Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (23)
How far would you go to make a billionaire’s dreams come true? Find the unfindable and do the impossible? It’s all in a day’s work for an employee of Platinum Concierge.
Elite Status: Platinum Concierge is a 500,000-word interactive contemporary drama by Emily Short. I sat down with Emily to talk about the game, COG’s brand of interactive fiction, and the ways in which interactive fiction and gaming have evolved for Emily over the last few years.
This project evolved over the course of several years, as many of our games do. I’d love to know what you thought about working with the “ChoiceScript machine” and the kinds of structures that lend themselves to ChoiceScript games. You’ve written about Choice of Games’ unique IF flavor before and it’s been a pleasure to see your mind at work on these things.
One of the things I like about the ChoiceScript structure and the CoG brand is the way it leans into customisation of the player character. That invites the author to think about how different kinds of people with different skills would approach the story world, and it functions as a kind of constant story prompt.
Obviously, that protagonist customisation plays into stat checks on different options. In Elite Status I also saw an opportunity to use that PC customisation not only to determine which options succeeded, but also to set up stakes and framing for certain choices as well.
For instance, the protagonist in Elite Status can have a varying level of confidence and self-assurance. Characters with low self-assurance might be less likely to succeed when they need to bluff with a client — but they also have more internal monologue about the risks of a given situation. Meanwhile, protagonists who are well attuned to their clients get a bit more internal monologue about how NPCs are feeling and reacting — because the idea is that you’re more able to read that information at sight.
One thing I’ve effused to others about Elite Status is that the story is a unique real-world tale in our library of games. You play a concierge–a kind of personal fixer for the ultra-wealthy or famous which is a real thing that us plebs are not necessarily aware of. What inspired this as a slice of the world to explore?
When I started writing — quite a long time ago now! — I had just recently come to realise how much day-to-day realities differ for people in different wealth brackets, so that the very wealthy almost seem to live in an alternate universe that works very differently from the one inhabited by most of us. That seemed like space for a bit of comedic writing, using that universe for color and poking a bit of fun at it at the same time.
As time passed, I felt less lighthearted about some of those topics. Ultimately, I think Elite Status winds up dealing with those themes a little more seriously, though I hope readers will still find it entertaining.
I also liked being able to write about real-world travel and use that as a backdrop to the character interactions. I do a fair amount of traveling myself, so while I haven’t been to every location you visit in the game, there’s a decent amount of firsthand research there. That gave me lots of concrete details to work with, often things I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of inventing for a fantasy setting and might not have discovered via online research.
You’ve been working on this game and of course, Failbetter Games projects for the last several years. What has evolved in your thinking about narrative or design in that time?
I’ve always been interested in capturing human connections. How do we relate to non-player characters? What mechanics and writing features can we use to make those connections feel nuanced, realistic, and compelling? What can we say about human relationships through interactive media that we couldn’t convey through non-interactive ones?
Over the years, I’ve spent a fair bit of time and energy on the question of modeling the non-player characters and thinking about mechanics (and in some cases AI tech) to allow for meaningful NPC engagement.
The last few years have been a bit of a class on modeling the player character as well. An emotional connection between PC and NPC is less robust if the player character isn’t also well-defined personality — and yet we don’t always want to force the player to play a predefined character.
That raises interesting challenges like: how do we find out what the player intends for their character? How do we pick up on the player’s intention and make it into an important part of gameplay? How do we let NPCs respond meaningfully to the persona the player is putting forward?
That’s something that came up in Elite Status, but also in Mask of the Rose, a project I worked on for Failbetter Games. It’s a visual novel in appearance, but with a lot more protagonist customisation than most visual novels allow — including the ability to play as an ace and/or aromantic character, and to customise a lot of features of how your character acts in social situations.
What is next for you?
I’m just finishing up at Failbetter and moving on to doing some AAA consulting alongside experimental work of my own for a while. The past couple of full-time jobs I’ve had, while very rewarding, haven’t left me with as much time as I’d like to do personal projects. And I’ve got a big Steam backlog to catch up on, too…