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August 13, 2014 at 7:27 pm #2965
With a current total of no less than 24 episodes of Darkest Dungeon fanfiction and starting off before the Kickstarter even was completed, Twitchblade’s work is loved by many and needs no further introduction to fans of the game. With that in mind, I was curious to know more about the man and his writing and he kindly agreed to answer a few questions of mine.
The following is the result and I’m very happy to present to you, my Twitchblade Interview:
Cadogan: Hello and thank you for agreeing to answer my questions! Could you please tell us a bit about yourself, your blog and how you got started writing fanfiction for games?
Twitchblade: Hello! I’m Twitchblade, rough draft extraordinaire. I’m 24 years old, from California, and I’ve recently immigrated to Australia to marry my (now) wife, who I met while I was in the Navy. My favorite ninja turtle is Donatello, my favorite color is yellow, and my favorite animal is the perentie.
I created the blog two years ago, after reading John Dies At The End and feeling inspired to write my own story of a similar style with more sci-fi elements (hence, aliensandjunk). I ended up not following through on it (the main factors being that what I wrote sucked and I lost interest), but about a year later I used the blog as an archive for an XCOM community playthrough I was running on the Steam forums. The one preserved on the blog is the only one out of a dozen or so that I’ve actually saved- my very first one I did when I was 14-ish and discovered the original X-COM, which I guess counts as my first foray into doing videogame fanfiction.
Darkest Dungeon had a very successful Kickstarter which many of us backed. Where did you first learn about the game and what made you decide to back it?
I read an article on RockPaperShotgun last October that covered DD’s announcement trailer, and pretty much instantly fell in love with the concept. I sought all avenues of communication they offered and eagerly looked for all news and announcements leading up to the Kickstarter. As a videogame, I was sold on it immediately and knew I would back it, but the game also hits a personal note for me. I won’t bore anyone with the details, but I would’ve gotten behind any game that offered a deconstruction of the mentally indefatigable videogame characters we usually see. It just so happens that Darkest Dungeon ticks that box while also offering a lot of other ideas that really excite me.
You posted the first Darkest Dungeon episode on your blog before the game had completed its Kickstarter phase. What made you decide on using Darkest Dungeon and its universe as an inspiration for fanfiction and how has the game still being in development affected your writing about it?
The short answer is: Chris’s art is incredibly evocative, and the Terror and Madness trailer did a superb job of establishing the game’s universe in two minutes, so it was quite easy to use both as a springboard into writing about it.
The longer answer involves the short answer, but I started writing it because I needed a break from XCOM. I was in the tail end of the XCOM playthrough, which is the most boring part of XCOM, but it was my second community playthrough in less than a year. At that point, all of the exciting Enemy Within stuff had run out and I was writing the same stuff as before, which led to my motivation taking a nosedive. Darkest Dungeon is on the complete opposite end of XCOM as far as setting goes, but the game’s world already had so much detail fleshed out it gave me something else to write about. I was pretty thankful for the distraction and I’m glad I’ve stuck with it. As more details about the game have come out, I’ve done my best to include the relevant bits, and my writing’s definitely been better for it.
Your stories have a lot of attention to detail, both in terms of the game itself as well as the “timeless” era within which it is set. How much preparation and research was involved prior to beginning the series and how much is done before each new part?
Before I began the series, I didn’t do much in the way of preparation. I just jumped in to writing about it because it was meant to be a side thing, something to do while I didn’t do XCOM stuff. It wasn’t until I shared it with the Kickstarter community and got a positive response that I started to take it seriously. I really pored over all the media they had released at that point, incorporating what I could and only making stuff up when I felt I absolutely had to. I have a lot of respect for the Red Hook guys and it’s their IP, so I want to be sure to do it justice. So there was no historical research, just a real careful study of every scrap of information I could find on the game. Every time new stuff comes out I look it over as carefully as possible, seeing if there’s anything there I could fold in to the writing.
I hope they don’t mind me talking about this, but a little while after I posted the WordPress, the devs messaged me on Kickstarter to say how much they liked it and letting me know that if I had any questions about anything that I could shoot them a message. So before the arcs taking place in the weald and the warrens, that’s exactly what I did. I outlined what I had mind and what I thought the party would encounter, and they responded to let me know if it fit in with the game. They’ve never demanded I include or exclude anything, it’s just my own desire to make sure my writing fits in with what the game will have. So that’s been incredibly helpful. And that’s the majority of the preparation process before each arc- I just have a loose idea of the quest, who the party will be, and what they might encounter, and build from there.
The tale takes some interesting and dramatic turns from one part to the next. In terms of the story and its progression, do you have some form of overall story arc already sketched out, or do you improvise from episode to episode?
As I’ve written more entries, my planning process has steadily improved. The first 6 or 7 entries were all improvised, a habit from doing the XCOM write-ups, but then I started to hold a clearer idea of how I wanted the story to progress in my head. Once I finished up the plague doctor’s arc and moved onto the vestal’s, I actually sat down and sketched out a rough outline of how I wanted the story to progress. It’s not much more than a series of bullet points describing the major things I want to happen in each entry, but that’s gone a long way to helping keep things organized. Personally, I think the overall flow and quality of things is higher with the vestal’s arc for it, though I don’t know if that’s the general consensus. I don’t have a bigger story meant to link all of the arcs together, so I don’t leave anything hanging if I don’t continue to push out Darkest Dungeon stories.
Without spoiling too much of the story, the first episode begins from the perspective of a Plague Doctor. Any special reasons or thoughts behind picking that particular class as the protagonist when you started writing?
My background is in medicine and one of my interests is infectious diseases, so I was super impressed when I saw the plague doctor was one of the initial classes revealed. It was just another one of those things that really endeared me to the game before I knew much about it, and as they’ve fleshed out her mechanics she’s remained my favorite class throughout the entire process (a close second is the leper). Although it is my favorite class, there was also an element of pragmatism to the choice- I’m decently knowledgeable about old timey medicine, so I knew I could write sensibly about it if I needed to.
Your Plague Doctor accounts for the events taking place in the form of a written journal. How did that come about and what made you decide on that narrative being the main storytelling perspective?
Going back to that element of pragmatism, there was a lot of reasons for picking this particular format. The world of Darkest Dungeon doesn’t seem like its exactly rife with literacy, and I suspect the plague doctor would have a higher chance of being able to write than, say, the hellion. I think that serialized writing is the best way to deliver writing on the internet- people are more willing to read 1 page a day over 30 days than 30 pages in a day (generally speaking), and so I’d have to do a series of shorter entries. Lastly, I really wanted to try and represent the affliction system through writing, and I think doing that in first person is the most effective way to do it. With all this in mind, journal writing was the best format.
While your XCOM material has a more contemporary language and a modern setting, your Darkest Dungeon stories are obviously very different. From what sources do you find and draw your inspiration from for that particular style?
Again, I take most of my cues from the trailers. Both trailers use the same sort of language- overwrought and flowery, a liberal use of adjectives, no contractions, lots of syllables. I used my best judgment to replicate that while also keeping the entries readable, because I’ve read H.P. Lovecraft and I hate doing it. It’s probably sacrilege to say that on a Darkest Dungeon fansite, but Lovecraft’s prose makes his writing really inaccessible. So I guess Lovecraft was an inspiration as well, if only that I wanted to be sure to stay true to the language of Darkest Dungeon while making sure the entries were easy and fun to read.
The way the story takes shape for a writer can differ a great deal from person to person. Are there any other aspects or details you can tell us about your creative process?
Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve now got a rough outline of the major points I want each entry to develop. I’ll take the outline and write out the entry, filling in the gaps between each point. Then I read it and decide it’s shit because of course it is and write a new entry. I repeat this process anywhere from one to four times, cutting the bad parts and improving the good parts, until I’m satisfied with what’s left. And that’s basically all I do- I just write and rewrite until I think what I have is good enough. My wife is really awesome and proofreads my stuff when I’m done with it, since at that point I can’t bear to look at it anymore. A lot of the quality comes from her efforts because proofreading is my least favorite part of the writing process.
Your work is well known and appreciated by many within the community. What are your plans and can you give us any insight on what we might expect from you and your Darkest Dungeon stories in the future?
I’ve got some very preliminary ideas on two more arcs for the Darkest Dungeon stories, each one featuring a different character and delivered via a different format. Having an idea and executing the idea are two different beasts, though, and I’m not entirely confident I can do them in a way that would make them interesting to read. For example, the arc I’m considering doing after the vestal’s is the merchant’s. The plan is to use his ledger as a way of telling the story, developing a broader picture of the hamlet and the activities of the travelers. But that brings with it a lot of questions. Is that interesting? Can I make it interesting? Are grocery store receipts an adequate storytelling device? The kind of stuff that keeps you awake at night.
Beyond Darkest Dungeon, I’ve been thinking about expanding my writing activities on the wordpress. I want to try my hand at blogging properly, doing a trial run on a series of posts talking about successes and failures in videogame writing and storytelling. See if I really have that much to say about it. Eventually, the Darkest Dungeon stories will run their course in one way or another, but I’d like to keep doing the serialized fiction thing as long as people want to read it.
And, of course, I’ll probably give Darkest Dungeon the XCOM treatment once it’s fully released.
Thanks again for your time! In conclusion, is there anything else you wish to share with us?
I hope no one takes this as false modesty, but I’m still blown away by the fact that people actually want to read the things that I write. On an average day, about a week after an update, I get about 30 hits a day on the WordPress. Which is a drop in the bucket in internet terms, but still, 30 people a day seek out the things I’ve made! That’s awesome. It’s super rad that so many people in the community enjoy it and it means a lot to me that people are so supportive, and that goes double for the devs. The fact that they promote my stuff is, again, super rad. I don’t really know how else I could show my appreciation, other than keeping up the writing (and, perhaps, update more frequently), but if anyone has any ideas, feel free let me know.
I’d like to express a very special thanks to Twitchblade for doing this. I’m a huge fan of his work and him taking the time to answer these questions was greatly appreciated!
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