Dec 23


Author Interview: Natalia Theodoridou, An Odyssey: Echoes of War

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)

Fight the sea god’s wrath to reclaim your throne, and free yourself from the ghosts of war. Will you live forever as a hero, a sovereign, or as a god?

An Odyssey: Echoes of War is a 250,000-word interactive retelling of Homer’s Odyssey by Natalia Theodoridou, author of the Nebula nominated Choice of Games’ title Rent-a-Vice

The war is over—Troy has fallen. After ten long years, you, the crown sovereign of Ithaca, have set your sails for home. But Poseidon, god of the sea, has cursed your journey, and now, many trials stand between you and the loving embrace of your spouse and son: Polyphemus the Cyclops, Scylla and Charybdis, the Sirens, the Land of the Lotus-Eaters…you and your companions will even journey to the land of the dead.

An Odyssey: Echoes of War releases this Thursday, Dec 26th. You can play the first three chapters for free, today, at the link.

This game is a huge departure from the setting of Rent-a-Vice, which is possibly one of the grittiest and also most moving games we’ve ever seen. An Odyssey: Echoes of War is also gritty and moving, in very different ways. What inspired you to retell The Odyssey?

It was the idea of retelling that felt pertinent to me. In a sense, The Odyssey itself is a retelling. This is an oversimplification, but you can say that it is a written retelling of oral retellings of something that happened, long ago. All of that is a form of remembering. Meter, rhymes and rhythms are mnemonic devices, and, in the end, that is one of the functions of poetry. For me, poetry as technology is not so far removed from the technology that allowed people to share individual experiences, memories, and a sense of selfhood in Rent-a-Vice.

I am at a point in my life where I am continuously and palpably made aware of the importance of the tellings and retellings of stories–stories of nations, of races, of genders: our stories are being told and retold, and what stories we are told about ourselves or are made to tell about ourselves shape our histories, our bodies, our politics, our material conditions, our memories. The world is story, told and retold. Every telling of the story preserves and at the same time erases a bit of the original, because the memory of the storything is replaced by the memory of its retelling, to the point that, in the end, the story exists only in its retellings, for there is no one “thing” to be retold. This is cyclical, of course: you have to presuppose an original in order to recognize something as its version. So one is better off focusing on specific practices of retelling and their particular contexts. Translations, too, are retellings. So is the “original” text of The Odyssey–a version that we have decided to revere and uphold as the original, even though it is, in fact, an assemblage, an articulated and curated collage of fragments. The Odyssey itself is only “an” odyssey. I find that vital to remember on a personal level as I move through the world right now.

I think what I found most surprising about this game is that it’s both…action-packed and poignant. Which I suppose is true of the original, but for me Homer is always sort of steeped in this elegiac tone that makes it hard for me, the reader, to feel in the moment or on the edge of my seat. Tell me a bit about the departures you’ve taken in this game–because it certainly on some level is The Odyssey, but it’s also quite different. 

I enjoyed working with The Odyssey as a blueprint, but the game is in many ways a pastiche full of–fun, I hope!–anachronisms and intertextual references. There are echoes of Greek tragedy, other mythological cycles, and, of course, their reception in modern literature, art, and theatre. Everything and everyone in this game is supposed to be seen as an aspect of or variation on their counterpart in the “original”–however, it’s not a prerequisite to be an expert or even remotely familiar with the original to enjoy the game. I think of each playthrough as The Odyssey from an alternate universe.

One of the things I really regret about the production side of publishing An Odyssey: Echoes of War is that your original title, “Wanderer’s Song,” had to go in favor of a title which conveys more clearly to our audiences what the game is about. I love the title “Wanderer’s Song,” though, and I wanted to hear from you about how you think it captures the nature of Odysseus’ story. 

Carrying on from the previous question, what I had in mind for this game was to use The Odyssey as a theme, or even a motif, on which to elaborate and variate. I wanted to play with the idea of song and music on multiple levels. The Odyssey is, literally, the song of the wandering Odysseus as told to the poet by the Muse. In the game, you have the poet narrating everything that happens in the form of a song that in the end becomes the story of your adventure. But this song is already a retelling of the truth; how well it corresponds to the “original” is always a question of circumstances, contexts, and the agendas of the people doing the singing.

As you know, I studied Ancient Greek and classics in college, so An Odyssey holds a very special place in my heart. Have you spent time with the original text? Are there modern English translations you enjoy?

Modern Greek translations of the Homeric epics are part of the curriculum in Greek secondary education, and I have spent some time with the original text during my undergraduate theatre studies. What I really enjoy is approaching translations as retellings and interpretations and poking them in order to find out what they can reveal about the cultural, historical, and ideological contexts of their creators.

The one modern English translation I adore is Emily Wilson’s. It is often characterized as radical, when it is, in fact, much more faithful to the original than ones that came before it. For instance, not calling the slave girls that Telemachus murders “sluts” and “whores” is not a radical departure from the original, but a radical departure from the misogyny of translations that had denied these girls their humanity.

I could probably spend some hours talking with you just on the nature of Odysseus’ character. We have a lot of interesting Greek words to describe him: polytropos, metis. I’m fond of Emily Wilson’s interpretation of polytropos: “a complicated man.” 

Also a bit of an asshole, if we’re being honest. I appreciate Emily Wilson’s take on polytropos. I think it also speaks to our current cultural moment: the Western literary canon has made allowances for problematic men without necessarily delving into or even naming the things that made them complicated. This interpretation lays it all bare, while preserving the ambiguity and layers of meaning and motivation of the original. I love it.

But to go back to my abandoned title, there is another aspect of polytropos that speaks to me. Tropos in Greek musical terminology refers to a song’s mode, modality, and mood–that which makes music cohere and feel complete. Odysseus is a complicated song.

But of course one of the best things about this game is that we have an incredible supporting cast of characters, gods, monsters. Did you have a favorite NPC?

I am very fond of all my NPCs–spunky Polyxena, broody Ajax, foolish but golden-hearted Eurylochus, disenfranchised Charon, and, of course, the goat, to name a few–but I think my favorite has to be Circe. She has her own history that she refuses to fully share with anyone; it is up to the reader to fill in the blanks through acts of intertextual retelling and cultural leaps of faith. And, most of all, she is not there to be owned, and her story cannot be controlled. Some players will be disappointed that Circe is not a possible romantic interest. I could have easily built that into the story; after all, our understandings of Circe are often bound up with her sexuality, her romantic neediness, her womanhood which is intertwined with and inextricable from her sorcery and her powers of seduction. But this Odyssey is about alternatives to and queerings of the canon; it is about the stories not told yet, the lives not lived. So this Circe has moved on: from her island, from men, from pigs, from romance.

And what are you working on next?

I have long considered myself primarily a short story writer, but it seems that the epicness of this game has rubbed off on me a little bit and I’m finding myself writing longer and longer. At the moment, I feel the need to revisit some of the worlds and characters of my short stories and continue exploring. In particular, I am working on a novel set in the world of “Poems Written While,” a short story published in Uncanny Magazine earlier this year. It is a tale of poetry and stars, and of how storytelling is remembering, and how remembering is storytelling, so not too much of a departure from An Odyssey, in certain ways…

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