Sep 17

2018

Author Interview: William Brown, “The Mysteries of Baroque”

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)

Mad science raised you from the dead! Pursue justice or vengeance, love or secrets, as you save or destroy the world with forbidden eldritch power. One dark and stormy night in a remote castle in the mountains, you awake anew, resurrected by the brilliant Dr. Holofernes. But even a mad scientist can’t keep you alive forever. As the procedure reverses itself over time, you will begin to die again. You must fight to stay alive long enough hunt down your killers, avenge yourself, and protect the ones you love. The Mysteries of Baroque is a 200,000-word interactive Gothic horror novel by William Brown. I sat down with William to talk about horror and the fabulous world in his game The Mysteries of Baroque, which releases this Thursday, September 20th.

Tell me how you conceived of the world of Baroque. What are the influences on this game?

I wanted to write a game set in a dark, strange world, one filled with all kinds of Gothic mysteries and weird tales. I pictured the PC as a vengeance-seeking revenant moving through the shadows of this world, learning secrets, making friends and enemies, and gathering allies and resources. As such, one big influence is the Gothic tradition that began with authors like Horace Walpole, Mary Shelley, Anne Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, E.T.A. Hoffmann and the Brontë sisters. One of the things I love about Gothic is that it’s just weird in ways that go beyond having ghosts or vampires or werewolves or whatever. The plots go off on these strange, hallucinatory tangents or spooky side-stories, the characters are generally in this constant state of operatic, overwrought intensity. I wanted to capture some of that feeling with Baroque, a sense that weird horror somehow operates an almost gravitational pull on this city that nobody can escape.

Among more recent influences, I’d mention the TV show Penny Dreadful and, of course, Failbetter Game’s brilliant, mesmerising game Fallen London.

Who is the PC in this game? Are they Frankenstein’s monster or the Phantom of the Opera, or is that really only incidental to the plot? 

There’s definitely elements of both characters to the PC’s backstory but it’s up to the individual player how much they want to play to that. The PC can definitely have a Frankenstein’s monster-like dysfunctional relationship with Holofernes in the game and play as a troubled outcast, or they can appoint themselves as a Phantom-like mysterious guardian and custodian of the Grand Guignol Theater or they can take a completely different direction. They could play as a dark champion of the people, or a Moriarty-like supervillain and spymaster, or an avenging angel like the Bride from Kill Bill.

This is a world filled with violence and madness, evil forces, even eldritch horrors. Fun to write?

Oh yes! Baroque may have all kinds of horror, cruelty, insanity, and tragedy but it’s also meant to be an inviting, exciting world in its own weird way, a place with lots of things to explore and all sorts of secrets to learn, mysteries to solve and dark adventure to be had.

I think the only section that did bother me was Chapter 3, the Asylum chapter. I found the idea of mind-control and extreme psychological abuse being carried out on helpless people, as portrayed in that chapter, very disturbing (it probably didn’t help that I was had the flu and was running quite a high fever at the time I started writing that chapter!). Dr. Tausk was based on the serial killer H.H. Holmes, and his machine was based on the imaginary mind-controlling “Air Loom” described by the nineteenth-century paranoid schizophrenic James Tilly Matthews—I found myself quite haunted by the vivid, detailed way Matthews describes the Machine and its operators.

This is your first interactive fiction project, yes? What did you find most challenging about the form?

It can be hard at times to keep the flow of a narrative going while providing a range of different options. It can feel like you’re constantly stopping and starting at times, which can make it difficult to work towards a conventional emotional climax.

Has your writing or thinking changed as a result?

I think so. I find it easier to visualize what will or won’t work in a piece of interactive fiction. You can introduce a surprising amount of variety by adding even just a few tweaks to personalize the game for each player, to allow them to feel ownership of the story. I love that idea–that Baroque will be a bit different for everyone who plays it, that some people will see it as the story of how they took a terrible revenge on Vincent and others will see it as a love story featuring Nicholas (or whoever), that some people will be most interested in the eldritch horror storyline and some people will just want to hang out with their friends at the Grand Guignol. Maybe some people will get very invested in the political espionage storyline and others won’t even be aware that it was happening at all. I think some people might want to replay the game several times to see all the possible stories, see what changes if they hang out with different characters or pursue different objectives, but for others, their first play-through and the choices they made then will always be ‘their’ story. I like both approaches!

What are you working on next? 

I’m considering a few different ideas but I think my favorite is a homage to adventure serials and pulp fiction, plus the media that they’ve inspired. Thrilling, two-fisted action-adventure in a crazy Art Deco fantasy version of the 1930s, with every chapter ending in a cliff-hanger and every sentence ending with an exclamation mark.

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