20 March 2013

LB's Surprise Birthday Bash!

Hey all! Well, it's that time of the year again... my birthday! :O This year, I'm 24! Since I've been mercilessly teasing all of you about super secret surprise giveaways on my birthday... I thought I'd finally announce it! YUS! It's time!

  Surprise Giveaway 1: FREE* book cover design by me

  • Stock photography must either be provided or credits paid for
  • You get a large, hi-res print-quality book cover design 
  • I will work closely with you to design exactly what you're looking for
This is a pretty good deal, since most cover designs can be pretty pricey! You can enter to win this, then "cash it in" whenever you need a cover designed or I can redesign an old one for you.

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Surprise Giveaway 2: Spotlight on Books & Broomsticks

  • A blog post interviewing and promoting either your book OR blog
  • 2 months free advertising in my sidebar 
  • 2 months free plugs for any giveaways or special events you have (on blog, fb page, and twitter)

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16 March 2013

An Interview with Jan Theysen, Creative Director for Insanely Awesome Indie Point-And-Click Adventure Video Games

Welcome to the world of interactive puzzle point-and-click adventures, a place where you can play unique characters and help them through perilous dangerous and adventure. Solve riddles, explore worlds, and maybe, just maybe defeat evil forces hell bent on dominating the world. I was first introduced to this exciting style of gameplay when I purchased and downloaded The Book of Unwritten Tales via Steam. After the first ten minutes, I was hooked. As a roleplayer, geek, and lover of puzzles, I found it to be the most engaging story and game I'd played... well, ever.

The Book of Unwritten Tales is a self-described "hurly-burly and humorous Point & Click Adventure set in a fair and beautiful RPG fantasy world", which is a fairly accurate description. Not only is the plot exciting, but the characters are diverse and entertaining. The humour within the video game is very geeky, witty, and even, I dare say, a little meta with references from Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Discworld, Star Wars... just about anything you can imagine. Not only that, the game mechanics flow very smoothly. At first, I was weary because the game relies so much on combining more than 250 items different items to answer puzzles. I've had enough experience with different games to know these features can often be buggy. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how smooth the mechanics ran.

This video game is created by KING Art Games, an indie video game developer from Bremen, Germany. They've been producing games for the last 12 years and have come out with around 40 titles including the aforementioned Book of Unwritten Tales, which is the top rated Adventure game of the last 10 years. KING Art Games work with Nordic Games who are a wholly owned publishing subsidiary based in Vienna, Austria. Nordic Games publishes a wide variety of quality games for Nintendo Wii, Playstation and PC. I was privileged to interview Jan Theysen, KING Art Games creative director to talk about The Book of Unwritten Tales, it's prequel Critter Chronicles, and their up-and-coming super secret project The Raven.

1. First of all, I would like to say that I’m extremely honoured to be able to interview you. Just to start off with a basic question, can you explain to me and my readers what a Creative Director is at what you do for KING Art Games?

Thank you for your questions in the first place. My partner Marc Koenig and I founded KING Art 13 years ago. He is the guy for the money, the contracts… the business-side of the company. As the Creative Director I am responsible for the creative side. It’s my responsibility to organize all the creative work that’s done inside the company and by our freelancers. This goes from the first idea of a new project and covers all parts of a game, e.g. the story, its characters, the background setting, the humour etc.

2. As a gamer myself, I was fascinated to discover after I completed The Book of Unwritten Tales and Critter Chronicles that they were not originally written in English, but in German! However, the dialog and jokes seem to transfer seamlessly. What was the experience like to write and create games that were translated to different languages?

Everybody in the company speaks English but I think it’s almost impossible to write good dialogues in a foreign language. We knew from the beginning that we had to write the game in German first and have it translated later.

We watch US movies and television series all the time, so we know this kind of “international humour” that works almost everywhere. We tried to avoid German humour (yes, there is such a thing!) and German inside jokes and went straight for the international taste. That probably made it easier to translate. Actually, “translate” is the wrong word. It has been “localized” which means it hasn’t been translated 1:1 but the idea of a sentence or the essence of a joke has been re-written in English. Mark Estdale and his company OMUK in London did a fantastic job with it.

3. Many have praised The Book of Unwritten Tales saying it is the best point-and-click game in the last decade. For gamers who are not as familiar with point-and-click adventure games, what can you tell them about both The Book of Unwritten Tales and Critter Chronicles? How do you think your games stand out from the rest?

The Book of Unwritten Tales is a classic point & click adventure in the tradition of the old Lucas Arts games, set in a “typical” RPG/fantasy world. The world and the characters are inspired by World of Warcraft, Harry Potter, Dungeons & Dragons, Discworld and so on. We love fantasy books, movies and games and put a ton of references and little inside-jokes into the games.

I think it’s fun to take archetypical characters, locations and quests from the RPG world and give them a new twist. You play an adventurer, a wizards and Elven princesses and have to save the world… but you can’t fight. For every problem you have to find an alternative (often funny) solution.

The Critter Chronicles are a sort of “add on”. The story takes place before the events of “The Book of Unwritten Tales” and you learn how Nate and the Critter, two of the protagonists in our world, meet for the first time.

It is difficult to answer what makes your game stand out from the rest. I guess we really put a lot of love on all levels into our games, but then again, which developer doesn’t?

4. When I first saw the teaser for The Book of Unwritten Tales I was incredibly entertained that the teaser was a throwback to the WoW Lich King expansion. Throughout playing both games, I’ve tried to keep up with all of the pop culture references, but I lost count. I think it’s fabulous that a group of people can create such an original, entertaining game that also is clearly influenced by a number of other media. What various media do you think inspired both games and how did you manage to keep that balance between original and tongue-in-cheek pop culture references?

Thank you very much! We are a bunch of pop-culture and RPG/fantasy geeks at KING Art. So we didn’t have to think hard about the next joke… it was always there, trying to get out.

At the time we started thinking about The Book of Unwritten Tales we had a pretty severe WoW-addiction problem in the company. Everybody was playing that game constantly so WoW has probably the biggest single influence (actually, the work-in-progress title for the game was “WoW-Adventure”). Other big influences were the usual suspects from Lord of the Rings, Discworld to Star Wars.

5. As an independent game developer do you think the market is easier to produce quality games and provide them to a bigger market with the availability of third-party developers, distributors, and cross-platform gaming compared to when KING Art Games was founded in 2000? What is your opinion on the new availability of gaining funding by the general public such as what Cloud Imperium Games Corporation has done with Star Citizen via websites like Kickstarter?

I think it’s easier than ever to distribute a game. No doubt about that.

But distribution is only one aspect. The more complicated side is the production and the financing. Not every good game has to be expensive in the making. But most of them are. And for years publishers were the guys who took all the risk and pay for the development. Without publishers believing in our ideas there would be not a single KING Art game.

However, over the last years, the publishers’ willingness to take risks has declined dramatically. So there needs to be new ways of financing games and crowed funding is one of them, I think.

6. How much time goes into developing character details and backstories for Nate, Ivo, Wilbur, and even Critter? What is this process like and, I have to ask, do you have a favourite character from the two games?

It took quite a while to develop the characters and especially the story and the puzzles. We knew early on we wanted to have more than one playable character and the archetypical “warrior/adventurer”, the little gnome wizard and the hot Elven ranger were easy choices. But then the work really starts. The characters had to work together, the audience had to like them and so on. You start to experiment with traits that might be interesting or funny in the context of the story – without knowing exactly what the story will be at the end. So it’s a lot about setup possibilities, seeding ideas that might or might not pay off later. I thought it might be a good idea if Wilbur, the gnome, is totally naive and very trusting about everything and everybody. I hoped it would invoke some kind of protective instinct.

But you can’t plan everything. The Critter wasn’t designed as a playable character at all. He was envisioned as a sidekick for Nate, like Chewbacca for Han Solo. But then everybody loved this strange little creature and we promoted him based on the feedback.

As a playable character I think I like Wilbur the most. He’s so enthusiastic which is really neat. When it comes to NPCs I like the mummy a lot and for some unexplored reasons I also like Munkus, the bad guy. He so desperately tries to be evil and fails every time.

7. Can fans expect to see more of their beloved characters from the Unwritten Tales series in the future? I, myself, am curious to what later happens to Wilbur and Ivo from The Book of Unwritten Tales.

I am curious, too…

8. At the end of last year, a trailer for the new game the Raven was released. What can you tell me about this exciting new “whodunit” adventure game? Can we expect even more fascinating puzzles, and if so, will there be a normal and hardmode feature like was introduced in Critter Chronicles?

It is a mixture between an Agatha Christie-like whodunit crime story and a “heist story” (The Sting, Dog Day Afternoon, the Ocean’s series). You play the same story from both perspectives – first from the perspective of the police/investigators, then from the perspective of the robbers. We think that’s a pretty interesting way of telling a story and we think people will enjoy it a lot.

The game takes place in “the real world”, in the 1960s. Early on we thought about the puzzle design and decided that we want to use only solutions that would work in the real world. So you can’t take a ladder and put it in your pocket. It’s hard to come up with puzzles that are plausible and that support the story. But we think it’s worth the effort because now everything feels pretty real and you can “stay in the story” all the time.

9. What was the inspiration for the up-and-coming crime adventure game the Raven and its characters? When can we expect it to be released?

I am a fan of crime stories and like the 1970s Agatha Christie movies, the 1960 BBC Miss Marple series, the 1990 BBC Poirot series and so on. I think it’s a natural fit for a point & click adventure story.

One aspect I really like was the idea of an “ensemble cast”. Typically in these stories there are 10-12 characters in a confined space and slowly, step by step, all their secrets are revealed. You get the chance to really know the characters – and in our case you get them to know from two different perspectives. There might by a character that reacts very differently to the different characters you play in the game. Or you might think you know a character exactly after you play the first half of the game, only to discover that he is in fact a very different person when you learn about another side of him/her the second time around.

10. Is there anything else you would like to relay to the fans of your games and maybe even those who are interested in purchasing and playing?

It’s always great to get feedback from fans. We develop these games to entertain you and it’s always a morality boost when you see your games are being played and gamers enjoy them. If you did enjoy them, please tell others about it. Word-of-mouth recommendations are very important for indie games so let your voice be heard!

I hope you’ll enjoy our next games as much as most of you seem to have enjoyed our last games!

I'm quite sure I'll enjoy the next games as much, or even more (if possible!) I know I'm definitely looking forward to The Raven, especially after hearing that it's inspired by Agatha Christie stories! If you're interested in purchasing any of the games mentioned in the article please follow the links below!

Special thanks to Mr. Jan Theysen for taking the time to answer all of my questions and to Mr. Philipp Brock at Nordic Games for making it all possible!

15 March 2013

The Big Day Has Arrived! Firefly Book Blog Tour Begins!

So much swag! So much amazingness! 

So, it works like this. From March 15th - April 5th you have the chance to win the most super awesome prizes ever via Roflcopter. There will also be surprises, a scavenger hunt, a live Twitter session where fans pick and watch a movie with us, and the new Cicada book cover will be revealed! So many exciting things!

What you should do:

4. Make sure to enter the ROFLCOPTERS below and keep coming back every day to increase your chances of winning!

And, as an extra, super special way to begin the tour I'm posting an exclusive first look at an excerpt of Firefly (oh my!!)

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