Friday, November 30, 2012

Behind the Magic of Magic School!

Today I was able to pry Georgia away from working on the sequel to Magic School to talk to him about the recent launch of Magic School: Book 1! Take a look at what he had to say about writing the biggest new story our studio has tackled since Cause of Death!

Writer Fact: Austen and Lilly demanded that Georgia put the adorable animal familiars in this picture.

MD: I remember when we polled people months ago about what type of genre they'd want to see new content for. What took so long?

G: The short answer is that a lot of unexpected delays cropped up. We had some big studio changes to deal with, we wrote a whole new megapack, and then other products like Cause of Death got a little behind and needed some fill-in episodes written... Not to mention the pre-Christmas push! Plus, I'll confess that the writing itself was slower than usual because I ended up doing the bulk of it by myself!

MD: And that's not the only difference from your usual routine.

G: That's right. I started out writing SHS, but for the last year or so, I've written exclusively for Cause of Death. It was definitely a big adjustment writing about teens again. The good news is a lot of what I've learned writing Cause of Death made it into Magic School, especially in regards to the tone and feel of the storytelling. I really hope Cause of Death fans will be willing to make the jump to Surviving High School to try out Magic School.

MD: I heard from the writing team that you "agonized" over the writing for Magic School. What were you worried about?

G: Starting a new story is always huge a responsibility. I put everything I had into making it the best I could because I knew it was going to need a ton of new art and it was going to be big, and that it'd have to have a bigger price tag because of that. I really wanted our fans felt like it was worth it! So I jammed in everything I could think of... You learn spell casting, you get to pick what your character looks like, you get to choose your familiar... You even get to choose whether you want to be aligned with order or chaos!

MD: Anything you'd like to say to people who are on the fence about buying Magic School: Book 1?

G: Go get it now! Please? It's got action, magic, romance, adventure... And did I mention that you can have a pet catbat in this story?

Catbat says "Squeeow!"

Friday, November 2, 2012

Meet the Team

You've read interviews from the team, but here's a look at each of the writers!

Likes: Sun dresses in winter, baking pies, and eating any form of pasta
Dislikes: Monochromatic color schemes, bad hair days, and ladders in FPS games
Austen earned her nickname because of her great affinity for Pride and Prejudice. On the writing team, she's known for attempting to slip antiquated speech into her episodes, where people frequently exclaim, "Goodness! I've got to get to the ball before the clock doth strike midnight!" She is also known for militantly maintaining the organization of the kitchen in the office and her fondness for charts and spreadsheets to track episode progress.

Likes: Nerf guns, PopTarts, zombie defense strategy
Dislikes: Greek yogurt, technical difficulties, not finding the droids you're looking for
Winchester got his nickname after the odd assortment of toy weapons he keeps at his desk, including the homemade blowgun he once used to shoot an apple off of the intern's head. He has since been voted Most Likely To Be Serial Killer in the office, and considers it his highest honor to date. When he's not hard at work on CoD episodes, he is out searching the world for strange new flavors of PopTart.

Likes: Ribbons and bows, cupcakes, and Soul Calibur
Dislikes: Vacuum cleaners, ambiguous weather, and fruit flavored candy
Lilly's nickname comes from her affinity for flowers and the fact that all of her other quirks are too weird to make for catchy nicknames. Originally a writer for Surviving High School from back in the '08 mobile version's day, Lilly fondly remembers the days of Raven, Blake, Renzo, and Anna. She's known on the writing team for having people state each other's names frequently in serious conversations, because in her words, "That's how you know the conversation is serious!"

Likes: Basketball, board games, and large glasses of cola with ice
Dislikes: Traffic, doing dishes, and wasps
Known for trying to insert at least one slang phrase from the '50's into his episodes, Doc has been writing for SHS for two and a half years. He also manages the SHS Facebook and Twitter accounts. Recently, he's developed the bizarre habit of eating raw ginger at his desk, a habit he'd describe as "the cat's pajamas!"

Likes: Post-apocalyptic stories, spicy food, and bothering Lilly
Dislikes: Lines, driving, and traffic (which is basically driving in line, so, double-whammy)
Originally born in Russia, Rasputin has been writing for the team since the days of Surviving Hollywood. At any given minute, his booming voice can be heard in the office, retelling a bawdy anecdote or trying out a standup routine. On the writing team, he's known for never allowing two characters to kiss inside a building. In his world, kisses always happen outside, preferably with people lunging at each other.

Likes: Photoshop, solid color polo shirts, and carrot cake
Dislikes: Wearing shoes, driving, and guns that don't shoot straight
Georgia's nickname comes from the stories that he tells the team about growing up in Georgia--including several things that he thinks of as 'normal' but the rest of the team assures him are not, including "Greasy Flagpole Competitions" and "Devil's Night". Known on the writing team for drawing diagrams to explain his points and having characters shout event text.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Q & A

M Doty took some time today to answer your questions about Surviving High School, Cause of Death, and the writing team! 

First, a note from M:

Thanks to everyone for the great questions. Before we get started, I have to say one thing. There’s no way I’m going to spoil future events by telling you which couples will get together or whether Sam will ever find true love! Those are questions that will get answered in due time. For now, here are some answers to your other questions.

Q: Hey M! I was wondering, because of the book and Sarah's death... If Sarah would've won the election to be President, would that have changed anything?

A: Great question! If Sara had won the election, it wouldn’t have changed the fact that she’d die over the course of the summer—that was something we had to do to stay consistent with the Surviving High School novel. That said, it would have meant having yet ANOTHER secret Sara was keeping from Emily and her family. It might also have led to a bit more soul searching for whoever was taking over her position in The Storm: Part 2. You can imagine that Taylor’s speech might have been slightly different if she was taking over for Sara at the time.

Writer Fact: Each of the writers picked a different candidate to root for.

Q: Is there ever a disagreement between writers on the game on whether which couple should be canon?

A: Writing team meetings often start with a brainstorm where a lot of ideas, good and bad, go up on a whiteboard for people to debate. Believe me, some unusual pairings have been suggested. Usually, what happens is that someone makes an impassioned plea for a couple to get together or break up and then gradually convinces the rest of us that it’ll make for a good story. I personally had doubts about Colt and Denni at first, for example, but the rest of the team convinced me it was a good idea, and I ended up really liking the story of them getting together (even if I do feel bad for Sam.)

Writer Fact: In addition to the masquerade mask, Denni has also been a cowgirl for Halloween

Q: Is Kimi Chen related to Amy Chen from CoD?

A: Awesome that you noticed their shared last name! I can’t comment specifically for now, but a Kimi and Amy crossover story sounds like a lot of fun.

Q: Will we ever play as Kimi?

A: Kimi fans have a lot to look forward to. We’ll definitely give you the chance to play as Kimi in future episodes. She’ll also be the main character of the second Surviving High School book: How to be a Star, which will be coming out in May of 2013!

Writer Fact: Paige was originally introduced to the SHS world as Sam's troublemaking friend from the all-girls boarding school, Monarch Prep.

Q: And last question, how do you pronounce Paige's name?

When I was younger, I played a game called Final Fantasy II, whose protagonist was a warrior named “Cecil.” In my mind, I pronounced this as rhyming with “diesel.” Later, a friend told me I was an idiot and that it was actually pronounced a different way, as if it rhymed with “vessel.” At this point, I think we were BOTH right. The beauty of having a text based game is that you pronounce things however you want in your own mind. 

To ask M a question for next time, go to M Doty's Facebook page.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The SHS Update Extravaganza!

With all that's been going on for Surviving High School--new characters, new art, new season--M. Doty caught up with one of the writers, Doc, to hear his take on the new developments!

Writer Fact: We were dying to see what was under Zoe's bangs.

MD: There have been a lot of big changes in the SHS world. How do you feel about the change in the cast, the art, and the world?

D: Personally, I think the changes are an improvement. I liked our original art style, but getting art from that artist unfortunately is no longer an option. As for the new art, I love it. I think it's more expressive. Plus, who doesn't like finally getting to see Zoe's other eye?!

MD: Is there anyone in the cast that you miss writing for?

D: Yes and no. I've always liked writing for Howard, and luckily I don't think we'll see him disappear. The thing about SHS is for the most part the cast members never REALLY go away. They just kind of fade into the sunset. And I'm really enjoying the new cast as well. We've had a really nice cast for a long time (with the exception of Jessica). Howard and Zoe were always really sweet to each other and everyone around them. It's nice to finally have someone like Paige in the cast, someone who's willing to insult people and say outrageous things.

MD: Paige has long been a fan favorite. It was nice to see her transfer to the school and finally join the cast full time. On our facebook page, lots of people are talking about Owen and Paige. Why do you think people are so interested in seeing that combination?

D: Well, Paige has always been an intriguing character. She's a mean girl, but she also has had a tough time, which I think makes it easy to get why she is the way she is. Owen is also very deep and complex. It feels like he pulls out some of what makes her human. Best of all, they're just so simultaneously repulsed and attracted to each other... It makes for what we hope is a really fun read!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Weddings, Maltara, and Late Nights

With the exciting events going on in Cause of Death, we knew we had to spend this week talking to the COD team to get the inside story. M Doty managed to pry Winchester away from his computer long enough to answer a few questions about weddings, Maltara, and what it's like running the COD episode track.
Writer Fact: The ladies of the writing team give Natara's jewelry their stamp of approval, but agree that the crown feels just a little excessive.

**Warning: This post may contain Spoilers**

MD: Thanks for taking a break from writing your latest episode to talk! First off, I know COD fans must be going crazy over the latest developments. Can you talk about what inspired you for writing about the wedding? You don't exactly seem like the kind of guy who thinks a lot about wedding planning.

W: You are correct. I don't know the first thing about planning a wedding (You should probably ask Lilly about that stuff), so it's a good thing I only had to plan an action scene at a wedding. Wedding-themed violence comes slightly easier to me. I just brainstormed a list of things like "horse-drawn carriage" and "chocolate fountain" and thought of ways to plan a fight scene around them... I was not hired for my grace.*

MD: We heard that Mal and Natara shared a kiss. How was it writing that moment, knowing that fans have been demanding it for months?

W: It was really exciting. Originally, it was a smaller, more subdued moment, just very warm, and honest, and intimate... And then our teammate Rasputin did a pass on it and said "No. People have been waiting for this for ten volumes. This moment needs to be much, much bigger." And so he added way more description, way more emotion, and yes, a gentle rain. And I'm not sure, but I'm starting to get the feeling that some fans may have enjoyed it... 

MD: I know it usually takes a little over a week to write a COD episode, and with the game's grueling pace of releases, that takes a huge effort to keep up. What's the latest you've ever stayed at the office to work?

W: I've worked all the way through the night before. I don't recommend it. But fans get restless when an episode is late, even by a matter of hours... I can't imagine what would happen if I was an entire day late. My theory is that they would explode... And I'd rather they didn't. They're good people.

MD: We mentioned last week that the writers all love to hear the fan comments--and that goes for COD and SHS. What's your favorite thing to see when you check the COD facebook page, tumblr, or blog?

W: Tumblr reviews are really fun to read. And I use "read" lightly, because Tumblr is 90% gifs. But really, anytime a fan is excited about our stories or appreciative of our work, it makes a big impact in the office. It's not uncommon for me to shout "Hey, somebody said a nice thing!" and then show the team a very kind comment from our Facebook wall. Is it childish? Maybe. But hearing that we reached somebody definitely helps make the nights at the office seem worth it.

*Writer Fact: Winchester was, in fact, hired at least in part because of his grace.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Sacrifices Were Made

Today, we're going to talk about the Surviving High School update and novel release! It might take you a couple of hours to play through the update, but the writers work for months to brainstorm, write, and edit that content. M Doty sat down with Lilly to talk about how she and the writing team got through the frantic two months of writing the huge new Season 1 for Surviving High School and promoting the book's launch.

Emily makes the jump to the real world.

MD: I wasn't involved in the actual writing for the update, but I saw how hard everyone was working in the office. Can you talk a little about what it was like so fans can understand what really went into getting this huge drop of free content out?

L: It was a really intense time for the team. We knew we wanted to time it with the release of the novel so people could read the book and the come back to this new, rebooted world. But we were really locked into the publication date, so we knew we were going to be working night and day to hit that deadline. I would spend the day writing content and then doing passes on other writers' work at night so the next day the feedback would be there for them to put in. It was really common to see everyone up at midnight still hard at work. I love being a part of such a passionate team--it's what makes it so fun to work on this product, but it also means that we all really care about making the final product as good as we can make it.

MD: You mentioned that everyone was working hard on the update. Does it ever get hard to have multiple writers working on the same product?

L: Definitely. When we write something huge like a new mega pack, we usually have multiple writers working on it at the same time, and that requires an incredible amount of coordination and planning. Everyone really has to be on the same page or else you end up with things that are horribly broken. For instance, there was some debate about how Zoe and Nate should act around each other, and since different writers were tackling Episodes 1, 2, and 3, we ended up with three very different views of Nate. In Episode 1, he was Zoe's boyfriend. In Episode 2, he was very insecure. In Episode 3, he was super aggressive. We finally got it all to work right, but it made for a really funny time playing through the game where Nate just looked like a crazy person.

MD: Was there any particular part of the update that was difficult for the writing team?

L: Yes! In the new Season 1, Zoe decides to compete for Social Chair. We had the hardest time naming that position. We started out with "Spirit Captain" but that didn't feel quite right. Then we tried "Social Committee." "Spirit Advisor," "Head of the Spirit Committee," and "Spirit Leader" all were rejected. I think it came down to anything having the term "Spirit" in the title felt way too cheesy.

MD: Now that the update is out, how does it feel to see fans responding?

L: It's really awesome when people are positive. It makes it feel like all of the hard work was really worth it. I know we work for a game that's put out by EA and that can make it feel like it's a big corporation behind it, but at the heart of SHS and COD, we're a team of 7 writers working like crazy and pouring our hearts into these stories that we love. When we get a fan posting something kind on Facebook or on the Apple store reviews, the team really gets a huge boost of morale from that. Especially the Amazon page for the SHS novel. Whenever we have time, we check to see what fans are saying. Then everyone forwards it around the office and we all gossip about it. People wouldn't believe how excited we get about it, it's silly. The hardest part is when people think we're being greedy. We do need to make money to keep feeding the writers. We're really grateful to all of the fans who are able to support us and purchase content so we can keep these games going!

Writer Fact: Yes, we know this is the third makeover we've given Ben.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Murder, Mystery, and Romance

M Doty sat down with Cause of Death writers Winchester and Georgia to talk murder, mystery, and romance. Here's what they had to say.

Writer Fact: There are limits to where you will go to research an episode.

MD: So, you both seem like relatively normal guys. How do you come up with all of the horrifying murderers in Cause of Death? Is it hard writing for them?

W: I like to get really immersed in what I'm writing. When I was writing 'In The Cards', my cubicle walls were covered in tarot cards and books about voodoo. I was definitely the creepy guy in the office for a while. It didn't help that I also had shuriken hanging on the wall, but that's only because I'm a big Naruto fan.

MD: Georgia, I know you started out writing for Surviving High School. Is it weird switching from such a lighthearted product to something so much darker?

G: I actually enjoy the contrast. Switching between the two provides a nice variety. Though in terms of research, it can lead to some very weird situations. Anyone looking through my search history would think I'm a complete psycho. It's mostly the combination that's bad. Where do you bury a body and not get caught? How do you tie a ponytail? What are the effects of drowning on a human body? What type of stores do teen girls shop at?

MD: Speaking of SHS and COD, now that we've announced the Surviving High School novel, there's a lot of talk on the Cause of Death Facebook page that fans want a COD novel. What do you think of that?

G: I would LOVE to have a Cause of Death novel. LOVE. Hopefully fans from both games will help make the Surviving High School novel a hit and we'll get that chance!

W: That would be awesome! I wonder if we would do a novelization of the Maskmaker story, or some new Maltara adventure altogether? ...They probably won't leave that decision up to me though, because I would just write The Spectacular Adventures of Kai Kalaba.

MD: Okay, last question. Blaise and Jeremy. Explain that pairing.

G: I think there's something significant in looking at how opposites attract. You see it in real life all the time. Nice girls date jerks. Straight-laced guys go after free-spirited girls. Sometimes we're secretly looking for that person who will push us beyond what we're comfortable with.

W: I think the BlaiseBird thing is all so refreshingly simple. I think Blaise was fed up with drama and just went for something she wanted, for better or for worse.  Everyone else's love life on CoD is so pained and complex, so it's nice to have a romance that is so unromantic.