September 17, 2015 8:00 AM | Konstantinos Dimopoulos / Gnome
A House Of Many Doors has already surpassed its crowdfunding goal, meaning Harry Tuffs, the creative soul responsible for it and its parasitic dimension, can take a deep breath, find a couple of hours to sleep and answer a few questions. Questions on poetry, prose, mechanics, processes, funding, many doors and those particularly helpful people of Failbetter Games.
Excuse me, but I really do have to start with the procedural poetry questions. Namely, how? Why? And do you realize what a brilliant idea this one is?
Haha, thanks! I don't know how or why I came to the idea really - it was an off-the-cuff thing that I was only doing for my own amusement, because I love poetry and I was very keen to experiment with language and procedural generation. I expected it to be a minor thing in the game that was only interesting to me. Then it attracted a huge amount of attention when I launched the Kickstarter, and I realized there were a lot of people who liked the idea just as much as I did! So now I've ramped up the focus on poetry a little bit, because clearly it's caught people's imaginations. That's worked out great for me, because it's something I find incredibly fun to work on.
And what about A House of Many Doors itself? What will it be all about?
You're a poet and journalist exploring the House, a parasite dimension that steals things from other worlds. That's the one-line pitch I give everybody, actually, but there's a lot else about the game that's difficult to explain in a single sentence. Like the fact that you're travelling around in a steam train on scuttling centipede legs. Or that a huge focus of the game is your dysfunctional crew - recruiting them, talking to them, winning their loyalty, and trying to keep them alive.
What about The House itself?
It's a parasite dimension, which means it contains bits and pieces from a thousand other worlds. The focus of the game is exploring and navigating the House, a surreal procedurally-generated landscape of klepto-architecture. The Navigator in your crew will guide you towards interesting places - bizarre cities and alien civilizations - which will be illustrated by Catherine Unger and explored via interactive narrative.
How will this RPG feel like? Could you give us an example of its prose?
Here's a description of Jacob's Mill, one of the first locations a player can discover:
"Partly a town, and partly a fortress, and partly one vast tavern. A creaking wooden monument built in defiance of the truism that crime doesn't pay.
A shanty village, mostly composed of rusting kinetopedes converted into houses or brothels, surrounds the great building at the centre of the room. Lopsided and absurd, Jacob's Mill is huger than a cathedral, belching smoke and spinning a dozen blades. It bristles like a porcupine with heavy-duty artillery, though you suspect that any one of these great cannons going off would cause the whole edifice to collapse.
The journey to Jacob's Mill is a pilgrimage for thieves, pirates and bandits - here they can sell their misbegotten wares in the open. They can also drink and fight and kill without comment or consequence. In the Mill itself, liquor flows eternal; although Jacob Canker himself is rarely seen in public these days."
What kind of stories and locations should we expect?
As broad, strange and interesting a variety as possible! I don't want you to be doing things in A House of Many Doors that you can do in other games. So you'll be rigging an election, or stealing the corpse of a god, or taking drugs and wandering into a giant sauna-labyrinth in search of steamy, heat-addled enlightenment. The main story involves trying to solve a mystery about the nature of the House itself - so random exploration isn't a distraction from the main quest, it's an absolute necessity.
If I understand things correctly, A House of Many Doors will play not unlike a non-roguelike Sunless Sea with different combat mechanics. Am I right? What else --mechanically speaking-- will be different?
A House of Many Doors is much more focused on procedural generation - it generates everything from poems, to members of the crew, to the setting and architecture!
The House is also a very gated space, unlike the broad expanse of the Unterzee, and navigating it feels very different both on a micro and macro level - for example, getting away from enemies often means fast-paced navigation of tight corners, slipping through gaps, or making a desperate break for the door.
I talk a bit more about the similarity to Sunless Sea in my project FAQ - see here.
Failbetter Games seem very happy to fully support and even partly fund A House of Many Doors. What will the extent of their involvement be?
They're partly funding the game, and they've been offering me plenty of advice over the course of making it. But they aren't involved in the development of the game itself - the writing and coding is all me, and the art is all Catherine Unger.
Besides the very obvious, what were your inspirations? Which books, games, poems and films influenced you during the creation of The House so far?
Sunless Sea, as mentioned, is a huge inspiration - as is FTL mechanically, and Planescape: Torment narratively. As far as literary influences go, I like to point to Italo Calvino, H.P. Lovecraft, and China Mieville, all of whom I've been steadily re-reading while making the game.
I can't think of any cinematic influences at all, I'm afraid, but as far as poetry goes, I've been drawing from a lot of sources while coding the proc-gen poetry - from Shakespeare's Sonnets to The Dunciad to Dylan Thomas and beyond. The computer is doing an excellent job mangling their work and producing something that's not at all *good* poetry, but which is at least weird and funny and interesting.
Oh, and why did you chose to kick things off with a Kickstarter campaign? Are you happy with the way it's progressing?
Without a Kickstarter, I'd have no way to make the game with high-quality art and music - which would be a tragic loss, really, as I think both those things are really important to a game where you're exploring, travelling and finding new things.
And I've been blown away by the response to the Kickstarter - I didn't expect to be funded until the last week of the campaign, but as it turns out, I hit 125% funded in the first 48 hours! The pledges have definitely slowed since then, but I'm currently sitting at a very comfortable 175% with 17 days still left to go. This gives me additional scope to improve the way the game looks and sounds which I'd never dared hope for.
I haven't declared any stretch goals even though it might help me get extra funds, because I don't want to make promises I later have to reconsider, or raise the scope of the project into something I'd struggle to deliver before July. All I'll say is that every extra pledge I get now will make the game look and sound exponentially better.
And here's my only fear regarding this project; do you believe you'll be able to write the tens of thousands of words required to flesh out such an ambitious game on your own? Are you planning to work with other writers too?
Actually, the volume of writing is one of the only things I'm not worried about! I know how much I can write and how fast I can write it, I know how much needs to be written, and I've chosen a release date of July 2016 because I know that gives me time to write everything I need - with additional wriggle-room for bug-fixing and polish.