Dec 09

2019

Author Interview: Brian Rushton, In the Service of Mrs. Claus

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)

Let me tell you the true secret of Christmas: Santa Claus died centuries ago. You see, in ancient times, as the Gods began to die, Santa Claus married a goddess. She was worshiped as Bast in Egypt, as Artemis in Greece, Diana in Rome. She’s been called a witch, a hero, an assassin. You call her Mrs. Claus.

In the Service of Mrs. Claus is a 167,000-word interactive fantasy thriller by Brian Rushton. I sat down with Brian to talk about Christmas and our first holiday-themed game. In the Service of Mrs. Claus releases Thursday, December 12th.

In the Service of Mrs. Claus is a highly specific imagining of the world of Christmas spirits/elves/etc. Tell me where that came from.

I’ve always loved elves and faeries, from the stories of the Brothers Grimm and Irish legends to cheesy Christmas cartoons and the Lord of the Rings. I wanted to make a world where all these types of elves and Fae could exist together. These were all thought of by humans, so why not have a world fueled by mortal imagination? And that led to a much larger world than I had originally planned, a world where Claus Castle had to share space with creatures like mythological gods, the Tooth Fairy and Bloody Mary. Looking back, I think that the book The Neverending Story was a big influence on this world, because it also has that ‘big tent’ view where all mythological creatures belong together, influenced by human wishes and dreams.

This is one of the few Choice of Games titles where the PC is non-human, and also not a super-human. Do you think that presents challenges for the player, or does it function much the same way in crafting a PC?

I definitely think there are some challenges! One difference in being an elf instead of a human is that you have no set shape. Elves can change size, gender, and species at will. So the only thing that sticks around with your character is the personality, powers, and friendships.

Some players might feel frustrated that they can’t tailor a character with specific eye color or fixed gender. On the other hand, it can feel freeing not to be tied down to any one body. One of the main skills in the game is Shifting, the power to transform yourself. Several players have mentioned how much fun it can be to turn into a pixie for cooking or a dragon for fighting. So there are definitely some advantages in having a non-human protagonist.

Do you have a favorite part or favorite personal tradition as part of the holiday season?

I think spending time together with family is my favorite. Growing up, we used to have big family parties every Christmas Eve. Most of my cousins could play an instrument, so we’d put together a big band and play Christmas carols together. We had four violins, a flute, piano, a tuba, a clarinet, a few guitars, and I’d play saxophone. Sometimes my grandfather would play washtub bass. We had little green booklets that had the carols arranged for our own instruments, and everyone who wasn’t playing would sing.

Later that night, our parents would let us pick one present to open early. My mom usually tried to get us to pick the fluffy packages that were obviously pajamas. But one year I ended up with a coat (which I wore to bed just to get some use out of it) and another year I opened up an SNES game without the SNES (I ended up reading the manual all night).

My grandfather was the head of all these things, and he passed away this year. So in a way I’d hope that this game could help honor his memory.

This is certainly the only holiday-themed game we’ve published, but tell me why this game would be fun at any time of year.

In the Service of Mrs. Claus is a Christmas game the same way that Die Hard and The Nightmare Before Christmas are Christmas movies. Christmas provides the background and the motivation, but most of the story is not about Christmas itself.

Instead, it’s about questioning your identity in the face of extreme trials. The PC has their core beliefs challenged, gets hunted by extra-dimensional beings, and ends up betrayed by former friends. One beta tester described the theme as “Christmas horror” and I think that’s pretty accurate!

This is not your first IF rodeo, though I believe it is your first ChoiceScript game. Tell our readers about some of your other projects.

My longest game before this was a parser-based game called Color the Truth. It’s a murder mystery set in a 1980’s radio station where their star radio host has been found dead. You have to interview the suspects by playing through their memories, but everyone is lying. If you catch them in a lie by combining clues, you can replay again and see what really happened.

I also partnered with IF author and pixel artist Marco Innocenti to make an illustrated parser game called Swigian, which is a retelling of Beowulf. In contrast to my other games, it’s completely minimalistic, with as little words as possible. I love the way Marco’s art turned out for it!

And what are you working on next?

For the last few years, I’ve been offering a prize in the Interactive Fiction Competition where I make a small game set in the same world as the winner’s game. Right now I’m working on a sequel to last year’s winner, Alias the Magpie, a British crime caper. My game is set on a train, where you have to overcome suspicious servants and a talkative parrot to rob an American oil magnate.

I’m also running (with permission) a tribute competition for the 20th anniversary of Emily Short’s game Galatea, which is still one of the best conversational games out there. It’ll be running next year from March 24th to April 2nd, and it’s a chance for people to have some fun and make something that celebrates Galatea and Short’s other work. Choicescript games are welcome!

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