I had the great pleasure of interviewing Gelo Fleisher, author of the novella Shadowcursed. Fleisher is both an author and game developer, and he has created a free companion game for his book, called Requiem. He lives in the East Coast, with his wife and daughter.
S.R.: What is your background? How did you get into gaming and writing?
G.F.: Well, in my day job I’m a CPA and have a degree in finance. But I’ve always felt that while I might be good at accounting, my real contribution to the world will come from more creative pursuits. As far as how I got into writing, I started out making fan-fiction in high school, and have kept on going ever since. The good thing about being a writer is that while having a creative arts education can help, the only prerequisite is to actually write :-). Gaming was similar, I started out working on game modifications (indie projects that use an existing game engine to create custom content) and then moved on to independent games.
S.R.: How did you come up with the idea for Shadowcursed?
G.F.: This is an instance where my gaming and writing sides came together from the start. For the most part I write science fiction, but one fantasy world which has always interested me is the one created by Looking Glass Studios for their game ‘Thief’. I actually didn’t particularly like the games when I first played them, but I was struck by the somber beauty of their art, particularly the cutscenes which book-ended each level in the game. Shadowcursed was my attempt to tell an interesting, original story while recreating the feel of those cutscenes in written form.
S.R.: What is The Dark Mod? (From what I can tell, it’s a site where you can download a free first-person game inspired by the Thief series by Looking Glass Studios. Is Shadowcursed inspired by The Dark Mod? Is it fan fiction, in a way?)
G.F.: It turns out quite a lot of other people were inspired by the Thief games too! The Dark Mod is one manifestation of that. The Thief games came out in the 1990’s and early 2000’s and so the graphics are quite old by modern standards. The Dark Mod is a fan project to take the gameplay of Thief and port it over to a much more modern graphics engine. They’ve done a very admirable job, especially considering that it’s free for anyone to download and play, and to create content for.
The Dark Mod and Shadowcursed are sort of sibling projects in that they were both inspired by the same source material.
S.R.: How long did it take to write Shadowcursed?
G.F.: Actual writing time was about four to six months. It took about a year and a half to finish however as I took a long break during writing due to being stumped by writer’s block.
S.R.: Did you use beta readers and/or editors?
G.F.: Yes to both. I sent the draft to a few people to read and I also hired a professional editor (Joshua Essoe) to go over the manuscript.
S.R.: Was it always your plan to create an accompanying game?
G.F.: No, my initial plan was to just write the book and then go on to the next project. But as part of the writing process I began playing fan-made levels (including levels made for The Dark Mod) that people had made for the Thief games. I really found myself enjoying them, moreso than I had actually ever enjoyed the original games themselves. I started wondering if I could possibly make something similar, and when I found myself with some free time after the book was done, I took the plunge.
S.R.: How did you come up with the name Requiem and what kind of game is it? How would you describe the game?
G.F.: Requiem is a first-person stealth game constructed using the Dark Mod toolset. In Requiem, the player steps into the shoes of a thief living in a sprawling medieval city. You get to ply your trade along its shadowy streets, but soon discover that not everything is as it seems. The city is a place of slumbering secrets, and unknown to you, an ancient and terrible danger is beginning to stir.
The name Requiem is part literal (you do actually attend a requiem service during a part of the game) and part thematic. I don’t want to say too much though; it’s better to play the game to see what I mean.
S.R.: What are the costs of creating a game? There are a lot of people involved–voice acting, scripting, testing, etc. How are you able to offer Requiem for free?
G.F.: Because the Dark Mod toolset is a community creation, you can’t use it for commercial projects, so I actually didn’t have any choice about the “free” part. The downside to that is, of course, that anything you make using the toolset isn’t going to have a strong revenue stream.
The upside is that you have access to a very impressive community of fan enthusiasts. The voice actors, scripters, testers, and other contributors to the game (who all did very top-notch work) all worked for free. My major expense, like theirs, was elbow grease.
S.R.: On what devices can fans play Requiem?
G.F.: If you have a decent PC that runs on Windows or Linux, then you can most likely play Requiem. It’s a free download, so there’s no harm in downloading it and seeing if your computer will run it.
S.R.: What kind of marketing do you do for your book and game? Do you find having a companion game is helping to boost sales of your novella? Do readers play your game and vice versa?
G.F.: I probably could do a lot more on the marketing front, but for now I’m still more focused on continuing to write than I am on selling. At the moment I’m taking the long view, submitting the book to reviewer websites and continuing to work on other projects. Indie books don’t have an expiration date and like they say, the best advertising for your current book, is releasing your next book.
That being said, I have had a modest rise in sales of Shadowcursed since Requiem came out, and I’ve seen interest from gamers about reading the book, and readers about playing the game. Overall I’m very happy with how both projects have been received.
S.R.: What are your thoughts on transmedia?
G.F.: It depends on what your goals are. Requiem and Shadowcursed are two sides of the same coin, in that they were both inspired by the same creative spark, even if one of them is a book and the other is a computer game. I think as long as people look at transmedia projects as using different mediums to express a coherent whole, they can turn out pretty well.
S.R.: Which do you prefer, writing or creating games?
They’ve both got their plusses and minuses. Writing is great because it’s so limitless. You don’t need a budget, or connections, or anything, just an idea and a will to put it to paper. The downside to writing is that it can be a very solitary experience. Also, because the writing medium has been around for so long, it’s hard to come up with anything truly new or revolutionary.
Game development is tougher to get into because, unless you’re a prodigy, it’s going to be a collaborative process that requires you to learn a wide variety of skills (programming, art, storytelling, etc.). Simply put, it’s more complicated than writing and takes longer to do anything. At the same time, it’s a relatively new medium which means that you can really be a pioneer. It allows people to tell stories and engage people in ways that have never been done before, and to me that’s really exciting.
I’m just glad to be in a place where I can do both.
S.R.: What are you working on next?
G.F.: Let’s see. I’ve got an edutainment game that my brother and I are putting the finishing touches on, and I’m putting together the outline of my next novel (it will be a sci-fi detective story). Also a good friend of mine who did the cover for Shadowcursed, Ioan Dumitrescu, and I might collaborate on an art book. I do try to update my work blog with news, so if you subscribe to it, you’ll always be in the know :-).