Today’s Spotlight is an interview with our author, James Boutilier. James hails from Canada and has been with us helping write for the Too Many Bones universe since the original. With the true story for Undertow starting to come into focus we wanted to give you access to some of his thoughts on where the game world has been, and where it will go next.
Q. Your writing has a bit of a…sassy edge to it which gives the Gearlocs a ton of attitude. Is there a primary inspiration for the edge and style of the Too Many Bones universe?
A. Thanks, I’m glad that ‘edge’ comes through. The more I write within the Gearloc world, and other worlds, I’m discovering a natural blend of light-heartedness and sinisterism to my ‘style’ – if you can call it a style. With Bones, I know we want to appeal to a wide (aged) audience and so whimsical made sense. However, I wanted to have more adult (not crude) humor for the rest of us. Beyond that, I don’t know about you, but I get tired of movies that are supposed to be action but end up having foolish or immature comical ‘heroes.’ So as the Bones story progressed, I wanted to show that behind the whimsy beat the hearts of true warriors – and villains. It also allows us to throw some really sweet wrenches into what you may have come to expect in the story. And make no mistake – the ‘story’ element of Bones is growing and becoming a rewarding element within the game.
Q. Do you have a favorite character or duo to write for? From the Liberation Logbook, it feels like you’ve started to develop a love/hate relationship between Boomer and Tantrum.
A. You caught that, did you? *grin* I love Tantrum and Boomer. In Tantrum I guess I live a little vicariously. That is, I’m not all that imposing, so it only made sense when I saw Anthony’s rendering of this little fellow, that it would be merely his size that was little. He lives BIG. And Boomer – are we ever really sure she’s all quite there or is she really just that simple living and simple loving? I mean, can someone that seemingly innocent also have that much pleasure in blowing creatures up? Let’s not forget, she has some of the most explosive dice. They’re simply the best odd-ball couple to play with, am I right? The other fellas allow me to wash my pallet and try out new flavors. I hope we are succeeding in offering unique and dynamic characters in their own rights.
Q. Too Many Bones is an interesting dynamic storywise – you have random encounters, special encounters that are Tyrant specific, and then the overarching storyline in the background. How do you write for each of these and still manage to tell a cohesive tale?
A. Actually, for me anyway, it’s simple. Not because I’m so great or anything, but because it’s the way I hold a story in my mind, whether I’m writing a book, a script or now a game. I see it in scenes. And once committed to paper I have something of a photographic memory so I can flip between pages and decide where to insert elements.
I always have the overarching story in mind. This is a complete world with a definite main story in my mind. In that respect, all the Tyrant specific stories merely bring that main story to light. In a game sense, with a few exceptions, the order of those Tyrant stories can be random without affecting the overall conclusion. The special encounters are more like game or story-markers, and the random encounters are bits of fun – excursions, or like picking up a few side quests in an RPG along the way.
Q. What kind of stuff do you read in your spare time? Do you primarily read fantasy/fiction, or are there other genres you enjoy and that inspire you?
A. You know, that’s the ironic thing… I generally don’t read or write much pure fantasy. I love to watch it. Fantasy for me is a pure, visual vacation. Much the same way as I can’t stand comedies, yet I can’t write without it. I don’t understand it, and I can’t pretend to explain it to you.
I LOVE alternative reality or hyper-reality that blends Judeo-Christian elements into every day. For example, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. His imagery and use of metaphor is unparalleled. His short stories such as The Man with the Enormous Wings, or, The Most Handsomest Drowned Man in the World changed how I viewed reading and writing.
Without commenting on the fact I do not like Stephen King’s writing, I greatly enjoy the televised adaptions of many of his stories, such as The Stand, The Storm of the Century, and, The Green Mile. I devoured a ton of Babylon 5 novels, and love hardline space military/marine type books, such as many by William R Forstchen (Wing Commander novels.) I have about 150 novels on my eReader I want to get at, not to mention a few dozen paper novels. And I’m still looking for the next epic Space Opera novel, and a great Weird Western – I mean come on…why are there no good Steampunk Westerns out there? Really…
Q. Undertow is introducing two new Baddie types, Mechs, and the Krelln. How do these two new Baddie types tie into the main storyline?
A. Wow.., this is a big question, a spoiler question, a page writing question. There would be no Undertow story (or where the story will go next) without Mechs and the Krelln.
What happened to the Krelln (and other creatures,) I mean, there is no excuse and perhaps no forgiveness. For me, it is what charges this whole adventure. You can look at a goblin and say – you’re evil. You can look at an ignorant Gearloc and say, you’re naïve. But you look at the Krelln, monstrosities that can squeeze you into sausage and feast for days and though you should want to load whatever gizmo you got handy, their face is familiar and haunting. What does that mean?
Well let me tell you exactly [xxxxxxxxxxxxxx REDACTED xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx]
As for the Mechs. That’s so much fun right? How many games blend the steampunk element and fantasy in a way that is integral to both story and gameplay? This was a good call by Josh and Adam. Adding that element to this new chapter was all them and allows for a backstory that is rich, vibrant, affects new gameplay as well as current and future storylines.
That’s what’s great about working with Chip Theory Games. They are true game designers, but also don’t have the ego that would hold them back from allowing others to take what they design and just run with it. We knew last year this ride was going to take place along the river. I REALLY wanted a frozen element – and I know there have been numerous calls for Yetis (one, in particular, seems to have [xxxx REDACTED xxxx]) so I really recommended the idea. Next thing I know, Josh has this whole river-raft idea floating around (see what I did there?) which sets me to figure out a way there can be a river flowing south that will lead to my favorite story environment – a frozen wasteland when one would think it would be up north… but we just came from the northern mountains.
The result basically forms the foundation of the Undertow story. To understand how the Mechs fit in, and you can see by Anythony’s art and our KS stories thus far that Mech is everywhere, you have to appreciate that Mechanizations and the power that creates them is as much rooted in the past we are discovering as it is now unfolding in the present. And this is because, as you will read, the truth of Daelore and the Gearloc origin (at least the current manifestation) is [xxxxxxx REDACTED xxxxxx] I hope I was able to explain everything – I didn’t think Josh and Adam would allow me to be so open.
Q. Is there a character or Tyrant you haven’t had a chance to write much for yet that you’re hoping to get a chance to flesh out in future stories?
A. Tyrants. This is so open right now. There are so many story plans in various forms that it’s really hard to say. In my mind, Daelore is a bigger place than a game board, and so, the possibilities are endless. I would love to send these gearlocs out on even more adventures. I’d love to tell the story from the perspective of a Tyrant… oh…Josh, did you hear that? A story (game) based on the perspective of a Tyrant – or supposed Tyrant… hum…. I think we need a conference call sometime soon. *grin* Specifically – Ghillie. I know Ghillie. I know how he lost his leg. I know where he comes from, what motivates him, and why he always looks like there’s a wasp in his shorts. I’d love to show you all.
Q. Is the storyline for the Too Many Bones universe fleshed out in your mind beyond Undertow, or do you approach it one game/story at a time?
A. As I was saying earlier, my OCD/ADD personality doesn’t allow me to just have the immediate in mind. Correction, I become hyper-focused on the task at hand, but, there’s a part of me always cognizant of the fact what I write now can and should affect what happens next. So yes, I am writing with the intention of setting something up in the future. If you read the original Liberation Logbook closely (and some of the encounters,) you’ll discover easter eggs of future happenings. We knew something was ‘off’ along the way. If I can be mindful of it enough this go’round, I’ll be more blatant in the Waterlogged Book.
Honestly, how far this story/game goes and where the next one starts, for me at least, is up in the air. I won’t know till I get that far in the story. It’s great because, the way this game creating process has been working, is that the story (and book) and the encounters we develop work so closely together. It’s a blessing to have bosses like Josh and Adam who trust my own vision for and appreciation of the world they have designed. Our spastic brain sessions over story elements as they come up have been some of the most fun I’ve had on this journey. And I hope that comes across for you all as well.
Q. What can we expect from the upcoming short story in the Waterlogged Book?
A. I’ll let you know when I know, haha. Seriously – see above answer – Sometimes whole ideas or elements change based on a sudden U-Turn I discover while writing. Or Josh will contact me and say, I just figured out how this mechanic works, and then it will spark a block I had and before we know it, an hour has gone by and the Gearlocs are now down south and the Frozen Wasteland was the result of [xxxxx REDACTED xxxxx.]
So that’s how that works. I began the Liberation Logbook with one central objective – tell stories with characters who would and could only act in ways as dictated by game mechanics. How they were able to react and fight would be purely based on what their in-game dice would allow. Sometimes this meant going to Josh with an idea for an ability or something, just because it was cool in the story but would first need representation in the game.
For Waterlogged that also goes without saying, but now — In a nutshell… more story. The story has much more purpose this chapter – we are familiar with the Gearlocs and their gameplay so we can now explore. The story will hopefully draw you into the purpose of the adventure along with the mechanic of bashing all these baddies in various sundry ways.
And, if I have my way, it will be grittier. Still family friendly, but with some divergence. That’s another thing that is – comfortable – working with Chip Theory. They are ‘people,’ people who seem to live and play within a personal guideline. I know I will not be asked to write something that goes outside my own comfort – because we agree in most areas, which is not always the case. It’s one of the reason’s I’ll always be available to Chip Theory, so long as people enjoy what’s being printed.
Q. Can you pretty please tell us if the Gearloc Council is actually evil, or is Duster pulling the wool over our eyes?
A. What? You mean you haven’t figured it out yet? I mean, how disgusting can Nobulous be? I love the name. It makes my job so easy. And then you have Mirawatt who actually abandoned the Council? Or was going to be executed by the Council? Have we gotten that far in the Kickstarter stories yet? (haha)
But then why is Duster always going off on her own? How did she acquire the mechanical wrist? And how can someone really just forget 20-ish years of exile and work alongside other Gearlocs, even guiding them along their journey? Did I say guiding or luring? See? It’s that simple really. Now back to where I left those little buggers. I’m sure one of them is coming down with a nasty cold or flu if the sound of my voice and the box of tissue beside my head is any indication.