By Al Giovetti
John Saul's Blackstone Chronicles
In May of 1995, John Saul wrote to Legend Entertainment with the idea for a computer game. John is a New York Times best-selling author who has written 19 consecutive hit thrillers. Best-Selling John Saul Book Series Has Sold 10 Million Copies Worldwide.
The idea centered on a small town in New England named Blackstone, where mysterious packages were starting to appear on the doorsteps of particular families. These "gifts," delivered by a shadowy figure, brought with them madness and death. No one knew why they were appearing, but everyone knew they had something to do with the abandoned old insane asylum on the hill overlooking the town.
Legend Entertainment liked the idea, and assigned award-winning game writer Bob Bates (TIMEQUEST, Eric The Unready) to work with John to develop the plot. At about this time, Stephen King was publishing his "Green Mile" serial novel, and John's publisher approached him with the idea of doing a similar series. John and Bob got together and decided that the stories of the families receiving the gifts would make excellent material for the book series, and the story of the inside of the asylum would be perfect for the game.
Thus, John and Bob ended up with original material in both media that is related, but different. Each property stands on its own without reference to the other, but each is enhanced if they are taken together.
John Saul was born on February 25, 1942 in Pasadena, Calif. and grew up in Whittier, where he graduated from Whittier High School in 1959. He studied a variety of subjects (anthropology, liberal arts and theater), at several colleges but never obtained a degree. After leaving college, Saul spent 15 years working various jobs while attempting to write and publish a novel. Eventually he found an agent in New York, and in 1976 one of his manuscripts reached Dell, which expressed interest in having him write a psychological thriller.
Gambling on a first novel by an unknown author, Dell backed the book with television advertising (one of the first times a paperback original was promoted on television), and the gamble paid off. Within one month, "Suffer the Children" appeared on all the best-seller lists in the country and made the number-one spot in Canada. His following works also made the best-seller lists: "Punish the Sinners," "Cry for the Strangers," "Comes the Blind Fury," "When the Wind Blows," "The God Project," "Nathaniel," "Brainchild," "Hellfire," "The Unwanted," "The Unloved," "Creature," "Second Child," "Sleepwalk," "Darkness," "Shadows," "Guardian," "The Homing," "Black Lightning" and "The Blackstone Chronicles." To date Saul has published 27 NY Times best-sellers. More than 60 million of his books have been published worldwide and now appear in 37 different languages in 24 different countries.
"The Blackstone Chronicles" is currently in development by Scripps-Howard and ABC as a six- hour miniseries to be aired in 1999. An earlier novel, "Cry for the Strangers," was produced by Gerber Productions and MGM as a CBS movie. In August 1997 Saul completed his twenty-seventh book, "The Presence," which was published by Fawcett/Columbine. "The Blackstone Chronicles" book series was released in six separate installments in 1997. Since then the books have sold more than 10 million copies in 13 languages worldwide.
In addition to his work as a novelist, Saul is interested in the theater. He has appeared in a number of stage productions as an actor, and as a playwright he has had several one-act plays produced in Los Angeles and Seattle, with two optioned in New York. Saul has also served on the Expansion Arts Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts.
Saul is a frequent lecturer at the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference, from which he has received a Lifetime Achievement Award. He is also an advisory board member of the Maui Writers Conference and is a regular presenter at their conferences. Saul is a trustee and vice president of The Chester Woodruff Foundation, a philanthropic organization in New York.
Saul lives alternately in Maui and in the Pacific Northwest.
Mindscape, the company that published games from Red Orb Entertainment, was recently acquired by The Learning Company. The Learning Company, Inc. (NYSE: TLC) is one of the country's leading developers of consumer software for the entire family. The company publishes some of the best-known education, reference, personal productivity and family entertainment brands in the U.S., including Reader Rabbit, Sesame Street, Carmen Sandiego, National Geographic, American Greetings, Myst, SSI, Red Orb Entertainment, PF.Magic, and Chessmaster. The company's products are sold in more than 23,000 retail stores in North America and through multiple distribution channels including school sales, online, direct marketing and OEM. The Learning Company also develops, publishes and distributes products internationally through subsidiaries in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Holland, Japan and Australia, and with distributors throughout Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Rim. The Company's headquarters are located at One Athenaeum Street, Cambridge, Mass. 02142; telephone 617-494-1200; fax 617-494-1219. The corporate Web site is located at www.learningco.com, and customer service can be reached at 617-761-3000.
Legend Entertainment Company developed the computer game for Mindscape. Legend Entertainment Company is a leading developer of high-quality entertainment software. The company is best known for its mastery of interactive storytelling, creating rich adventure games that feature memorable plots, themes, characters and environments. Founded in 1989, Legend has developed 16 titles, including the award-winning games "Star Control 3," "Mission Critical," "Death Gate" and "Eric the Unready."
Popular John Saul Book Series Has Sold 10 Million Copies Worldwide. Mindscape, Inc., a leading software developer and publisher, today announced a strategic agreement with best-selling author John Saul to publish a computer game based on Saul's world-famous book series, "The Blackstone Chronicles." The acclaimed serial terror books, released in six separate installments, have sold more than 10 million copies worldwide since their introduction in January 1996. Legend Entertainment Company will develop "John Saul's Blackstone Chronicles: An Adventure in Terror," which will ship in the summer of 1998 in English, French and German. ABC-TV is scheduled to produce a three-night "Blackstone Chronicles" miniseries early next year. "Partnering with an author of John Saul's stature is a fantastic opportunity for Mindscape to make a strong entrance into the booming adventure entertainment market," said Mindscape CEO John Moore. "Extending ‘The Blackstone Chronicles' series into a computer title will capitalize on its enormous popularity and built-in customer base of loyal readers around the world."
Like the books, the setting for "John Saul's Blackstone Chronicles: An Adventure in Terror" will be a small New England town that has been haunted for generations by a mysterious evil spirit. The bulk of the action will take place inside a 25-room asylum at the center of the town that has been abandoned for over 40 years. Gameplay involves exploration and puzzle-solving to reach the inner core of the asylum and uncover its evil secrets. -more- Mindscape Signs Deal To Publish "John's Saul's Blackstone Chronicles: An Adventure in Terror"
John Saul expressed his excitement for an idea born two years ago when he first began organizing the material that became "The Blackstone Chronicles:" "I had always wanted to develop a computer game from a book, and ‘The Chronicles' seemed a natural, given the six separate but interrelated tales. As the serial novel developed, it became clear that the secrets that were only hinted at in the prologues to the six books could be far more interestingly developed in the computer game format than on paper. While I greatly enjoyed writing each of the books along the way, I'm thrilled that the entire ‘Blackstone' experience is about to be given the added dimensions that only computer gaming offers, and I think the combination of the two media forms will bring a new level of involvement to both the computer gamer and the reader."
John Saul has published 18 New York Times paperback best-sellers and has more than 60 million books in print worldwide in 37 languages. Several of his books, including "Creature," "Second Child" and "The Homing," have been hardcover bestsellers as well. Saul's most recent novel, "Black Lightning," was a New York Times bestseller in 1996.
John Moore, president of Mindscape, expects the Blackstone CD-ROM to reach beyond the traditional computer entertainment market to include millions of loyal John Saul readers who don't normally play games. "John Saul's Blackstone Chronicles: An Adventure in Terror will challenge the hardcore gamer yet also appeal to everyday John Saul fans who love a good mystery," Moore said.
John Saul commented on the project: "I think the most exciting thing about the Blackstone game is that it represents a genuine breakthrough in storytelling, offering the creator of fiction an entirely new framework within which to construct a story. While the CD-ROM form offers a new set of opportunities for structuring a tale, it presents a new set of limitations as well--I found the form to be not only very exciting, but incredibly challenging, and I am very much looking forward to working in it again."
While this computer game is based upon the Blackstone book series, it expands the original story and stands alone to appeal to users who have not read the books. By embracing the newest developments in technology, John Saul has enriched the entire experience of his fiction and essentially created a new genre of storytelling. The Blackstone universe now encompasses a series of books, a computer game, three Web sites and a television miniseries to be aired next year on ABC. Each component of the story is told through a uniquely appropriate medium and stands alone, yet they are all integrally related and enhance each other.
Like the book series, the setting for John Saul's Blackstone Chronicles: An Adventure in Terror is the fictional New England town of Blackstone, which has been haunted for generations by a mysterious evil spirit. The game takes place inside a 25-room asylum that has recently been renovated after being abandoned for more than 40 years. Gameplay involves exploration and puzzle-solving to reach the core of the asylum and uncover its evil secrets.
The game picks up the story five years later. Oliver has married and has a four-year-old son, named Joshua. The asylum has been purchased by a historical society and converted to the Museum of Psychiatric History. The interior has been completely renovated, and it is due to open next week.
At the beginning of the game, Joshua disappears into the asylum, and Oliver (the player) hears the voice of his dead father, Malcolm Metcalf. Malcolm says that because Oliver has abandoned the task of seeking revenge on the families, Malcolm has kidnapped Josh and is about to "train" him in the same way he corrupted Oliver as a child. This impels Oliver to go into the asylum (something he would normally never do) to rescue Josh.
As he explores the darkened museum, Oliver begins to hear the voices of the inmates who were imprisoned in the asylum. He learns about the "treatments" they endured, and that not all of them even belonged there in the first place.
The first patient Oliver encounters is Marilyn Wilson, a teenage girl who became pregnant out of wedlock. Her family wanted to hush this up, so they bundled her off to the asylum. (This was not an anomaly, by the way. In fact in England, it was mandated by law in the Mental Deficiencies Act of 1913). When Oliver first meets Marilyn, she is very excited about the baby she is about to have. She says the baby's name will be Teresa, and that her boyfriend Tommy will come home any day now to marry her.
Later in the game, Marilyn changes. She has remembered the horrible events that befell her, and she speaks in much more subdued tones. "I remember now," she says. "Teresa was born. And she was beautiful. But they took her away from me. And then they... burned her." (This is actually one of the flashback scenes in one of the books.)
The horror in the game comes not from blood and gore or traditional scary things like skeletons or graveyards. Instead it grows as the player develops sympathy for the people he meets and realizes the horrible atrocities that they (and most mental patients) suffered. This feeling grows as the player visits the treatment rooms in the basement and experiences first hand the bizarre and historically accurate "therapies" to which the patients were subjected. He sees everything from fever therapy (they used to inject patients with malaria, typhus, bubonic plague, and worse in an effort to drive out the mental illness) to insulin shock treatment, electroshock therapy, and lobotomies.
Perhaps most bizarre of all was the "focal infection theory," popular in the 1920s and ‘30s. According to this theory, all mental illness begins with an infection some place in the body that then travels to the brain. The cure is to cut out (or off) the body part that allegedly houses the infection. Thus tens of thousands of patients had their teeth pulled, their tonsils removed, their sinuses, colons and other body parts taken out. Women had their ovaries and uterus removed. Men were castrated.
Fortunately, the focal infection theory is discredited today. However, other of these treatments persist. Electroshock therapy is still in common use, and the November 1997 issue of Discover magazine had as its lead story, "Lobotomies Are Back."
The climax of the game comes when Oliver confronts his father to reclaim Joshua. Malcolm is not a stereotypical, hand-wringing villain. Nor is he a maniac who delights in the suffering of his victims. Instead, he is something far more frightening – a brilliant man who believes passionately, but wrongly, that he has discovered the one true cure for all mental illness.
Beautiful 24-bit graphics showcase the immersive terror of the Blackstone world.
John Saul's Blackstone Chronicles: An Adventure in Terror will be released under the Red Orb label. For a limited time, a free copy of the blockbuster best seller Myst will be included with each game.
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