Jul 06

2020

Author Interview: Karelia Hall, 180 Files: The Aegis Project

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)


Uncover a web of evil as an elite superspy! You might break a few rules—or a few hearts—but you won’t break cover. As Agent 180, a star secret agent, you’ve never found a problem you couldn’t solve with guns, gadgets, or a devastating quip. But after a personal tragedy sends your life off course, your next mission will test you to your very limits.

180 Files: The Aegis Project is a 184,000 word interactive spy thriller by Karelia Hall. I sat down with Karelia to talk a little about how the game went from contest winner to Choice of Games title. 180 Files: The Aegis Project releases this Thursday, July 9th.

How did 180 Files come about? What prompted you to begin writing it?

The original idea came from thinking about how the action genre and the Bond-inspired superspy genre tends to have very clearly-defined character roles. You have the good guy, the clearly evil bad guy, the sexy love interest, and so on. I thought it would be fun to play around with that, so that what the reader is expecting might not be the role that character actually has, and I wrote a short story-game based on that premise. When the contest came up I then decided to expand that into a full-sized game in order to enter. The concept changed a lot in that process. I had originally intended it to be essentially a genre parody, but as I began developing plot and characters it naturally became more serious (though I still left the crocodile pit in).

In the full game, I liked the idea of having a focus on Agent 180, the player character as a character in their own right and not just a cipher. It ties into what for me is one of the great strengths of interactive fiction, which is the feeling that you’re inviting the reader/player to help you tell this story. I’ll tell you where the character is, but you tell me how they got here, and why, and together we’ll see where they’re going next…

This was the winner of the Choice of Games contest in 2018, and now it’s being published. Can you talk a little about the process of editing the game between now and then?

One of the main changes made in the editing process was making changes to the game stats. The three original skill stats were expanded into five. To give the player some more concrete goals to aim for, some more tracking stats were added like the Coverup/Expose stat which linked into a pre-existing subplot involving a reporter investigating the same case as the player character.

I also got the chance to flesh out some parts of the game that needed it. For example, in the climax of the original game, if you’d failed some earlier checks you ended up with all sorts of exciting obstacles. But if you’d been successful all the way through then it became too easy and lost some of the tension. Now there’s a lot more happening there!

What surprised you most about that process?

It can be surprising just how much even making what seems like small changes to the game stats and structure can change things downstream. A tweak here becomes another possible branch there which then becomes a whole extra scene that’s needed to tie things back to the rest of the game.

What did you find most challenging in editing the game for publication?

The most challenging part for me was probably keeping a sense of how the game is balanced throughout. You have to be going through it with an eye to the stat options you use–have you been favouring one more than others? Is this part going to be too difficult? Is it going to be too easy, so players will likely miss out on interesting things that can happen when you fail? When the game branches, is the amount of content in each branch roughly equal? It can be especially difficult if you have great ideas for one or two options but are struggling to think of a third – sometimes that requires you to go right back to the drawing board to figure out what the scene really needs.

Do you plan to write another game?

Yes, I do have a few plans, but that’s all I’m saying for now!

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