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Sharpen your sword to save Hallowford in this sequel to The Hero of Kendrickstone! Monstrous creatures prowl beneath the streets of Hallowford. When the enigmatic Cryptkeepers Guild sends a call for adventurers, you must answer. You’ll discover secrets in the crypts that are better left hidden, and a revelation that will shake Hallowford to its very foundations. Step into the role of a veteran adventurer in a high fantasy world. Sharpen your steel, prepare your spells, and practise your silver tongue. Decide who to trust and who to betray. Discover lost secrets and forbidden magic. Ally with the powerful Cryptkeepers Guild, the town watch, your fellow adventurers, or follow your own agenda. Save Hallowford, or engineer its downfall for your own gain. Cryptkeepers of Hallowford is a 360,000 word interactive fantasy novel by Paul Wang. I sat down with Paul to talk about his latest game, which releases this Thursday, December 21st.
The Hero of Kendrickstone was always envisioned as the introductory installment to an open-ended series. I started with a single tiny region of the world, the Grand Duchy of Kendrickstone, and I expanded out, adding new parts of the world when I had to. It’s led to a highly modular sort of world, where every new installment would visit new places, introduce new people, and place new challenges and rewards in front of the player.
In addition, there was something of a desire for self-improvement involved. Kendrickstone was written pretty quickly, and its concepts weren’t explored as thoroughly as I’d hoped they would be for a variety of reasons. Returning to the same setting and the same overarching themes means I can improve on the foundation I established in Kendrickstone, and hopefully, offer more in the way of player reactivity and choice.
It’s something of a dungeon crawler of a game, yes?
It is. The basic concept of Cryptkeepers is that there’s a town with a magic dungeon underneath. It’s hardly an original concept, but one which raises a whole bunch of questions which most iterations on that basic idea don’t ask. Who built the dungeon, and for what reason? Why is it as big as it is? Do the townsfolk live in constant fear of the dungeon? Do they co-exist with it? Do they find ways to profit from it?
Of course, asking, exploring, and answering those questions don’t shift the main focus away from the dungeon itself. The player’s objective is still to gather allies and resources, and plumb the depths of this maze of tunnels to uncover the secrets and treasures inside. The dungeon is still the main star of the story.
Silly question, but do you enjoy writing sequels? Was there a way in which you want Cryptkeepers to work as a standalone?
Yes and No. Sequels let me build on plots and themes I’ve already established in previous installments. I think Cryptkeepers could have worked as a standalone, but I’d have to spend a lot more time establishing characters and elements of the setting which Kendrickstone had otherwise set up. The other edge of that sword is the fact that I have to juggle the choices which players made in previous installments as well. Not only do I have to offer a reasonable range of choices and balance gameplay for those who are starting the series with Cryptkeepers, but also for those who made certain decisions or brought forward certain advantages from Kendrickstone.
I’ve always found that the first few chapters are the fastest to write, and the shortest word count-wise. However, as choices are made and consequences pile up, later chapters start ballooning in size to accommodate them all. Sequels sort of work the same way in that regard.
Needless to say, not your first rodeo here, but I’m curious if you learned anything new about design in working on Cryptkeepers with Jason Hill, your editor here at Choice of Games.
Absolutely. I try to try something new every time I start on a new title, but Cryptkeepers is very experimental in a lot of ways. For example, this is my first time trying to create truly non-linear chapters, as well as my first time heavily using *gosubs, which have definitely made my life easier.
Jason’s been a particular help on the latter, encouraging me to do more with the *gosub command than I would have normally done otherwise. Without that push and his advice on how to go about it, Cryptkeepers would probably be much clunkier and unwieldy, and it’d have certainly been harder to edit and proofread.
Fans are curious about the next phase of your Hosted Game Infinite Sea series. What’s next for you?
With Cryptkeepers finished, I’m currently working as a writer alongside Tin Star‘s Allen Gies on Burden of Command. However, once principal writing work wraps up early next year, I’ll be starting writing work on Lords of Infinity, the third title set in the Infinite Sea.
Lords of Infinity is kind of a transitional work. Sabres of Infinity and Guns of Infinity were the first discrete arc of a planned five-part series. Lords of Infinity marks the beginning of the second of those arcs. Whereas the first two titles were focused heavily on military operations with political, philosophical, and social themes taking a back seat, Lords of Infinity focuses more on the political aspect of the world. Personal dynasty-building, economic instability, and socio-political reform take centre stage, and may prove even more dangerous than a decade of war.
Tell me a little about your work on Burden of Command.
Burden of Command is a narrative-driven tactical RPG set during the Second World War. The player takes the role of the commanding officer of an infantry company in the 7th US Infantry Regiment, a unit with a long and distinguished war record which took it to places most portrayals of the Second World War never touch on, like the Italian Campaign and Operation Dragoon, the second allied amphibious landing in France.
Our narrative focus is on the concept of leadership, and the titular “Burden of Command.” Junior infantry officers have to build the trust and respect of their men, look after their well-being, get to know them, and then send them into danger or death for reasons they might not even fully understand or agree with. The characters under the player’s command each have their own personalities, backgrounds and story arcs, but they are also individual pieces on a battlefield where death is often random, violent, and sudden. One bad decision (or even one good decision) on the field might cut short a character’s story for good, and it’s up to the player to decide how they and their unit deal with those sorts of conditions.
My job as a writer is to breathe life into those characters, and to flesh out the world and events which surround them. The last thing we want is for the player to start letting their men die simply because they don’t care about any of them, so my primary duty is to make sure all of those pieces on the combat map represent empathetic, relatable individuals whose deaths would offer the same emotional gut-punch to the player that they would to the player character. Not only does that mean writing dynamic, fleshed-out characters, but also placing them and their actions in the context of the world around them through meticulous research and a careful management of narrative tone.
It’s a project which isn’t really like anything I’ve ever seen before (though I’ve described it as “Fire Emblem meets Band of Brothers” once or twice) and I’m really excited to be working on it.
Short answer, Bernard Pivot-style: