Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)
Choice of Games’ latest release will be A Midsummer Night’s Choice, a Shakespearean romp (but much easier to read) through an enchanted forest, complete with fairies that do battle on harnessed rabbit-steeds. I sat down with the author, Kreg Segall, who is an Associate Professor of English in the Department of Humanities at Regis College to learn more about how Midsummer came about, and some of the challenges and pleasures of Shakespeare-style storytelling.
How did you stumble onto writing interactive fiction?
It feels less like a stumble than a natural progression. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing interactive stories for people to play with. I wrote stapled-together choose-your-own-adventure books for my friends in elementary school, played and ran all of the popular role-playing games around in the ’80s, and got involved in the live role-playing scene in Boston in college and grad school.
So when I discovered Choice of Games, it felt like an extension of what I had already been doing. I played the Heroes Rise series, and thought, “Oh, this is fun! I know how to do that.”
Your day job is being an English professor, so it’s no surprise that Midsummer is an homage to the Bard. Tell me about how you came up with the idea for the game and why this was a trope that worked for you.
The best part about being an English professor is that I get to talk to my students about my favorite stories all day. In a way, A Midsummer Night’s Choice is like a “best of” version of those stories—all of my favorite moments and characters lovingly parodied and morphed into something new.
I can hardly take credit for the idea for the game: it’s as old as comedy. The parent with their own idea about the child’s love life, and the child taking matters into his or her own hands by duping or otherwise ignoring the parent—that’s just a structure that sets us up for laughter. (Although strangely this structure seems less and less funny to me now that I have my own children.)
Once I realized that this game was going to incorporate all of my favorite moments from the comedies, it was easy to draw up a list of necessary elements—I had to have a fool, an unwelcome suitor, a domineering father, a courtier, a play-within-a-play, fairies, a bear, and so on. I think Shakespeare would have approved of my using his plays to create my own work—he did it all the time!
What specific plays informed this? I see snippets of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but also As You Like It, and even The Taming of the Shrew.
The three plays that my game owes the most to are A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, and The Winter’s Tale, although I tried really hard to get at least one joke or reference to every comedy in there, and most of the other plays too! But there’s also a significant amount of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, the anonymous Mucedorus, The Knight of the Burning Pestle and really dozens of other plays. Shakespeare’s sonnets, too, make an appearance in my game as well.
Decision time: your favorite comedy, tragedy, history, and “weird” Shakespeare plays.
My favorite “other” play (and my favorite Shakespeare play overall) is The Winter’s Tale. Something in me responds to the long pastoral Act IV, with the singing rogue Autolycus, the silly-but-touching shepherds, and the young lovers trying to figure out their next step.
My favorite comedy is probably Measure for Measure, favorite history is Henry IV, pt. 1, and favorite tragedy is Antony and Cleopatra.
You didn’t ask me what my least favorite Shakespeare play is. So I’ll add that as a bonus. It’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. I keep giving it a try, but it’s not for me. But my favorite opera is Verdi’s Falstaff, which is based on The Merry Wives of Windsor. So at least that.
What elements of writing in ChoiceScript did you find favored or did not favor telling your story in the form of interactive fiction? This game seems like it’d have a huge burden on you for doing continuity—it’s both complex and has a good amount of variety in the endings.
I was wondering whether the coding would be difficult, but it was really quite straight-forward. It never got in my way. I have nothing but good things to say about ChoiceScript.
You’re right to say that the continuity was tricky: I would frequently draw out the possible endings on paper in a crazy-looking flowchart with ovals and arrows everywhere that took up several sheets of paper. I did make more work for myself than I needed to by adding a romantic option on a whim in the fourth chapter that I hadn’t anticipated—I had no clue that that whim would take weeks of work to properly integrate!
I grew very close to some of the characters as I wrote, and the process of writing the couple of dozen endings was bizarre. I had to imagine a character in love with the main character, and then, in an alternate reality, furious at them, and a dozen variations in between.
Midsummer feels so close to a Shakespeare play, in that it takes all the best elements of his comedies and mixes them up for a new audience. What would you tell a potential reader who hated Shakespeare plays in high school English class?
It may not surprise you to learn that I talk to people who hated Shakespeare in high school all the time. I would tell that potential reader that the hardest thing about Shakespeare is his language and his allusions to mythology. The story is the easy part. Anyone can understand a story about love, rebellion, and escape. While A Midsummer Night’s Choice does use a few Shakespearean words, it’s so much easier than reading Renaissance literature, and maybe my story will be interesting enough to inspire them to go seek out Shakespeare himself and give him another try.
The funny thing is that I was that person who didn’t care for Shakespeare in high school. I was so bored by Julius Caesar, and I didn’t get why Romeo and Juliet was a big deal.
It wasn’t until I saw a production of The Two Gentleman of Verona that I started feeling something. I had never heard of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and it’s only an O.K. play, but the actors made it funny, and I had no expectations, and the magic of theater took over.
Finally, I can’t resist a little short answer Bernard Pivot/James Lipton action with some interactive fiction flavor thrown in:
What is your favorite word?
“Syzygy” is a cool one. Three vowels, all “y.”
What is your least favorite?
“Shindig” sounds really painful for something that’s supposed to be fun. “Sidekick” has the same problem.
What turns you off?
Where do I start? Off the top of my head: dust jackets; tiny shutters on houses that have no utilitarian function; “ex libris” book plates; the texture of popsicle sticks; highlighters; squishy bread;
What is your favorite IF novel other than your own?
I enjoyed Choice of the Deathless. I thought it was a really fun setting, and as a fan of the Buffy/Angel world, getting to play as part of an undead law firm intrigued me.
What strategies do you use to keep writing when you feel blocked?
This has never happened to me—not in my scholarly work, and not in my creative work. I just sit down and write, which I like to do in 3-5 hour stretches when I can. I find it meditative, getting to play with words on the page.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Sometimes I think I’d like to be a baker in some quiet town. Wake up really early and make all sorts of amazing crusty breads. I’d like to have the sort of bakery that people describe as “artisanal” and “bespoke” and “locally-sourced” and “sustainable.” I wouldn’t use those words, but other people would. I think I mostly have that thought when I have a lot of papers to grade.
What profession would you not like to do?
A mere glance outside my window suggests that I really, really don’t want to be a gardener. Maybe the state of my backyard was inspiration for the untamed forest in my game.
Favorite authorship candidate/conspiracy theory?
There’s way too much amazing, fascinating critical work being done for me to keep up with fake issues.