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Roll Perception Plus Awareness: An Interview with Stephen Hood on the Launch of Storium

Welcome back to Roll Perception Plus Awareness, a column about roleplaying games and their place in a genre reader’s and writer’s world.

Stephen Hood has spent his entire career creating technology, including stints at Yahoo and social bookmarking pioneer Delicious, where he first worked with Josh. Stephen is an avid reader and a life-long lover of games. Storium originally began as a prototype Stephen built so he could play with old friends across the country. Stephen graciously agreed to answer some questions on the launch of Storium.

PAUL WEIMER: Thank you for agreeing to talk to us again, Stephen. [I spoke to Stephen here on SF Signal in 2014 about the Storium Kickstarter] For those readers knew new to it, please refresh their memories on the core concept of Storium

STEPHEN HOOD: Thanks, Paul!

Storium turns creative writing into an online multiplayer game. It borrows inspiration and mechanics from tabletop games, interactive fiction, improv techniques, and other media, all with the goal of helping people unlock their creative ability while having fun, together. Storium is a game you play in your browser, using your computer, tablet, or smartphone. We were funded by a big Kickstarter campaign two years ago, and since then we’ve been in development and playtesting.

The big news is that we’ve just launched to the public. This means that the game is now open to everyone and free to play.

We’ve also released over 40 “worlds” — reusable playsets that help you tell stories in a given style or setting, each written by award-winning novelists, game designers, and screenwriters (including Hugo Award winners Elizabeth Bear, Seanan McGuire, and James Patrick Kelly; Emmy winner Jay Bushman; Fiasco designer Jason Morningstar; and many others).

PW: Running a successful Kickstarter was one thing, but how was midwifing Storium to release? What challenges did you overcome in managing the project?

SH: Well, to start with, it was a huge technical challenge just to make Storium work! From the moment we began our playtesting, people wrote and played with an intensity beyond what we expected. They pushed it to its limits, constantly. To date, Storium players have written over 68 million words. That’s, what, 1,700 novels? It would be a lot of data for just about any site, but Storium is an interactive gaming experience so it’s especially tricky to handle. There isn’t anything quite like it out there on the Web, so we had to invent some of our own technology. Fortunately, we pulled it off.

It was also a challenge to assemble our library of “worlds.” As a part of our Kickstarter, we offered over sixty worlds as stretch goals… and we met every goal. This meant assembling a team of over one hundred writers, designers, editors, artists, and art directors. Coordinating all those people and all that work was an even greater task than I could have imagined. It has taken us longer than I would have liked, and we’re still not done (we have another twenty worlds still in the works). But I’m very happy with the quality of the worlds that have been produced, and I’m proud of the authors and artists we’ve been able to work with.

PW: What changes to the core concepts, or secondary concepts, did alpha/beta player feedback cause you to have to change in Storium? [Disclaimer: I was a backer of the kickstarter and I was one of these playtesters.]

SH: We’ve been blessed with an astonishing amount of playtester feedback. Our users have logged over 1,600 unique suggestions for ways to change or improve Storium. So we’ve been at no loss for ideas and direction.

Probably the most obvious common thread in all that feedback has been that Storium needs to do even more to help players coordinate their storytelling and keep it moving. Storium is by design an asynchronous game, meaning that people can play it whenever they have time. This is important because people have different schedules in their daily lives, and they also write at different speeds. Helping players keep their games moving in light of those realities is one of the biggest benefits that Storium can offer. We’ve spent a lot of time building features and tools that help people better communicate and coordinate — things like private messaging, shared narration duties, and a behind-the-scenes “green room” for out-of-character discussions. We’ve made a lot of progress, but we also have a lot of ideas still to go!

PW: You wrangled a lot of talented creators to create worlds for you in addition to the base set. Do you have any particular favorites among the worlds they created?

SH: Oh, man. It’s hard for me to pick favorites, and not all of our planned worlds are available yet. But, sure, I’ll point out a few that I personally love:

  • Seanan McGuire’s Chambers of the Sea offers a fascinating new take on the legend of Atlantis.
  • Elizabeth Bear’s Gotham Jazz is set in a Jazz Age diesel-punk Manhattan.
  • Nancy Holder has skillfully adapted the classic setting of Bram Stoker’s Dracula for telling brand-new stories.

PW: Now that it’s live for everyone, where does Storium go from here?

SH: We still have plenty of work ahead of us, and we’re excited to get moving on it. We have more worlds still to deliver, along with art we’re commissioning to go with them. We’re also planning to build an “app store” for worlds, which will allow anyone to create, share and even sell their own storytelling worlds to the Storium community. And perhaps most interesting of all, we’re planning to build a version of Storium specifically for classroom and educational use!

PW: Now that Storium is launched, what’s next for you?

SH: Storium may be launched, but it’s not “done.” In truth, I hope it will never be done! Storium is something that I envision will continue to grow and evolve, hopefully for years to come. My co-founder Josh and I are totally focused on Storium, and will continue to be for as long as fate permits. We’re grateful to our Kickstarter backers and playtesters for making all this possible.

Thank you, Stephen. I encourage anyone interested in written, online roleplay to check out Storium!

About Paul Weimer (366 Articles)
Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota, Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Almost as long as he has been reading and watching movies, he has enjoyed telling people what he has thought of them. In addition to SF Signal, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, Skiffy and Fanty, SFF Audio, Twitter, and many other places on the Internet!
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