Author Interview: Hannah Powell-Smith, Royal Affairs
Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)
Return to the exclusive boarding schools of Crème de la Crème—this time as a royal! Work hard, study hard, and play hard as a royal in training at the exclusive Archambault Academy. Will you rule the roost, or be a royal disaster? Royal Affairs is a 400,000-word interactive novel by Hannah Powell-Smith. I sat down with Hannah to discuss their latest game and their worldbuilding. Royal Affairs releases this Thursday, March 30th. You can play the first three chapters today, for free.
I feel like it was two minutes ago I was interviewing you for Noblesse Oblige, your third game, and here we are publishing the fourth one! How did it happen that you ended up writing two games at once?
In summer 2021, I was just over a year into making Royal Affairs and thanks to world events it had been a slog. When my schedule cleared due to a mass layoff (ah, the game industry…) I was asked about creating a shorter game with a shorter production cycle alongside Royal Affairs, which turned into Noblesse Oblige. I built up momentum again with a new, shorter project, and it brought me the confidence to return in earnest to the much longer and more complicated Royal Affairs. As I swapped back and forth between the two (while juggling a new day job!), I could apply what I learned to each.
The whole experience really helped my burnout and meant I was in a far better position for my creativity and health. Instead of frantically and exhaustedly trudging to the end of Royal Affairs, I had the time, skills, and energy to make it the best it could be.
Royal Affairs is a return to Archambault but not a direct sequel to Crème de la Crème, right?
Royal Affairs is set a few years after Crème de la Crème with a new main character, the middle child of Queen Estell of Westerlin. Archambault Academy is the rival neighbour school to Gallatin in Crème de la Crème, and I couldn’t resist exploring what it was like from an insider’s perspective.
There are plenty of luxurious descriptions and events in Crème de la Crème – most of the characters are upper-class. But in Royal Affairs it’s pushed even higher, reflecting the protagonist’s royal station and the status of their peers as titled aristocrats. At the same time, the stakes become wider-spanning because everyone’s interested in what the young royal is up to.
It was also fabulous to bring some characters back (including the Crème de la Crème protagonist, under some circumstances) while also inventing a whole new cast of characters. Writing communal scenes with the Archambault students was so much fun because I love showing groups of friends or rivals playing off each other – while the protagonist can join in or totally change the dynamic.
Ultimately the Royal Affairs protagonist is a lot more grounded in the world around them. They have a lot of power and Royal Affairs is very much about deciding what to do with that. All while their personal life is being dissected in the papers!
What did you learn in returning to this setting?
It was important to me to keep things feeling new and different. Although they share the upper crust boarding school setting, and Archambault and Gallatin are in a similar location, the protagonists’ responsibilities and dilemmas are very different and showing that was a priority straightaway. I thought a lot about creating tension and challenge in a situation where a lot of people around the protagonist want to go out of their way to make their life easier. The pressures the protagonist are intense! Although they’re in a position to order people around, and many adults treat them with a lot of trust, with it comes the fact that changes to their reputation can have national or even international implications.
In Crème de la Crème the politics of the nation aren’t on most people’s minds, and people can get in trouble for discussing such subjects. In Noblesse Oblige, the island of Teteriuk is very isolated, far from current events of the day. Both games have hints about other things going on – but in Royal Affairs the protagonist is at the centre of it, even if their mother the Queen might want to shelter them from it.
In Royal Affairs, the Archambault students are expected to become future leaders in some way, however badly suited they might be for it. Exploring the dilemmas of leadership is a big part of Royal Affairs, as well as how to connect on a personal level with people when you’re mostly a lot more powerful than them. So I figured out a lot about the dysfunctions of Westerlind society, how the society’s able to work, and where it fractures. Looking at the same culture through a different lens was a great experience in changing things up while building on established foundations.
It can be so satisfying to fill out and spend more time in a world you’ve created. What was your favorite part about writing this one?
It was really fun to take elements I loved, like the social navigation and obsession with social niceties, and place them into a familiar but fresh situation. And expanding on what was in Crème de la Crème and Noblesse Oblige, while sowing a few seeds about other parts of the setting.
Specifically though: I loved writing about the royal family and those close to them, and the pets! Whereas the parents in Crème de la Crème have a distant role, I wanted to spend plenty of time on the Queen and the protagonist’s siblings so the protagonist can form their own opinions about them and what they’re up to, and navigate their connections accordingly. Some delightful feedback I had was from playtesters who got really invested in how their protagonist related to the royal family as people and as an institution – whether they ended up on a good, bad or complicated footing.
And the pets brought a lot of joy when writing. The protagonist and their fellow students can bring a horse, dog or bird of prey with them to Archambault. Showing those interactions and how friends and rivals treat their pets too was something fun and new to write.
Where are you taking our readers next?
I recently finished work on a multiplayer indie game called King of the Castle. In a funny coincidence it also involves royalty and voting – though it has a lot more silliness and wizards than Royal Affairs.
Currently I’m working on a new game set in the Crème de la Crème universe with a new protagonist who’s an adult. It’s set in Teran, a large republic northwest of Zaledo. I’m thrilled to explore a brand new part of the Crème de la Crème world!