The last couple of weeks, Cliqist has been upping its coverage on tactical RPG City of the Shroud, which been very successful on Kickstarter. Why City of the Shroud, you ask? What makes it any different than the gazillion other RPGs pushing and shoving one another out of the way in the race for your hard earned dolla’ bills?
City of the Shroud has a lot of things going for them, but what stands out most to me is its dynamic storyline, which is directly affected by the choices, YOU, the player, make in-game. Moira Katson, a best-selling, chart-topping fantasy and sci-fi novelist, joined forces with developer Abyssal Arts to help write the story for City of the Shroud. We reached out to Moira to find out why she’s temporarily put her novel-writing ways on hold for this ambitious project, the toll this is taking on her emotional and mental well-being, and other words full of weight and wisdom.
Moira and the rest of the team at Abyssal Arts go way back (well maybe not that far back), majoring in economics at the same college. After they split up, they kept in touch—as good friends often do—and Moira started penning novel after novel after novel. In her spare time, she also began playing dangerously addictive games like World of Warcraft. After spending hours on end dungeon- crawling and grinding for that last bit of XP, she was in awe at the immersion and the “power” on display (she wasn’t specific, but might I suggest time-consuming or soul-sucking power?).
She noted that even though there’s always a scripted storyline, there are also a vast array of choices at your disposal, “in World of Warcraft, you can choose allegiances and races, in Mass Effect you can choose backgrounds and how you approach situations.” Moira also marvelled at the depth and scope of video games and the multitude of “possibilities and ways of including the player.”
Just as she started picking up an interest in writing for games like World of Warcraft, Keaton White (City of the Shroud’s lead director) was in the process of putting together the team for Abyssal Arts. She was more than thrilled when Keaton asked her to write the script for City of the Shroud. So far, she’s been impressed with the team’s willingness to “work with the genre in innovative ways”, which are wholly evident in the “story mechanics and combat.”
Downtime is hard to come by in the game development biz, and since joining the team, her day-to-day routine has been hectic, or, in her words, “crazy… I mean that in the best way! We’re all very go-go-go.” Before she could start freelancing, she was writing “on the bus and during her lunch breaks.” The entire team is—by the sheer nature of their work—acclimated to contract gigs and “fitting [their] hobbies in around full-time or more than full-time work.”
Working with a small team like Abyssal Arts means the team has each other’s back—whether that entails scratching or whipping. Learning always keeps Moira and the team on their toes, and though not every piece of info comes in handy, “that knowledge is still around for when we next need it!”
Moira, being a novelist, draws inspiration from numerous authors, many of which happen to be on her “eternal reread list” (I’m stealing that one): “Robin McKinley, who excels at elegant simplicity and humor; Guy Gavriel Kay, whose work practically leaps off the page with how much time and care he lavishes on it; Jacqueline Carey, for her use of language; and Tamora Pierce, for her ability to capture all of life, not just the serious pieces.” A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham “perfectly captures” everything she’s trying to bring to the City of the Shroud’s story, “the world-weariness [and] the sense of good people caught in the cogs of a world far larger than they are.”
In terms of video games, she’s heavily inspired by the Final Fantasy series, which “embraces both the silly and the serious”. Halo reminds her that she doesn’t necessarily have to incorporate dialog to convey a convincing story, and that if she “comes even close to ripping someone’s heart out the way Mass Effect ripped out mine, [she’ll] have done a good job.” (It may sound melodramatic, but I can attest that Mass Effect does have that, uh, effect on you.)
After attending a live demo of the story mechanic a few months ago, she was delighted at how savvy the players were; “aligning themselves with [other players] who, while they might not be altogether trustworthy, were nonetheless fairly predictable.” Although she’s felt the “intensive pressure” writing each episode after receiving feedback, it was definitely a process “filled with energy”. She learned quickly to put away “preconceived notions” of how the story might unfold, because the players weren’t making choices that were remotely close to what she had predicted.
So far, Moira has scribbled down a “good portion of the ‘starting conditions’ and the game’s outline. When writing, she’s wary of getting in the way of players, and wherever possible, she wants to “make sure she’s giving them choices so that they can speak and shape things.” One of the biggest roadblocks she anticipates is the need to “[reflect] both majority and minority voices in the story”, as the solution will differ slightly from scenario to scenario.
Above all else, Moira’s end goal is to draw gamers into the vast City of the Shroud (just like World of Warcraft drew her in), and create a world that they can lose themselves in and be truly passionate about. For Moira, writing for a video game, especially City of the Shroud, has been an experience like no another:
There’s an adage in novel writing that an author only begins a book, and the reader completes it, and it’s very easy to say that you understand how readers can create a whole living world from your work. With this game, however, I can actually see that unfold in real time, and there really are no words for how that feels. It’s wonderful.
But as much as she “adores” writing for City of the Shroud, she’s equally (if not more) in love with writing novels and can’t see herself giving that up anytime soon. Moira’s novels can be purchased from a number of online retailers, including Amazon, and you can also sign up on her website to receive a free copy of her novel Dragon’s Honor. City of the Shroud’s Kickstarter campaign ends on May 6th, and the game is slated for release in February 2017.