Summon demons to win the French Revolution! Will you uphold the Republic, restore the monarchy, rule France yourself, or lose your head? Revolution Diabolique is a 425,000 word interactive novel by Chris Conley. I sat down with Chris to talk about his evolution as a writer of ChoiceScript games, and the fascinating setting of his latest effort.
Revolution Diabolique releases tomorrow, Feburary 24th. You can play the first few chapters for free now.
This is your first Choice of Games game, but not your first ChoiceScript game! Tell us about your past work with ChoiceScript.
I first used Choicescript in 2011 for the Indigo New Language Speed IF event. The idea of Speed IF is to create a work of interactive fiction in a short period of time, generally two hours to two days, similar to a game jam. But in this case, because the idea of this particular Speed IF was to learn a new programming language you’ve been interested in but haven’t tried to use yet, it ran for two weeks. My story there was something like one of the old traveling salesmen commodities trading game crossed with Oregon Trail.
My first (and only other finished) commercial work in CS was Machinations: Fog of War, which was published by Hosted Games in 2016.
How did your writing and game design evolve between the two games?
When I started Machinations, I didn’t really have any idea how to approach writing something like it, a novel-length monolithic work. It was going to be my longest complete work by far, whether interactive or traditional. I developed a writing process as I went along, assembled from various sources of advice, including CoG’s blog here, as well as trial and error of various techniques I found or developed myself. Starting out and developing a writing process, I found it incredibly helpful to participate in a writing group online which runs a weekly flash fiction competition. Every week, they run a new writing prompt, and a few people judge the entries, and then the winner is tasked with proposing next week’s writing prompt and judging that week’s competition. Setting a goal like that for yourself, to write something short and complete and to an imminent deadline, again and again, is a great way to develop your own writing process and get in the habit of actually finishing things, which had always been a problem for me.
The most important thing I’ve found is that, in a sense, what you do doesn’t matter: all that you need from your process is that it gets you to write. Exactly what works is going to vary for each person.
In terms of design, I found more efficient ways to code as I went along. Revolution Diabolique gave me the chance to start from scratch applying what I knew and learned from past projects. I had been fumbling around with various ways to structure my writing design throughout the development of Machinations, and it was nearly the end of the game before I had settled onto my current process. With RD, I had that in place from the start, and it just needed some minor tweaking here and there after that. Most importantly, I started RD with a strong plan for the ending states of the story and the various secondary variables that are tracked to lead towards them, rather than deciding I should do that once I had nearly reached the end and bolting it onto my earlier scenes, as I did in Machinations.
On the other hand, RD also ended up being much more structurally complex in terms of code, so that a standard structuring tool like flowcharts became less and less useful, or even possible to use, as I wrote. This was partly because I decided to implement what Emily Short terms a “salience engine”, especially in the fourth and fifth chapters. This is an effective technique to improve the reactivity of the story to the player’s choices, by changing exactly which events happen, and in what order they are presented to the main character, based on the existing state of the game world and past player actions. But it also entails a lot more intensive work than just writing a simpler linear structure. I used a little bit of the technique in Machinations, mainly in the late game, but I may have gone a bit overboard here. I probably won’t use it so much in the future, at least not outside of an engine specifically designed to facilitate it.
Also, RD offers romances, unlike Machinations (where I didn’t really feel like writing a love story involving a robot). And some of those passages are among my favorite parts of this story.
What drew you to the French Revolution as a subject?
I actually started with the name first; “Diabolique” was French, and I asked myself “What period in France would make a good subject?” and the Revolution was an obvious candidate. The French Revolution is still one of those revolutions that exists at the forefront of public consciousness, and has inspired many of the revolutions that came after. It also established many of the political terms used to this day, such as “left” and “right”, named for the parts of the hall in which the reformers and conservative monarchists sat in the first national legislature that convened (almost by accident) at the start of the crisis in 1789.
Plus, at least in the US, it’s fairly familiar because it tends to be presented as a kind of dark flip-side alternate version of the American Revolution. Both arose from complaints about taxation and representation against a monarchy, inspired by Enlightenment ideals, in roughly the same era, and even involved some of the same players. But then of course the French Revolution soon careened out of control and off the rails, and that sort of broad fluctuating chaos offered the idea that a player character would have the chance to get involved and make substantial changes that would not be plausible in a more stable and settled, less iconoclastic milieu. Plus, this setting gave me the chance to research and write history and politics, which I always enjoy.
I love supernatural games and Revolution Diabolique is no exception–what’s been your favorite part about that piece of the writing?
It’s just fun to come up with magic systems and ensure they’re self-consistent and interesting. A supernatural setting also lets me write bizarre and otherworldly creatures and places and events, without needing to be constrained by real-world physics or behavior or places. I especially enjoyed writing the huge powerful demons near the end, because they’re a lot more willful and dangerous than the earlier demons, with actual dialog.
What are you working on next and what other projects would you like our readers to know about?
The next story I’m working on for Choice of Games is a near-future cyberpunk noir. And I aim to actually finish that this year, unlike the three years that these things have tended to take me.
If you want to see more from me, I’m setting up a website with a mailing list and possibly a blog at novelinteraction.com, mainly devoted to subjects along these lines, interactive writing and design; I have some more experimental kinds of interactive fiction and other games up at chrisc.itch.io; if you’re interested in writing parser IF, I maintain the Threaded Conversation extension for Inform 7; and with Meg Eden I gave a talk at MAGFest this year about interactive narrative design.