Ingmar: How does the element of choice and consequence work in Stonewall Penitentiary?
Christopher: Deciding who to trust is essential in Stonewall Penitentiary. The way you react to certain prisoners determines how they perceive you. This, in turn, may determine who does—or does not—survive to the end of the story. The game has some elements of a branching narrative. While the branches do ultimately reach the same destination, the subtle, nuanced changes to the story make the narrative unique to each player.
Ingmar: It is possible for playable protagonist to get killed. Please give us an idea of how such potentially lethal situations work in the game.
Christopher: There are certain instances in which your actions (or inactions) may cause death. If this happens, the player is immediately given the opportunity for a second chance in the game. Certain sequences related to this require timed actions, but a generous amount of time is given. So, if the player knows what to do to proceed, there is plenty of time to accomplish that task. Other sequences require clicking the mouse at the right time. If the player fails at these sequences, they become easier in subsequent attempts, in order to ensure that no one gets stuck.
Ingmar: How much optional content does Stonewall Penitentiary have?
Christopher: There is a LOT of optional content in Stonewall Penitentiary. In fact, it arguably contains more optional content than in any of my previous games. A scoring system helps the player to see how much of this optional content has been viewed. There are entire conversations that can be missed, both between the player and a character and between two other characters. There are also optional rooms that can only be unlocked with a keen eye. Lastly, the entire end sequence can change depending on whether or not you've discovered the clues to find your way into a certain room. The game features two endings and, if you are lucky enough to unlock all of the game's achievements, a bonus scene that shows the aftermath of the events in Stonewall Penitentiary sets up for future stories in the Storycentric Worlds series.
Ingmar: It’s no secret that you’re a “story fan”. What games have recently impressed you because of their storytelling qualities?
Christopher: I'm a bit behind when it comes to playing games, but two titles I played recently really stand out when it comes to storytelling.
The first is Life Is Strange, which is, arguably, one of the best games I've ever played. The writing in the game is fantastic. It manages to weave together a coming of age story, a sci-fi time travel tale, and a murder mystery into one fantastic narrative. The characters are three-dimensional and relatable, and it's one of the rare instances in which a game affected me emotionally.
The second is The Wolf Among Us, which is a stylized noir fairytale that takes place in a gritty, real-world setting. Again, the writing here is phenomenal, and the characters are likeable and nuanced.
Narrative-focused games like these are common in today's industry, but GOOD narrative games like these are, sadly, far too rare.
Ingmar: If I recall correctly, the Gabriel Knight series left quite an impression on you. Same here! I still have very vivid memories of the first time I played Sins of the Fathers. Can you still remember what you felt when you first played a Gabriel Knight game? And what elements had a particular impact on you as a designer?
Christopher: The Gabriel Knight series helped shape both my interest in games and my interest in writing. I will never forget my first time playing The Beast Within. I know that it's common among gamers, but the opera scene really stood out to me. Never before had I seen a game go so far with production values. The whole segment was surreal. It felt like I was watching a movie rather than playing a game, and I felt immersed in the game's world in a way I had never before experienced.
As a designer, what stood out most to me about the Gabriel Knight series was Gabriel himself. Gabriel is a flawed protagonist—neither morally "black" nor "white." I had never experienced this in a game before. There were times in which I wanted to scream at Gabriel for some of the things he did or said, yet I never stopped liking his character. The detail that Jane Jensen put into writing his character—and all the characters—really stood out to me, and it really inspired me as a young writer.
Ingmar: I read an earlier interview with you in which you stated that you always had a soft spot for FMV adventures such as Ripper and Black Dahlia. This is another similarity between us. Please elaborate on that fondness, and how it started.
For a while there, Brendel releasing Stonewall Penitentiary seemed as likely as the Cubbies winning the World Series. Now both have happened!
Christopher: Actually, it all started with The Beast Within! I had never played a game that featured live actors before, and it really helped change how I perceived games. I don't understand why FMV adventures aren’t more popular. To me, no matter how impressive a game's graphics can get, CGI will never replicate a live human. FMV games bridge the gap between games and movies, and that, to me, elevates the whole experience. FMV games tend to be narrative, and nothing can duplicate the subtle facial expressions of a live human actor. I'm glad that FMV games are making a bit of a resurgence today, with games like The Bunker, Her Story, and Contradiction. I sincerely hope that this trend continues!
Ingmar: I can’t let you go without asking about your plans for the future. Is there anything you can tease about your next projects?
Christopher: I'm happy to, Ingmar. I'm already hard at work on the next game in the Storycentric Worlds series and actually have the scripts and design documents written for the next FIVE games, and I have plot outlines for nearly a dozen games past that! In the next titles, players can expect to see characters and storylines beginning to cross over more and more...but not in a way that inhibits players new to the series from understanding what is going on. I have a grand plan for the story of all these games, and it will slowly be told over the coming years. There is, for example, foreshadowing in Lifestream that will not make sense until the ninth game in the series!
My next game, Summit of the Wolf, is a special one. It tackles a pretty serious subject matter in a way that I hope does the matter justice. It features some heavy fantasy elements and also the return of two fan favorite characters from past games: Kate from Shady Brook and Brianna from The Filmmaker.
The game following that is also special—it features the culmination of events that have been set in place since my first game, Lifestream. If you were to compare Storycentric Worlds to Marvel's Cinematic Universe, this game would be the equivalent of the first Avengers film.
Ingmar: Thanks a lot for taking time for this interview, Christopher. All the best with Stonewall Penitentiary and your ambitious plans beyond that!
Christopher: Thank you for this opportunity, Ingmar. Take care!