Interview: Fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss is working on Smed’s OARPG, Hero’s Song

Among the dream team John Smedley assembled for Hero’s Songstudio Pixelmage’s new 2-D open-world ARPG — is Patrick Rothfuss, an acclaimed fantasy author who rocketed to stardom in 2007 when his first novel, The Name of the Wind, won multiple literary awards and was followed up with a New York Times bestselling sequel. Smed tapped Rothfuss specifically to plot the game’s lore, world, and story. We spoke with him about his process, his worldbuilding, his thoughts on immersion, and what video games he plays when he’s not busy penning blockbuster books.

Massively OP: You’re primarily known to fantasy audiences for your award-winning novels. Why make the leap to video games? What did Smed say to drag you over to the dark side?

Patrick Rothfuss: What a lot of people don’t know is that I actually tried to write a computer game long before I tried to write a novel. What’s more, I’ve been playing computer games pretty much since the beginning. So turning my hands to videogames isn’t a leap so much as it is a small step for me. Though it is a step in an exciting new direction.

As a storyteller, I’m increasingly interested in the sort of narrative opportunities that are unique to games. You can do things there that you simply can’t do in comics or novels. There’s a level of interactivity in games that you simply can’t get in other media.

A 3-D medium might seem more immersive for storytelling than a 2-D one – have you met any challenges specific to the 2-D medium of Hero’s Song?

I don’t think graphics have anything to do with immersion in storytelling. It’s a commonly held belief, but… well… it’s wrong. The truth is, storytelling becomes more immersive and more inclusive the more abstract the art is.
Actually, I don’t think graphics have anything to do with immersion in storytelling. It’s a commonly held belief, but… well… it’s wrong. Super wrong. Profoundly and ridiculously wrong.

The truth is, storytelling becomes more immersive and more inclusive the more abstract the art is. If you don’t believe me, I’m guessing you’ve never read a comic book. Think about it, the art in graphic novels could be more realistic, but it’s not, because that sort of thing actually stands in the way of a good, immersive narrative experience.

Take the most recent Fallout game, for example. It was an amazingly graphically intensive game, but half the time I was thinking things like, “God, her teeth look really weird when she talks.” or “Why the hell is that guy hovering five inches off the ground.” How is that immersive?

People might play Fallout 4, but they don’t get lost in it. There’s no graphics at all in novels. But people get lost in a book.

That’s immersion.

hero's-song6 As to worldbuilding: How much of your work will we see in the game as opposed to on a lore website? Are you building backstories or quests or all of the above?

I’m not writing text for the game. I was brought on board primarily to help with world creation. But that actually touches on a lot of other elements: mythology, gods, religions, creatures and playable races, magic systems… It’s all tangled together.

I also chime in about gameplay stuff, if I have a good idea, but my best contributions are usually related to narrative in some way. After all these years, I have a pretty good grip on how stories work. The tricky part is getting the story and the gameplay to work well together. That’s where a lot of games run into trouble….

The main character in your Kingkiller Chronicles examines the path that he traveled to becoming a legend. How will you approach putting the player in the role of a “legend-to-be” — or will you take a different route?

I don’t know how much I’m allowed to talk about at this stage. But I think it’s safe to say that players are going to have a chance to pursue their own legendary paths and leave their mark on the world. In fact, I’m tempted to say that we’re going to be doing this to an extent people have never seen before. It’s one of the most exciting and innovative aspects of the game to me.

What’s your favorite video game? What would you say is the pinnacle of achievement when it comes to video game story?

It’s hard to pick an absolute favorite. There’s a lot of games I’ve adored over the years. The original Bioshock. Portal. Deus Ex. The old Infocom games, of course… But if I were forced to pick a favorite, it would probably be one of the original two Fallout games. Or Planescape Torment. They both had amazingly good storylines. Just as importantly, they gave the player the opportunity to influence the story.

That’s the edge games have over other narrative experiences, like novels, movies, or comics. With rare exceptions, only a game can give you the chance to actively influence the story. If you don’t take advantage of that when you’re making a game, you’re not just wasting potential, you’re ignoring what makes game narrative unique.

We’d like to thank Patrick Rothfuss for his time speaking with us! And don’t forget to check out our exclusive interview with John Smedley himself from earlier today.

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40 Comments on "Interview: Fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss is working on Smed’s OARPG, Hero’s Song"

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Cambruin
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Cambruin

Graphics have nothing to do with immersion? Then why do I find those Asian MMOs so impossible to like, so impossible to get immersed in? Must be the storytelling then, rather than the porn-inspired outfits, the paedophilia-inducing child races in said outfits, the flying fluffy pokémon thingies, the gravity-thwarting weaponry, the female shouts and screams which would put many a professional porn actress’ to shame, … Yup, definately the storytelling that prevents me from getting immersed.
Pretty silly stance he’s taken. But I guess, if your game looks like the pics above indicate, it’d be commercial suicide claiming otherwise. So yup, definately storytelling and storytelling alone to make for good immersion.

How about we all agree that they go hand in hand instead?

SoMuchMass
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SoMuchMass

I agree with him on the immersion thing.  I have played games with terrible graphics that had me completely immersed, one example is WoW back in the day.

Sorenthaz
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Sorenthaz

TogashiKokujin Fyi Smed didn’t say that.

Sorenthaz
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Sorenthaz

“Actually, I don’t think graphics have anything to do with immersion in storytelling. It’s a commonly held belief, but… well… it’s wrong. Super wrong. Profoundly and ridiculously wrong.
The truth is, storytelling becomes more immersive and more inclusive the more abstract the art is. If you don’t believe me, I’m guessing you’ve never read a comic book. Think about it, the art in graphic novelscould be more realistic, but it’s not, because that sort of thing actually stands in the way of a good, immersive narrative experience.”

Well put.  A majority of gamers have become way too shallow-minded and are led to believe that better graphics = better immersion when really that’s just marketing techniques fooling people into playing lesser quality games for higher prices.  MUDs for example have incredibly deep systems and AAA MMOs were never able to recreate that level of immersion or even the depth of the systems used by MUDs.   Smaller budget games surprisingly do it best, but still are held back graphically in comparison to MUDs where all you need is imagination in order to put the text into visuals.   People have become so stupidly spoiled by voice acting and not having to think or read text to where they forget that text is more immersive than overly fancy graphics that look badly outdated within 3-5 years.

Tempi
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Tempi

blackcatcrosses Tempi Nope…sure isn’t but like I said….it was his OWN statement that the books were already written. To tell me it takes 5 years to edit a book just makes me think either “you aren’t trying real hard” or “they were written with a shitty ending and now I can’t figure out how to end it”.

blackcatcrosses
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blackcatcrosses

Tempi To paraphrase Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss is not your bitch.

Tempi
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Tempi

Bah…Rothfuss needs to stop with all this other crap like cardgames, now videogames, etc and just FINISH HIS BOOK. I mean come on….Rothfuss stated on his own blog that he originally wrote the kingkiller books a while back so it was just a simple matter of editing before release….we are what, 8 years from the release of the first book and 5 years from the second without even a glimmer of a possible release date for the 3rd?

Don’t get me wrong, Rothfuss truly is a talented author and I know it “takes time to create” but at this point I honestly just don’t think he knows how to finish his series so he keeps distracting himself with anything and everything else hoping that he will finally get an idea.

Of course maybe I am just bitter since the first 2 books were so good (Although Wind was definitely better than Fear) and it is getting harder and harder to wait for the 3rd. Rothfuss has the distinction of having written probably my favorite book ever with Name of the Wind but he isn’t anywhere near number one in my favorite authors list.

TogashiKokujin
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TogashiKokujin

Actually, I don’t think graphics have
anything to do with immersion in storytelling. It’s a commonly held
belief, but… well… it’s wrong. Super wrong. Profoundly and ridiculously
wrong. – Smed

Well duh. I’m seriously irritated by this stance – what their “talented artists” made very very much reminds me of a game that I didn’t like on my Amiga 500, back in 1990 … I’m not kidding. The world that surrounds us is 3D, getting immersed in a cutesy look-down-from-the-top-thingie just feels “super wrong” to me. 

Well wow, I never lost interest in the “next big upcoming MMO” in the first two minutes since it has been announced. That’s a new one – you go, Smed.

Archebius
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Archebius

paragonlostinspace Archebius Caec I think it could be used to speculate, sure. But you’re talking about completely different applications of writing ability. 

It’s a lot easier to write backstories and build worlds for a game where players are going to largely drive their own emotional investment, as opposed to a novel, where you have to bring a lot more to the table to write something emotionally satisfying. *Especially* for the last book in a trilogy.

crackfox
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crackfox

breetoplay Kanbe I couldnt agree more. In a videogame, you substitute the imagination with graphics. So those graphics either need to be as detailed and realistic as possible, or else they need to be abstract in a way that still allows the imagination to be engaged. I’m thinking of something like Limbo (2D and monochrome) as an example of the latter. Unfortunately, while the 2D style of Hero’s Song has a certain retro charm, I can’t see how it could ever act as anything other than an obstacle to the imagination.

paragonlostinspace
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paragonlostinspace

Armsbend paragonlostinspace  Ah ok, I understand more now, thanks for explaining. :)

Armsbend
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Armsbend

paragonlostinspace I was just disappointed after ‘Wind’ which I thought was a fantastic novel, mainly for the reason Avarius listed.  And I felt like I was going down a sort of adult Potter rabbit hole – a place I don’t really care to follow.

KorbenDallas
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KorbenDallas

Truly incredible books by Patrick…..

Walpurgisnacht
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Walpurgisnacht

chernabog

RolanStorm
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RolanStorm

That’ll be interesting.

breetoplay
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breetoplay

WandaClamshuckr Avarius He has very specifically said there’s no cash shop, so you needn’t worry there. It’s a $20 B2P game. He’s said there will probably be both free and paid updates/expansions, but not microtransactions. :D

WandaClamshuckr
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WandaClamshuckr

Avarius WandaClamshuckr Edit:  just caught the other article on the next page.

It was a fair call, given his history.  But, I’m willing to stand to be corrected if I’m wrong.

Avarius
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Avarius

WandaClamshuckr Did you read anything about the game? There is no cash shop.

WandaClamshuckr
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WandaClamshuckr

Looks like Patrick made a deal with the devil.
Sadly, this is where I saw Smed heading.  I can’t wait to see the Cash Shop offerings.

Kanbe
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Kanbe

breetoplay Kanbe I like the idea of this being a daily grind. It’ll be an interesting conversation.

SirMysk Needs (More) Coffee, Probably
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SirMysk Needs (More) Coffee, Probably

breetoplay Kanbe IMO you’re both equally correct. A 3D game does exactly as you say, but as Rothfuss says it can also be a very distracting experience. I’ve had that happen to me, where the teeth catches my attention (maybe they’re too perfect for the setting or just a simple row rectangles) or everything is floating just a teensy bit off of the ground. There’s enough realism that I can’t help but have oddities jump out at me.
On the other hand, a stylistic 3D approach or a 2D setting can create a very immersive experience. I don’t expect realism and so oddities don’t jump out at me. The experience becomes kind of similar to playing with old toys. The game is a rough representation of a thing, like a toy car or a Godzilla toy, and so it becomes easier to imagine as the “real thing” zooming or stomping about.
This is just how I see it, of course. I’m not saying that anyone is wrong either way.

paragonlostinspace
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paragonlostinspace

Archebius paragonlostinspace Caec     You are correct that he isn’t on anyone else’s schedule for his own books. That said I do think it is a fair speculative point to compare his past output and the time it does take him to release a book when hiring him for a position that requires creative writing from him on a schedule.

Rumm
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Rumm

I love The Kingkiller story (even though I despise Denna)

Archebius
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Archebius

paragonlostinspace Caec But he’s not on anyone else’s schedule for his own books. It’s not fair to judge his timeliness based on the speed he puts out his own novels.

Lethality
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Lethality

I’m in. Not usually a click-to-move 2D player… but the concept is great and I will back every crowdfunded game even remotely in my area of interest. I’m so ready to see designers make the games they want for players that want them for what they are.

breetoplay
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breetoplay

Kanbe Yeah, I think he took offense to what was basically a softball question designed to let him go on a tear! You know me; I will roleplay in a chat client attached to flat avatars hehe. You can work magic in a book or MUD because the boundaries are fewer and the imagination is already engaged. Clearly, you can create immersion in anything, 2-D included. I just suspect 3-D is easier for immersion than 2-D because it requires less imagination on the part of the player. You almost have to fight against a 2-D setting; you’re not just saying, “imagine this” the way a book does; you’re saying, “look at this… now imagine this, which looks nothing like what you are looking at.” Definitely can be done, just harder compared to a 3-D game with photorealistic trappings.
Maybe this question will make its way into a Daily Grind because I think it’d be neat to talk about with the whole community.

paragonlostinspace
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paragonlostinspace

Caec paragonlostinspace Agreed, on the bonus of having him for his celebrity.

Kanbe
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Kanbe

I loved his comment about immersion and graphics. I’ve never given it much thought before but any decent book easily gets me lost in the world but very few games achieve that for me.

Caec
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Caec

paragonlostinspace Caec The only way I’d be making this move as a project manager is if the intent was to use him as a celebrity hire, while a team of other writers were making sure things were staying on track. 
I have no judgement of him as a person, but I’ll believe he’s capable of sticking to someone else’s schedule the day I see it. :/

mrnastybutler
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mrnastybutler

Sounds neat, but I’m taking a wait and see attitude.

chernabog
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chernabog

I think this looks super fun actually — and I’m also a little amazed that their kickstarter page reveals more about the game, the gameplay, design philosophy,  and the classes than the sum total news released about EQN in the last three years.

paragonlostinspace
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paragonlostinspace

Armsbend Interesting, I think I’ve read what’s out three times now. Each time I’ve gotten something more out of it and really as I said in another post how he writes is like art a times. My wife and one of our kids were talking about that a few months ago.

Avarius
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Avarius

Armsbend I appreciated what he was trying to do with the story, but it was just far, far too drawn out. Huge swaths of that book could be cut and it would still be equally good, if not better.

paragonlostinspace
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paragonlostinspace

Caec  

I actually had that passing thought myself. Rothfuss’ ability to turn a phrase is art like in execution, I love to read what he writes as a fantasy writer. I love Rothfuss’s work but he’s very slow at releasing material. I don’t get all bent about it but from a game designer point of view I’d be hesitant to have him involved in helping me get lore etc done as a part of an mmorpg/oarpg game release schedule.

   I also think he’s a very fine person, much like Scalzi and Hines, great with social issues and other things that just need to be pointed out and something done about it. World Builders which he founded does some good stuff. My wife and I both read his blog off an on, always something interesting to read about.

Armsbend
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Armsbend

He really lost me on Wise Man’s Fear.

Caec
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Caec

I’m pretty sure he’s George R.R. Martin’s illegitimate son. I have a suspicion both of them will do the Robert Jordan, and we’ll end up with Brandon Sanderson finishing both series. 
#onlymildlysarcastic

mourneuk
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mourneuk

He needs to finish the king killer chronicles… and then I’ll be happy and excited he’s doing this.

Oleg Chebeneev
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Oleg Chebeneev

This looks like a game I would play. I always play ARPGs in hardcore mode with 1 life, but they still provide little challenge for me. Would love to get real hardcore survival experience with combat that forces to plan and think

darklikedeepwater
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darklikedeepwater

This has long been something I’ve never understood about big budget games. If you’re already blowing millions, why are you entrusting your game’s narrative to someone who’s never written anything worth mentioning? As good as the SWTOR class stories are, they could’ve been much better with one kick ass writer as an overseer. 

Rothfuss has got faults, but he’s an *excellent* world-builder. Great hire.

Krucible
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Krucible

The fact that he mentioned the original Fallouts & Planescape Torment when it comes to the story aspect of a game and the impact you make on the story itself makes me happy inside. Those are some real gems IMO.

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