Thursday, April 10, 2014

Interview with Marco Arsenault and James Renner about StoryShift - April 10, 2014

Please welcome Marco Arsenault and James Renner to The Qwillery. Marco is the creator of StoryShift for Evil-Dog Productions and James Renner is the author of The Man from Primrose Lane  (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012) and Expedition Z for StoryShift

TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery! Please introduce yourself and tell us about Evil-Dog Productions.

Marco:  I'm a 33 years old french-canadian living in Montreal with Vana, his extremely awesome cambodian wife, and Liam, his 6 months old bundle of joy. I've been programming games for about 15 years now. I've worked 5 years at Ubisoft Montreal on titles such as Rainbow Six Vegas and Farcry 2 doing gameplay and AI. As amazing as working in a huge game company was, I still wanted to work on my own projects, on my own ideas, and the boss! :) So I started Evil-Dog Productions 3 years ago. As lame and juvenile as "Evil-Dog" sounds, it's been my long-time username with which I had some recognition and fame for my web games (including the "Punk-o-matic" and "Road of the Dead" series) as well as for my music, so I decided to use the name. The powers of the internet allows me to simply work from home with talented people across the globe such as artist Jim Kidwell, my main partner. We work on games about zombies, ninjas, magic and all kinds of cool stuff we can think of. We mostly strive to bring original and fun concepts to life, turn trite ideas into unique and new experiences. It can be hard sometimes but we do our best and have a lot of fun in the process.

TQ:  One of your most recent apps is StoryShift, which is described as "... a community-driven storytelling platform where you can read stories and comics and vote on what should happen next."

What is the inspiration behind StoryShift? How does StoryShift work? For how many episodes will stories run?

Marco:  The initial spark that lead to StoryShift was me looking at an old storyboard for an animated series called "Freak" that I was working on with a friend. While the series has been abandoned a long time ago with only 2 episodes out, the storyboard for episode 3 has some really good looking sketches and it made me think about a comic-book looking game where new content would be added constantly, in that sketchy yet great looking style. Since this was over a year ago, the details about how it all went in my head are kinda vague but the idea changed to having actual comics and included the community, who would decide what would happen next in the story. That was the basic idea behind StoryShift, with everything being social now, including the community would be a great way to keep the game/app active and keep people coming back at each update. It's a sort of "Choose your own adventure" book but with the whole community deciding together, with the story being written as the decisions are made and without any failure paths where you open a door and an axe splits your head open and you're dead. I sometimes prefer to compare it to a great D&D game where the game master always brings you and the story to interesting places. Of course it was obvious that written stories would also be included in the app even if the idea originally was about comic books. Every story will be going for a long time. I don't think any of the author has an end in mind yet, the idea was to go with open stories where you can really have fun with the community and go interesting places with the story. It's a challenge for the authors and it's a lot of fun for the readers so we're in for a long run.

TQ:  How many stories are presently available via StoryShift and in which genres are they? How many stories would you like to have available in the future?

Marco:  We started with 12 stories to vote on and follow and we are now at 17 stories. They all vary in genre, from comedy to horror, with zombies, demons, serial killers, love, beer, dragons, robots, super powers, parallel universes and donuts in-between! My goal has always been to have enough quality stories to appeal to every taste and to make sure the app is vibrant with daily updates to check out. We're getting there slowly. When the app launched, we had a huge influx of authors who wanted to contribute with their stories, however, I really strive to maintain a high quality in the content so it's not an open platform. So far 5 new stories were added and we're always looking for more, to reach possibly 40-50 stories...or more, why not :) The most important parts is having a great quality to the writing as well as making sure the author is dedicated and free enough to maintain a long-running episodic story, that can be hard to find with confidence. I'm blessed to have found 17 already.

TQ:  I'd like to welcome James Renner to The Qwillery. James in the author of The Man from Primrose Lane and the recently launched Expedition Z for StoryShift. What is the appeal for you of writing episodic fiction via StoryShift?

James:  Writing a novel is very lonely business. And it's a long process. Years between writing a publishing. You feel very separated from the readers. StoryShift is cool because I get to play a game with the reader. They make a move with their choice and I parry with the next chapter.

TQ:  Is writing Expedition Z for StoryShift easier or harder than writing a novel over which you (initially) have complete control? How do you think that character development is affected by the story shifts?

James: It's harder because you have to throw your outline out the window and shoot from the hip. Giving the major choices for the reader takes away some the power authors enjoy. But that's what I like about it, the uncertainty. While the reader is driving the narrative, I don't think character development needs to suffer. A good writer can make a character shine through any drama that may come their way. In some ways, the reader interaction may help make the character more real.

TQ:  What's next for the StoryShift app?

Marco:  I have a huge todolist for StoryShift, the main upcoming features will be more filtering and sorting options and a comment system for readers to interact with the authors. I want to implement a soundcloud-like comment system. For those who are not familiar with soundcloud, users can listen to music and comment exactly where they want in the song, so comment on a solo where the solo is playing. For storyshift, that translates to being able to comment on each decision page independently, comment on a special moment in the story that you loved or on a page where something interesting happened. That would unclog the comments you'd normally get with a single comment section. I also want to expand the user account system to include a username, avatar, level system for the voting power, badges, etc. Long term updates may include audio books and linear stories without the community votes as well. We're also looking at being on the blackberry and windows phones in the mid-term future.

We hope to gain a large audience who will join the fun with us. Thank you for helping spread the word about StoryShift!

TQ:  Thank you both for joining us today at The Qwillery.

Some views from StoryShift on an Android device

Decisions revealed!

StoryShift is available at Newgrounds, and on Google Play and the Apple App Store.

Marco/ Evil-Dog Productions

Evil-Dog Productions  ~  Facebook  ~  TumblrTwitter @EvilDogGames


Website  ~  Twitter @JamesRenner  ~  Facebook


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