Oct 16

2017

Author Interview: Alice Ripley, “The Superlatives: Aetherfall”

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)

The prestigious Society for the Advancement of Individuals of Superlative Talent and the Protection of the Queen has invited you to become their newest member! But on the very day the Society plans to initiate you, unknown Villains destroy the Society headquarters and kidnap your colleagues! As the sole remaining full member of the Superlative Society, you must initiate new recruits to investigate the abduction. The Superlatives: Aetherfall is a 260,000-word interactive novel by Alice Ripley. I sat down with her to talk about the world of Superlatives, and more. The Superlatives: Aetherfall releases Thursday, October 19th. 

What kind of world is Superlatives set in? It seems to me that it’s not steampunk, but more a magical setting…with an overriding scientific basis for this magic!

There is definitely a steampunk influence to the game, particularly with the gadgeteers, but the focus is more on the superlative abilities. Everything is powered by aether—which historically refers to the substance that fills space, between the stars and planets, and in the Superlative universe is both a physical substance and an energy that flows through every living being. The characters can observe and study it, but it follows comic book science rules—whatever is the most fun is the most probable answer! And on top of that, I channeled some Jules Verne, and definitely drew on Edgar Rice Burroughs to create a solar system populated by sentient Venusian plants and Martian warriors and tiny, excitable Mercurians. The overriding principle of the Superlatives universe is that it contains the things I find delightful (and hopefully you do, too!).

There’s a huge cast in this game. What character did you enjoy writing most?

I’ve gone through many favorites, depending on my mood and which part of the game I was working on. The aliens are fun to dig into, especially trying to work out how their perspectives and opinions are distinctly different from the human norm. I’m also very fond of prickly Wailer, and finding her points of insecurity and vulnerability that make her more complex than she’d like you to think she is. And Dusk gets the best drama. I never could resist a mysterious, shadowy figure.

What did you find most challenging about writing in ChoiceScript? Or was it more the elements of how game design works?

I have some game design background and some experience coding, so there weren’t too many technical challenges, though there’s always a learning curve to a new system and design style. The hardest thing for me was falling into a rhythm with the writing itself. Normally, I build up narrative momentum and get into a groove where the story begins to naturally build on itself; there’s a creative sweet spot that I hit most days, where things just start to flow. That momentum is much harder to generate in a branching narrative, when you have to pause and create choices and consider different contexts, tones, and decisions for each micro-scene.

It can also be difficult to predict ahead of time how long a given set of choices is going to get, if you haven’t outlined down to a very granular level. I tend to work with high-level outlines, and make granular decisions on the fly, which means that I was never particularly close with my word count estimates—which in turn makes it difficult to schedule tasks and gauge deadlines. Lesson learned: more outlining!

Are you a fan of interactive fiction in general or are you more a straight literary fiction reader? What have you been reading in your (ha!) spare time?

My first real job was writing for an narratively intensive video game all about branching storylines. It didn’t end up making it past the “episode one” script, but it hooked me on the concept. I’m intrigued by the use of branching and choice in games, and I tend to prefer games with some element of player-driven narrative.

Outside of games and interactive fiction, I read very widely. I’m in a bit of a history and military memoir kick right now (recommended: The Coldest Winter, about the Korean War). Over the summer my standout favorites were The Bear & The Nightingale, which is a gorgeous take on Russian mythology, and Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me, which is sort of a crime novel but mostly a very dark and intricate look at a family driven by obsession with their eldest child’s talent.

Short answer, Bernard Pivot-style:

Favorite color?

Some shade of red.

Favorite word?

Too many good ones. I like words that have music, and words that have artful precision. You can discover amazing words and accidental poetry by reading Wikipedia articles about obscure subjects. Mycology has the best phrases: the “adnate lamellae of polypore-like fungi” and “various basidiomycetes” and “Gomphus has false gills.”

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

I loved both writing and visual art from an early age, and I could have leaned toward either one. But I knew I would only get as good as I wanted to be by letting one of them become my obsession and my complete focus, and I chose writing. I still draw and paint when I can, but I’d love someday to have the dedicated time to obsess over my art for a while.

Which would you not like to attempt?

Anything involving sound design. As I discovered trying to choose sounds for a mobile game I was a designer on, listening to repetitive noises makes my skin crawl and gives me anxiety. And for the life of me I could not tell the difference between those sixteen different types of “sproings” and “doings” and “boops” and “bonks.”

If you were yourself a Superlative, what would your ability be?

Telekinesis.

Coffee or tea?

So. Much. Coffee.

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