Saturday 29 December 2012

Interview with Hamnasya gamebook publisher Oliver Gavrois

It's very rare that a book trailer can blow you away, never mind a digital gamebook trailer, but when I saw the teaser for Hamnasya - Askaryl's Grimoire I was speechless. Seriously, give this a look.

Holy crap, that's insane! I'd never heard of Blue Flame Publishing before but I wanted to make damned sure I found out more about Hamnasya, so I got in touch with Oliver Gavrois from Blue Flame Publishing and talked to him about this new digital gamebook series.

Hey Oliver, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what Hamnasya's all about?
Hi Scott, I'm Oliver Gavrois, I'm French and I've been living in the UK for about (thinking and counting...) 20 years. Ouch, 20 years already ? I managed somehow to keep my strong French accent. Most people in the UK call me Ollie, which is fine by me :)

A couple of years ago, I was at a crossroads in my life and I was looking for something else to do. I picked up a gamebook from my study and I thought to myself that it would be great to revive this genre of reading and gaming in a digital format. I started to look at what was available and I thought nothing of it for a while. Everything came from an encounter I made several months later. I met Nicolas Lenain, a French unpublished author and we got talking about the novel he was working on. During the discussions we had, Nicolas revealed that everything had started several years earlier in the format of a gamebook. A little spark ignited in my mind, a gamebook? 

Nicolas shared with me his initial ideas and I liked his universe and characters. It was clear that Nicolas, like myself was a fan of the genre, so I shared the idea of converting his work into a digital format. We said let's do it ! This is how it all started really.

Hamnasya is a fantasy world, where once lived dragons. It is filled with magic and monsters. The story, as you know, is in the format of a gamebook, where the player/reader chooses the paths to follow. Hamnasya also follows a rpg structure where the player can manage several aspects of his character from his vital attributes down to his equipment.

Gamebooks have shot up in popularity in the past couple of years, with new developers cropping up all the time. What do you think is the cause for this surge in interest of what is typically seen as a dead genre?
The genre appeared to be dead but was not really. It might not have been "mainstream" but it was dormant like a sleeping dragon waiting to be awaken ;)

There might be a bit of nostalgia from people of our generation who grew up and who had their lives changed by their experiences of reading a gamebook. I think the gamebooks were just waiting for a new platform really and the new mobile devices allow us to revive the genre. 

I think the interest in interactive stories, the essence of gamebooks, has always been there. We could and we still can find it in adventure video games which were popular in the Nineties but even nowadays in the latest big name console games.

The thing that originally piqued my interest about Hamnasya was the epic live action trailer, which is surprising for an app. Can you tell me a little bit about why you wanted to go with a trailer like this?
I'm glad the trailer piqued your interest, that was the idea :) I thought it would be interesting to try to tell part of the story of our main character, Edhan from a different angle and through a different medium. If it brings people, who consider themselves as not readers, back into reading in general and reading gamebooks in particular, then it's mission accomplished. It's like what did the gamebooks to me when I was a teenager.
Regarding the trailer, I must say that I have been really lucky to meet the creative team at Delapost Paris, the guys who made this possible. When I initially approached them, my idea was a simple short story and I was enquiring about what was possible. 

When I met the film director, Frank Vroegop, I shared my ideas with him and he came up with even bigger ideas :)

From an initial storyboard where we had 5 assassins chasing the couple on foot, where the troll was not even seen but only suggested, we end up with the epic scene that you've seen.

You've impressed us with the trailer, but what does Hamnasya bring to the table that other gamebook apps don't?
Hamnasya is in the similar vein of other gamebooks apps available out there. It might offer more of an rpg element than what I may have seen but I would prefer to let our readers/players juge by themselves.
I personally love the other apps out there but we tried to be and offer something slightly different.

Design-wise, what was the most challenging aspect of creating Hamnasya?
One of the challenges was to translate everything from French into English and I think that Rebecca Smith from RL Translations has done an excellent job. The other main challenge was to take the work from Nicolas and try to adapt it so it would work better in a digital format. 

For instance, we tried to make all the if statements such as "If you have the Dragon Ring, then go to 14", disappear. The engine knows if you have it or not in your inventory, it then displays the relevant block of text or it makes the statement invisible.

Sometimes, we changed the statements to give clues to the player that he might be missing an important item. So we could end up with a block of text stating: "Unfortunately, you do not have the Dragon Ring, you have no other alternative but to run..." 

If you ask, Alison from Running in The Halls, who developed the app, she might say that one of the challenges was to code the interactions and relations between the hundreds of objects you can find in the story. I'm sure she pulled her hair more than once on that topic.

This is just the first part of the series. What can we expect in future instalments?
The story designed by Nicolas is a trilogy and Askaryl's Grimoire is the first part. So there is only one ending leading to the second part which leads to the final part where we will have multiple endings.
The idea is to follow Edhan, our hero, on his journey of discovery about himself but also about a sinister plot that could change the world of Hamnasya for ever. In the following episodes, we will try introduce some more puzzles, I'm fond of puzzles, they can be tricky to implement though. 

We also have a behaviour system where the player can loose or earn behaviour points depending on his actions. In the first part, this element of the game is active but not really used. We want to gradually introduce the different consequences based on the hero past actions. So certain characters may interact differently based on the behaviour level of the hero. For instance, a scoundrel might be more willing to interact positively with a player/reader if they have a similar behaviour level. 

The player will be able to save his stats and equipment at the end of part one so he can continue to further develop his characters in the future instalments.
Thanks for speaking to us, Oliver.
Thanks for having me and for the opportunity to present Hamnasya to your audience.

You can find more information about Hamnasya and Blue Flame on the official website

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