Nov 04


Author Interview: Katherine Nehring, “Grand Academy II: Attack of the Sequel”

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)

Congratulations! We are delighted to welcome you back to the Grand Academy for Future Villains, the world’s finest evil preparatory school. It’s sophomore year, and everyone’s back for a deliciously meta sequel, Grand Academy II: Attack of the Sequel. This year holds terrifying new challenges: a roommate, a pet, and the ominous Board of Visitors and Overlords, who have come to review the Academy’s accreditation. Under the Board’s steely gaze, you may be eligible to receive a destiny, which every true villain craves. I sat down with Katherine Nehring on Halloween to talk about this long anticipated sequel, and what kind of villain she is. 

This has been an amazing year for sequels at Choice of Games, and though no editor can love one project more than any other (it’s like children), I do have a special fond affection for Grand Academy II: Attack of the Sequel. Tell me about how it was to dive back into this world?

I’m glad this world has an enduring appeal for you – it does for me too. When I was a kid I would tell stories set in a version of the Grand Academy to entertain my siblings, and coming back to that concept so many years later to develop into a full-fledged game was a lot of fun. Because the Academy is a place that’s explicitly set outside the borders of genre, it’s a place where anything can happen. Hordes of mindless replicas swarming the school? The school computer system taking a romantic interest in you? The mailroom being full of–well, I should save that for the game! Of course, that sort of freedom comes with its own restrictions–one wild event after another can lead to a loss of forward momentum, improbably good or bad events can lose the reader’s interest unless they have consequences. So maybe I should say it’s a place where anything can happen–so long as it can be narratively justified.

And like a lot of games written without a sequel in mind, Grand Academy for Future Villains was not an easy game to pick up a number of disparate endings from for people who want to import a character into this sequel.

This was a challenge! The first game featured three very different states for the Academy at the end of the game, including one where the Academy was destroyed. At first I thought I’d design the sequel only for the first two endings, but I realized that people would want to port their characters and experiences over no matter what they did in the first game. So then the challenge was to bring every narrative possibility back together without making it seem like the choices made in the previous game were simply being erased. I’m quite pleased with the solution I eventually came up with. As the title suggests, we’re having some fun with the very idea of sequels.

Grand Academy II sees the return of many of our old friends, we have some wonderful new characters in the form of the Board of Visitors and Overlords. Tell me a little about the inspiration there.

In the last game, the player determined what kind of institution the Academy was going to be (or if it even survived at all). This game asks the next questions: What keeps the Academy going? What underpins it? And who could it possibly answer to?

The names of the governing boards of institutions of higher education have always struck me as a little peculiar. “Board of Visitors,” “Board of Regents,” “Honorable and Reverend Board of Overseers.” From there, the name and role of the Board of Visitors and Overlords was clear.

Why do institutions of education make such wonderful settings for entertaining literary pastiche?

Schools famously straddle the line between reality and unreality. “Wait till you get out in the real world,” students are warned darkly, as if studying a thing were less real than practicing it. Certainly study affords a degree of distance, and I think that’s part of the fun of fictional (and metafictional) educational institutions. You the student are not yet a full-fledged villain (or hero, or wizard, or what have you) so you can look at your field of study from the outside. But you’re not just waiting for your story to begin, you’re having adventures and intrigues within the school setting. Add to that the attempts of teachers and administration to restrain and direct student activities, and you’ve got an entertaining contrast between the world-as-studied and the world-as-experienced.

We’re conducting this interview on Halloween, so I would ask: is Halloween the national holiday of villains? If so, what sort of villain are you?

Dressing up as anything is fun, but Halloween certainly has a particular affinity for the monstrous and the frightening. You can try on the role of a creature of unbridled appetite, of chaos and hedonism, and suffer consequences no worse than indigestion. As for what sort of villain I’d be– my most successful scary costume was dressing as a praying mantis as a kid, with a posterboard mask and large paper plates for eyes. Suddenly swivelling this head produced gratifying reactions in the onlookers.

And finally, if you taught at the Grand Academy for Future Villains, what subject would you teach?

I’ve asked myself this several times! I have a particular fondness for Professor Ulik and the whole Evil Design department–the behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating an effective villainous setting deserves attention! And I’ve put more of myself than I care to admit into Maedryn, the player’s mother, who’s arrogant and high-handed but who constantly overextends herself. But I think if I had to pick a subject, I’d pick something metafictional. Tropes To Watch Out For, perhaps, or Developing a Tragic Backstory.

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