Fantasy writers teaming up with game studios is seemingly on the rise – just ask Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, who famously partnered with From Software on Elden Ring. But writer Brandon Sanderson is doing things a bit differently than Martin and From when it comes to his partnership with Unknown Worlds on the upcoming Moonbreaker.
In an interview with IGN, we asked Sanderson, author of Mistborn and the Cosmere fictional universe, how he got involved with the creators of Subnautica on the digital miniatures game, and he said his collaboration with the team was more extensive than you might think.
Moonbreaker – Gamescom 2022
According to Sanderson, Unknown Worlds approached him with the offer to help build an “optimistic” science-fantasy world for a game they had prototyped mechanically entirely with placeholder art from the studio’s past games. Sanderson came back with two pitches, both of which he already developed on his own separately but didn’t think were suitable for his existing Cosmere universe. Unknown Worlds chose the more ambitious of the two pitches, Moonbreaker, and a new partnership was born.
From there, Sanderson and Unknown Worlds communicated weekly, growing Moonbreaker’s universe together and forming a true “hand-in-hand” partnership. Sanderson created things like the lore for the world and its initial cast of 10 captains alongside gameplay development, with the two halves influencing each other. This constant contact is a bit different than the last fantasy writer, game studio pairing.
“I’ve read about what George [R.R. Martin] did on Elden Ring and it was kind of like he sent off something into the void and eventually a game came back” Sanderson jokes. “That was not the case here. It was a weekly interaction, and the things Charlie [Cleveland] was changing in the game was changing what I was building and the story and the needs of the game.”
“This was my mantra,” Sanderson says. “As a gamer and a lover of stories, I told Charlie from the beginning gameplay has to trump story. Story has to fit gameplay rather than gameplay fitting story.”
“No writer says that,” jokes Unknown Worlds’ Charlie Cleveland, game director on Moonbreaker.
Sanderson elaborates by saying that he believes story is still very important, but “A game with an awful story but fantastic gameplay is still a great game,” while “a game that has a fantastic story but miserable gameplay is going to be a terrible game.”
This partnership isn’t just setting the stage for Moonbreaker’s launch, either. According to Cleveland, “We have a long-form story. We’re trying to make a game that’s gonna last a decade or longer. So to do that, we need to be planting a lot of seeds and then harvesting those seeds. So we need to have a lot of characters, a lot of throughlines, a lot of overlap between them.”
Cleveland and Sanderson likened Moonbreaker’s story structure to The Canterbury Tales, a massive tome of intersecting stories and viewpoints from the perspective of some 30 pilgrims. In this case that’s Moonbreaker’s captains, with their individual stories told through audioplay podcast episodes before a larger plot is introduced. Sanderson says it could be a year before they even start to hint at that larger arc, but that he already has an ending planned out for even further down the line.
Given the collaboration, Moonbreaker is certainly setting itself up to be an ambitious game. For more on Unknown Worlds’ turn-based digital miniatures game, you can check out our hands-on preview from Gamescom, as well as our full interview with Sanderson and Cleveland later this week.