An Inside Look at DestinyQuest Infinite

Hello, faithful readers! Today’s post will grant some insight into Adventure Cow’s exciting project, DestinyQuest Infinite. Based on Michael J. Ward‘s vibrant DestinyQuest series. I was lucky enough to get in contact with Chris Liu, the project’s developer. DestinyQuest’s original format was a storybook that put the reader in charge of the events that took place. Every adventure in its pages is different, thanks to the branching mechanics of the story. DestinyQuest Infinite aims to translate that experience into an actual computer game, maintaining the storytelling focus. Check out the interview for more details about forging a story and building a legend.

Andrew: What is an interactive book? What do you think makes it so special or unique?

Chris: I think of an interactive book as more game than book. I like to think about it as the missing fourth category of entertainment. We have written works that are non-interactive (novels), visual works that are non-interactive (movies), and visual works that are interactive (video games). Interactive written works are the missing piece in that puzzle.

The really interesting part about an interactive story is how much room you have for telling a story that responds to the player. Lots of role-playing games have great stories (Mass Effect and Planescape among western RPGs, but plenty of others as well), but you hit a wall very quickly in how complicated the story you can tell is (based on the voice work and other production aspects). Novels have always had a leg up on movies in terms of how easy it is to create a vibrant world, and I hope that interactive books have the same potential.

Andrew: What keeps you interested in DestinyQuest Infinite? What is your favorite thing about it so far?

Chris: Having spent so much time on the production and coding of DQI, I’m not sure the word is interested. 🙂 From a technical perspective, it’s been intriguing to see how things that are so easy for humans to do require a lot of thinking to reimplement in app. The technical challenges are also interesting because I have plenty of tools now for helping people create lots of new gamebooks!

DestinyQuest is a story about growth – as your character grows, the story grows bigger, the monsters grow bigger, and your own powers grow in turn. I think it works pretty well in that aspect. You as a character grow significantly more than you could get from most gamebooks that feature several hundred fewer pages.

Andrew: Can you give us an idea for the scope of DQI? What are your aspirations for the project?

Chris: DQI is one novel – though, of course, The Legion of Shadow is several times as thick as any of the Fighting Fantasy books. We want to make that sprawling, three-act world alive, and then take what we’ve learned and extend it to even more gamebooks.

Andrew: What has been the most difficult aspect of DQI thus far?

Chris: Some of the rules in DestinyQuest are, well, game breaking. The fun part of the game is when you can disregard previous dice rolls, switch dice with your opponent, ignore item restrictions, or otherwise shake your fist at the rule book. Computers, on the other hand, like to play by rules. We’ve had to push the deadlines for DQI back several times for this and a myriad of other technical hurdles. I suppose that’s not uncommon in the software business…

Andrew: What is DQI built with? Can you shed some light on the development process? Are there are abilities or features that you would like to share at this point?

Chris: The QuestForge engine is designed to support an almost infinite array of custom combat abilities. At a basic level, DestinyQuest is a game of four stats – armor, speed, brawn, and magic. The core combat engine takes these rules, but beyond that, it enables players to contradict them, counteract them, and manipulate them with special abilities (one basic example is a special ability that lets you trade dice with your opponent).

The engine, beyond that, is designed to let authors create new, custom abilities (given how many were in DestinyQuest alone, this was critical).

On the storytelling side, our engine is integrated with a reinvented expansion of the Twine engine that we’re hoping to open source. Everything from the quest maps to inventory items was turned into Twine-style macros, so that people not on the dev team could help with editing and writing.

Our development process is pretty simple: I sit in a quiet place and code, sometimes with help from other developers. 🙂 While we have some Python in the mix, the magic code is mostly in JavaScript, interpreted both client and server side.

We’ve set up the system, as much as possible, to be accessible, so that it’s easy for someone who’s not me to write abilities and macros. It would be far easier to write another DestinyQuest – or indeed, any gamebook – the second time around.

Andrew: What’s next in the development of DQI? When can fans expect to get their hands on the product?

Chris: We are cleaning up some bugs in the beta – shouldn’t take too long, right? – and polishing before launch. We’re aiming for an early 2014 release, though the beta will be available to a few earlier.

Andrew: Can you tell us more about DQI’s Inner Circle opportunities?

Chris: While we weren’t planning on a Kickstarter campaign, I thought it would be interesting to give some people the sorts of opportunities that come with that – early access to art and the game, cool stuff, and the chance to play around with the engine. The Inner Circle program is about sharing that with people – a way of giving more people a direct link to how things work on the inside, sharing not just the book but our experiences building an interactive story.

I’d like to thank Yuliya Geikhman and Chris Liu at QuestForge for their eagerness to share details of their upcoming product with me. Do you have any questions for Chris? What part of DestinyQuest Infinite excites you the most? Comment below and join the conversation!

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