Jul 11

2019

Author Interview: Jonathan Valuckas, “Exile of the Gods”

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)

 

In the great war between the gods, will you wield the chains of destiny, or shatter them forever? Our story begins twenty years after the action of the first game, 2015’s Champion of the Gods. Which ending did you get? Start Exile of the Gods as the Champion, a warrior born to serve the gods, and follow the holy destiny the Weavers have crafted for you. Or start as the Exile, enemy of the gods, and forge a new life for yourself in the faraway land of Khovros–where mortals are free to choose their own fates. Exile of the Gods is a 460,000 word interactive epic fantasy novel by Jonathan Valuckas. I sat down with Jonathan to talk about his latest game and how it feels returning to this world after four years. Exile of the Gods releases today, Thursday, July 11.

Champion of the Gods is one of our most popular Choice of Games titles, and it has a special resonance for me. It was the first game I worked on, my first week at Choice of Games, which was its release week. And that was four years ago almost to the day! Tell me about Exile of the Gods. What was the biggest challenge in continuing the story?

First and foremost, happy anniversary! I love that Champion was your inaugural title. I was in the midst of a big job-related move while I wrote it, so it’s also cool to see I am not the only person who associates this game with a “new office.”

Another fun fact about Champion (and I promise, I am segueing to the question!) is that it used to end with your character’s funeral. The idea was, we were going to make your character a god in the second game, and depending on how well you’d done in Champion, you would either become a deity or not. That was how you’d know if you “won.”

But this knowledge that you weren’t going to make it out of the game alive gave me free rein to twist the action of the penultimate chapter in all kinds of weird directions, so I started letting wildly different things happen during playtesting. Want to have your family at your wedding? Sure you do! Want to run off with your fighting companion? Why not! Want to get exiled yourself? But of course! It didn’t matter that I was complicating things, because your character was just going to die anyway, and then we’d make the sequel about something entirely new and different. Done and done!

Needless to say, that is not how things worked out. The more complex the endings got, the more the funeral started to feel like a cop-out. In fact, a lot of these new endings just didn’t feel like endings anymore; they felt like the beginnings of new stories. So we cut the funeral at the last minute, and wound up with all these endings that shot off all over the place–which was great for people finishing the first game, and not so great for the poor schlump who had to write the sequel!

At least I can say that I have only myself to blame.

What did you most enjoy about the writing process the second time around?

For one reason or another, most of this game was written on the go: much of it at shopping malls in New Jersey, and the rest of it on trains, at train stations, at various casinos (I have family in Las Vegas), and at our nation’s many Paneras (my wordcount can be measured in cinnamon crunch bagels).

Writing this way made the game feel like a travelogue where I wasn’t allowed to explicitly mention any of the places I was going, but it also translated into a really fun writing experience–one that’s made revising the game like opening a scrapbook. I’ll scroll through the code and be like: “Aww, remember the time we were at the Starbucks between the Venetian and the Palazzo, and we wrote the part where the player confronts the archivist in the Hall of Law? Good times, good times.”

Which NPC in Exile do you like spending the most time with, as a writer?

Cephiel, hands down. Please don’t @ me here, I realize she’s done questionable things! But in the second game, especially in the pathways for continuing players, I feel like we start to see this other side of her. She tries to atone, in her way, for the mistakes she has made. And even if she isn’t successful, I feel like she’s the one god out of all of them that you could have a good conversation with. In fact, I may not actually be speaking as a writer here, because I would 100% go to lunch with Cephiel in real life.

Is this story over for now, or is there a third game there?

I have the sinking suspicion there will be a third game! I have only the vaguest idea what it would be about at this point, but there is a lot of potential there. And speaking logistically, about as many open-ended plot points show up at the end of Exile as we resolved at the beginning, so it’s conceivable I could write a third volume that will not take twice as long to write as this one did. (Nobody quote me on this, please!)

What else are you working on?

I have a novel that’s due for a fourth draft before anyone should be subjected to it, so I will be digging into that. It has pretty dense world-building in it, despite technically taking place in this one.

I’m also going to start doing stand-up! I have been talking about doing stand-up incessantly for years, but saying it would have to wait until the game was out, so now that the game is out I’m officially trapped. I get a weird level of satisfaction from public humiliation, so it should be fine.

And finally, I’m going to watch non-documentary movies! I have this oddball allergy to watching new fiction whenever I’m working on fiction. I can leave Investigation Discovery and HGTV on all day, I can even watch fictional movies I’ve seen before, I just can’t watch anything new. So before I hit the novel, there is this window where I have to try to cram in the last six years of film, while resisting the urge to watch “Profondo Rosso” over and over again instead.

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