Dec 13

2021

Author Interview: Kyle Marquis, Pon Para and the Unconquerable Scorpion

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)

Chosen by the gods, betrayed by your king, you must stop the Scorpion! Pon Pon Para and the Unconquerable Scorpion is a 742,000-word interactive fantasy novel by Kyle Marquis, and the sequel to Pon Para and the Great Southern Labyrinth. I sat down with Kyle to talk about the Pon Para series, Vampire: The Masquerade, and more. Pon Para and the Unconquerable Scorpion releases this Thursday, December 16th. You can try the first three chapters for free today.

Pon Para and the Unconquerable Scorpion is the second game in an absolutely epic trilogy. And you have very satisfyingly allowed the player to pick up where they left off from the first game, accounting for diverse endings in Pon Para and the Great Southern Labyrinth. Tell me about how you were able to construct this next part of the story.

I planned ahead, which wasn’t easy! The major binary divergence in The Great Southern Labyrinth is whether the city of Mytele survives the Stormraider invasion in the last chapter, and I made sure to script for both possibilities. Labyrinth also ends with you in one of 4-5 positions in the Sea Kingdom, from “army general” to “outlaw,” and with you choosing from one of a half-dozen goals, and the game picks up with you pursuing that goal with the resources you gained from the last game. So if you ended Labyrinth as a high priestess who wanted to learn more about the powers of your god, or a downtrodden clerk plotting to kill the king, that’s where you start in The Unconquerable Scorpion.

The romances are actually some of my favorite parts of the Pon Para series. Any new romantic prospects for our hero this time?

Pon Para adds two new traveling companions almost right away, the satyr general Col and her ward, the crow-ferox Clannath. Together, I think they satisfy two of the most important daring sim archetypes: 1) a big cuddly bear with the maturity to respect your boundaries and 2) a violent, illiterate woman with an ax.

If you’re looking to marry up, you can also romance Princess Hyranni (daughter of King Hyras–this assumes you can free her from Teijia’s supernatural control, of course!), Empress Zoriza, and even Galimar, knight-captain of the Stormraiders. But they all have their own plots and ambitions, which can override their interest in going on nice dates with the main character.

What surprised you about the writing of this one?

Vibe-wrangling is hard!

Meaning: at the end of the previous game, your opinion on King Hyras can be anything from “I respect him despite his mistakes” to “I am literally plotting to kill him.” The same range of reactions applies to other elements in the setting, everything from the Stormraiders and the Dark Ax to the new position you find yourself occupying in Shalmek (the capital of the Desert Empire), as a semi-legitimate “crime lord.” A combination of opposed personality variables and chosen goals influences these things, but tracking them all, and deploying the main character’s mood about all these different elements of the story, at the right time, is complex and required an enormous amount of work.

Since we last heard from you, you’ve also published the first of Choice of Games’ new Vampire: The Masquerade licensed games, Night Road, which was amazing, and honestly some of your best writing in my humble opinion. What are the different pleasures and pitfalls of writing Pon Para and your own worlds versus playing in someone else’s sandbox?

World of Darkness was surprisingly generous with what they let me get away with; one chapter is basically “dark Scooby-Doo with Portal 2 aesthetics and some genocide” and they were like Yeah, sure. But my own work lets me explore cul-de-sacs of culture that don’t get much exposure. Pon Para, for example, is based on the old anime, fantasy novels, and 16-bit JRPGs I enjoyed as a kid. In retrospect, a lot of that material was conceptually empty: retreads of older creators’ surface gloss (Tolkien’s worldbeing being the most obvious example) with nothing underpinning it. Pon Para, I suppose, is an attempt to “fill up” those empty fantasy playgrounds of my childhood, to invest their surface aesthetics with a new kind of meaning. The Oricalchum is an explicit metaphor for this creative act: a fairly normal world underpinned by a system that’s deeply weird and (depending on your character’s personality) politically and morally depraved.

Obviously, we’re already looking forward to the third and final installment of Pon Para, The God of Knots. What can we expect to see, other than the totally epic conclusion to the tale?

If The Great Southern Labyrinth is a classic adventure story and The Unconquerable Scorpion is a higher-stakes drama of war and politics, The God of Knots is really going to delve into the metaphysics of the setting. The World That Remains is falling apart, after all–the Oricalchum that sustains it is a desperate and failing stopgap measure, maintained by enslaved gods–and resolving that (or failing to!) is what the final game will be all about. The trick is providing satisfying resolutions without, hrm…pulling a Frank Herbert.

By which I mean: all the Duneheads are laughing because if the new Dune movies are good enough, they’ll eventually run out of fun desert adventures and have to move into the later books, which are about how fun adventures lead to apocalyptic wars. How could you, the reader, ever enjoy those early books? Don’t you know what they lead to?!

It’s hard to interrogate fantasy without destroying what makes a fantasy story fun, or blaming the reader for wanting to hear about a cool adventure. But interactive fiction has unique advantages over static novels, and I look forward to giving players room to explore the setting in God of Knots and to tell me how they react to it, rather than me telling them what they should think.

Pon Para is the “Christmas release” for us this year–pride of place in our release schedule. What have you asked Santa Claus to bring you this year?

A deadline! Mary, I’ve been without a deadline for months and I’m going nuts because I don’t know what to write next! Please, nail something down on your end and give me something to put on my calendar!

[Ed. Soon, my friend! Very soon!]

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