In a world of trackless jungles, colossal beasts, and cruel pre-human civilizations, you must survive the past if you want to save the future! You were only meant to guard the laboratory, but when a treacherous power cripples Doctor Sabbatine’s time machine, you’re left stranded! Face the savage inhabitants of Silverworld and build your own civilization—or plunder the past and return home unimaginably rich!
Silverworld is a 560,000-word interactive time-travel fantasy novel by Kyle Marquis, author of Empyrean. I sat down with Kyle to find out more about Silverworld and his upcoming Choice of Games projects. Silverworld releases this Thursday, April 12th.
Silverworld is your second game. What lessons did you carry over from writing Empyrean?
The main lesson from writing a Choice of Games game is that they’re not like any other game–not a text adventure, not a module for a tabletop RPG. Game mechanics that work in one system don’t necessarily translate. Anyone who’s tried to implement an elaborate inventory system in Choicescript has learned that lesson. For Silverworld, I streamlined the stat system, focusing on unipolar variables (Charisma, Education) instead of opposed variables (Charming/Domineering, Formal Education/Street Smarts), and simplified the testing mechanics. That’s a technical way of saying that Silverworld is built to be intuitive and easy to understand. In Empyrean you’re an ace pilot, an idea most gamers are familiar with. Silverworld is a time-travel alt-history game where you get to build a Stone Age village and fight evil crystal gods; the mechanics had to be clear so the players could focus on the world they’re trying to survive in.
This one’s a massive 500,000 words, which puts it in the top 3 or 4 games for length we’ve published. And in fact, when Empyrean came out at 300k+ words it was one of our longest at the time. Any comment?
I believe you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it and don’t understand how much trouble you’re making for yourself.
In fact I had two related goals with Silverworld. First, I wanted to let players choose in what order they tackled the challenges facing them. Scenes in Silverworld aren’t linear; to repair your time machine, you can seek out components in any one of three areas, in any order, and the challenges change based on how far along in the game you are. Second, I wanted to avoid one of the main problems with games where you’re given that kind of agency: they can feel like the whole world is static, with other people just hanging around rather than pursuing their own goals. So in Silverworld, you act, then your enemies, rivals, and companions advance their own plans, then you act again, back and forth as you react against each-other. You’re up against some ruthless and clever competition, from ruthless colonizers to ancient gods, and I wanted to keep the pressure on the player while still giving them a range of options. The result is a large and very complicated game full of many different ways to solve the problems facing you.
Give me a little background on Silverworld. Is it a time travel game? Is it an alternate history? Is it primarily about the volcano fortress of the snake people?
There are snake people, and they do conduct horrific scientific experiments from a fortress hidden inside a volcano. There are also feathered apes, riding lizards, an airship full of insane survivalists, jungle cults, and at least one T. Rex. It’s that kind of game. But what I wanted to do with Silverworld is take a lot of old Lost World tropes (and they are old–Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote The Lost World over a century ago!) and tie them together in a new way. Silverworld is a savage world adventure, but I wanted to use those tropes to explore civilization and colonialism, the spread of technology and the nature of political control. It’s a game about history, religion, civilization, and the origins and nature of justice.
But you’ve actually also been writing another game, a “shorter” game, alongside Silverworld, called The Tower Behind the Moon. Tell us a little about it.
Tower is a fantasy game about an archmage seeking ascension. Fantasy wizards seem to have a sort of life-cycle, like cicadas: (1) apprentice, (2) adventurer-wizard, (3) wizard-in-a-tower, (4) wizard-god. I wanted to tell a story about what happens in the last month between (3) and (4), about how a wizard escapes the bounds of the mortal world…or fails to do so.
Though there’s still plenty of action–monsters to confront and enemy wizards to duel–Tower is less of an adventure story than Empyrean or Silverworld; it’s quieter and more elegiac. You play a magician who is, in a way, attending their own funeral, wrapping up loose ends before departing to become an archon, or a deity, or an entombed lich or something even stranger. You settle debts, make sure your apprentice and other helpers have a place in a world without you, and try to make peace with the mistakes you made and the things you’ve done for power and knowledge.
Are you ever concerned that the extremely specific worlds you write are Lynchianly incomprehensible and alienating to our readers?
In my experience, people are surprisingly comfortable with weird situations and settings as long as they can follow a clear emotional journey. Decades of familiarity have normalized many franchises for us–think Star Wars or the Marvel universe–but if you try explaining them without using any proper nouns, you realize two things. First, the individual parts are very, very weird. (Two robots need a space wizard to help them rescue a princess. A cryogenically preserved World War 2 super-soldier and a huge angry green scientist fight a Norse god and his alien army.) Second, stories with clear character arcs are easy to understand even if the details are unfamiliar. In Silverworld, you play a poor nobody forced to take charge when an experiment goes disastrously wrong. However a player approaches the deadly world they’re trapped in, as a noble hero or self-interested crook, as a warrior or a diplomat, they can follow their character’s emotional development through the course of the story. Deliver that, and it doesn’t matter how weird the snake people are.
Speaking of extremely specific worlds: Pon Para is your next big project for Choice of Games, the first part of which would likely be out sometime in the summer of 2019, yes?
I’m just getting started on Pon Para and the Great Southern Labyrinth, which is the first game in a Bronze Age fantasy trilogy. What will Pon Para look like, exactly? It depends on what people like most about Silverworld. The audience for Choice of Games is still figuring out what they want from these strange and wonderful games, and as long as I get to invent my weird little worlds and populate them with people you can date and/or swordfight, I’m glad to shape my games around what people like most.