It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of indie games(you should see my Kickstarter collection–I actually had to ban myself from the site) so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I am thrilled to introduce today’s guest, Kelly Phillips, who has written for a host of indie games and even run her own indie tabletop RPG studio with her husband. She’s been kind enough to share some great insights into the world of games writing and writing in general.
Please give Kelly Phillips a warm welcome.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your first gaming studio, DuckTek?
DuckTek was a very small game studio my husband and I started while we were still engaged. It was basically the two of us and some friends working out of a spare bedroom that had been converted to an office. We really didn’t have a clue what we were getting into, but we all worked well together and were committed to creating new tabletop RPG games.
2. Why did you decide to create a tabletop gaming company?
There were two aspects that really appealed to us. We loved the social element of gaming: friends spending an evening together, laughing, joking, and going on fantastic adventures through the game. Twenty years ago that sort of social connection was hard to come by online. Web-based games were non-existent and online RPGs were the domain of large, well-funded studios. There was no way a small studio like DuckTek was going to break into that market. Tabletop gaming allowed us to make the socially-interactive games that really called to us.
The second aspect of tabletop gaming that appealed to me specifically was that it would allow me to play with words! As an obsessive reader, I loved how reading a well-crafted description could make me feel like I’m a part of the story. Writing for tabletop RPGs, the players really are supposed to be part of the story so I loved the challenge of trying to find phrasing that would really draw the players into the adventure.
3. What was the most challenging part of writing for Ducktek and how did you make it easier for yourself?
We were creating entirely new worlds for our games, so for each game – and each adventure within the games – I was faced with the classic blank page syndrome. I spent a lot of time staring at my computer screen because I didn’t know if my ideas were ‘right’ in a setting that had no parameters. What really helped was a lot of late-night brainstorming sessions where we would toss around ideas. When an idea really clicked with the group, I knew it was something solid to use as a foundation for the stories.
4. Of all the games DuckTek made, which was your favourite?
Probably our sci-fi game, Datasome. When you take the population of Earth, split it up and send it out in all directions in space, you have so much potential for so many different stories. I love when a story or game has a lot of hooks for future adventures!
5. You later created Benxing Entertainment to focus on educational games. Why did you make this shift?
We started Benxing 7 years after DuckTek. We were still passionate about gaming and we wanted to enjoy it with our kids. We wanted to make games that we would enjoy playing with our kids and that would help instill in them a love of learning.
6. Did you find writing stories for educational games more or less difficult than working on RPGs?
To me, it was a trade-off. Writing just one adventure for a tabletop RPG could be a huge project. I had to take into account various potential player actions that may or may not keep them on the main story path. For each adventure there were multiple scene descriptions, various characters or items the players may encounter, potential dangers they faced, and all had to be written in a way that properly conveyed the gravity or levity of the situation. But there was a lot of creative freedom in this work, too. I could use creative imagery and phrasing and let player imagination fill in the gaps sometimes.
The educational games tended to be smaller in scope, so there was less writing than with the RPGs, and the writing centered around a specific topic. On the other hand, because the games were meant to help players learn about the subject, I had to take greater care in what I wrote. Thorough research was critical and I had to ensure the information was clear and worded in a way that our target players would understand. I loved how much I learned while working on these games and I really felt a sense of accomplishment when one of my kids would test the games and become excited about the subject. It was very rewarding but I also felt a lot of pressure to make sure I didn’t mislead players.
7. If you could give an aspiring writer only one piece of advice, what would it be?
Carry a notebook everywhere! Always have some way to take notes when inspiration hits you. I can’t count the times I’ve been grocery shopping and suddenly I realize how to resolve a problem in my story or I think of a turn of phrase that really gives me shivers. Without my notebook, these ideas would be lost by the time I get back to my computer.
8. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?
My current project is a story that I’m publishing serially in a blog at Thelios.net and is loosely based on some of the same concepts from Datasome. Nearly 2000 years after mankind has settled on the planet Thelios, the discovery of ancient artifacts reveals the former rulers of the planet are not extinct, but rather have been hiding amongst mankind all along. Caelynn, a student of ancient Earth history, learns that she is the key that would allow these former overlords to reclaim their magics – and they will go to deadly lengths to get her.
Kelly Phillips is a wife, mother, crazy goat lady, and coffee addict. She first forayed into creative writing when she and her husband founded DuckTek, a game development studio dedicated to creating tabletop roleplaying games, and Kelly resigned from her job to spend her days writing adventures in sci-fi, fantasy, and horror settings. After shutting down DuckTek, she swore she’d never get involved with running a game company again. She and her husband then founded Benxing Entertainment, a studio devoted to creating educational video games. Kelly is now turning her creative energies to writing Thelios – a sci-fi/fantasy story published serially at thelios.net.