited about the 3D work we've done for The Crown of Kings, adding buildings to the mountainous terrain which you can explore inside and outside using a cool cutaway "spotlight" that moves with the player.

But I think what we're most proud of is the move to open-world design that we took from Part 3 onwards. It was really exciting - and challenging - to leave the gamebook "tree" structure behind entirely, and set the player free to explore the game-world in whatever way they could. It allowed us to stuff the game with even more secrets and discoveries, and to really bring the world to life - both in terms of the narrative, and the extra gameplay of the "ancient past" beacons in Part 3.

How many narrative sections does the entire Sorcery! saga run to, now that Part 4 is complete?

One problem with talking about our games is that we don't have a good way to describe how they're built. They're not made from "paragraphs" in the way a traditional gamebook is; or rather, they are, but the paragraphs are just paragraphs which link together to form sections in a flexible way, based on what's going on in the story - and the paragraphs themselves can vary based on the game-state too.
We often simply talk about "words" - there are about 1.5 million in the full series - or choices - about 35,000 options - or about "stitches", which is the internal ink engine name for a paragraph of text, and there are around 60k of those.

Which is your favourite monster in the entire Sorcery! saga?

One thing I love about the series is that each book has its iconic creature - the Manticore in The Shamutanti Hills, the Slime Eaters of the sewers of Kharé, the Serpents of the Baklands and the vicious Birdmen of Mampang.

But my personal favourite has to be the Snattacats, who turn invisible - but only when their eyes are closed. I particularly love that they get a mention in Book 1 - a crazed individual in a tavern mutters about them, as though he was being stalked by things he cannot see...

The Snattacat - now you see it...

Outside of Sorcery! which are your favourite Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks?

I read most of them when I was a kid, but the one that really stayed with me was another Jackson classic - Creature of Havoc. It just had so many incredible ideas: from the basic story set-up, to the mysterious language, and the incredible "escape" puzzle. I remember playing and playing the intro of that game, over and over, trying to figure it out - and when I did, I felt like I'd understood something of incredible importance about the marriage of storytelling and puzzle design.

Now that you've completed the Sorcery! saga, what can fans look forward to next from inkle Studios?

We've expanded since the early days of Sorcery! and we've actually been working on two games for the last year or so. So with Sorcery! out the door, we'll be all working together on the next game, which is a new story in a brand new world with a brand new kind of interface - and I think it's going to be quite a surprise. We hope people will enjoy it, when it's ready - but it's a little way off yet. But not more Fighting Fantasy for us, I think: it's up to the excellent Tin Man to carry that flame alone for now!

Remember, the Sorcery! 4: The Crown of Kings preview/launch party is happening at the Loading Bar, Stoke Newington in London, tonight - 15th September 2016 - from 6pm.

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