05 de Abril, 2016
Jon Ingold: «the fun and complexity of the scenes is what makes the game fun»
Jon Ingold: «the fun and complexity of the scenes is what makes the game fun»

Inkle has just released Sorcery! 3 for PC and Mac, and just less than two months ago they released Sorcery! 1 and 2 as a single release at Steam too. This last is a really good opportunity for a great introduction to the series next to the amazing Karhé: City of Traps. And the third part The Seven Serpents is my favourite Sorcery! to date. With the ongoing development of Sorcery! 4, a completely new and own franchise in the works at the same time, and this releases of their games for PC, I could not let pass catching up with Jon and ask how it’s going.

We have talked extensively about Sorcery! and Inkle Studios. We dedicated a special to them composed of a previous interview with Jon Ingold, monographic about Sorcery! and the legacy of Fighting Fantasy, and an interview with Steve Jackson.
Jon, in the previous interview with us you said that Inkle games would never be ported to PC. What alignment of stars has produced this change in your opinion? What milestones have made it possible the PC ports?

The biggest hurdle was always technical: we’ve built our games specifically for Apple’s platform. To get 80 Days onto PC, Cape Guy and us did a full Unity rebuild, which took a long time.

But then, our Android developer, Iain Merrick, did some actual magic; and we are now able to cross-compile iPhone code onto a desktop environment. It’s a pretty impressive technical achievement, and we’re super-happy to be able to bring the games to more players thanks to it.

Sorcery Shamutanti map

While you are releasing past Inkle games for PC, you are working at the same time in Sorcery! 4. You have said in recent interviews that for the fourth installment of the series you are going nuts, making your own thing. I fear that you go too far from the original book for the fans taste. Could you elaborate this to us? Maybe I got lost in translation. Tell us about the spirit, the approach for the end of the series.

The final part of Sorcery! has a difficult job to do – it has to tie up everything so far, including all the additions and changes we’ve made to the world, while also capturing the spirit of the final book – which was brutal, full of tricks, and my own my personal favourite. It also has to be a fun stand-alone game for people new to the series, so it can’t be too stupidly hard.

So following the book just isn’t an option: the book is full of clever ideas that suit the gamebook format really well. We have to develop it, expand it, and make the most of it. This is the last Sorcery! game: we can’t waste any ideas we have left.

Obviously, we don’t want to lose fans of the original series, but so far, every time we’ve expanded and developed the world, the fans have been more than happy – I think it’s great to see an old, beloved series not just being repackaged, but given new life.

I got the luck to catch you when you were at the recording of the new and shiny soundtrack for Sorcery! It was something like a magic moment, to be there, listening live new songs for one of my favorite series. I wonder how you were feeling.

Nervous! The orchestral recording sessions are really exciting but they come with this knowledge that whatever we get, we’ll use. The musicians don’t get much time to practice the music, and Laurence Chapman’s themes are quite unusual and difficult.

But when they come through, it’s a great feeling. I think on that recording session they nailed the Part 4 theme on their first play; that was amazing.

At the same time I was thinking. Inkle guys are crazy! How they dare to record with an orchestra for a interactive fiction game? Is this going to be profitable? So tell me, how this is even possible? I imagine Sorcery! and 80 days are doing so well that you two could spend in this luxuries.

It’s a careful balancing act: you won’t see us employing full voice acting for some time yet, I think! Rather, the success of our previous games – and above all, the enthusiasm and passion of the fans waiting for the new releases to come out – gives us a sense that we can afford to add a little more gloss and a little more polish here, partly just because we want to make the best games we can.

The following is not a question… I just want to say that 80 days looks beautiful in the big screen. I played it the other day with big picture in the TV from my sofa, and although text font was a little too small for sofa distance, the artistic design fit awesome.

Great. We were really pleased by how it plays as “couch” experience

How are Inkle games doing for PC market?

We’re happy with how they’re going, though it’s not been an easy ride – ports of older games don’t get much coverage and don’t create the same burst of enthusiasm of a new release. But for us, this is as much about building a wider market moving forwards as it is about shifting copies now.

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Apart of finalizing Sorcery series, you are doing a new game, at last, from your very hand. Tell us something about it. If you can’t tell us concrete things, at least tell us an abstract of the concept for the new game.

All right: it’s…

… oh, well, if you insist, I’ll answer vaguely instead.

It’s a development of previous ideas: it’s built on characters; spread out across a world that you can explore quite freely. It mixes mechanics with a narrative flavour with narrative with game-like implications. It’s a new world, and a new story.

We’re also moving quite significantly in terms of production values: this game will be a lot more visual than previous inkle games.

When I was promoting the Z-Files kickstarter, I contact you to ask for support and feedback. You game me great criticism about the lack of the project delivering story and narrative interaction in the pitch, and because I always talked about “follow the philosophy of Inkle” and such, and you told me:

…for me, the key point about choices isn’t “changing the story”, anyway, it’s about giving the player moment-to-moment uncertainties that ground them in what’s happening *right now*. A “dodge or attack” choice is okay for that, though it’s usually better if built up over one or two choices, rather than just presented flat. “

I’m curious for that concrete technique, that thing of “built up over one or two choices”. I understand that you pretend to build some tension so when finally the proper choosing comes, the effect is greater for the player. Could you elaborate this a bit?

So, there’s a tendency in designers to think about game in terms of its flow chart. Choose X, go here; choose Y; go there. The designer see the whole map of the story from top down.

But players don’t. Players only see what’s directly in front of them, and a choice – do X or Y – is always completely arbitrary unless it has some context. The player has to have some clues to consider, so ideas of what each choice might be like; but they’re also taking a chance.

In a game of blackjack you draw one card at a time, and then decide whether to keep drawing more cards; you don’t pull out three and then see if you won or lost. You could make that game, but it’s got fewer moments of choice, fewer risks, and less tension — for the same basic outcomes.

So I don’t quite agree that we “pretend to build tension until the proper choice comes”; rather we ask the player to make small decisions which stack the odds a little this way, or a little that way, until their opportunities for choosing are done. We try to think of scenes as conversations between player and game. We try not to let the player character do any major action without the player declaring, specifically, that they wanted it, because otherwise the player won’t believe it really happened.

We embrace the complexity that arises out of all of this, because the fun and complexity of the scenes is what makes the game fun. If the main plot is totally linear, it doesn’t really matter until a player tries to play the game again; but if the scenes aren’t fun, tricky, and interesting, they’ll never play your game through.


Another good technique is to hide actions within the tree to simulate some opaqueness so the interface does not shows the options transparently. I found the plot of the artificer at 80 Days where she creates an artifact that is like a projector, and the investigation that comes after, when a crucial action is hidden as an conversation with Fog. I found that brilliant, and it worked very well for me. I felt intelligent.

I’m glad it worked for you! That trick – of burying an option behind an option, is always risky: what if players think of the idea, but don’t “find” it? We try to write those choices so they won’t give the game away, but players who are thinking ahead can see where they’re going. But it’s definitely one of the tricky parts of writing this kind of game.

Recently Inkle has released as open source, Ink, the tool you use at the studio to craft your games (visit repository at GitHub). Why you have decided to make that move?

A few reasons, I suppose, but in the end – because we can only make so many games, but we’d like to play games with interesting, fiddly choice mechanics. So we’re hoping that by open sourcing ink, we might shift the discussion a little bit, and encourage people to make games that are a bit more like what we like. They don’t have to, of course, they can do what they want — but people certainly won’t make games like ours if they don’t have the tools to do it.

Thanks a lot for your time Jon. I hope all is well with the PC launch, and I’m eager to put my hands on Sorcery! 4. how it’s going with the development of the ending of the series?

Good. It’s a long road and there’s a lot to do; the first pass of the text is almost written, but then there’s all the art – and art direction – to go into the mix, the new code features required by the game, and then all the rewriting that comes out as a result of all that work. The end is in sight… but still somewhat out of reach!

You can catch up with news about Inkle in their blog or listening to them chatting at the weekly Inkle’s podcast at soundcloud. Sorcery 1 y 2! and Sorcery! 3 are already available at Steam.

Acerca de Ruber Eaglenest

Es diseñador de videojuegos, co-fundador de la compañía familiar Wingless Little People. Editor de Indie-o-rama, crítico, escritor, y entrevistador, además es autor de Ficción Interactiva (o Aventuras Conversacionales) y teórico del medio, donde es conocido como El Clérigo Urbatain. En sus ratos libres es arqueólogo de mundos video-lúdicos virtuales.

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