Dying made you the perfect spy! Will you use your phantom powers to defend the United States government, or overthrow it? You are a phantom being of supernatural energy, working as a covert intelligence operative for SENTINEL, a secretive government agency. Your unrivaled powers of surveillance can safeguard the freedom of the country; your paranormal wraith abilities will make the difference between being hunter and prey. Wraiths of SENTINEL is a 250,000-word interactive novel by Paul Gresty, author of MetaHuman Inc. and The ORPHEUS Ruse. I sat down with Paul to talk about the evolution of his work for Choice of Games.
Wraiths of SENTINEL releases this Thursday, September 16th. You can play the first three chapters now.
This is your third game for Choice of Games, after The ORPHEUS Ruse and MetaHuman Inc, and we’re absolutely thrilled. Tell me about the world of Wraiths. Does it overlap with the worlds in your other games?
Wraiths of SENTINEL crosses over with MetaHuman Inc., for sure. That company appears in this game—and it’s still employing dark powers in the service of capitalism. Links to The ORPHEUS Ruse are more subtle, but there’s a tonal connection, for sure—the player’s own Possession ability is not unlike the body-switching metempsychosis of The ORPHEUS Ruse.
I’ll add that’s it’s a great feeling to be publishing my third story for Choice of Games. Thanks to everybody at CoG for their support throughout this process. Writing this game took a long time—like, a bonkers amount of time —and the patience of the CoG team was very much appreciated. Working with you guys is always a fantastic experience.
MetaHuman Inc. is one of the most popular games we’ve ever published, and thematically, I feel like Wraiths is a bit of a spiritual (pun intended!) successor to it. We’ve moved from the corporate world to government. What shifts in theme did you observe as you were writing?
MetaHuman Inc. is probably the piece of work that I’m most proud of having written. Even now, nearly six years after it was released, I still from time to time get messages from readers saying how much they loved it. That kind of thing really gives you a boost.
I think that government, and potential poor governance, is one of the themes of the game because it had been a rising concern in my mind for some time at that point—as it had for many people. Some of the game’s excellent playtesters mentioned that the game included some not-so-subtle parallels to Trump’s government. And I guess it does, but the roots of the game go back further than that. I’m English, and I was planning this game after six years of leadership by David Cameron, one of the more nakedly self-serving prime ministers the United Kingdom has had, and the installation of Theresa May as prime minister, despite a shocking stint as Home Secretary in which she eroded civil liberties and carried out some pretty evil attacks on immigrants. So my frustration with politics and governmental bodies was already running high.
The focus on surveillance, and of the potential for a government agency to overstep its mandate, absolutely stems from the documentary Citizenfour, detailing Edward Snowden’s disclosures concerning the overreach by the NSA, and various governments. It’s a rare example of a documentary that’s being filmed as the story takes place, rather than after the fact, and so you see the strange contrast between the humdrum and the incredible—you have shots, say, of Ed Snowden styling his hair while he’s listening to a radio show about whether or not he should be assassinated. I saw that film in 2015, and it terrified me more than any horror film—because the monsters in this case are real, and they are scrutinizing you. Human eyes might not be reading all your emails, but keyword-scanning bots definitely are, and that data can be made available to a lot of organizations as needed. Ever since I saw Citizenfour, I’ve put aside a budget every year for software and online services that protect and respect data privacy.
So, yes, a theme of the book is the constant anxiety of unseen eyes upon you, and the struggle to escape from that glare.
There’s a ton of things in Wraiths of SENTINEL I think of as “good clean RPG fun”—to me it’s very much a power fantasy in that respect. What kinds of powers and abilities does this PC have?
In Wraiths of SENTINEL the reader takes the role of a ghost, of sorts. And yet I very consciously wanted to sidestep existential questions such as the existence of an afterlife, or of “souls.” I wanted to avoid looking at ghosts from the perspective of any one particular religion or belief set. And so here there’s an almost scientific rationale for the presence of wraiths, and other ‘formerly alive’ beings. Every being that exists possesses a scientifically observable form of energy called “quintessence”; physical beings possess both a tangible form and quintessence, while beings such as wraiths are wholly comprised of this quintessence energy. Most “regular” living humans aren’t capable of perceiving quintessence, and so they can’t see wraiths at all. But once you understand the principles of this energy, it’s possible to calibrate microphones to detect wraith voices, say, or to fabricate special types of glass that will show their reflections.
That said, the player essentially has many of the classic ghost abilities. It’s possible to learn to manifest, so that you can speak to living beings for a short time, or even visually appear before them. You can learn a poltergeist ability to move objects around, or you can possess living people, or you can create havoc with electrical devices. Y’know, all those fun things that ghosts are rumored to do.
What do you think will surprise readers about this game?
I’m really happy with the range of outcomes that are possible in this game. Stylistically, it’s rare to be able to “fail” a Choice of Games title—the objective isn’t to beat the game, it’s more about the journey the player experiences as he or she traverses the story. And in Wraiths of SENTINEL in particular, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to fail to save the day. Some of the most fun parts to write were sections in which the player has to deal with the fallout of any inability to complete all of his or her objectives.
What else have you been working on/what are you working on next?
A few years ago I wrote The Serpent King’s Domain, the seventh book in the Fabled Lands gamebook series originally created by Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson. To my mind, the Fabled Lands books are the most innovative and replayable dead-tree gamebooks ever written, and it’s a joy working on that series. I’m now working on the next Fabled Lands book, The Lone and Level Sands.