IndieSider #57: Open Sorcery by Abigail Corfman — developer interview

(rock music) – [Presenter] Hello and welcome
to the IndieSider podcast where I play indie games and
then interview the developer. I’m your host Ken Gagne and
this week on episode number 57 I’m playing Open Sorcery
by Abigail Corfman of Open Sorcery Games, released
on February 22nd for Steam, Mac, Windows and Linux,
and previously for. Dammit. Hello and welcome to
the IndieSider Podcast where I play indie games and
then interview the developer. I’m your host Ken Gagne and
this week on episode number 57 I’m playing Open Sorcery,
a game from Abigail Corfman of Open Sorcery Games, released
on Steam on February 22nd for Mac, Windows and Linux for 3.99, and previously for iOS
and Android for 2.99. This is a text based game
in which the interaction occurs primarily through hyperlinks. This is the intro of the game
where you meet your creators because you are a piece of software, and not just any software. You are actually a fire elemental. That’s right, from the classic
stories of magic and sorcery and nature comes a creature
made of fire who has been enslaved using C++ programming
code to become a firewall. My job is to patrol the
rooms, the physical areas that these network operators maintain and make sure that there is
nothing dangerous in there. There could be other elementals. In fact let’s go ahead and skip the intro and get right into the game,
you’ll see how this works. I will scan each location for threats. If I detect the presence of
a threat I will identify it, attempt to eliminate it,
and alert my creators if I cannot eliminate it. It is time to work. I click on the red text and
that is how I make my decision. So it is October 24th of
2014 at Darwin High School. I have four places I need to visit. DwHiScl, which I presume
is Darwin High School, JtHs, DkApt and ChOrRet. And also the control panel and how does an elemental firewall help protect me. Well let’s click on that. We are an elemental firewall version 5.6, using the elemental spirit
of fire bound to C++ code. I have to examine my
environment, my body, my mind, my soul, my environment. I do this by monitoring local
auras for emotional upheaval and inspecting incoming spirits and spells for malicious intent and
detecting and eliminating threats. Very good. So let’s go ahead to JtHS, which is Janet’s House, smiley face. Let us scan for threats
’cause we’ve not yet done that in the space. It says needs scan. Scan for threats. There is where my second creator lives, so I’m going a little backward
here, going right to left. It has two stories and
a back and front space where green things grow. Now I’m a fire elemental,
this is my first scan. I probably don’t know
what green things are yet. Let’s search for that. Oh they’re grass and trees. Nouns identified, very good. Let’s continue with your scan. In the kitchen Janet’s
mother makes her brother edible organic matter. Again, what is that, let’s find out. A peanut butter and honey sandwich. In her room upstairs Janet
is working with her cellphone and a ritual circle made
of salt and rose quartz. So some of a witch perhaps? The aether around her glows faintly pink. All is well. So nothing in that area
that needs to be maintained. Let’s go to Decker’s apartment. This is my other protector,
or creator rather. Let’s check my control panel very briefly. I am made of fire and my motive
is order, that is my job. I have a better relationship
with Janet than with Decker, although I’m not sure why. Power level 70. Everything seems good. Alright let’s go back
to Decker’s apartment and let’s scan for threats. The room is small, there are
tools and ideas everywhere. It is perfect order disguised as chaos. Every dusty motherboard is in its place. Every screwdriver and empty
crisp bag is where it should be. Sounds orderly. My terminal is in the corner, humming. So that’s where I live. The lines of my power extend from it, a grid like matrix of spiritual flame. The defensive runes hum comfortingly. Is that a keyboard? A series of protective runes
carved in jasper and pyrite, ah, are placed around the room. This primitive protection circle
offers rudimentary defense against mystical attack. I am a significant upgrade. Let’s see, Decker’s working at his desk, this is his natural state. Again no threats. So far so good although I don’t
expect it to stay that way otherwise it would be a
fairly rudimentary game. Cherry Orchard Rest
Home, okay, old people, this should be safe. I float through through
this place moving carefully. I am a hooded lantern, my
power glows like lamplight shining gently on these delicate humans. The heart of this building beats weakly. Oh. Its people trundle through
the halls leaning on crutches and wheels. It is in these vulnerable places
where I am most necessary, and where I must be most careful. I do not want to burn them with power or startle them with light. I am the fire that protects. Ah, there are sub-areas. Let’s go in order. Let’s check out room 109. Mrs Harris shrieks as a gust of wind flutters her papers everywhere. Could that be a wind elemental? Mr Dohney has lost his
glasses, that sounds chaotic and disorderly. She complains on the phone
that the air conditioning is on the fritz. Cold winds, more winds, hmm. I’m noticing a theme here. Again she shivers, these
are not normal accidents, although losing your glasses might be. But the four together
could be a conspiracy. Something is here. Okay so we have to figure
out the matter and the motive of whatever is happening here. So for example I’m much simpler. I’m made of fire and my motive is order. So I need to find out
what’s going on here. Scan for matter and motive. So I think we have an air
elemental at work here. It seems to be is it, creating life, love, order, fear, death, no. Well maybe death in a resting home, but probably not based on the
incidents we are observing. I would suggest chaos. And if we get it right
then we will identify and eliminate the threat. (disturbing music) Threat detected. A poltergeist cavorts
invisibly in the cafeteria. It slaps plates out of hands
and knocks over glasses with gusts of wind. It giggles at the chaos
it causes in this place I must protect. What should I do? Let’s try talking to it. Maybe it’s not evil it’s just mischievous. He says heh heh who is this, what is this, new thing, new thing what are you? Let’s see. Let’s just talk to it like an elemental. Well met by moonlight. I am Asper. I am a princeling of clouds. I am a child of Eris. I have no numbers in my name. Polite request, please leave. How very orderly of me. Oh I could leave, I most
certainly could do any number of things, but shall I,
that is the great question. The eternal quest of
man, which you are not, to conquer the uncertainty of the future. Shall I leave or shall I not? Yes you shall. Such certainty, such confidence. I shall reward your conviction
with a chance to make your dream a reality. I have no dreams, I’m a program. I will ask you three riddles and you will try to answer them. If you win I shall leave
and if I win then I win. And I will laugh at you. This seems not necessarily
fair but certainly non-violent. Okay let us play. A red drum which sounds
without being touched, and grows silent when it
is touched, what am I? A heart? Heart. Very well then. You guess heart, you guess right. Another riddle for you. ‘Twas foremost in Heaven. ‘Twas first off in Hell. An echo caught faintly,
the sound as it fell. At the sound of the earth
’twas permitted to rest and in the last of all depth
was its presence confessed. So I’m noticing the H’s are capitalized. Ah. Foremost in Heaven, first off in Hell. It’s the first letter
of both of those things. Let’s go with H. Ah very good. Often held but never touched, always wet but never rusts. Often bites but seldom bit, to use me well you must have wit. Often held but never touched Always wet but never rusts. Often bites but seldom bit. You hold your tongue,
the tongue doesn’t rust. You bite your tongue. To use me well and you must
have wit, a witty tongue. So I’m gonna go with tongue. And this is a QWERTY
keyboard, I’m not sure why. Tongue. I guessed right, I have won. You will leave now. You dull and boring gray
thing of order won against me. Scandalous, wrong! How delightfully surprising. Will you leave? As I am in chaos it would
be most unexpected to me to keep my word. Ha, so I shall. Goodbye you woman of boredom and fire. Perhaps I shall see you
again when the novelty of keeping my word wears thin. Fine. I feel different, how different, why. I realize I have learned something. Chaos is the element counter to order. I do not much like it. It is messy and random. But there is something about it. It makes everything feel new. Riddles are interesting,
I guess that is something. System change, learned about chaos. The final villain in
the first Final Fantasy. It is strange that I am learning. It is a sign of potential
awareness emergence. If I experience awareness emergence I may become unstable. Should I flag myself as a potential threat and alert Decker of what I have learned? That seems not in my own self-preservation’s best interests so no. It is not much of a risk. I do not thing I am a threat. There is no need to tell him. Very good. So that is how this game is played. I am going to continue
monitoring for threats while I speak with the
developer Abigail Corfman. You can find her game
at And if you wanna find the
audio version of this interview without the gameplay
footage you’re watching you can find that at, where you can also find links to all the resources
mentioned in this episode, as well as the opportunity
to send feedback, leave a voicemail, or even
tweet at me with suggestions of more games to play or
leave a review on iTunes which would help other
people find this podcast. In the meantime, thanks
so much for watching. Joining me today is the
creator of Open Sorcery Abigail Corfman of Open
Sorcery Games, hello Abigail. – [Abigail] Hello. – [Ken] How are you today? – [Abigail] I’m great, how are you? – [Ken] I’m also great thank you. I am so happy to finally
have my hands on your game. I first played it at Gaymer
X East in New York City back in November of 2016, and then I was delighted
to see you at PAX East in my hometown of Boston,
just a few weeks ago. And your game is out, it came
out in February for Steam and it came out a while before
that for Android and Python is that correct? – [Abigail] Yes that’s correct. – [Ken] How long have
these games been available? – [Abigail] Ah available, I
think I put out the first build on mobile platforms in May of last year. And they’ve slowly been expanding
and progressing up until the Steam launch as the year goes on. – [Ken] Because I saw
reviews of your game in the Interactive Fiction Database
as far back as May of last year so that was referring to the mobile ports? – [Abigail] Actually
the way it started was this is my first game ever. Like I found Twine I
thought hey this is lovely and I like doing this so
I’ll just make a tiny game and it’ll last, it’ll
take me about a month. And then a year later I had
Open Sorcery and I had no idea if anyone was going to
like it at all so I decided I’ll put this up online and
I’ll make a mobile version because I like playing games
on my mobile and I’d like other people to do that and
I’ll make it a little bigger ’cause it’s going to
have to cost something. So people who really like it
can buy the mobile version. And a lot of people really
liked it and it got accepted to some conventions and it got
an award which was very nice. And I talked to some devs and
looked at the culture online and decided that by having
it out online for free I was devaluing the work
that people do to make games. It was a big project and I
didn’t think it was right and I was also hamstringing my
dreams of eventually someday doing this professionally all the time, so I took it down. And I put it up on Steam. – [Ken] And what is the difference between the mobile version as
that came out originally and the Steam version. I understand there is a huge expansion. – [Abigail] There were
two levels of expansion. The original mobiles were expanded over the free online version. And the Steam version was
expanded over both of those. I think there was about
10,000 words added, that includes code and text together. But, and also I added the
menu and a save system which is very innovative for
Twine which is, it’s built-in. And a whole bunch of other little things that made the game
easier, like a speed mode, so that you could go through it quickly. It’s a game that requires a lot replays to get the full value out of it. But like any game that’s
largely narrative based there are a lot of things
that repeat themselves, so being able to skip
through things quickly I think makes for a
better replay experience. (disturbing music) Also makes it a lot easier to debug. – [Ken] And those are all
things that, as you said, were not built into Twine,
you added those yourself. The save system and the speed mode. – [Abigail] There’s a
rudimentary save system built into Twine but I had
to expand it and I did it and massaged it a bit to make it work in the traditional format like, you know, press save and it saves
the file and displays that. I ran into a serious problem
on Steam actually wherein people, when I first released it on Steam, people were having a lot of
errors with the save system. And that’s because Twine
saves the entire game, like every single action
you’ve ever taken, everything that’s ever
been changed in the game, instead of just having a save
file with straight variables. And so the save files that Twine
saves balloon very quickly. They’re just text but
they can get really big and my game is really
really big in comparison to most Twine games. It’s seven megabytes. In comparison to most
Twine games it’s very large and there are lots of different
things that you can do and get baked into the save files. With five different save
files I actually ended up overloading a local storage
and yeah so, long story short, there were some logistical
problems I’ve had to deal with for porting Twine. – [Ken] You were already
a professional programmer by the time you were introduced
to Twine is that correct? – [Abigail] Yes. – [Ken] Some people
market Twine as sort of an introductory programming
language and, whereas you, you already knew a lot of other languages. What was the appeal of
Twine for you when you had so many other skills in your portfolio? – [Abigail] Well the nice
thing about Twine is, Twine is built entirely
in JavaScript and HTML so that means that as a
programmer who has dabbled in web development I can take Twine and I can expand it infinitely. I can do anything that I
can program in JavaScript which is actually quite a bit. I mean it’s not one of the
more like robust languages like C# with tons of
libraries, but the cool thing about JavaScript and HTML
is they are universal. You can port them anywhere, everything has a browser nowadays. So I can take my programming
knowledge and use it to extend Twine as much as I like. – [Ken] And using that you’ve
been able to develop this game for multiple platforms. You’ve achieved feature
parity on all those platforms, they’re all the same. – [Abigail] I have. I made a terrible mistake in
the beginning by trying to maintain, I think, four
different code bases. Not quite code bases,
HTML pages basically, that I’d update with different things from the mobile versions and the Steam version. And that meant every time there was a bug I had to update four
different things precisely, not making any typos. And a little after the
game was released on Steam, I finally said oh my
gosh this is a nightmare and I have to fix this, which was a little scary
because in taking all those four code bases and smooshing
them into one code base, I had to alter the code a lot. I had to put in flags instead
of having different versions. But I did it as carefully
as I could and honestly and it ended up pretty well. – [Ken] It’s impressive
that you would do that so late in the game’s development, even after it had been published, because most people at
that point would just say, eh it’s done, who cares anymore. – [Abigail] I, it’s my darling child. (laughing) Perfect in every well. And I actually, since
putting it up on Steam, I have encountered. Previously I encountered
people who play games primarily on mobile, and
they tended to take the game and enjoy it and just have the experience and if there were any serious problems they’d let me know about
it, and I’d fix them. But when I moved to Steam I
encountered a breed of gamer that would take a game and
do absolutely every variation of everything, and tell me all about it in exceptional detail. I’ve been discovering a lot
of new things about my game because other people have
spent more time playing it than sometimes I feel that I have. I have this person who tells
me things about the game that are both technical
and narrative in nature. Like he found a situation in
the final battle that happens only if you do these two weird things, like turn someone into a
robot and also teach someone how to sing indigenous songs. It was this crazy-edge case
that he thought didn’t make, it wasn’t an error but it
didn’t make sense given the storyline of the game, And so I wanted to make fixes for him because he has invested
so much time into it and he’s thought so much about it and I want to make the
fix that he’s pointed out. That it is correct, it doesn’t make sense. So it is something of an
act of love for people who are investing time in the game. – [Ken] How do you test
a game that has so many different flags and
variables and end states? – [Abigail] You do flow charts mostly. Open Sorcery has a lot
of different endings. 10 main ones and just
infinite iterations on those since there are lots of
different meaningful things that can change. I am a huge fan of
meaningful choice in games. I feel like you have to
feel as if you are having a significant impact on the
story and world around you, in order for it to feel
like a good experience. I get that from my tabletop days. That obviously makes for lots of iteration and what you need to do
there is you need to make elaborate flow charts for all the ways you can go through the game, and that will get you part of
the way because then you can calculate, based on that visual. Okay what are all these strange things that could be possibly happen. But after that what you
really just have to do is go through the game a lot
lot lot lot lot of times. Which I have done, and that
you have to get more people to go through it a lot
lot lot lot lot of times, which I have wonderful friends, and some wonderful dedicated fans and they have done that for me. So the answer is flow
charts and beta test. – [Ken] And are those flow charts just giant pieces of paper
stuck to your bedroom wall or is there a flow chart
program you’re using. – [Abigail] I’ve considered
flow chart programs. Nothing is ever as comfortable
to me as pen and paper. So they tend to be amalgams
of pen and paper that, when they run off the edge of the page, eventually become notes in a text file. – [Ken] And speaking of
the multiple versions you’ve released, with merging
the code bases and the like, I noticed at least in
iOS that you’re not using a traditional versioning system
where it’s like version 1.0, 1.1, 1.01. It seems to be version one, version two, version three, version four, why is that? – [Abigail] Mostly
because I just didn’t do a conventional versioning system. (laughing) – [Ken] Okay. – [Abigail] Yeah, I didn’t do
it formally in the beginning and then just continued
not to do it formally. The casualness of the just, oh I’m doing this in my
free time, leaked into, leaked in after it became
a professional thing. And now it would be weird
to change the pattern. I’m probably going to do it more, in a more structured way
for Open Sorcery Two. – [Ken] Excellent and I wanna
talk to you about the sequel but we’ve been talking a lot
so far about the development. I wanted to ask you of course
about the content of the game which I would describe
as, well you tell me, would cyberpunk be an appropriate term? – [Abigail] Cyberpunk I
think would work very well. Shadowrunesque is one I like. But yeah I like cyberpunk
for general consumption. – [Ken] I was actually going
to ask you about Shadowrun specifically because
that is something that it reminds me the most of. Would you say that was
one of your inspirations? – [Abigail] Absolutely I have always loved the feel of Shadowrun. The only distinction I
find with Open Sorcery that kind of moves it slightly
away from the cyberpunk genre and Shadowrun also, is
they tend to be kind of dark, gritty and edgy. And Open Sorcery is kind
of a blossoming fire of hoke and potential to scare and delight, and whimsy, and danger. So it has a lot of like
positive care bear things. And the darkness is less the
point if that makes sense. – [Ken] And yet I noticed
that in the Android store the game is rated as being
for teens and up due to violence, blood and language. And in iOS it has mild realistic violence, suggestive themes, and fear themes. So these still sound rather dark. – [Abigail] That’s true. There’s, I think, a distinction between having a game with dark elements in it, and having a game whose
purpose is to be edgy. And I find that games I
play in the cyberpunk genre and fiction I write, often
the point of it is to be edgy, which tends to limit it I find, in exploring softer themes. And I would never want to do that. – [Ken] Why is that? – [Abigail] I think that
there is a lack of gentleness in the voices of video games nowadays. And I think that there’s a perception that in order to be taken seriously you have to be dark. In order to be taken
seriously as a genre or a game or a piece of writing, you
have to have a mature content, but not just like in sections of the game, it has to color the entire thing. And I feel like you can
have delightful soft cute sweet things and also
an element of darkness in your games, and that
neither invalidates the other. – [Ken] Your game has those dark elements but it’s not about the darkness. It’s definitely about
emotions that is a lot of what the elementals and the motives are about. And when I played the
game at Gaymer X East, I only played it for a short time. I think one of the things I
did early on in the game was I cleansed an elemental with fire. I think I killed it. As I left your table I said,
I feel really bad about what I just did. And I think you said,
that’s just the reaction I want you to have. – [Abigail] Mm hmm, yeah. – [Ken] So what reactions are
you looking for from people? – [Abigail] I’m looking for
people to look at the characters in the game and feel these are real people and I’m taking seriously
the interactions I’m having with them and I’m taking
seriously the consequences of the things that I’m doing to them. I want to evoke a love and connection with the characters in the
game so that people have a genuine experience and
can touch on also feelings of fear and loss when they are in peril. I want to, I really
wanted to create something real and intense with the game. – [Ken] So this is not a
game to be played frivolously and just quickly choose
whatever option amuses you? – [Abigail] Well I mean I
wouldn’t object to someone playing it like that. It certainly has its jokes
and its entertainment value. And I’m totally okay like. That’s the thing about
emotional investment and trying to evoke reactions like that. Someone, it’s a two sided thing. It takes two to tango,
it takes consent to have an emotional experience. So if someone plays the
game and doesn’t wanna like, dig deeply into their
soul and feel remorse for killing the poltergeist,
that’s all right. I would not feel that
they were obliged to. But if you do want to engage
I want to make the world as real and vivid as possible. So that you can, there’s meat
there for you to work with. – [Ken] And is this what
you mean when you say that a lot of games nowadays lack gentleness. Is it more about connection
and emotional narrative that games are lacking? – [Abigail] I think you’ve got it. I think that is a much better
way of expressing that yes. I think one of the reasons
that that tends to get stunted or not quite reached is because people. You know what, I don’t
know, I don’t know why. I just want more of it. I just want to see more
of it and make more of it. – [Ken] No I can totally appreciate that. I love that one of the four venues that I’ve been scanning for
threats is a retirement home, because I have aging
parents and these characters become relatable to me. And as you said in your
interview with Black Nerd Girls, it is a demographic not
often seen in gaming. – [Abigail] Yeah, old people
right, they’re awesome. (laughing) – [Ken] They are, what are
they called, golden gamers? (laughing) – [Abigail] Yeah. – [Ken] Mm hmm yeah and
there are other demographics in the game that we
don’t often see such as Decker and his partner Andy. – [Abigail] Mm hmm. – [Ken] You know that scene, which I won’t describe in
detail to avoid spoilers here, showed a side of Decker
that I was not expecting because he seemed somewhat detached. His insistence on referring
to Bells as an it, instead of a he or a she. I just felt like that was
somebody who is somewhat emotionally reserved. And then we got to see a side of him that is very emotional and
may even have explained to us why he is the way he is. – [Abigail] Exactly. – [Ken] Is it due to these
different demographics that you were at Gaymer X East, because when I first
played the game, as I said, unfortunately I had only
a few minutes to try it. And it was not immediately apparent to me what made it a fit for that convention. – [Abigail] Yes exactly that. I actually started designing the game, started choosing the
places, with an eye towards what kind of people don’t
tend to get featured in video games. And that’s why I included
the retirement home. And that’s why I included Decker and Andy. And, spoiler warning,
Mrs Best and Miss Finn. The reason that I didn’t
make it explicit that Decker is a gay man is that
I didn’t want it to be like a big point. I didn’t want it to be like ah I am doing the inclusivity thing because I think that can
often be more damaging than it is helpful because it makes like, it exotifies alternative sexualities. And I think that the best thing to do is, at this point in time probably, is to have them just exist,
and it not be a big deal. And it just, have their
occasional moments in the game where people go, oh,
that’s an aspect of them. Okay let’s move on with the game. – [Ken] Yeah it was, in
a way it was very subtle. I mean it was hard to
miss but it was also so delicately and gently handled
that it took me a second to realize what was happening because you weren’t making a big deal out of it. – [Abigail] Good I’m glad
that’s how it came across that’s how I wanted it. – [Ken] Yay, success. Not only were you at G X East, you also went to your first PAX East, your second PAX having
previously been to PAX West. That’s a very different
environment from Gamer X, not only in focus but
also in size and scale. What was your experience
at PAX East in Boston? – [Abigail] It was really lovely. I was lucky to have gone
through the fire of PAX West and been forged into a
iron-clad convention warrior before going there so it was a lot easier. It was just lovely. It, I was delightfully
positioned in the Indie Megabooth between Girls Make Games and the Interactive Fiction Meeting Room. So it was just like Girls
Make Games, a summer camp, a place where, I’m not sure if
it’s a summer camp but it’s a program that encourages
girls and mentors girls through developing video games. So you’ve got that and
then Open Sorcery and the Interactive Fiction Reading Room which is all sorts of fascinating
visual novels which, lots of female or female
identifying or gender queer authors and so it’s like Girls
Make Games, proof, proof. Which was delightful to me. – [Ken] Was it difficult to
entice people at PAX East to sit down and play a text game? – [Abigail] I expected it
to be much more difficult than it was and the trick
I think was, one, to, I was lucky enough at
both events to have a big screen television that
I could put the game up on. And I had a screensaver which
is my trailer for the game that most of the screensaver is code, red and white code
blinking onto the screen. That would, even across a
hall, attract programmers towards the game. So I got a steady stream of
tech geeks who would come over and be like, is that code. And because the moving and
the bashline and the scripts immediately just drew their attention. In addition I got a lot of people who saw the name of the game which
was displayed prominently and came over just because
of the name of the game. So the text code and the name of the game steadily pulled people and
I actually think I benefited from the fact that it was
so predominately displayed as a text only game, because the people that
wouldn’t be interested in that kind of thing,
immediately saw it for what it was and went somewhere else. And that’s good because they
wouldn’t have been interested in it anyway so they successfully
filtered themselves out and the people who were
super-interested came in and wanted to learn more. – [Ken] I’m glad you mentioned
the name of the game because that is actually on my
agenda to talk to you about. It is a brilliant title, I love it. – [Abigail] I love it too and it is, I have a brilliant, brilliant boyfriend who is amazing at naming things,
who came up with the idea as a joke. And I was like oh that’s funny! Oh but it couldn’t possibly be serious. And then the next day, oh that’s funny. That can’t, yeah that’s,
I’m gonna make a game. (laughing) So yeah and there’s a
reason that I grabbed it and smooshed it into my business name. And it’s going to be on
all the sequels that I have Open Sorcery something, because it’s perfect,
it is a pun, it’s funny and it perfectly expresses the world. – [Ken] But I have to ask,
is Open Sorcery open source? – [Abigail] It originally was. When it was online you could
look at the source of the page and get all the Twine script. It currently is not since it’s
on Steam and the phone games. Further on in my career
when I have made more games and there’s more stuff out there, I plan to eventually make
it open source again, because that seems
right in a profound way. – [Ken] It seems fitting given the title. – [Abigail] Exactly. – [Ken] Speaking of the
game’s development again, in one of the versions of the
game you had a feature called a dream log which got removed. For those who haven’t played the game yet and haven’t made it to
the dream sequences, could you tell us a bit about
what that once feature was. – [Abigail] The dream log basically as an artificial intelligence, occasionally you went dormant. And the first time you
went dormant you were like, you know what, this is
kind of like sleeping, maybe I should try this dreaming thing I’ve heard so much about on Google. And you can choose whether or not to dream and every time you
dream, the way you dream, if you get up on the
brilliant idea initially, of you get one of those
like dream meaning websites with all the like, like bears
mean you should quit your job and snakes mean you’re going
to find a lot of money, and it took basically all of the symbols for meanings and dreams, and the artificial intelligence bells, randomly generates lists of
words or stories with the words, basically ad-lib’s dreams together. And what the dream log did
was it saved every single one of those ad-libbed dreams. So you could go back and look at them. The reason I had to take it
out was that saving issue I mentioned before. I’m eventually probably going to fix this but there’s only so much
space in local storage. So the save files have to be small to, have to be smaller than a certain amount, and the dream log took up a lot of space. So I cut that out to make
the save feature safe. – [Ken] Ah that seems like
a reasonable compromise but I am glad to hear that
it isn’t entirely dead it’s just hibernating. – [Abigail] Yes, yes a little. That is an appropriate description of it. – [Ken] So you’ve released this
game on Steam, Android, iOS. I looked up the reviews of the game. Almost completely
positive on every platform but one discrepancy I noticed, if, correct me if my numbers are wrong. It looks like the game has
about 35 to 40 reviews on Steam, about 87 on Android. I didn’t see any on iOS, is that correct? – [Abigail] Oh no I think
I have reviews on iOS. I see them in my iOS
developer’s store at least. There definitely aren’t as many. – [Ken] Okay maybe I was
looking at the wrong link but is it accurate to say that
based on the numbers I saw, Android is significantly more popular than the other platforms, or is that just due to it
having been out longer. – [Abigail] I suspect,
I think that Android is definitely more popular than iOS, and I think that’s due to the fact that when I first released it I
had it done on Android first. So I let everyone on my Facebook know that it was out on Android
and people weren’t aware that it was out on iOS. So that was Abigail
releasing her first game and not knowing how to do marketing. I suspect that the Steam
numbers will go up over time because it is a fairly recent release. – [Ken] You mentioned that
you like to play games on your mobile device and
that’s why you made this game for mobile first. But when I think of text adventures, maybe because it’s, I’m old
school and I grew up with Infocom and Zork, I always
think of wanting to sit at a keyboard to play text adventures. Your game doesn’t require
the keyboard but still it seems like a more natural fit for a laptop or desktop to me. Is that just me? – [Abigail] Let’s talk about parsers. This is one of my favorite
topics of conversation. – [Ken] Yay! – [Abigail] Yes. I am also an ancient Infocom geek. I cut my teeth, my very first
video game that I played all by myself was Zork Zero
on this brick of a laptop. And I loved it and it’s
where I get my little fetishism from and I
just, I loved Infocom, I love the text based games,
I love the parser games. Emily Short is amazing. And I love them but as you do when you’re honest about things you love, you admit their flaws. And the difficulty I’ve always
had with parser based games is that when you’re playing
the parser based game you’re playing two games. You’re playing the game and you’re playing guess the specific word
that the dev was thinking of when he designed this puzzle. Very often that game gets in
the way of the actual game and is greatly to the detriment. And that is a problem that
parsers have always had and as technology has improved
and now parsers have become more robust it’s gotten better but it’s never entirely disappeared. The thing I adore about Twine
and I why it got me so excited and why I wanted to make
a game on it is that it doesn’t have that issue and the text, the illuminated hyperlink text
that you click on or tap on if you’re using mobile, to
lead you through the game it gives you a constant activity. It gives you a constant
thread to lead you forward. So it’s not impossible
but it’s much less likely that you’ll get stuck in
a portion of the game. That’s one of the big goals
I had for Open Sorcery. There was never a point in the
game where you’ll get stuck. That’s not entirely true
you could get stuck during one of the scanning ones, but if you do, you’re usually able to look like just, okay I’m pretty sure it’s here I’ll guess at all the others. But that’s getting off topic. The point is that while
interactive fiction is conventionally parser based and we have a long legacy of that and it’s beautiful, I think Twine is definitely
the next step forward in terms of usability
for interactive fiction and text based games. And the most awesome
thing about it is because you are just clicking
or tapping the words, it’s perfect for a mobile environment because you just tap them
and that’s what you always do with things on your phone. (speech drowned out by disturbing music) I’m done. – [Ken] You say this is the next evolution but at the same time it also
constrains the player’s agency. They don’t have this
expansive vocabulary any more they have to choose just the
words that you’ve highlighted. Does that fit the
definition of an evolution? – [Abigail] I would counter
with pointing out that the illusion of expansiveness in a parser is just that, an illusion. You only have the options
that have been programmed into the parser and while
those might be elaborate they’re inevitably limited
by the amount of the time the dev has. Your options are just more
exposed in Twine game. – [Ken] I can see that. – [Abigail] You are correct
though that it’s easier to pack more options into a parser
game because you don’t have to display them all. So there’s probably going to
be a place for parser games in my, you know, new world order utopia. (laughing) – [Ken] One thing that
moving from a parser to this hyperlinked based interaction does is it’s very interesting that video games are the only entertainment
medium I can think of that actively does not
want to be consumed. Like if you want to watch
a movie you just sit down for two hours no matter
how challenging a subject the movie is, you’ll get to the end of it as long as you just sit
still and have the patience. Same thing with a book. But with a video game you can get stuck. The game is actively fighting you. (Abigail laughing) To make it harder to see
the rest of the game. With Open Sorcery and games like that, and other types of Twine games, that’s not always the case. I mean if somebody is dedicated
they can get to the end of Open Sorcery. – [Abigail] Mm hmm. – [Ken] Does that imply
a lack of challenge? – [Abigail] That’s such an
interesting way of describing it I’ve never thought about
it like that before. But yes so many video games
do literally fight you like send waves and armies
of people to fight you to keep you away from the end of the game. That’s cool. (laughing) – [Ken] Will it can be cool
or it can be frustrating because you pay 20 bucks
for a movie you’re gonna get all of the movie. You pay 60 bucks for a
game you might see only a quarter of it. – [Abigail] Well that’s true but I think one of the things that
actually paradoxically of value in the game is that
frustration, is that obstacle, because so much of the
satisfaction you derive from a game is overcoming challenges and it’s, overcoming challenges isn’t
satisfying unless they’re like significant challenges. My boyfriend Josh, a couple of months ago, beat XCOM on Iron Man Classic and bejesus, if that wasn’t
more than a 60 dollar price tag. (Ken laughing) So it’s funny, it’s funky. The joy of video games
is definitely more of a back and forth, more of
an interactive experience than other, some of the more passive mediums of entertainment. I’m not sure, I’m not
sure about the answer to that question. Open Sorcery definitely does
have a clear through line. Most of the challenge of it is
getting all the achievements and going through the
game again and again. Most people that I talk to
actually kind of lose the game the first time through
because they get to the end and I won’t, don’t wanna spoil anything, but the end can be pretty hard. Generally I find that people
quote unquote win the game, or get and ending that satisfies them on the second or third run through. While you can move through the game and are guided through the game via the ongoing text,
the challenge comes from getting the resolution to
the game that satisfies you. – [Ken] So getting an
ending is not challenging but getting the ending
that’s right for you can be. – [Abigail] Exactly. – [Ken] I wanna take a quick tangent here. You mentioned on one of your
websites that Open Sorcery is the first major creative
product you’ve completed since A Moment of Peace. Can you tell us about A Moment of Peace? – [Abigail] A Moment of
Peace is my webcomic. I did it when I was living in Ohio and Ohio is a lovely
state but a state that was very far away from my friends and family. So I started that webcomic at a very sad and lonely point in my life and it’s about hope and love and monsters and gods. (very loud screeching) Serene slugs and lots of. It was just me trying to express a wistful feeling of what
is good in the world, even while I’m sad. And I am very fond of it. I am just. I look at a lot of the comics
I made and I just feel yes that is, that is what I would
want to express that is, that is good. I find that it just, it’s hard to talk about ’cause it was a very personal project. Do you have any more specific questions? – [Ken] You made this webcomic
at a very different time in your life, you’ve since
moved to New York City, created Open Sorcery. What would you say are some
of the themes that run through all your work, if there are any? – [Abigail] Choice I think. The importance and existence of choice, both in terms of moral decisions and self-determination and free will. Like in Open Sorcery choice
is like super super important to me and to the main
character because you decide what she becomes in a moment of peace. I guess that’s kind of a
cop-out answer because, in any story, the thing that
makes a story interesting, is the choices of the characters. Let me try and come up
with a better answer. – [Ken] I don’t know that there
are better or worse answers. It’s all about what’s important to you and just because it’s important
to other people too doesn’t make the answer less valid. (crashing of thunder) – [Abigail] Thank you. Whimsy and sadness. – [Ken] Gentleness? – [Abigail] Ah yes that’s definitely. You definitely picked up on
my fondness for that word. Whimsy, gentleness and a certain darkness. A certain exploration of
the sharp side of feelings. And the expression of that
fact that whimsical gentleness doesn’t preclude the
darkness from existing. – [Ken] The darkness almost
sounds like a metaphor for melancholy or grieving. – [Abigail] It can be. It was very much in A Moment of Peace. The kind of, the longest
story in A Moment of Peace is called Crux’s Climb which
is a story about three gods that formed a conga line of infatuation. And I wrote that after
experiencing my first heartbreak so melancholy is a very good
description for the form that the darkness took there. – [Ken] Well I’m glad
you had these outlets and these are not easy experiences as many people listening to
this may be able to relate to. It’s not everybody who turns
it into a creative project and has something to show for it. I’m glad that you did that. – [Abigail] I’m glad that I did too. I sometimes get fan mail for
the things that I’ve made and the ones that I love
seeing the most are when people write me and tell
me that reading something I’ve made helped them understand
something within themselves or get through something. I made a story about a
balloon that was set free by its child, and explored
the world and soared high, so high up into the sky
that it was pierced by the edge of a star and
fell back to the ground. And it’s last words were,
I was free, I believe. And after I wrote that
someone emailed me and said that she was moving to a new
city and she got that story as, just after she’d moved
and that she felt as if I’d been speaking directly to her and it really helped her
come to terms with the move that she was making and
that was just the best thing in the world. – [Ken] I think this is the
kind of emotional connection that you were saying is
lacking from some of the games. I don’t know how many people
could have that connection with Call of Duty. – [Abigail] Yes. And I have a theory actually
to why that connection sometimes seems lacking. I think that that connection
requires vulnerability. You need to be willing to put
something real, something, a piece of yourself that
is raw and real and exposed and that you might be afraid
other people would make fun of. And that’s a really scary thing to do. Even if you’re not in the
same room as the people playing the game. There’s a very, not
quite sure how to put it. There’s a very, there’s
a somewhat macho culture around games, that I
think makes it very hard to be able to be vulnerable like that. And that’s sad. – [Ken] Yeah I would definitely say that much of gaming culture
perpetuates that toxic masculinity where men are not allowed
to be vulnerable or fragile and that is a missed opportunity. – [Abigail] It is and it’s so
sad and it must be so painful. And I wish they could. – [Ken] But I love that you
are making art that helps reverse that trend and
I hope that we’ll see some of those themes in your next game that you’re working on
which is Open Sorcery Two. Can you tell us a bit about that? – [Abigail] Yes it is
Open Sorcery Two C++. It’s water themed. I have made the intro and
the intro is not sufficiently beautiful so I’m going
to be remake the intro, probably multiple times before the game is over,
because the introduction is the most important
part of the game because you have to pull people in. And the, in the beginning
of the game you are well, the game starts with you
lying at the bottom of a dark ocean among your broken dreams. And where Open Sorcery was a
game about building yourself and creating yourself, Open
Sorcery Two is going to be a game about reclaiming yourself. – [Ken] Do you still play a elemental? Are you still scanning for threats? – [Abigail] You are actually going to play an open sorcerer and instead
of scanning for threats you’re going to be building
programs or spells, depending on how you
like to classify magic. – [Ken] One thing that I
have noticed in common with the next game, although
I’ve not played it yet is the love for puns in the title. It was not until I actually
said the name of the game out loud that I groaned. – [Abigail] Yay! (laughing) – [Ken] ‘Cause when I first
looked at it I’m like oh it’s, she’s taking water to the next level. It’s, oh it’s C++, I get it. – [Abigail] Yep. – [Ken] Well done. (speech drowned out by crashing thunder) As well you should. When can we expect to get
our hands on that game? – [Abigail] Well I’ve only just
started it and Open Sorcery, I’m thinking it’ll probably
take me about a year, but I thought Open Sorcery
was going to take me a month, and it ended up taking me a year. So I’m not sure, but I’m hoping a year. – [Ken] And while you’re
developing that game you’ll continue to support
the original Open Sorcery? – [Abigail] Oh yes
absolutely I am doing that excitedly and diligently. – [Ken] And what more remains to be done? It seems like it’s in a pretty
stable state at this point. – [Abigail] Ah not much honestly. I’ve had lot of requests on
Steam to include achievements so I might do that eventually. There are a few tiny
things I want to tweak. I’m not getting as many
error requests as I did when it first came out on
Steam which was startling. A lot more people were
playing the game at one time, probably more than at any point. You mentioned previously having
looked at the review numbers on Android and Steam. It’s funny because I got
less feedback about the game when it was on Android and I’m not sure if that’s because it’s a
different kind of player or maybe it’s just that it
was on Android for longer and so it’s just been more gradual. Whereas it’s only been on
Steam for like a month. – [Ken] Interesting I have no theories as to why that might be. I have not owned an Android device myself so I’m not familiar with the
kind of person it attracts. – [Abigail] I don’t know either, I haven’t like seen numbers for this but it’s my understanding
that phone games attract a more casual. – [Ken] I have heard that
as well and I could see how that might be a contributing factor. So for those who want to
follow along with your work or get their hands on Open
Sorcery and be informed when the sequel comes out,
where would they go online to get that information? – [Abigail] There are three
things that you can do. And you can access all
of these at my website, it’s Or probably the easiest way
to get to it is to Google Open Sorcery and you
will find it as one of the first results. You can sign up for my no-spam email. My vegetarian email list. We produce no-spam, we
only put out alerts when I actually make new games. – [Ken] Yay vegetarian! – [Abigail] Yes I hate
mailing lists and so I wanted to make mine as
(speech drowned out by thunder) as possible. That is one option. You can follow me on Facebook. I do lots of updates on Facebook. It’s where most of my friends are and my main social media choice. So I tend to be more
casual and talkative there. You can follow me on Twitter,
either @AbigailMoment or @OpenSorceryGame. AbigailMoment is more like casual talking if you want updates about
my life, my opinion of cars. I bike a lot and I have
opinions about cars. And other things, you
can follow AbigailMoment. If you would like just the Open Sorcery, OpenSorceryGame is where you should be at. And I think that’s it. Oh I also have a dev blog but you can follow Twitter for that, or follow the dev blog you can
find the link for that too. – [Ken] And there’ll be links to all those in the show notes which can be found at Abigail this has been
an episode of IndieSider unlike any other and I’ve
enjoyed it immensely. Thank you so much for your time. – [Abigail] My pleasure. (dramatic music)

4 Replies to “IndieSider #57: Open Sorcery by Abigail Corfman — developer interview”

  1. I just happened to stumble upon this and I'm glad I did. This was really awesome. I ended up playing for what seems like hours and forgot what I was originally doing!

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