A Ludum Dare -- Creating Interactive Narratives with Amanda Wallace
Did you know that GameSkinny's own Amanda Wallace is an indie dev? On top of editing the torrent of articles the contributors at GameSkinny put out at a breakneck pace, she has participated in several indie game jam games.
I sat down with her and talked a bit about what things are like on the indie dev side of things.
For those who don’t know, who is Amanda Wallace?
AW (Amanda Wallace): Twenty-four and over-educated. Former rugby player -- I still include that in my bio even though it's been a few years. Writer. I've been told to call myself an artist, but that's complicated. It's not a word I'd associate myself with.
What got you into Ludum Dare and indie jams?
AW: My first game was for Global Game Jam, which is probably one of the more well-known game jams. It's one more people have actually heard of. The local game development group in Lexington (where I'm from) was hosting a jam site. There was food and people I liked, so I went. I ended up making a really quick, slightly pretentious HTML game with some slight branching. And it sort of snowballed from there.
A lot of your games center around the idea of either choosing to focus on the negative or the positive. What is it that makes you focus on personal outlook for your branching choices?
AW: Do they? I guess they kind of do. There's this really great element in Kentucky Route Zero (not one of my games) where you get to decide how your character will react to falling into a mine. No matter what, you're damaged. I mean, you've fallen into a mine. Your choices don't affect that -- they just effect how your character feels. That decision-making is more fascinating to me than "What's behind door #2." There's nothing wrong with branches that decide locations and stuff like that, it's just less interesting to me. I think you could probably attribute it to my creative writing background. Characters are more interesting than plot -- so personal decisions are more interesting.
Several of your games are set in coal regions, and in forested towns. Why the rural focus?
AW: My family is from coal-country, Appalachia to be more or less regionally precise. My grandfather was a coal miner (and way back in his generation as well). My other grandfather as well. I have cousins now that are coal miners. It's very much a part of my personal mythology.
I don't feel like I could necessarily write a really good story about being in a large city as I've never lived in one. There's an old writers adage that "you write what you know," and I think that's definitely true. Plus, I feel like it's an often overlooked area. People tend to dismiss the entire region as racist rednecks without actually considering any of the history or the culture that lies therein. It's fascinating and deep, and for me, that's worth writing about.
Your games often have a very “in-medias res” sort of ending to them. While some still have a “Fin.” quality, they still feel like the story is far from over. Do you write them this way to keep the door open to go back to the same characters later, or is it more of an artistic choice?
AW: In life, the only finite ending is death. That sounded terribly pretentious, but that sort of sums up my stance on the matter. Their open-ended because to me, they're organic. My most recent game God's Gonna Cut Em Down is open-ended because it's finished.
Was that you singing in My Olde Kentucky Home?
AW: Yes. I didn't want to do it. I tried to get my sister to come in and record it for me, as she's the vocalist in the family. I knew I needed someone young and female, and as the second day of the jam drew to a close I realized that the only person I had that could do it was me. So I buckled down in the old soul recording studio that I was working out of at the time and recorded three tracks -- only two of them ended up in the final game.
In addition to your narrative games, you also created a party game titled “Simple.” What inspired you to try a multiplayer game?
AW: Simple was an experiment in creating a board game. Before the jam started that weekend, I decided that I wanted to sit down and try something I hadn't done before. It was more inspired by the desire to create a board game than to create a multiplayer experience. It was fun, though I'm honestly not sure that I'd do it again.
Some question the “game-y-ness” of Twine stories and similar projects. How do you feel about combining traditional prose and graphic narrative with interactive elements?
AW: I'm terribly done with that conversation honestly. Is that rude?
I wouldn't say so. It has been thrown around a lot recently.
To me it's a boring argument. You either think that Twine is enough of a game to be considered one or not, and I haven't met a single person whose opinion has been changed after having that conversation. It's like asking someone about their religion or politics or how they feel about bacon.
It boils down to this: "Do I think Twine is a game?" Yes I do. And I feel like anyone who makes a Twine game and wants to call it that is welcome to the title.
Would you ever consider developing a larger game, either as an indie or AAA developer?
AW: Odd question, since it hardly seems to be within my control (especially on the AAA side). I've actually worked with some developers before on larger titles and some art games. That's not really hard as most games are larger than mine.
I'm currently adapting God's Gonna Cut Em Down into a longer work. I'm probably submitting My Old Kentucky Home to IndieCade -- I showed it at PAX East last year which was an amazing experience. I love games, and I love creating them. No matter on what scale, I'd like to keep doing just that.
Now at the end of all my interviews, I like to let my interviewee ask me or my audience one question. Feel free to shoot away!
AW (Amanda Wallace): What are you looking forward to gaming's future?
Hmm... well I look forward to seeing more hybrids and divergent design, to put it shortly. Most of my favorite games take an approach to vary things up and include ideas by what works for the game individually, rather than just trying to fit to genre tropes.
With games like No Man's Sky and White Night on the horizon, I just finally feel like we're building gameplay and story for what makes sense in a game, rather than trying to emulate other mediums. Even some less imaginative games, like Killzone: Shadow Fall, tried new ideas because they made sense as additions to the core gameplay, despite being a bit outside of the box.
So I guess, I am looking forward to a more pragmatic and creative number of games to come out. Thanks to the accessibility given by the free (and much more non-coder friendly) Unreal 4 and Unity 5, a lot more ideas can finally see the light of day.
AW: I'm definitely excited to see what we make when we stop making playable movies, even though I enjoy those too. Like, Uncharted was fun, but it's nice to see games that actually use game elements in interesting ways; like Lim.
Alright, thank you for sitting down with me today Amanda, and where can our readers find you on Twitter and where can they find your games?
You can also find Amanda right here, on GameSkinny.