Q : As a mystery writer did Agatha Christie have any influence on your own mystery writing? What do you think of her writing and how would you compare your stories?
LS : Agatha Christie is one of my favorite mystery authors. I've read every novel and story she wrote under her own name. I think I've read or seen all of the plays, too. I also own all of the David Suchet’s; “Poirot” and Joan Hickson’s; “Miss Marple” that are out on DVD. Over the years I've written many mysteries, especially for TV. My first love is impossible crimes, so John Dickson Carr is another favorite author (my first mystery novel has been compared favorably to Carr). Christie wrote many impossible crimes as well. One of my favorites is “Hercule Poirot's Christmas.” “And Then There Were None” shows up in Robert Adey's book on impossible crimes, too. I know as I write a mystery, particularly when I'm concocting puzzles, and trying to play fair with my audience, I ask myself "What would Christie do?”
Q : Why was “And Then There Were None (ATTWN)” chosen as the first title?
LS : It's a classic, one of her best-known books, so marketing was a factor. The setting was also a nice, and closed environment. In games we want to give the player the illusion that he or she can roam freely through the worlds we create. In fact there are always restrictions. Instead of artificial restrictions like impassable forests, cliffs built like fences along a road, or cities where you can't enter any buildings, an island gives us a natural obstacle: the sea. I also wanted to steer clear of a Poirot or a Marple because they have their own very distinctive styles. I knew I would have to mess things about a bit to make the story fit the game. I felt more comfortable starting with a story outside of their respective canons.
Q : Can you tell us a little bit about how this adventure game was created?
LS : I adapted the story, and even when a change was necessary, tried to stay within the spirit of the book and its author. I took what dialogue I could from the book (usually edited-games like other visual media tend to have leaner dialogue). I wrote new dialogue. Thanks to television I'm used to writing other people's characters, so I hope it will be difficult to tell where Christie's dialogue ends and mine begin. I also designed the game play, essentially everything the player can do in the game. I handed over a 400+ page design document to the developers, AWE Games. Since then I've been anxiously watching over their shoulders. They're doing a great job!
Q : Coming from a Hollywood background and as a mystery writer - how is writing for adventure gaming different from writing a book or a screenplay -how important is the actual writing in comparison to the visuals and the game play.
LS : For me the writing understandably has been of equal importance to the other facets of the game. Since I played computer games for years before finally being given a chance to make one in 1994 I was aware early on that you must strike a balance between story and game play. You also have to deal with players who want to wander at will through the world and the story. I've spent years developing techniques to tell stories in a non-linear fashion better suited to games. With a game based on a novel like “ATTWN,” I've had to restrict myself to a more linear structure. Again I hope I've found ways to naturally restrict the player based on the environment and certain devices like the "film titles" I use to move the story forward.
Q : “ATTWN” is one of Agatha's most tightly constructed books - How hard did you find it to dissect? and What changes needed to be made to characters or plot?
LS : Not hard to dissect, I think, because it is so tightly constructed. I had a mentor in film school named Alexander MacKendrick (director of the original “Ladykillers” with Alec Guinness, “The Man in the White Suit,” and many more). Sandy showed us certain classic movies over and over and over again until we learned to see past the drama and find the seams that held each one together.
I have made some changes. And I'm not going to reveal all of them! But I've added an 11th character on the island: the boatman. He is the character the player manipulates. Like everyone else on the island he has a secret, too. I've expanded on certain character and historical references Christie made only in passing in the book to create a more complete history of the island and that stretch of Devon coastline. This was necessary so I could build a somewhat larger island with more locations for a player to explore.
Q : “ATTWN” is a well known title, how have you made the game challenging for fans who already know the ending? Have you changed the ending?
LS : There is much more for players to discover. This includes many clues and some more developed back story, so there is more for players to find. I've made several other changes to the ending, too. The game has the potential to conclude more like the book or the play version, depending upon player actions. I also changed the identity of the murderer! I felt this was necessary due to how well known the story is. I was most worried about this when I traveled to England last summer to meet the owners of the rights, a company called Chorion, and Christie's grandson, Mathew Prichard. I'm delighted to say they greeted my solution with enthusiasm. Hopefully players will be as kind.
Q : Do you need to be computer-literate to enjoy this?
LS : No. I'm not, and I designed it! The interface is very simple. We're still talking about how much help we'll give players in-game to solve the many puzzles that are the backbone of adventure games, and certain other game challenges. Whatever we finally decide there will be all sorts of help available outside of the game. There may be a printed guide to solutions. And the internet is always a good resource. There will be enough information around that players could just follow that and never have to think about a puzzle. I hope they don't do that! Mystery lovers in particular should want to solve the puzzles in the game as much as the puzzles in the mystery.
Q : What will a true Christie fan get from this game?
LS : A new look at an old favorite. Players will be able to actually explore locations they've only read about, or seen in a movie version. I can promise quite a few surprises even for those who know the book cover-to-cover. There will also be much fuel for discussion as canny players ferret out even minor connections between the book and the game. Of course I expect quite a bit of discussion about the "liberties" I have taken. Fans should think of this game as a loving tribute to one of the most famous mystery stories of all time.
Q : What have you enjoyed most about working on Christie?
LS : Adapting a vision that began life as prose. We've seen the film adaptations. Now here's one that is interactive; that actually takes our audience on to the island where they can witness events first hand, change the course of the story, and solve the mystery. To do all that, and still be true to the original book was a fun challenge. I hope I have succeeded in making it as much fun for others.
Q : If you could choose your next title what would it be and why?
LS : Tough question! Every time we have discussed this at DreamCatcher or Chorion or AWE Games there have been many good ideas. The fact that there are so many good stories to choose from is both a blessing and a curse. But deep down inside I know if they ask me to do another one, I would want it to introduce us to either a certain fastidious Belgian or a little old lady from St. Mary Mead.
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