Earlier this year, I worked up the cojones to send a quick e-mail to writer and photographer Christy Marx. As I reviewed her long list of writing achievements, especially in television shows such as Jem and the Holograms, G.I. Joe, Bucky O’Hare and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I was reminded of the importance of saturday morning rituals in which nothing mattered more than sitting down with 2-3 bowls of hypersugary breakfast cereals and sitting 5 feet away from the TV when we could get away with it. At that time, for an awkward 13-year-old boy me, writers like Christy were just mysterious names in the credits whose job it was to keep me entertained between 8am and 4pm once a week.
But I did know her name, and her face, from another place. Christy Marx was that magical person featured on the back of two Sierra adventure game boxes. She designed, wrote and directed Conquests of Camelot (1989) and Conquests of the Longbow (1992).
In the 1990s, the bulk of adventure games followed a fairly common pattern: the hero set off on a quest to (retrieve/save/destroy) an (object/princess/enemy) that usually only the hero cared about. The story, if there was one, usually involved a series of loosely linked scenes that were supposed to add up to a plot. Puzzles were erected like roadblocks, meant to prevent you from finishing the game in less than 5 hours. I enjoyed those games – but later, as an adult with limited time and complex expectations, I now find many of those adventures hard to enjoy.
But Camelot and Longbow offered a different kind of experience. They were the first games I played where the puzzles weren’t culled from a 101 Brain Teasers book, and the NPCs were not item-droppers clothed in a “get me X and I’ll give you Y” interaction. Both Camelot and Longbow had stories and characters that mattered to me (and not just the protagonist) - it was the first time that I cared about the protagonist’s quest and wanted to help him through to the end. It was the first time I worked through a puzzle that was sculpted from the gameworld, rather than one clumsily shoehorned into a pre-existing story. The NPCs had lives of their own, some helping and some hindering my quest, but in all cases appeared to be people who hinted at a background replete with their own responsibilities, goals, friendships, grudges and stories. I played – and finished – both games twice this year and found myself thinking about their worlds and characters months later.
So when I had the chance to ask Christy Marx a few questions about her experiences writing and designing these games, I wanted my questions to count. I wanted to express how different her games were for me as a player. I wanted to ask her (okay – impress her with) what I thought were tough questions that only an articulate designer and writer could answer. In short, I choked.
Thankfully, that did not stop her from drawing thoughtful answers to my – paragraph long, kludgy – questions. In our conversation, Christy Marx articulates her thoughts on writing multi-dimensional characters, games as (a serious) art, storytelling, some of her literary influences behind Camelot and Longbow, and her desire to work on another adventure game (!)
(Minor spoiler warning: if you haven’t played Camelot or Longbow yet and plan to in the immediate future, and you are one of those types that becomes infuriated when someone else talks about the plot or characters of their favourite movie before you’ve seen it, you might want to stop here.)