Escape your captors…and endure your rescuers, but don’t be late to the ball! When you are kidnapped, you must take charge of your rescue, and reclaim your rightful throne. Kidnapped! A Royal Birthday is a 158,000 interactive novel by Charles Battersby. I sat down with Charles to talk about how writing comedic games can be a challenge, and Charles’ extensive work outside of games.
Kidnapped! A Royal Birthday releases this Thursday, August 20th. You can play the first three chapters for free today.
Kidnapped! A Royal Birthday is semi-new territory for Choice of Games. We’ve only done a few other games that venture into really broad comedy. Tell me about what mood and tone you wanted to strike here.
I love dark fantasy settings and post-apocalyptic dystopias as much as the next person (if not more). But I think games should be fun. Even in grimdark games, the most memorable moments are when something funny or absurd happens. The Secret Cow Level, or a mutant with a tree growing out of his head, or a shopkeeper whose entire inventory consists of a single Mystery Box. So my game is has lots of moments like that. But there are also sword fights, giants, and fire-breathing monsters.
The enemies will be familiar to fantasy fans, but I put an outlandish twist on them all, and let the Player use unorthodox methods to deal with them. One of the options for outwitting the goblins is something that Lucille Ball would try. And, if the zany schemes don’t work, there is always the option of cleaving your foes in half with a battle-axe!
These NPCs are wild. What’s some of the inspiration there?
Because the Player is the one getting rescued in this game, I thought about the kinds of heroes that players usually control in a fantasy game. The knight, the Amazon, the enchantress, the simple peasant with a grand destiny. Each one of them thinks they are the hero of this story. All of them are trying to impress you, and gain the upper hand against the others in the group.
There’s also sexual tension between the knight and the Amazon. Not to mention class tensions with the humble peasant and the lady-like enchantress.
It’s like playing an online RPG with a group of strangers who can’t function as a group without someone to lead them, and that’s where the Player comes in. You have to be the leader, or you aren’t getting rescued.
What did you find most challenging about the writing process?
Maintaining the balance between comedy and telling a compelling story. That’s always the trick with comedy; if you take out all of the gags, will it still hold together as a story?
Because it’s an interactive game, players do have the option of choosing between funny dialog, or a more serious tone. I hope players run through it a couple of times, alternating between comedy and drama (Broderick’s bawdy ballad is not to be missed).
Kidnapped is your first foray into interactive fiction, but not your first time doing game design, right? Tell me a little about your other game projects.
Right in the middle of my work on Kidnapped I took a couple of weeks off to compete in the “Miss Subways” beauty pageant. For the talent portion of the pageant, I designed a video game.
I can’t sing, and I don’t dance well, so I had to do something! I brought my laptop on stage so the judges could play the game while I talked to the audience about game design (while wearing a swimsuit and heels, of course). The game is about a girl competing in the “Miss Subways” pageant, and was carefully designed so that the judges could get through it in the two minutes I had on stage.
It was a simple old-fashioned RPG, but it impressed the judges. I suppose they weren’t expecting the leggy blonde in the pink swimsuit to be a computer nerd too.
And you’re an actor and model as well?
I am! I do a lot of theater in New York, and there’s a local theater company here in Brooklyn that does an annual festival of plays inspired by video games. I’ve written and produced some plays there. Hmmm…a live reading of Kidnapped might be an interesting concept for a theater performance…
Casual game fans might recognize me as the voice of “The Avenger” in the games Grim Facade: Hidden Sins and Grim Facade: The Red Cat. I can sound very menacing when I want to.
People can also see me in small roles and background work in TV shows and movies. I usually get typecast as “Hooker #2” or “Transwoman in gay bar.” Right before production shut down for the quarantine, I did some extra work as “phone sex operator” on the next season of Pose. Keep an eye out for me.
On very rare occasions you might see a pic of me in a fashion magazine or newspaper, but most of my “modeling” is for cosplay fashion shows. I’m known for making elaborate princess gowns, and I competed in the New York Comic Con’s cosplay contest in a costume that was half Cinderella and half Belle from Beauty and the Beast.
I had debated trying to make a game about cosplay but, the truth is, the life of a cosplayer is pretty boring. We spend most of our time sitting on the floor with a mouthful of pins, and burning our fingers with hot glue.
What else are you working on these days?
Naturally, I’m working on some more interactive fiction games. I’d love to do a prequel to Kidnapped, but with more barbarians this time around. There’s an incredibly obscure reference to the 1982 Conan movie hidden in Kidnapped. Whoever spots it first and mentions it on the Choice of Games forum definitely deserves a free copy of my next game.