Feature

Why A Developer Is Creating A Video Game Based On Jane Austen

by Ben Reeves on Mar 13, 2014 at 08:00 AM

Jane Austen is widely considered one of the most important literary figures of the modern era. The novelist of iconic works such as Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility, Austen’s romantic fiction about the haughty gentry and their 19th-century social wrangling has inspired romantic film and literature for centuries.

However, Jane Austen’s world is far removed from the traditional battlegrounds gamers find themselves in when they turn on their PCs or consoles. In fact, while many avid game players are unabashed about their fandom for properties like Star Wars, Batman, or The Simpsons, few ever remark on the biting social structure of Romantic Period England.

Common sense would dictate that an MMO based on the literature of Jane Austen would never find a market, and yet late last year game designer Judy Tyrer launched a Kickstarter for a project called Ever, Jane: The Virtual World of Jane Austen, which went on to raise over $100,000 in order to make this unlikely dream a reality.

A Romantic Idea
Ever, Jane isn’t Tyrer’s first game, nor her second. After graduating from college, Tyrer worked on the Ghost Recon franchise for Ubisoft and then Magic: The Gathering – Tactics for Sony Online Entertainment before moving over to Linden Lab to work on Second Life. As a senior engineering manager, she managed the simulations and servers during a time when Second Life ran over 650,000 simulations on 10,000 servers.

Throughout all this, Tyrer developed a strong love for MMOs. However, she wasn’t fond of the raiding and loot grinding that was popular in most modern MMOs.

“In the early days of EverQuest, there was a following of players focused on the role play and the telling of stories in character,” says Tyrer. “However, in today’s non-stop action world, there isn’t much time for the kind of chat that creates great characters, dynamic stories, and where one can get as immersed in living the story as in watching a film.”

Tyrer missed the world of online role-playing where players actually played the role of their character. After picking up one of her favorite comfort reads, Sense and Sensibility, she realized that Jane Austen’s world would be the perfect backdrop for the kinds of players like herself, who longed for online player-driven narratives. She would resurrect the world of Jane Austen using online servers.

Rebuilding Austen’s World
Tyrer was already a fan of Jane Austen, but that didn’t mean she didn’t have to research the era before taking on the massive project of designing an MMO. While rebuilding Austen’s world, Tyrer went so far as to research 1800s property law.

“Did you know windows were taxed individually during the Regency period?” says Tyrer. “And a hole in the wall counted as a window. That is why the poor lived in unventilated hovels, which scientists think may have contributed to disease epidemics.”

Much like Frankenstein, Dracula, or Sherlock Holmes, all of Jane Austen’s works are old enough that they are considered public domain, which has freed Tyrer from the stresses of licensing and rights management. However, there were fans who objected to Tyrers missions to turn one of the most iconic romantic voices in literary history into a video game.

“I got a bit of pushback from literary folks,” recalls Tyrer. “But when I sent them copies of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies they decided a virtual world wasn’t all that offensive.”

If Tyrer wants to create a game based on the Regency period, it will have to be unlike anything else on the market. Fortunately, Tyrer doesn’t want to make a game like anything else on the market.

Playing The Role
One of the most unconventional aspects of Ever, Jane is that it is an MMO without a combat system. Instead of attacking one another, players gossip about each other, which will negatively affect their status and reputation.

A player can cultivate their status by completing quests, such as host a dinner party. During these kinds of larger events, players will have a variety of goals. For example, a player might want to tell Mrs. Hatch some choice gossip while steering clear of the droll Mr. Buttons. Each guest at a dinner party will have a small checklist, but players’ goals won’t always align. For example, one player might have a quest to speak with someone in private, while that person’s quest is to avoid them at all costs. Tyrer hopes this will create interesting moments of cat and mouse as players try to push each other, and their guests, into other rooms.

At its heart, Tyrer still hopes that Ever, Jane will become a haven for players who like to role play. “When designing any feature of the game we ask ourselves ‘Will this interfere with the role play?’” Tyrer says. “Sewing, for example, allows you to do all the layout and set your stitches, and then you wait while the animations run. That wait time is so you can be chatting and gossiping while you are sewing.

“I think people will come for Jane Austen, but they’ll stay because it’s not just a different kind of game, it’s a different way you have to think about people as part of the game. The fun of an MMO is the interaction with other people, people you might not ever get the chance to meet in real life.”

Tyrer’s company, 3 Turn Productions, expects to release Ever, Jane in January of 2016, with an official beta starting in the second half of 2015. However, 3 Turn Productions is developing the game live, meaning players can join at any time to check out the state of the world and get a feel for its gossipy quest system. By the time Ever, Jane officially releases, we should have a better idea of whether or not this unconventional idea can amass the following it needs to succeed. Ever, Jane certainly won’t appeal to gamers of all walks of life, but we admire Tyrer's bravery to experiment with MMO conventions.