Jul 09

2018

Author Interview, Hannah Powell-Smith

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)

By the power of your blood, you and your ghosts will take over your crime family! When your cousin murders the city’s most notorious crime boss—your mother—a power struggle erupts across the criminal underworld. As your sisters Octavia and Fuschia vie for control, you alone in the family possess the blood magician’s power to summon and command ghosts. They hunger for your blood; if it’s blood they want, then blood they’ll have.

Blood Money is a 275,000-word interactive novel by Hannah Powell-Smith. I sat down with Hannah to talk blood magic and IF. Blood Money releases this Thursday, July 12th. 

Tell me about the world Blood Money is set in and what inspired it.

Blood Money is set in Nasri City, a tropical canal city where ghosts are ever-present, flitting between the living world and the underworld. And that’s where blood magicians come in. Ghosts are drawn to drink magicians’ blood, and unlike ordinary people, blood magicians can summon and communicate with them.

In Nasri City, blood magicians are distrusted at best, despised at worst. Unless you’re wealthy, it’s not an easy place to live: steeped in crime and corruption, there’s a wide divide between decadent aristocracy and the working classes here. You have vast, luscious parkland which is only accessible to certain sections of society, while other districts are run-down and densely populated.

But a crisis point is coming. The merchant classes are growing, rival gangs are working to topple the old crime families, and some blood magicians are building a community of solidarity. Throughout the game, you can influence that tipping point in the direction you choose.

I’ve been interested in ghosts as a theme for a long time, and their blood-drinking was inspired by tales of Odysseus and Aeneas’ journeys to the underworld. The history of Renaissance Italy was an inspiration for the family squabbles and the weight of ancestry, and of course all those Venetian canals. Visuals also played a big part for me: noir imagery of dark cityscapes in the driving rain, images of Sao Joao Batista Cemetery in Rio de Janeiro, the creepy faceless sculptures by Kevin Francis Gray…mixed together, it all combined to make a dark fantasy setting that I’m very proud of.

What brought you to writing interactive fiction?

As teenagers, my now-wife and I created mods for the videogame Baldur’s Gate II, which sharpened coding and design skills for both of us. Along with the interactive books like Fabled Lands that I read as a child, and tabletop roleplaying, that taught me about branching narratives. Then, when I came across Twine many years later, I started making games of my own. I released several interactive short stories about fraught relationships (one of my favourite game topics) and got involved with the interactive fiction community.It was great to make the games I wanted to play, but I didn’t consider making money from it until sub-Q Magazine approached me about reprinting one of my games. I published more games with them, and then, as I’d enjoyed the company’s work for a long time, I got in touch with Choice of Games. The rest is history!

What was the most challenging part about creating the game for you?

I love working with ChoiceScript itself, but for this game the planning was hard work. I had never outlined such a big interactive project, and so increasing the scale, widening the variety of end states, making the plot satisfyingly branchy while making sure the pacing works…it was a challenge! But the guidance through the outlining process made for a much stronger game, and because a lot of that effort was front-loaded, it made the actual game far more straightforward to develop.

What are you working on next?

At the end of the month, I’m teaching at the Infinite Journeys Interactive Fiction Summer School at the British Library. In the longer term, I’m working on a second game for Choice of Games about attending an exclusive finishing school in order to regain your family’s fortunes through marriage, getting into university, or otherwise distinguishing yourself. There are etiquette classes, ballroom dances, rival cliques, and dark secrets bubbling away beneath the surface. And plenty of potential backstabbing—though not as literally as in Blood Money. In this game you take your enemies down with propriety.

Short Answer, Bernard Pivot-style:

Favorite color?
Green.

Favorite word?
Tropical.

Profession other than your own you would like to try.
Academic in the humanities area.

Profession you would never like to try.

Dancer.

Venice or Amsterdam?
Amsterdam—we’re going through a heatwave in the UK so the idea of being in Venice makes me want a lie down!

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