There is an undeniable overlap between the Pagan community and those who love video games, fantasy and science fiction stories, mythology, and role-playing games. Often, it seems like the more of those elements one can work into a product, the better. Earlier this year, game designer and self-published science fiction author Andrew Schneider stepped directly into that zone when he published Nocked!, a text-based choose-your-own-adventure style RPG, for for the iOS mobile platform.Based on the legends of Robin Hood, Nocked! immerses its players in the story of Robin and his merry men from the very beginning of the legend, allowing each player to begin Robin’s story, build the legendary thief into the cultural hero he became, and take on the Sheriff of Nottingham and other Sherwood residents in a battle of wits, resources, and arms. Set against a rich backdrop of mystical and medieval styled artwork, Nocked! is a tale that is different with every play-through of the game and resounds with fantasy, mythology, nature, and magic.
Nocked! can certainly appeal to non-Pagans, but its subject matter shares a clear parallel to the Pagan community. The Wild Hunt spoke with game designer Andrew Schneider to discuss this clear overlap between coding, gaming, and Pagan practice.
The Wild Hunt: Tell us a little about your background as a game designer/coder.
Andrew Schneider: I’m primarily a self-published science fiction and fantasy author, my books oscillating between the existential crises of ever-living fairy-tale characters in the modern world, and the fall and redemption of cyber-sky-pirates on a distant desert planet. I’ve also a trendy number of Dungeon and Dragon Magazine credits to my name from the days of fourtth edition D&D, but had never designed a game from the ground up. We’ll call it “game design: 1, coding: 0.”
Several years ago I was knocking around the idea of writing a riff off a Robin Hood novel when my wife pointed out the benefits of doing a bit of light game writing: expand the reader base, broaden the portfolio, and all that jazz. So began my education in coding, which I last touched during middle-school QBasic computer class.
For Nocked!, I actually learned a couple different code bases before settling on Twine, an interactive fiction-specific code that has the flexibility and versatility I was looking for. Then it was, “concept the idea,” then “figure out how to make the code work for me.”
Final score: game design 3, coding 1. Love, set, match.
TWH: Tell us about Nocked!. What is the plot, the format, the user interface? What can our readers look forward to if they download it and play it?
AS: Nocked! is the story of Robin Hood like you’ve never seen him or her before. Your struggles against the Sheriff of Nottingham frame more personal encounters with the people, creatures, and elements of a wonder-filled, magical Sherwood Forest.
It’s currently out for iOS, and playable on iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. The game is text-based, with a touch interface, and multiple-choice options at the end of every page to propel the story forward. While it bears some resemblance to old choose-your-own-adventure style novels, Nocked! takes full advantage of the digital medium to include role-playing game elements such as resource management, base building, and iterative story consequence. It’s all dressed up by our talented artist Amanda Spaid with over 170 pieces of hand-drawn art.
Nocked! is an epic tale of high adventure in Sherwood Forest that hits all the classic Robin Hood high notes in ways that are new and unexpected, but it’s also a deeply personal story of self-definition and discovery, friendship and magic, death and taxes.TWH: What inspired you to create a game based on the legends of Robin Hood?
AS: I like to think of my writing as accessible: I want a reader to be able to pick up something of mine and immediately be able to understand and identify with some aspect of the characters or story, even as subtleties and twists reveal themselves over time. At the moment of Nocked!’s inception, there were few subjects that tickled my fancy and held broad, nigh-universal appeal than our friendly bandit, champion of the poor, and enemy of the powerful.
It was all the better in that Robin Hood is an inherently mutable story. There are so many sources (French ballads, English folk tales, published stories, movies, highborn Robin, lowborn Robin, etc) — you can tell this tale many, many ways and be within tradition, and changing the tale is part of the tradition — which is perfect for interactive fiction where I want the storytelling power to be in the hands on the player.
TWH: Our audience is the Pagan community, many of whom hold a love for mythology and the legends of the British Isles. What appeal does Nocked! hold for them?
AS: Sherwood Forest — full of grandeur, magic, and mystery — is a focal point of the game, where characters and events are deeply influenced by the changing seasons. So, too, is exploring Robin’s relation[ship] to the forest and balancing the wild magic of the deep woods with exterior pressures from peasantry, nobility, and the church.
As to myth and legend, there are scenes born from the lyrics of ancient English ballads, plucked from the pages of Arthurian legend, and cribbed from Shakespeare. I pull liberally from the totality of English folklore — walk the path of the Green Knight, play cards with Merlin, plan a faerie ball — but much as with the many faces of Robin Hood. I respect the legends, then represent them with my own twist, skip, or spin. These are the true tales of Robin Hood; and the myriad, contradictory stories are all “true” in their own way; Nocked! asks the player to add to them.
TWH:. What platforms/operating systems is Nocked! available on and how can people access/download it?
AS: Nocked! is available in the App Store for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch running iOS 8 or later, for $5.99. You can follow this link directly to the App Store or find more information at https://www.nockedthegame.com/.
TWH: Do you have any other comments about the game, your experience with it, or how users have enjoyed it so far?
AS: Nocked! is my love-letter to text-heavy, story-driven RPGs — from Baldur’s Gate and Planescape to Shadowrun: Dragonfall and the Witcher series. I’ve wanted to create a video game for 26 years; this is that game. Everything I love about RPGs — base-building, romance, resource management, and real story consequence — is here.
Now my part is over. In the true spirit of collaborative gaming, I hope I’ve allowed an opportunity for all Robins, even as players ultimately create their own particular Robin. Nocked! is full of sword fights and archery contests, just as you’d expect. But it’s also full of fairies and dragons, chock-a-block with English folklore and my own fantastical imaginings. My Robin Hood is your Robin Hood, even as your Robin Hood is unique to you. Befriend the dragons, dance with the will-o’-the-wisps, walk away from the gold, and stride off hand-in-hand with Little John; the words are mine, but the world is yours. What story will you tell?
Nocked! has performed well within gaming circles. It received 4.5 out of 5 stars from Gamebook News, who called it “a magical game, interactive fiction with a heart, soul, and style.” The independent gaming blog Zonezter rated it 90/100. Reviewer Emily Short also enjoyed playing through the game, specifically admiring the “huge amount of narrative consequence for your choices.”
Role-playing games have always been a prime example of the occult maxim that “to every cause there is an effect and to every effect there is a cause.” Nocked! continues that tradition for a modern gaming platform, while incorporating artwork, magic, and one of the most beloved mythologies of all time. Much as Short mentions in her review, I could discuss the plot, but there would be little point since I cannot guarantee that the story my experience will match your choices. Every new player has their chance to create a unique experience with Robin of Locksley and, in Schneider’s words, “write his story.”
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.