By Al Giovetti
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John Saul and his game The Blackstone Chronicles
by Al Giovetti
Al Giovetti : Today we have a guest who has written 29 novels with over 70 million sold worldwide. Our guest has rescently teamed up with Bob Bates of Legend Entertainment to produce a game based on these horror books, the Blackstone Chronicles. We welcome to our show the acclaimed author, John Saul. Thanks for coming by, John.
John Saul: Its a pleasure, Al.
AG: What got you into the field of writing? I have read a short biography of you and your work which read more like a balance sheet with very large statistical numbers on the volume of books sold, languages and countries written and distributed in, etc. Can you tell us something about your personal motivation and drive, so that the readers will get to know the personal you a little better?
JS: Basically, I see myself as an entertainer. Providing people a fun read is what I enjoy doing. Ever since I was small child I always knew I would be writing to entertain. This has been my motivation.
AG: Why Horror Books? Why not biographies, histories, science fiction or fantasy? Why did you get into writing horror stories?
JS: I actually don't see myself as a horror author, I think of myself as a writer of psychological thrillers. I also enjoy writing other things, but psychological thrillers are what most people like to read.
AG: What is the concept or theory behind a John Saul book? How do you construct the tale to make it enjoyable?
JS: I'm not sure how to answer this. I come up with a good concept. I write a story line that services the concept and then I write the book. The point of the construction is to provide the best storytelling I can.
AG:You mentioned that the "CD-ROM" medium used to develop the Blackstone Chronicles Game "... offers a new set of opportunities ... and a new set of limitations", which made writing for the game "exciting and challenging." Perhaps you could elaborate on the challenges, opportunities, and limitations?
JS: The challenge was to develop a gaming experience which had a good story, but the story had to fit the limitation and structure of a CD-ROM based game. Thus, the story couldn't be linear and it had to keep the player engaged beyond the written word.
AG: What did you find most exciting about working on the game? While playing or watching the game demonstrated what did you find was most exciting about the product of your labors? Was it all that you expected?
JS: Quite frankly I wanted to a game I would enjoy playing. And I certainly enjoyed playing it. It was a thrill to hear the voices of my charactersand wander through the cold, dark halls of the old asylum. I wanted a sense of immersion in the story and Bob Bates, the game developer, gave that to me.
Al: How did the idea evolve of creating a computer game that is essentially a sequel to your book series?
John: It was never intended to be a "game" in the standard sense of the word. I had been thinking about using the computer as story-telling platform for a long time. I'd figured out years ago that adventure games lay out as a series of connected boxes (or rooms) so the setting of a mental hospital, with lots of rooms with varying uses, seemed to be a natural for the medium. Casting the superintendent of the asylum as the villain and his son as the hero was a natural outgrowth.
Al: Playing the game is a real terror, and it gives a far stronger immediate impression than watching or reading a thriller. What is "the trick?" What is your method of using interactivity to make horror more real?
John: I'm not sure there's a "trick" involved. I think the total effectiveness of the project came out of the fact that every component, including setting, script, story line, and even the music, was carefully designed to fit the medium, rather than being "adapted" to it. The true horror of the game comes out of the fact that I've tried to induce the same feelings in the players that the inmates of the asylum felt. First you hear what happened to them and then, in several key places, you go through what they went through and (I hope) experience the same terror and panic the inmates felt.
Al: In your opinion, what is the place of computer games in modern culture?
John: I think it is evolving, along with the medium of the computer itself. As time goes on, I think more and more fiction will be presented on the platform with increasing effectiveness. At the moment, we're all still experimenting, and my main hope is that Blackstone is a fairly successful experiment.
Al: What is the reasonable limit of "reality" in the game provided by modern interactive technologies? Do you think there will be the moment when some ethic or medical considerations will demand to cut short such realism?
John: I depicted no actual violence in the Blackstone experience, since I prefer to build fear slowly in the mind of the audience, rather than try to shock with gory images. As the line between reality and fiction continues to be blurred by technology, I think all of us who are creating for the computer form need to be careful what we do, and what we induce in the mind of the audience.
Al: Is the therapeutic equipment in the asylum taken from real examples? Did doctors really use of that type of equipment?
John: While all of the therapies depicted were real, I'm not certain if all the equipment looked exactly as depicted in the game. Steam chambers and ice-baths were definitely used, and most likely looked much as depicted.
Al: Did you base your characters on real cases? Was there a real prototype for Dr. Metcalf?
John: I've always written fiction, and I do my best NOT to base characters on real people. As far as I know, Malcolm Metcalf was purely a figment of my own imagination. On the other hand, people have often claimed to know someone who is exactly like one of my characters, so who knows?
Al: Might there be a sequel for the game? Will you continue to write other computer games?
John: The success of the game will dictate whether or not there will be a sequel. If people like it, I'm sure there will be. As for writing other games, I intend to continue experimenting with the medium, and hope to find publishers who are also interested in experimenting.
Al: Were there any particularly funny incidents working with Legend Entertainment's Bob Bates, who has created some of the most incredibly entertaining and funny games of all time?
John: I don't remember anything that was out and out hilarious. It actually was hard work. I was writing the six part series while Bob was working on the game and we had to communicate constantly to make sure every detail meshed. One time I burned down a house Bob was going to use. Oooops!
Al: How did the two of you get along?
Al: How does the final game look to you? Are there any visuals or effects that you like particularly well?
John: The look of the game is fabulous. Playing the game is exciting and frightening. The music is very compelling and the actors are extremely talented. I really believe they are true and real spirits. The real time puzzles are hair raising!
Al: What did you like about the sound, voice actors, music, and sound effects? Did this shock you to see parts of the story come alive?
John: It didn't shock me. I loved it.
Al: One of the most shocking things for most people when they first encounter the plots of computer games, is the increase in the size of the manuscript that is used to support the choices and interactivity of the game. What was your response to this factor?
John: I tried not to look at it. Remember my manuscripts aren't small.
Al: Do you have any advice for youngsters or even oldsters who might want to get into this line of work?
John: The best advice I can give people is to allow their imagination to flow. The more you make up stories in your head the better you will be.
Al:I am sure that you get a lot of interviews and you always answer questions from the press, but if you had your own way, what questions would you ask yourself and what would you say?
John: I really can't answer that one. I have a hard enough time just doing my job.
Al: Oh BTW, is there any way that you could see clear to sending me an autographed copy of your latest work, inscribed personally to me? I would like to start reading some of your books, and I would really appreciate this.