Author Interview: Olivia Wood

2019-02-01 · by Stewart C Baker
tagged Blog / Interviews

Olivia Wood works as a writer, editor and narrative designer, both freelance and for Failbetter Games (Fallen London, Sunless Sea, Sunless Skies). She has written for the award-winning narrative game Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, and is working on the next game of the BAFTA-nominated studio, the Pixel Hunt.

This interview was conducted via e-mail in January of 2019

Olivia Wood

Olivia Wood


sub-Q Magazine: Our theme for 2018 was love. What does love mean to you, and do you think that affected how you approached your game?
Olivia Wood: At the risk of sounding soppy (fuck it, what’s wrong with being soppy?), I’d say love has changed in meaning since being in a relationship with my current partner. In previous relationships, particularly one – that only in hindsight was horribly unhealthy – there was a great deal more of ego, on both sides. While it was still about caring for the other person and being made to feel happy by their presence, it was also about looking good so that you were enough for them. It was about what it meant that they chose to be with you (or not). It was about their brilliance, and the light it cast on you. It was about battles of wits and amicable tussles, where your egos would be stroked by each other’s approval. It was driven, and it was insecure. It was about being the best you could be because you wanted to give the best version of yourself to the other person, and maybe that would do. It was tiring. Ultimately, it was miserable.

Now, with my current partner, the concept of being ‘enough’ doesn’t seem relevant. Of course I’m enough. Love is very much (for me) about the partnership that makes me and the person I am in love with our best selves. That means I don’t need to be more X or less Y to feel secure. I don’t need to change for someone else in order for me to be happy. And that means I’ve so much more energy – so that if I actually reach for a goal, I can do it – because the motivation is not about what achieving that goal might mean, but is about the value of that goal in itself.

Of course – there’s also the ridiculous side of love that you can only have when there’s trust. Every single person is weird. And when someone loves you, and it’s a trusting love, they’ll stop hiding their weird and you can stop hiding yours. It’s ridiculous and fun, and it’s part of the joy that makes life worth it, even when outside forces are making life harder.

How it’s impacted the approach to my game? Probably in two ways, leading to the same thing. I’m pretty loved up right now, and I’ve got plenty to share. I wanted to give something caring to the player. And I’ve been heart-broken by shit relationships that ultimately did me a lot more harm than if I’d just been single. I wish I could in some way short cut that pain for others, who are mourning something that doesn’t deserve it. My witch’s words are things I could have been told that… probably wouldn’t have helped. Because who really listens when they’re yearning for something that never existed? But maybe if they help just one person – than something good has come out of my being in bad relationships.

sub-Q Magazine: All the games for our jam were very short. What challenges did you experience trying to create something in such a constrained space?
Olivia Wood: Well, my first version was just under 3000 words long. I probably spent as long cutting it down as I did writing it. (If you ignore the weeks I spent mulling, trying to find an idea that would fit.) There was so much more I wanted to reveal – what the witch was doing, hinting at what she was getting out helping. I also had a lot less elegant code – I was forced to be a lot cleverer with the functions to get the choices and interactivity I wanted without a load more words. But I’ve never known cutting not to improve a piece – this is definitely a tighter, better game than the version twice as long.

sub-Q Magazine: What’s one thing you wish you’d known when you first started making interactive art?
Olivia Wood: It’s hard. No, harder than that. Seriously – stop beating yourself up for not being good, yet. Design is a separate skill to writing and it’s ok if you’re not good at one, yet.

sub-Q Magazine: If you play a lot of games, what was your favourite new game in 2018? Anything coming out in 2019 you’re excited about?
Olivia Wood: OH MY GOD SUNLESS SKIES *checks date* HAS JUST COME OUT. At the moment of writing this interview, we’d just code locked. It’ll have been newly launched when this is published. Failbetter Games has been working on it the last couple of years, and I’m really proud of it. I was a writer on it, the main editor and the content manager. Some of the writing is absolutely incredible – I was editing one bit and burst out crying. Appropriately enough, it was a story about love (and loss).

From 2018 – Unavowed and Return of the Obra Dinn were excellent.

sub-Q Magazine: What’s next? If you have any upcoming games, artwork, or other projects you want to talk about, let us know!
Olivia Wood: A rest? It’s been an incredibly busy year already and it’s barely started. (I do have a few things coming up – but they’re so early I’ll wait a bit longer before I start shouting about them.)

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