Who loves puns more than me? Abigail Corfman, for one. She’s the sole force behind Open Sorcery, and by her own admission is a huge fan of puns – bad puns in particular. With a little prompting, she opened our interview with one of her old favorites: A man walked into a bar and said “Ouch!”
I knew at once that we were going to get along famously.
Abigail’s game, Open Sorcery, is a techno-magical text-adventure where the player steps into the role of an elemental fire spirit that has been employed to protect a computer's data – as a firewall. Along the way you'll make choices about what sorts of things to block, what sorts of things to burn and, ultimately, whether to achieve self-awareness. Plus, it has a rocking pun for a title.
Of course, you can’t start with a pun and build a game around it. That’s like making gravy and expecting the meat to spring into existence. In this case, it began with the idea to make a game about a firewall.
The idea of playing a firewall came before the pun. I wanted the main character to be a protector, and firewalls are the best known things that protect our computers.
With her background in computer science, and a career in programming, the idea of writing about a learning firewall and the programmers who maintain and wrangle her came naturally. It is, as Abigail put it, a case of writing what you know. As you would expect, this lends an air of authenticity to the technical aspects of the story and, as she says, “grounds the narrative in reality, even as it leaps from impossibility to impossibility.” Which brings us to the magical parts:
Since she was a firewall, it seemed only natural to tag the fire as her spiritual side. I particularly liked it because fire is usually thought of as destructive, and juxtaposing it with protection seems strange, but is legitimized because the term "firewall" is common and accepted. She is the fire that protects.
Abigail has some background in writing the fantastic. Her previous game, 16 Ways to Kill a Vampire At McDonalds, is a text adventure about, well, killing a vampire with the tools on hand at a McDonald's. You can play it here (NSFW Language) for a taste of her writing style, but it’s a very different kind of text adventure than Open Sorcery. Open Sorcery is, Abigail points out, fundamentally linear, though the choices you make as a player will impact that narrative. 16 Ways to Kill a Vampire At McDonalds, or [email protected] for short, is effectively an open-world game. “The player is plopped down in McDonald's and given leave to do anything, including just wait around and eat fries while the cashier is exsanguinated. It's kind of a teensy sandbox.”
From a developer’s perspective, the difference between the two was striking:
Their different structures made the development of the two games way different. Open Sorcery was much more like writing a novel, with elaborate description, whereas [email protected] was short and punchy, and like writing a lot of sarcastic fortune cookies. [email protected] was far more complex to code and error-check since I gave the player much more freedom to do things and therefore to screw things up.
Abigail’s development process gives insight into the question of why she naturally gravitated to making games. After coming up with the base idea, she spends “a couple of weeks of scribbling outlines in notebooks and staring out of windows” until she has enough material to build a game out of. From there she’ll write until she gets tired of writing, at which point she’ll get to work on coding until she gets tired of coding, then back to writing again. That variety is what keeps her interested in the project, and keeps the flow going. As she puts it, she can take a break from writing the story in a game to go write code, but “With novels I want to take breaks and sleep, which kills the momentum.”
That drive shows in her other projects too. Besides the two video games, Abigail had a hand in the creation of Smoke and Glass, a steampunk RPG that uses the Fate Core system, and she writes a webcomic called A Moment of Peace, both of which give her the ability to alternate creative disciplines and keep that momentum going.
With the game complete and released, Abigail set foot into the new frontier: self promotion. What she lacks in personal experience, she makes up for with enthusiasm. Aside from making use of social media and submitting Open Sorcery for gaming awards (as she said, she wants to “justify some of those snazzy wreaths” that indie games put on their trailers) she’s gotten a few people to stream the game, which she’ll be the first to admit is a hard sell for a text adventure.
The promotion that really caught my eye, though, was the Open Sorcery LARP she ran at Glimmerdark and Dreamation. You have to hand it to someone who believes in an idea enough to make a LARP out of it, and my hat’s off to her on that.
In the midst of all that, Abigail is already working on her next big project: Open Sorcery 2: Sea++. (The puns! I love them!) Sea++ will have a water-themed story, and take some of the lessons learned from developing [email protected]. Which is to say, it’s going to be a bigger, more open-world text adventure that takes place in the Open Sourcery universe.
Abigail estimates that Open Sorcery 2 will take a year to make, but cautions that she thought Open Sorcery would only take a month back in 2016. Based on my time with both of her games, I expect it will be worth the wait. While you’re waiting, why not check out Open Sorcery, which is available now on Steam, Android and iOS?