Search the most comprehensive database of interviews and book signings from Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson and the rest of Team Jordan.
2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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A bit left of center question. Are you a role player? I ask because on Writing Excuses I think I heard you mention it.
Yes, I am a role player. Have been since I discovered the TMNT RPG back when I was a young teen, and have been doing it pretty much ever since. When I play, I’m almost always some kind of magic user (duh). When I GM, I prefer to homebrew my own system.
Well, sometimes I have to just close the browser (and the like fifty tabs worth of material I've found on reddit) and turn off the internet for a little while... Sometimes it's done by setting daily goals for myself (wordcount wise) and not letting myself go do fun things—video games, etc.—until I've hit my wordcount.
Motivation isn't a huge problem for me. I keep coming back to the idea that writing, and telling stories, is what I like to do most in the world. Yes, it can be tough at times. It is work. But unless I'm writing each day and creating something, I feel like I just haven't accomplished anything.
What games do you play, xbox or PS3?
Both, but usually not online. I do it to unwind, and so getting yelled at by team-mates is not really high on my list, nor is the stress of being forced to compete against other players who have a LOT more time for such things.
Right now, playing the new Magic The Gathering game on Xbox and really liking it. Big improvement over the last one, which was okay.
In regards to the Infinity Blade book, how did you pick that up out of all the licensed products?
Oh, why Infinity Blade. You know, It’s because they worked so darn hard to get me. They just kept going through every channel they could to get a hold of me. They called up my publicist, they called up Tor, they were trying everybody who possibly had a contact with me, and finally got through Isaac. It was they worked so hard, and also, they offered me a really good deal, meaning the idea that I could do this. And it was less about me looking for a licensed product or something like that, and more of me wanting to test how the digital market worked for something like this, and also, I want to have more to do with video games. And Epic, you know that gives you Unreal Edge, and Gears of War, they are a pretty big deal of a company. And if I ever wanted to do my own video game, straight out of an IP, which I have one I want to do, having contacts there would be really helpful. And so they came to me, they pitched this, they gave me a lot of creative freedom, they gave me a really good deal, monetarily, to make it worth my time, and I got to test the waters digitally and see how it is selling a story in game, and I also got to make some contacts in video games and gain a little more street cred.
I want to build a Skyrim killer one day, is what I really want to do. I have a story, a world that I have built with magic and things that I want to do, that may be a Skyrim killer someday, an Elder Scroll type game. I really like those games. I have problems with some of the things they do, but I really like those games. So I really want to do that someday. That means I have to find some game studio who’s willing to give me 30 million dollars to play with, so I’ve got to have a lot of good street cred in video games before they let me do that. Yeah “30 million, that’s nothing!” That’s one of the big reasons that I’m doing it also. I mean I’m going to pitch this to the guys after a follow up Infinity Blade eventually, and we’ll see what they say.
Why did Infinity Blade try so hard to get you specifically?
Because they are from Salt Lake, and they really liked my books, and they kind of based Inifinity Blade sort of off of my books. Not based, but they were inspired a little bit by my books, and so they really wanted to work with me. So that’s why. They liked the books. And you know, they make really good games. I was really impressed. I am a gamer, I hadn’t played their games. And that’s another reason—I played the games and they were fun. So that’s why they tried so hard. They just liked the books. It is interesting that there is a lot of talk in video games of “Are video games going to grow up storywise?” Like they’ve really come to their own as an entertainment medium in the last ten years, and yet story tends to be a weak point still in a lot of these. Even the games that have great story lines are great story lines for a video game. There’s been a lot of editorials written and a lot of articles written saying “Guys, we need to start hiring top talent to write our stories rather than farming it out to Dave who does our Particle Effects, and moonlights as a writer.” There’s lots of discussion about this. So I think these guys are interested in doing something like this. Do you have something Isaac?
I just wanted to add why they tried so hard to get you. If you want a little anecdote, I was at a Barnes and Nobles on my lunch break, and I look up and there’s this guy that I went to college with. So I said “What are you doing lately?” “Well I own my own video game studio.” He said “What have you been doing?” “Oh, I made some maps for some guys books. It’s right here. ” He decided to buy it and read it, and he became a huge fan. He really loved it.
What do you think you were able to bring to the story of Infinity Blade?
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.
What did you find most interesting about working within the Infinity Blade universe?
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.
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.
What are some of your favorite videogames and why?
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.
What is your most memorable gaming experience / best gaming memory?
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.
How do you think the digital space is changing the publishing industry?
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.
Hi Brandon. You've been involved with a few video games, including Infinity Blade and the (eventually) upcoming Mistborn game.
What kind of games do you like to play? Any particular favorites for their story or gameplay?
I LOVED the inFamous games for their stories, though my favorite games of recent years have been Civ V and Dark Souls/Demons Souls.
Are the Infinity Blade iOS games necessary to play in order to read Sanderson's novellas?
Hi, the title pretty much says everything I want to know. I have an Android device, so I can't play the Infinity Blade games in whose world Brandon Sanderson's two IB novellas are based. That being said, I tend to read all things Sanderson, so I was wondering if anyone out there who has either read the novellas but not played the games or done both could give some input as to whether playing the games is necessary for reading the novellas.
The answer is "Kind of."
For the first one, all you really need to know is the basic premise of the game: In it, your nameless hero would go to fight his way through a palace in an attempt to defeat the God King at the end. (Who was deathless, a kind of immortal.) If you died fighting him (which you usually did) your character's son arrived twenty years later to do the same thing. Eventually, when you beat the game, the king's throne unfolded, showing some science-fiction technology.
The fun of writing the story that came after was taking video game tropes (such as generic healing rings and potions) and trying to make a complex and interesting magic system, along with trying to figure out a character and setting that would work with what the game had displayed—yet also have narrative depth.
It was quite a fun exercise, but is of most interest to those who have played the game, because of the reasons mentioned above. That said, the first story can be read with only a small lead-in.
The developers brought me in for the story of the second and third games, however, and so my novella between games two and three is directly linked to the events of the games. It will stand far less well on its own. (Though you can watch all of the cinematic cut-scenes from the second game on Youtube.)
That was amazing. At first I thought "This guy is really knowledgeable about this". It only makes me happier to see it's actually you! I want to congratulate you on being awesome as well as taking part in the community that appreciates you. It makes me glad to know you take care of your fans.
I hope to see more games based off your work. I think Stormlight would lend itself great to an MMO. I could see high level characters getting together once a week to take out a chasmfiend.
I've actually been toying around with the idea of trying to bring a Rithmatist game to life on touch screen devices. Both Rithmatic duels between players or tower defense single player modes could lead to some really fun game play.
One of my main goals in agreeing to jump on board with the Infinity Blade guys was to learn about gaming from the industry side. I've always played, but wanted some real experience before being involved in video games based on my own works.
One thing I found confusing in the first story was mention of some events between killing the God King and when the story started. Taking the Infinity Blade (obviously), and killing some people in a basement? Or some lower level of a building, I think. I guessed that it was from some DLC add-on to the game, but I was never sure if it wasn't something the story added on its own.
DLC, as you guessed
Hm, I have the Infinity Blade 2 game but I haven't gotten around to finishing it yet, should I wait to start the second Novella until I finish the game, or should I just jump in and try to recover from the possible slight confusion? Btw, I really enjoyed the first Infinity Blade Novella, not only did it give a whole new look on the game, it was also just a great story.
Wait. Seriously. There's some plot events that you want to experience from the game.
I try to make it somewhat clear what happened at the end of the second game in the novella, but it might be a little confusing to you anyway. You COULD always watch the cut scenes on youtube, though. They're all up there. Either way, thanks for reading!