An Interview with Ty Franck
James S.A. Corey is the writer of The Expanse trilogy of sci-fi books, beginning with Leviathan Wakes, continue with Caliban's War (my personal favorite of the trilogy), and ending with the recent Abaddon’s Gate. I recommend these books as strongly as I am able. If you love great stories and characters, read them.
The problem is, Corey doesn't exist for me to interview. It turns out, Corey is the pen name for a duo of writers, one of whom is Ty Franck. Franck is not only half the writing team for one of my favorite books ever, but he has experience writing for games.
One of my goals for Mars Rising is to create a narrative for two friends to enjoy together. Franck's experience with both games and stories made him someone I very much wanted to interview.
My questions are marked by Hyperbole Games (HG), with Franck’s responses following (TF).
Hyperbole Games: What do you think of the current use of story in games, print or digital? Have you encountered any that are particularly impressive to you?
Ty Franck: I think digital gaming is experiencing a golden age of storytelling. Gamers have told developers, with their buying dollars, that graphics and game play are less important than a compelling story.
My favorite games of the last few years were Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect, and Last of Us. All games with strong narratives and powerfully told stories with great characters.
HG: I haven't yet played Last of Us, but I have played Naughty Dog's other PS3 titles and I think they are masters of interactive fiction. I've enjoyed most of Bioware's efforts, as well.
The key element that distinguishes games from other platforms (books, movies) is interactivity. Do you personally prefer to experience a game story that is told to you (ex: Call of Duty), or do you prefer to affect and create your own story (The Sims, Skyrim)?
TF: I don't like sandbox games. Never have. Honestly, after a few hours playing I get bored. I need a compelling narrative to truly engage with a game. If a game tells me I can do anything I want, it has also told me that nothing I do actually matters. Now, if a game can match a strong narrative to a feeling of making important choices, like Dragon Age did for me, then I'm hooked. That's the perfect structure for making me love a game.
HG: In my prototype Mars Rising, I’m trying to provide some narrative for each scenario to set the scene for the players. What are some of your preferred methods to quickly establish a scene?
TF: Sensory details and familiar situations.
A man walks into his dining room. His wife is sitting at the table, a cup in front of her and the bitter burnt smell of coffee that's gone cold filling the air. Her eyes are red, her face tracked with tears that have long since dried. She says, “We need to talk.”
Four sentences, a bit of sensory detail, a situation we can all relate to, and the reader will immediately fill in all the bits you left blank with their imagination. No matter how outrageous the setting, anchoring it with the familiar engages the reader. If the dining room above is the galley of a space cruiser, it doesn't change the familiarity of the moment or the tension of the scene.
HG: That's fantastic and simple, thank you! One of your main characters in Caliban’s War, Chrisjen Avasarala, is such a rich and hilarious character. What makes a great character for you?
TF: Honestly? It's pretty simple. They want things. The things they want are hard to get. They work hard to get them, in spite of all obstacles. Along the way, they act like real humans act.
HG: The execution required for that seems quite difficult to pull off, but the guiding note is again, quite simple. Thank you.
You write collaboratively with a partner, which to me doesn't seem terribly common. Could you briefly describe your process?
TF: Short version is, we plot together, we outline together, we split the actual writing with each person doing half the book, we edit each others work along the way.
HG: You and your writing partner chose a technological level for The Expanse that seems "realistic.” Far more so than the more fantastical technology of Star Trek, for example. Why?
TF: Because we wanted to write stories that focused on the humans, not on the tech. And if the setting is incredibly exotic, it's easy for the human stories to get lost in it.
HG: Do you have any favorite stories from other mediums that you’d like to see as games?
HG: I just bought both of these as I realized I've never read them. Who knows, maybe I'll earn all of your money forever?
The Expanse trilogy is full of so many experiences. In Leviathan Wakes (the first novel), we read about shoot outs, limited ship-to-ship engagements, some sci-fi horror, some detective business, and even a love story. Do you have a particular element you would want to play as a game?
TF: We've had lots of space flight games, including some great ones. We've had lots of SF RPG games. I want to play a game that does both well. I want to fly my spaceship from planet to planet, getting in space battles with pirates, then get off the ship and walk around having adventures. I know for a developer it's like making two completely separate games, but I'd love to play it if someone does it.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
TF: Thanks for the Mars Rising game. We need more space battle games.
HG: I certainly hope I can find a publisher who shares your sentiment! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions.