Dec 06

2016

Author Interview: Caleb Wilson – “Cannonfire Concerto”

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)

Choice of Games’ latest release will be Cannonfire Concerto, an adventure of spies, intrigue, musical genius, and more set in a world not too unlike Napoleonic Europe, called “Meropa.” I sat down with the author, Caleb Wilson, to learn more about his game and his experiences writing interactive fiction. Look for Cannonfire Concerto later this week, releasing on Thursday, December 8th.


Cannonfire is a fantastic game, both in the sense that I loved it, and also that it’s set in a slightly fantastical version of perhaps Napoleonic Europe, which you call Meropa. Tell me about Meropa and some of the corresponding real-world places you explore in the game.

Meropa is definitely meant to be a cartoonish/simplified version of Napoleonic Europe. In the earliest drafts, it *was* Napoleonic Europe: Cerigne was Cologne, Kavka was Prague, Bonaventure Fox was Napoleon Bonaparte, etc. It never quite worked properly. I think that because I wanted to make the world of the game simpler and smaller than real history, it just felt weird to write about real places and people. Rienzi was never based on a particular city, though in our world it would have been a rival to Florence and Venice. Its role in the story is as the main city that has embraced “Genius” as definitely a real thing. Colubrina is like if Venice were full of mazy alleyways instead of canals. The Grand Duchy of Lithaltania is kind of all the Balkan states rolled into one. The real Lithuania was one of the last places in Europe to officially convert to Christianity. A city that’s mentioned but never visited in the final version of the game is Aessa, which was to have been modeled on Odessa.

What is “Genius?”

It’s a little ambiguous on purpose — some people consider it a soul, and some people don’t believe in it at all. I think its tentacles make it just a bit sinister. One thing that I play with a bit is how much physical presence a Genius has. The main character of Cannonfire thinks of it as something physical and separate, and seems to see it interacting with other people, though really it interacts with their Geniuses. So in a sense I think the Genius’s existence could be denied! Whatever it is, there’s no moral element to the Genius, which I guess makes it pretty different from a soul after all.

What kinds of social issues did you have in mind as you were writing it?

Hmm, maybe only the fairly obvious idea, still relevant these days, that being a skilled artist doesn’t make someone a good person. In general, I really like the inclusive mode that Choice of Games sets as the default in its games. It was really nice to work from that, and fun to try to write a character than felt consistent no matter what details the player chose.

And your background–you’re a long-time IF writer but this is your first CoG title.

Yes, I’ve written a bunch of short parser IF, mostly entered in various “minicomps” — this seems to be a term I only see in that context, but they are more or less game jams.

What were some of the unique aspects of working in ChoiceScript for you, as compared to other IF tools?

Of all the various IF tools I’ve used, ChoiceScript feels the most like writing prose fiction. But that’s also a little bit of a trap, because you can’t just write like you’re writing a novel. My technique was to make the mercurial and somewhat fickle nature of the protagonist part of the story: it’s not so much that the reader is choosing what kind of person the virtuoso is, because they’re always the kind of person who might think to do all the choices the reader is given, but instead they just help the protagonist which impulses to follow. I try to make the presented choices part of the narrative too, and when I read a piece pf choice-based IF I like to imagine the character thinking of actually doing all of these things. I also like how ChoiceScript lets you easily integrate game-aspects into the fiction, though I think there’s still a lot there for me to explore.

Do you have some favorite IF (other than your own) you want to rave about to me?

I really love the work of Chandler Groover, which is dark and fairy tale-ish. He started writing in the last few years and has
already produced a bunch of remarkable pieces, my favorite being “Midnight. Swordfight.” I’d also like to mention “With Those We Love Alive” by Porpentine and Brenda Neotenomie, which is mind-blowing and heart-breaking, even if you don’t follow its directions to draw sigils on yourself with a marker (though it really does add something kind of special).

What are you working on next for us?

I want to write another story set in Meropa! It would be very different from Cannonfire, and I now that I’m a little more familiar with how a long-form ChoiceScript story can be constructed, I have some ideas for making the focus a little different. It would explore a place that’s mentioned in Meropa but not visited, Rabami (heavily inspired by Finland), and I’d like to make it a thriller.

Proust style/Pivot-style Questionnaire questions:

What is your favorite word?

Picaresque.

Your favorite color and flower?

Green, very dark purple iris.

Your favorite composer?

Michael Nyman. His piece “Chasing sheep is best left to shepherds”, first used in the movie The Draughtsman’s Contract, is the unofficial theme song of Cannonfire Concerto.

 What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I used to imagine being a scientist. Assuming I could magically become better at math, I’d like to attempt it.

What profession would you not like to do?

Being a professional athlete seems to me to be the perfectly wrong proportions of stressful, dangerous, unfair, and ego-boostingly overpaid.

Take-out: Chinese or Mexican?

Chinese, probably? I think it survives the take-out box more intact.

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