Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)
Manage a theatre in a game of high-stakes business, dangerous romance, and risky alliances set in the rough-and-tumble world of 19th century New York. Broadway: 1849 is a 150,000 word interactive historical adventure novel by Robert Davis, and Choice of Games’ latest release. You’ll brave riots, fires, and political spies as you take on a city of jealous rivals, brilliant artists, and stalwart politicians. When forced to choose you’ll decide whether to fight for peace or let the city burn. I sat down with author Robert Davis, to talk about the game.
Tell us what inspired you to write about the theatre in the 1840s. This is your background, right?
Yes, I am a nineteenth-century theatre historian and the simple answer is that I love the period. By our standards, New York at the time would have been quite bizarre, almost like the old west. While it had its business centers like Wall Street, and grand hotels and the like, this was also a city that still had pirates sailing up the river. Gangs prowled the streets, and they almost always went to the theatre, where they could expect to spend a night watching two or three plays, eating, drinking, and throwing stuff at the actors or other people in the audience.
There are so many amazing stories from this time. Take, for example, Ned Buntline (real name: E.Z.C. Judson), one of the main characters in the game. He was a sailor, soldier, and writer. A few years before the game starts, he was involved in an affair where he was shot in a courtroom, after which he jumped out the window, got caught and hung. He escaped, and came to New York, where he wrote bestseller novels, got involved in politics, and was eventually put in prison. Later, after the game, he surfaces writing dime novels and plays featuring Buffalo Bill Cody, whose career he more or less launched. I wanted to make sure that stories like his were told. Or, more like: who doesn’t want to go up against that kind of guy?
What kind of world is Broadway set it? It seems like you’ve done a nice job of melding history with modern sensibilities as well as a little of the supernatural.
The 1840s was also probably the decade when New York had the wildest nightlife. Ever. There was food, dancing, gambling of all sorts, and sex alongside art exhibitions, classical music, and moral lectures. You’d find brothels right next to police stations and churches.
This was a time where the audience was very active. The lights in the auditorium weren’t lowered, so everyone could see everyone, and a night at the theatre could have been a raucous affair, even for the educated elite who only wanted to hear some good Shakespeare. We have stories where audiences did things like go on stage to make sure the climactic duel in Richard III was a “fair fight.” There’s even one time where some people smuggled in a sheep carcass to throw at an actor they didn’t like. I actually didn’t put those in the game because I thought they wouldn’t be believable!
I tried to stay as close to history as I could while telling a good story. Almost every character, place, or incident in Broadway is from history or melodrama and dime novels. Your main goal is to produce successful plays, but I wanted to immerse you in the world of the time, so there are incidents and character arcs that I think show what kind of rough-and-tumble world this period was.
As for the supernatural, the first thing you find once you start spending time in theatres is that they all have their ghosts…
What did you find challenging about the process of writing the game?
The way all of the branches and variables can come together is a vast puzzle. The game is so twisty at times and making sure it all fit had me tearing out my hair and drinking extra coffee at times. That said, what I love about ChoiceScript is that storytelling challenges are coding challenges. Anytime that I wanted to handle the plot differently, or introduce a new way to do something, I had to figure out the way to script, which would end up totally changing how I would tell the story. That was (and is) a fascinating, deeply rewarding part of the process.
Are you a fan of interactive fiction in general?
Yes! I love it, but I am actually pretty bad at playing IF. A couple of summers ago, I was taking our cat on walks in the backyard and I had nothing to do, so I played a lot of games. Choice of Broadsides was my gateway drug. Then Meg Jayanth’s 80 Days blew my mind. The way it deals with history and narrative is still an inspiration. I also love anything by Porpentine, Ryan North, and Abigail Corfman.
Can you tell the readers why it’s spelled “theatre”?
Now you’ve asked a question that I’m really passionate about! Today, we generally consider “theatre” to be the European spelling and “theater” to be the American version, but that is actually propaganda! There is actually a lot of scholarship on this (and a colleague of mine is currently writing an article about it), but long story short: some writers and dictionary-makers in the nineteenth century wanted to change a lot of words so that American English would be different than English in Great Britain. At the time of the game, “theatre” would by far have been the main way people spelled the craft, the building, and everything inside it.
What are you working on next for us?
Right now I’m working on an outline for a story that I think can be fairly described as Anglo-Saxon history meets the X-Files. Plus Vikings. You’ll be a chronicler who travels around England investigating mysteries that lead you right into a high-stakes conflict between the English, Northmen, and Faeries. It’s really about answering “what is the point of history?” but there will also be elves, ghosts, and maybe the chance to wield Excalibur.
Short Answer, Bernard-Pivot Style
Profession other than your own you’d like to attempt.
Ship’s captain or archivist.
Profession you’d never want to attempt?
Anything where you have to talk on the phone.
Musical theatre or straight plays?
I like almost anything, as long as it’s old!