Interview with Hart Getzen
by Bronwen Winter Phoenix from Pictainment.com
It’s an exciting time for Hart Getzen, the author of new series of novels Echo’s Revenge, the first of which, The Ultimate Game, is officially launching in May. The story centers on two brothers, Reggie and Jeremy, who are forced to rely on not only their master gaming skills, but their loyalty, intelligence, and ability to work together, as their strengths are really put to the test – and they also have to deal with one of the most extreme gaming predators ever designed, come to life!
Writing as Sean Austin, Getzen’s series of books are aimed specifically at the young gamer (teen and tween) audience, yet behind his action-packed story is a serious attempt to educate the reader into the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) frameworks that are likely to shape the world of tomorrow.
Bronwen Winter Phoenix took a few minutes to talk to new author about The Ultimate Game, his ideas behind the story, fictional predators, and barbecue joints.
Bronwen: Hello Hart – or should it be Sean? Thanks for agreeing to the interview. How are you today?
Getzen: Thanks for talking to me today. And it’s Hart, although I sort of ‘channel’ and am a spokesperson for Sean. It’s a complex relationship.
Bronwen: So your new novel, The Ultimate Game, is set to take young gamers by storm; it’s actually based on a scenario that gamers dream of, in the way that the main character, Reggie King, actually manages to beat the Master level of a game and gets the attention of the developers. Immediately, the story pulls you in, and to a gamer like me it’s an interesting concept. And it just gets more interesting from there! Can you tell us how you came up with the story, what inspired you to write it?
Getzen: I happen to have a son who read a lot early on, and then started to slide over to video games when he was 8. When he was older, he was playing some light horror RPG one day when I asked him what book he was reading when he wasn’t gaming. He said he wasn’t reading a book at the time because he liked scary games, and no book could compare with scary video games because game are so realistic and he didn’t like fairy tales any more. So I got an idea and said, “So, you like to be afraid, huh? Okay, I’ll write a scary story for you, and it’s based on my friend Sean Austin, so it’s real, too!” To which he replied, “Yeah, right, Dad…” as he fell back into the game world.
Bronwen: In the story, Echo-7 is the most extreme predator ever designed – the perfect killing machine, and it can cloak! How did you come up with such a character?
Getzen: I study a lot of engineering issues and new technologies as they come up. I also spent many years designing and producing simulation experiences for Hitachi, Imax, and others, as well as working with defense contractors to support these emerging technologies. A big part of simulation entertainment is designing compelling characters and creatures in the CGI realm, and then pulling them into a simulated reality by using 3D imaging, acoustics, and interactive G-forces. So, I pretty much took everything I knew about the state of the art of engineering, game theory, and character design and created my own personal worst nightmare: a creature which changes its appearance depending on your own greatest fears. The creature not only echos its prey’s greatest fears, but it can be cloak itself so that it is undetectable until the moment it needs to be seen.
Bronwen: What are your favorite fictional predators from popular culture?
Getzen: I love the predator design in the Predator film that Joel Hynek helped develop as its Visual Effects Supervisor. When I worked with Joel on another project he said that he always tried to “prepare the audience’s perceptions for what they were about to experience” which was a wonderful, organic, psychological approach to visual effects. I recalled his words as I wrote the scenes where ECHO appeared out of nowhere. I also love Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, old Golem folk stories, and the Beauty and the Beast tales. I’m fascinated with the idiosyncrasies and potential beauty in monsters’ personalities.
Bronwen: So, the book is already out on Kindle, what made your publishers decide to release the online version first, and when will the paperback be out?
Getzen: The ebook came out as a beta version early, so that we could fine tune the print version. It was an immensely valuable experience. Especially since I wrote the book with a shifting perspective and withheld certain details, like gamers experience travelling through game environments and getting new information at different levels. This is really a book specifically for video gamers. I also like to think of editions of the book as versions, so we call it V 1.0 when the physical book is released, and then create revised versions of it as reality game elements are introduced into the text. The final V 1.0 ebook will be up at the beginning of May, 2012.
Bronwen: Another interesting angle is that this series of books also hold an educational purpose, doesn’t they, in that you want to educate young people about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) frameworks – can you tell us why these are so important, and what made you decide to go down this route?
Getzen: What makes the novel so intriguing for a lot of readers is that I’ve stuck to reality, whether it’s geography, technology, game development, or barbecue locations, so I expand on that at the website, echohunt.com. At echohunt.com we very loosely continue the story with updates about characters, technology, book reviews, game reviews, and a whole section of the site, “Echo’s 99.99%”, where there are links to STEM enrichment and other forms of personal development. A big part of what’s so fun about this story is pulling the curtain back and letting the gamers see how games are made, what the politics are like. This is especially true in the second book, The Other Side, where we find out how the game was created and exactly what went wrong. Basically the same story from the designers’ perspective, and still real-tech.
Bronwen: Do you think after reading these books, young people will be fuelled to learn more about STEM education and opportunities?
Getzen: Many readers can’t help but want to learn about how the cloaking technology covered in the first 2 books has actually come to life in a real military application. If they click on the “Lightcoat” video on the right hand side of the home page they’ll see a video of a real application of the stealth technology described in the second book. This stealth technology came to life after the books were written, but follows the same principles in a slightly different way.
Bronwen: Of course, there’s your website, too (www.echohunt.com), which is very impressive! Will there be updated regularly, and what else can we look forward to on echohunt.com?
Getzen: Echohunt.com will be the home base for the reality game, the novels and a whole lot of fascinating links to what’s going on around the world in all of these areas. It will also feature some of the very best barbecue joints across the U.S.
Bronwen: And talking of the internet, can you tell me a bit about the Echo’s Revenge Reality Game, scheduled to commence on May 15th 2015 as mentioned on the AAA Reality Games website?
Getzen: I can’t say much because it’s in development. The game will use all of the websites associated with the novels. Later versions of the novels will include embedded code, data, leads and more for the reality game. The game will begin with a simple whack-a-mole activity on the website. Robotic elements will sense certain human and natural activities, and other robots will actuate related activities. GPS and QR codes will be used. That’s all I can say about the game right now.
Bronwen: In the past videos games have sometimes gotten a bad rap in the news (perhaps unfairly), what with growing obesity rates, incidents of violence etc. – in what ways do you think video games are good for young people, in terms of stimulating their minds, problem-solving etc.? In your opinion, does the good outweigh the (supposed) bad?
Getzen: I’m a simple person. The simple answer for me is the same as everything else from diet to using the telephone: Do everything in balance at the proper level and you probably won’t have a problem. When the telephone came to humanity, many people thought it would be the end of civilization. There are many reports that video games are extremely beneficial in certain regards. But so are vitamins. Do I want to take vitamins all day? In my family, we don’t play video games at all during the week. We go to school, and work. We goof off on the weekends, but even then we don’t spend all our time in video games. We do a lot of different things like read, hike, surf- if we’re lucky, and help each other do things. So it’s all about balance and common sense.
Bronwen: How long did Echo’s Revenge take to write?
Getzen: Off and on for five years, whenever I had time.
Bronwen: And it’s a series – have you got it all planned out, and how many books can we expect?
Getzen: The first four are already conceived, outlined, or written. My guess is at least three more after that.
Bronwen: And finally, can you tell us about your early inspirations as a writer – what made you want to write in the first place, any favorite authors you grew up reading?
Getzen: I hated writing as a kid, and I read only non-fiction. Science, hypnotism, fish, bugs, that kind of stuff. I wrote a lot in the simulation and film industries, mainly to fix story problems related to technical issues. Now I love to read everything from Chekhov, Dmitri Glukhovsky, Steven King, Mark Twain to lots of YA fiction, like Holes.
Bronwen: Interesting, so it’s something you kind of grew into, then. Well, thanks very much for taking the time to answer these questions, Hart. I wish you all the best with the series, and good luck!