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.