Oct 12

2020

Author Interview: Amy Clare Fontaine, Fox Spirit: A Two-Tailed Adventure

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)

Dazzle humanity or destroy it as a magical, two-tailed fox! Seek the mystical Star Ball that will grant you immortality. Fox Spirit: A Two-Tailed Adventure is a 250,000-word interactive fantasy novel by Amy Clare Fontaine. I sat down with Amy to talk about the joy of writing about animals. Fox Spirit releases this Thursday, October 15th. Today you can

  • Wishlist it on Steam
  • Play the demo on our website
  • Pre-order the game on the Apple App Store (Note: you will be charged for your purchase now, and automatically receive the game on Thursday.)

This is your first foray into interactive fiction, but you’re a very accomplished writer! Tell me a little about your other work.

Currently, I have two published books. Mist, my young adult fantasy novel, tells the story of a group of kids who stumble into a magical forest and develop the power to turn into animals. My most recent book, a novelette called Beyond Acacia Ridge, is an animal fantasy like Watership Down with spotted hyenas as the main characters. Hyenas have a bad reputation, but they are actually amazing animals. I studied them in the wild and grew to love them, so I tried to write a book that would reflect their behavior more accurately and dispel some of the myths surrounding them.

I’ve also had more than twenty short stories and poems published in various anthologies. And although when I started Fox Spirit I had never written interactive fiction before, I enjoyed the process so much that I’ve since self-published a few text-based games on itch.io.

What inspired a story about foxes?

I’ve loved canids all my life, and foxes—both the real animals and their counterparts in folklore and fairy tales—possess a special charm. When I was growing up, I developed an interest in Japanese mythology thanks to video games like Pokémon and Okami, which featured modern twists on legendary beasts such as kitsune, or fox spirits. I read every book I could find about magical creatures, and I quickly became fascinated with fox spirits in particular.

Foxes are captivating figures in East Asian mythology. They have magical powers and long lives, and they are morally ambiguous. They can be divine servants or ruthless demons, selfish tricksters or tenderhearted lovers. I felt that their enigmatic nature would lend itself well to a choice-based game, in which you can use your vulpine abilities—shapeshifting, foxfire, illusions, and mind magic—for good or for ill, and for a diverse range of purposes.

And what is your current focus in mammalian research?

I’m actually starting graduate school this month! For my thesis, I will be studying honesty in communication—essentially, how the reliability of information encoded in acoustic signals may change as a function of social context. I will be using the singing behavior of rock hyraxes (Procavia capensis) as a model to address this question. This will involve field work in Israel. I am from the United States and have never been there, so I’m very excited to go!

What was the most challenging thing for you in writing this game?

I think my biggest challenge was learning to approach a story from a nonlinear perspective. Coming from a background in traditional fiction, I tend to conceptualize a story as a journey from Point A to Point B, with well-defined characters who have distinct personality traits and goals, particular plot milestones they reach over the course of their adventure, and character arcs through which they grow and change in ways that I direct. Interactive fiction is much more open-ended. The name, personality, gender, goals, relationships, and plot milestones for the main character of Fox Spirit are all directed by player choice. Writing about a character who is more like a blank slate to be filled in by the player was a bit tough for me at first.

Balancing the needs of the narrative with the mechanical requirements of the game was tricky for me too. I tend to imagine that certain personality traits in characters lend themselves only to certain types of goals: a selfish character would pursue their own ends, for instance, while an altruistic one would strive to help others. But working on this game helped me to see character development with fresh new eyes, as something that’s more malleable and complex. How might a selfish character gain a heroic reputation? How might an altruistic character achieve a demonic reputation? Why would a worldly character pursue a role as a divine messenger? These kinds of questions became almost a philosophical or spiritual exercise for me at times. Playing with the advantages and constraints of storytelling in this medium was a lot of fun.

Do you have a favorite NPC you enjoyed writing most?

I’m not sure I have a favorite. They were all interesting in different ways, and they all found ways to surprise me. Rinka turned out to be battier than I expected, in a way that was creepy but fun to write. Chiyo had a tragic past I didn’t know about. Kahi’s strange mixture of ancient wisdom, playful mischief, and misanthropic pyromania was complicated but compelling.

In terms of which character I’d most likely befriend, I would go with either Ren or Kusora. Kusora cares deeply about helping others and doing the right thing, a trait I find extremely admirable. And Ren’s love of nature and art and desire to create beautiful things are qualities we have in common.

What magic powers would you deploy if you were an immortal fox?

Definitely shapeshifting! That’s always been my power of choice, as it’s really a bunch of powers wrapped up into one. Whether you need to fly, shrink, grow, dive deep underwater, see objects from a great distance, or pack a powerful punch, there’s an animal that’s got you covered. Plus, I would just love to explore the world with the senses and cognitive abilities of a nonhuman animal. You could learn so much that way! Such a shift in perspective would be life-changing.

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