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Interviews: Interview with Infinity Blade: Awakening Author Brandon Sanderson

Summary:

Entries

12

Date

Nov 21st, 2011

Type

Verbatim

Links

Epic Games

  • 1

    Epic Games

    Epic Games recently had the chance to chat with Fantasy Author Brandon Sanderson about the new novella based on the ChAIR Entertainment iOS game "Infinity Blade." The Infinity Blade: Awakening novella is available now for $2.99 via Apple iBookstore, Amazon.com Kindle, and Barnes & Noble NOOK. You can also download a free preview here.

  • 2

    Epic Games

    Have you ever worked on a video game before?

    Brandon Sanderson

    This is my first extensive experience working on a video game. I have sold video game rights on one of my other books, but I haven't begun working on that yet.

    Epic Games

    How did you get involved with Infinity Blade?

    Brandon Sanderson

    They approached me. The developers of Infinity Blade were fans of mine. They tell me they spent some six months trying to get hold of me, going through different channels. But they kept trying because they really wanted to work with me. Eventually they realized they had a contact with Isaac Stewart, who has done a lot of art for my books and is a good friend of mine. So through him they eventually got me to dinner to pitch working on this project with them.

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  • 3

    Epic Games

    What do you think you were able to bring to the story of Infinity Blade?

    Brandon Sanderson

    I'm a writer. This is what I do. One thing I've noticed—and I'm a big gamer, I enjoy video games—is that a lot of video game people have great ideas. They have excellent storytelling instincts. What they don't have, often, is a lot of practice doing it—you get better at telling stories by telling stories. A lot of the video games out there will have this core of awesomeness but a little bit of roughness around the edges when it comes to dialogue, making sure that the worldbuilding is rigorous, making sure that the characterizations are smooth and have nice arcs. I think that's something I can bring expertise to.

    One of the nice things about video games is that it's a big collaborative effort. There are certain things that a writer like myself should not be involved in. I don't have any practice coming up with fun ways to play games. I know some writers who assume that because they know how to tell stories, they'll be able to make a game that's interesting, but that's certainly not the case. The developers at ChAIR are experts at making really fun, awesome games. But I can help them with their worldbuilding, making sure it's consistent; with their dialogue, making sure that it's both evocative and interesting without being cliched and overdone. I think that the more people with skill in various areas you have working on a project like this, the better the outcome will be.

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  • 4

    Epic Games

    What was the process of working with ChAIR like?

    Brandon Sanderson

    I met with them, wrote down all of their ideas, and then spent several weeks doing some hardcore brainstorming and reworking, where I kind of had to break apart the outline of their world and rebuild it from the ground up. Then I would bring things to them and say, "What do you think of this, what do you think of this?" I built for them a story bible, essentially a world book for their setting, and then constructed what I thought would be a really great narrative to bridge the two games. I was like an outside expert they brought in to consult on their story.

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  • 5

    Epic Games

    What did you find most interesting about working within the Infinity Blade universe?

    Brandon Sanderson

    I was really interested by something that may be surprising to you, and that is the constraints that I had. I find that good creativity commonly comes from having really interesting limitations. I often say this about magic—the best magic comes from what the magic can't do—and the best characters are the ones who have really interesting limitations. In the same way, a lot of times the best stories come when you have some really interesting constraints. You can't have too many—but let me give an example.

    I saw that they have healing magic in this world, and it works like standard video game healing—boom, you just drink a potion or cast a spell and you've been healed. If you look at that from a real-life perspective, that is way too easy to be interesting narratively, and it also has all kinds of wacky ramifications for the way society works. So I took this and said, "How can I make this work in the actual framework of a story, in a way that's interesting, different, that people haven't seen before, that does not contradict the video game, and yet also doesn't break the economy of this world?" So I built things so that drinking a potion or using a magic spell heals you but it also accelerates your metabolism and ages you for as long as it would have taken you to heal naturally from that injury. So what we've got here is something that doesn't really affect the video game at all, but if you look at it world-wise, yes we've still changed the world somewhat, but now there's an enormous cost. You don't want to heal every time you get a little cut, because you're taking weeks off your life. Taking the chance to heal yourself is only going to be something you're really going to do if it's life or death for you.

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  • 6

    Epic Games

    How does the novel, Infinity Blade: Awakening, fit within the game universe?

    Brandon Sanderson

    It is a bridge directly from game one to game two. It begins basically right at the end of game one, and then game two overlaps. You get to play through the ending of the story, for the introduction to the game when you're going through the tutorial and whatnot. Then the game heads to new ground. This was actually really fun for me—I liked writing something and then having them say, "Wow, we're going to make this part of the game. It'll be our prologue."

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  • 7

    Epic Games

    Which of the characters do you find most compelling and why?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Siris, our main character. I felt I really needed a protagonist who was compelling, so I did everything I could to make him fit the bill. I also think that Isa, the character I created to go alongside him, is very fun and very interesting, but certainly Siris is the most compelling.

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  • 8

    Epic Games

    How do you think games can improve their approach to storytelling?

    Well, this is an interesting question because as a writer, I have to admit something about games. At its core, a game with great gameplay and a terrible story is still going to be a fun game. But a game with a great story and terrible gameplay is going to be a horrible game. There's no getting around the fact that first you have to have a very fun game. It just can't go the other way. So there's a reason why, historically, some of the writing for video games hasn’t been that great, and that's because you have to make sure you have a fun game first.

    That said, the more money that's being involved in video games, the more production time we have, and the more opportunity we have to really be taken seriously as a large mass media experience, the more time I think can legitimately be and should be devoted to the story. You've seen some really awesome games with great stories come out like the Infamous series, for example.

    I feel that the dialogue in video games tends to be cliched, and this bothers me because when you have cliched dialogue, you end up with cliched characters, you end up with cutscenes that are just jokes that people skip, and you lose a lot of depth of immersion for these stories. So I would like to see the dialogue get better, and I would also like to see character arcs get better. I frequently see video game characters making big decisions and changes in their lives based on very poor foreshadowing, or very poor character growth, where it's just—suddenly now I'm a bad guy, or suddenly now I'm a good guy, or whatnot. I would really like to see video games put more rigor into it, to let us experience a character's growth.

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  • 9

    Epic Games

    What are some of your favorite videogames and why?

    Brandon Sanderson

    When I was growing up I always really enjoyed the Final Fantasy games because they felt like they spent more time on story. I would list Final Fantasy 10 as one of my favorites of all time. That said, the last few installments I've found myself getting more and more bored with. I guess maybe you can only do the same thing so many times, I don't know. I haven't been excited about the most recent ones as much; maybe I played 10 and just loved it so much that after that, where does it have to go?

    Recently I've liked the game Demon Souls, in part because of the fantastic sense of immersion that everything went into in that game—the ambiance, the level design, the solitary feel. That is a way you can tell a great story without a lot of dialogue and a lot of forcing cutscenes down your throat. Batman: Arkham Asylum was just brilliant, for all of the reasons I stated above. And I've really enjoyed the games that ChAIR has made—Shadow Complex, Infinity Blade of course.

    Epic Games

    What is your most memorable gaming experience / best gaming memory?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Probably Final Fantasy 10 as I mentioned. At that time I was working the graveyard shift at a hotel, and I was doing a lot of writing on my own trying to get published. I would come home every morning at seven a.m. and play for a couple of hours alone in the quiet apartment, thinking about my own stories, experiencing the story of the game.

    Other than that, I would say, honestly, the game that sucked most of my time was probably the original X-Wing game, which really made me feel like I got to be an X-Wing pilot, which, you know—Star Wars geek! That was so much fun! In a lot of ways every space game since then has failed to live up to the sense that I got from that game.

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  • 10

    Epic Games

    How do you think the digital space is changing the publishing industry?

    Brandon Sanderson

    It's doing a lot of things. It is making it easier for people who don't frequently read books to run across books. I'm hoping that people who love to play their Infinity Blade games will see the story there and download it, and remember that they once loved to read books. Because a lot of people who are playing games read occasionally. I've found that most people, when they read a good book, say, "Wow, I really do like reading great books. Why don't I do this more often?" It's just a factor of that it slips our mind or we don't find time, or video games and movies are really flashy and books are anything but flashy. But there's just a wonderful experience to reading a book. I think there's space for all of these things, and I hope that more people can discover and be reminded of why they love books.

    It's also taking away some of the constraints. Book length is no longer as much of a factor as it used to be. You can have a really long book or a really short book, and the binding doesn't dictate the length of your story, which I really like.

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  • 11

    Epic Games

    What are the benefits of people becoming more comfortable consuming their books, games, etc. digitally?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Certainly there's just a convenience factor. In book sales, we lost a big convenience factor during the 90s and early 2000s, and that is that we lost mall stores. A lot of the bookstores in malls went away. And a lot of the distribution to little gas stations and corner stores went away, for various reasons that I can't explain in the length of this interview. Basically, our science fiction and fantasy books lost a lot of the places where readers could pick them up. As I said before, a lot of people when they run across a good book and start reading it, they love it. Yet now they don’t have as many opportunities to come across books. Recently they've been having to go to one of these big box stores, they have to make reading a destination. Because of that, all the people who would pick up a cool science fiction book that they would see in their corner store aren't reading anymore. Hopefully if we can show them books on their phone or in their game, they'll be reminded, and we can replace those distribution methods we lost with these new distribution methods where we can sell books for half the price and deliver them right to you in the moment of super convenience. I'm hoping this will encourage more people to look into our stories.

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  • 12

    Epic Games

    Thank you Brandon!