Hey, Michael! You’ve done a lot of amazing narrative work on so many games, so let’s jump right into Immortals. What is the history of Aveum and how is magic significant to this world?
Magic and the world of Aveum are pretty much the same thing. In the game mythology, they were created at the same time, with one complementing the other to create something wondrous. It’s only when humans show up that things go downhill.
These days, Aveum is a place where peace is a foreign concept—an unnatural state. The Everwar is for the control of magic and the rest of society conforms to it. Whether by law or duty, anyone that hits the draft age is thrown in. Those who control magic are the ruling classes and those who can’t are their armies.
What recent events led to the current state of the Everwar? Specifically, the conflict between Lucium and Rasharn?
The two superpowers of Aveum have been at war for pretty much forever. While Sandrakk, the Tyrant of Rasharn, has been gaining the upper hand, the true tipping point in the conflict is spoiler territory, but that’s right around the point that you (Jak) show up.
Oh? Well, let’s dig more into those characters and how they came to be, starting with our hero. How does Jak change and grow over the course of the campaign?
When we first meet him, the last thing Jak wants to do is join the war. Or really have anything to do with the magical ruling class that treats him and his (magicless) friends like trash. But then…
…when a traumatic event causes him to manifest a very powerful, very rare form of magic, Grand Magnus Kirkan finds him, giving him a reason to fight in the war and trains him to be really, really good at it.
What’s his personality like? How does he interact with his fellow Magni?
Jak’s the raw recruit with amazing new powers joining the elite special forces who have a lot of history together. So there’s some initial awkwardness, and like anyone that’s being told that they’re rare and special, Jak sometimes lets it get to his head. That never goes well.
By and large, Jak’s a good kid—loyal to his friends—guided by an independent streak from his early days as a street thief that he just can’t shake, for better or worse. It gets him into trouble, but it also lets him think of novel ways to solve situations others think are too dire.
How did he become a Triarch Magnus?
Genetic lottery. Jak’s not a “Chosen One” or a figure of prophecy made manifest through illicit magical eugenic experiments. He just got lucky. Well, maybe not in the circumstances that led to him manifesting magic for the first time—that wasn’t lucky at all.
How about Grand Magnus Kirkan? She was the one who found Jak, but what about before that? What led Kirkan to this point in time when the story in Immortals of Aveum begins?
Kirkan’s the leader of the Immortals and has been for a long time. She’s in pretty dire straits when the game starts, too. Her kingdom’s defenses are failing, the number of battlemages in her order are dwindling—the Everwar is leaning heavily towards a Rasharnian victory.
Then she lucks into finding a kid of incredible potential: a Triarch. Someone that, if properly trained, will give Lucium the breathing room it needs to figure out a counterattack against Sandrakk’s advances. That’s where you come in.
What’s she like? How does she get on with Jak and the other members of the Immortals?
She’s stern, hyper-capable, possessed of a brilliant tactical acumen, and a powerful Magnus. She’s Jak’s mentor and very fond of him.
There’s also a Kirkan that Jak has never met that her enemies have—one that’s absolutely ruthless. An uncompromising warhawk. Her whole life has been fighting in the Everwar, and it’s taken a toll. A more pessimistic person would question whether her true affection for Jak really just comes from his value as an asset to the war. Sandrakk might be our villain, but that side of Kirkan frightens the hell out of me.
It sounds like she’s been through a lot. She must have a very storied past to have gotten so far.
There are other members of the Immortals, too, though. What can you tell us about Zendara?
Zendara’s the second in command. She has a special status with the Immortals in that she’s also royalty from a different kingdom. That kingdom, Kalthus, was recently conquered by Sandrakk, so things are more than a little personal for her.
So a royal princess from a fallen kingdom has to team up with a street rat from Seren. Can you tell us about Zendara’s and Jak’s relationship?
Jak is what’s known as an Unforeseen—someone that’s born without magic but manifests it later in life. There’s a prejudice against these Unforeseen in Aveum, and especially in Kalthus where Zendara’s people have had first hand experience with uncontrolled magic. Zendara sees Jak’s inexperience with magic as a danger to the team that she’s not entirely comfortable with. And she’s loud about it.
That said, the dynamic between Jak and Zendara and the trajectory it takes—them challenging each other to be different people than what they started as—it’s a highlight of the story for me.
That’s exciting to hear! Characters and their growth can be the crux of a great story. What about Devyn? He seems just as different from Jak as Zendara is.
When we first meet Devyn, he’s been recalled from the Front—a perpetual No Man’s Land between Lucium and Rasharn far to the south. Kirkan needs her best fighter back to deal with some rather apocalyptic stuff happening at home.
Oh, wow! That must mean a lot if it’s coming from Kirkan. Does that mean he gets along with Jak well once they meet?
Jak underestimates him at first because Devyn gives off a witty aristocratic attitude which reminds Jak of the worst qualities of the nobility that he met in Seren. (The slum city Jak grew up in.) But the two quickly become best friends. Devyn is Jak’s biggest cheerleader in no time.
It’s good to hear that they’re able to work together! And it sounds like there’s quite a unique cast of characters. We know writers create them and the actors shape them, so did the characters change much once they were cast?
Not at all during the first recordings, as their characters were pretty much set, but after those first sessions, we definitely wrote more towards what the actor brought to the role, so certain elements of a character’s personality got strengthened or came more to the forefront.
Antonio Aakeel (Devyn) was able to take Devyn’s motormouth to another level, so I ended up writing mouthfuls of rapidly delivered dialogue just to challenge him. He always passed. Lily Cowles (Zendara) is hilarious in person, which you have to throw out of your head to properly write Zendara’s cold, no-nonsense demeanor. And Gina Torres (Kirkan) could make reading the ingredients of a lasagna recipe sound like the most important moment of your life, so Kirkan’s gravitas was always just locked in from jump.
How did you ground the emotion of the characters and conflict without going too far in either direction?
By always having the characters take the war seriously. While Jak and his friends are funny people, the war and its stakes are real for them. They’re also big personalities, all of them, and they make each other laugh in the trenches to keep their spirits up.
And while the backdrop of the game is a bloody, endless war for the control of magic, we’re still an adventure story. That’s the court we play on. We’re not offering a grim reflection of global conflict in our game. We’re here to punch some obviously very terrible people in the face (with fireballs).
In the Meeting Zendara cinematic (below), Devyn introduces Jak to the fearless Zendara, and she immediately makes her dislike for Jak crystal clear. Here we get to see the first time our characters’ big personalities interact and clash with each other as they begin their journey together to stop Sandrakk and end the Everwar.
A fair point! Does that reinforce why the characters don’t speak with the typical medieval-styled dialogue many associate with fantasy?
That was the Game Director, Bret Robbins’ call and I celebrate it. The question presupposes that fantasy games should use Ye Olde English or something, but they shouldn’t have to. If a fantasy world isn’t set in Earth’s past, why use archaic language to suggest it is?
It’s a hard habit to break since we’re used to seeing games and movies from the past 50 years do this. But I think you do the fantasy genre a disservice by always expecting some pseudo-medieval grab-bag.
For real, if your setting isn’t some historical version of Earth, then aren’t you translating all the words from your main characters’ native language for the reader/viewer/player to understand anyway? And like any good translator, your job is to interpret the source material in a way that best suggests its spirit. Aveum, while fantasy, is modern, and it’s told that way.
Yeah, that’s a good point and an interesting perspective to have. It really helps enforce that this isn’t our own past, but a completely different world with its own unique people.
Exactly. Early in the story, we explain the world of Aveum and the state of the Everwar to the players via the eyes of Jak. In the Everwar Cinematic (below), Kirkan has just discovered Jak after he unexpectedly manifests his magic. Because he’s only lived in the slums of one city his whole life, he knows very little about the world around him or how magic works. This is the moment Jak, and you as the player, first learn about the magical and unique world of Aveum and get a glimpse into its history.
Alright, we’ve talked about the heroes. What about the big man himself? We’ve mentioned Sandrakk before but we haven’t really gotten much into him yet. Who is he and what’s his part in the Everwar?
Sandrakk’s past and personality are even more spoiler territory! But I’ll say this: He’s the leader of Rasharn, and while all of our heroes think he’s the villain, he doesn’t. The best, scariest bad guys believe what they’re doing is the right thing, and Sandrakk certainly does.
He has a very good reason to have increased his attacks on Lucium, and the more you get to know him, the more you might wonder how much of his motivation is justified.
That’s awesome to hear! Thank you very much for answering all those questions, Michael!