Nov 09

2020

Author Interview: Kreg Segall, Jolly Good: Cakes and Ale

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)

Get yourself into and out of another fine mess! As the newest member of London’s elite “Noble Gases” social club, you’ll win glory, renown, and much-needed money through various cunning schemes that will seem like good ideas at the time. Jolly Good: Cakes and Ale is a 1.2 million—million!—word interactive comedy of manners by Kreg Segall. I sat down with Kreg to get the scoop on his latest game.

Jolly Good: Cakes and Ale releases this Thursday, November 12th.

Jolly Good: Cakes and Ale is the first Choice of Games title to reach and exceed a million words. Tell me how you do that for a game that isn’t a sprawling epic fantasy, but in fact an homage to P.G. Wodehouse?

The trick is that as far as the characters know, they are in a sprawling epic fantasy, with the fate of the world at stake, mystical rituals that must be mastered, and grand evils that must be defeated. Only the world is the clubhouse, the ritual that must be mastered is how to placate one’s aunt, and the grand evil that must be defeated is that chap over there who insists on wearing lavender-and-yellow argyle socks with evening dress.

Cakes and Ale takes its inspiration from Wodehouse’s Drones Club series of short stories, and I tried to infuse my game with the feeling of those tales: various adventures piling up next to and on top of each other, different minor characters suddenly taking center stage for a few moments, blinking at the unexpected spotlight and then stepping back, and the setting focused upon a single clubhouse and perhaps a five mile radius around it.

Because I was based this game’s structure on short stories, I was able to be more sprawling, and I allowed myself to explore a particular story at length, even if it started multiplying into several side stories unexpectedly and ridiculously. My mental model for Cakes and Ale was for you, the player, to assemble a lengthy anthology of short stories that let you build and play your character, and get to know them intimately. Wodehouse’s stories are high comedy, but, as in Tally Ho, my goal is to walk the line between the comic and the dramatic as often as possible, dipping into multiple genres.

You’ll be spending quite a bit of time with your character over the course of the Jolly Good series, so I want you to love them and becomes invested in them and their friends. But to do that, especially to have you feel something for the NPCs, you need time with them. You need to have many scenes with these characters, in conversation, in action, in romance should you choose those routes, and in repose. So because I have a very large cast in this game, I needed to give you a lot of opportunities to hang out with these people. I want you to know and recognize all the names of your clubmates and feel things about them.

But that takes a lot of words.

Have you played any interesting interactive fiction while working on Cakes and Ale ?

Choice of Rebels: Uprising, which I played while outlining this game, is a master class in setting up a multi-part game and investing in super-branchiness and meaningful choices.

This is my third game for Choice of Games, but the first time that I have written a game that is going to have a direct sequel. Those who have played Tally Ho know that I really like to give all of the important NPCs secrets and branchy personal plotlines, and it was surprisingly challenging to set up those stories without resolving them fully while at the same time giving them a sense of completion!

Crème de la Crème, which I played a good deal as well is also stellar and should be played by everyone who likes sparkling conversation, elegant prose, and social intrigue. I am not wholly convinced that the world of Tally Ho and the Jolly Good games is a different world from that of Crème de la Crème.

Any regrets about making it so long?

To be perfectly honest, in the last few weeks before submitting the final draft I wanted to add an additional adventure to chapter five involving a bathrobe, a hotel detective, and a local magistrate with insomnia, a side story which would have added 40k more words to the game.

But then I was talked out of it by my friends and loved ones on the grounds that 1.2 million was a perfectly respectable number and that I should consider leaving some words unwritten for other people to use. And so I acceded.

What do you think players will enjoy most about this game? 

I hope that you compare notes with another player and realizing that they played through the same game but had essentially none of the same adventures as each other.

I also hope there are a few choices that make players want to step away for a bit and take a long walk around the block as they mull off a particularly tricky decision.

Finally, I very much desire for at least one player is required to send their clothing to the dry cleaners because they upset their beverage from pounding on the table in a fit of helpless laughter.

Who’s your favorite NPC?

Either Lord Chum (the main character’s uncle) or Parsnip (a charming young lady you may meet in Chapter Six)–incidentally, they are both characters whom the player may wholly miss in their playthrough–because they were both so much fun to write for and have such distinctive voices.

I hope you enjoy your time with both if you should happen to run into them. Please send them my very warmest regards.

Any personal advice for a good playthrough? You’ve added some interesting cheat mode and hint mode DLCs this time. 

Here’s a smattering of advice:

The different scandals you choose in chapter one will each give you a rather different chapter five. The various adventures of chapter six may become available and unavailable throughout the evening, depending on your relationships and previous choices, and the time.

Roleplay. Whether you play a sly opportunist, a impulsive adventurer, a wry fashionista, a good-natured nincompoop, or an oblivious intellectual, I want you to do what feels right to you in the moment without feeling like the game is out to get you. Don’t sweat the numbers. The stats are there in the background, and yes, various skills are being raised and lowered and checked. But don’t allow them to cause you the least bit of stress.

You cannot do everything in one playthrough. Pick a few plot threads and pursue them if you wish to see them through. Or dabble a bit if your character is a dabbler. That’s all right too.

There are no good endings or bad endings in the game. Every ending you get to will be able to be continued in the next game. You will not be locked out of a romance because of a choice you make here. You will not ruin your game by choosing something that you want to do but suspect that your skill is too low to accomplish. Indeed, some of my favorite parts of the game are only reachable by failing tests. You will be rewarded with funny consequence for failing things.

And, if you like, the DLC will let you mess with the numbers in a stress-free manner on the fly as you play, to experiment with different stat values and combinations easily.

Anything you care to share about what’s next in the trilogy?   

Next is Tea and Scones, where I will be drawing more of my inspiration from Wodehouse’s Blandings books. If Cakes and Ale is largely about club affairs, Tea and Scones will be much more about family, and will take place in the environs of your uncle’s lavish estate.

My sources in the Noble Gases tell me that there will be high-stakes golf, a most unsafe wishing well, a jumble sale, a variety show, a deadly treasure hunt, helpful Girl Guides, and a dramatic revelation on a rooftop under a full moon in high winds.

I would not be surprised to learn that various problems, escapades, and assorted friends, rivals, and associates from your club will be certain to follow you there, as well as a few characters from Tally Ho who didn’t show up in Cakes and Ale .

You can expect that the direction you choose to take the club in the final chapters will strongly influence the flavor of the adventures you’ll have in Tea and Scones. I can already tell that Tea and Scones will be satisfyingly lengthy, to account for all the big choices you make in Cakes and Ale.

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