Choices Update

As you all know, in recent weeks some of you have been experiencing new game crashes. We're really sorry about this, and hope the game is now working for you after the latest update. Thank you for your patience.

With the new version update, besides the crash fixes, there have been a few changes. That includes an update to James' appearance in The Freshman and The Sophomore. We know that many of you, like us, are very passionate about James. We don’t like changing our characters and didn’t do it simply because we wanted a new look for James. We made changes to James and some other characters, too, so that there would be no doubt that these are fictional characters. We apologize for the abrupt change and any confusion it may have caused.

As always, we appreciate your feedback. Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have comments, game support queries, or questions. You can send us a message on Facebook, message our Support Team within the game, or email us at support@pixelberrystudios.com. Thank you for sticking with us and continuing to share new adventures in Choices with us.

-Oliver

LoveHacks Finale

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After many jokes, clickbait titles, and San Francisco shenanigans, the #LoveHacks series finale has come and gone. The #LoveHacks story is one that many of us on Team Pixelberry relate to -- that millennial life, amirite? -- and we're sad to see this laugh-out-loud story of friendship and love end. For a final behind-the-scenes look at #LoveHacks, read on:

This Series Finale Will Blow Your Mind! You Won't Believe What These Writers Have To Say -- ah, who am I kidding? I can't do these clickbait titles. So how do you feel now that the series is over?

Megan: It's definitely a bittersweet experience. We've been working on LoveHacks for almost a year now, and while we're proud of what we've done, it feels weird to not be hanging out with Dani, Brooke, Cole, Horatio, Mark, and Sereena each week as we write new chapters.

Owen: Ditto to all of that. Writing LoveHacks felt really unique and was a lot of fun. It's great to move on to different things, but #LH always will hold a special, ridiculous place in my heart.

What did you love about writing #LoveHacks? What did you consider the most challenging part?

Megan: I loved so much about writing LoveHacks, it's hard to choose just one thing! Exploring the different relationships between Dani and Mark, Ben, and Leah was a lot of fun, but I think writing the friendships between the core group was my favorite. The biggest challenge for me was keeping things funny week after week (and trying to keep up with our resident jokester, Owen!).

Owen: I loved getting to write PB's first foray into a sitcom-style story, and being able to push the jokes a bit further. The challenge for me was balancing unbridled tomfoolery with delivering the romance and drama that Choices fans love. Luckily, Megan's an amazing Book Lead and kept us on track... Like, originally, I wanted Cole's real name to be "Cole Minor", so that I could joke that it sounded like "coal miner"... In retrospect, Megan was right to veto that one.

#LoveHacks was chock full of jokes, situational gags, and quirky characters. What was your favorite joke?

Megan: My favorite joke was one Owen wrote:

Owen: I loved the figurative "death" scene we did during the paintball fight! (Also I hadn't written combat in a while, so it was fun to do a nod back to the action sequences and death scenes of Most Wanted and Cause of Death.)

Out of curiosity, who do you think you identify with the most in the #LoveHacks group?

Megan: I identify with our heroine Dani a lot, especially in Book 2. She's at such a crossroads in her life, and there's a lot of freedom in that, but also a lot of stress!

Owen: I like to think that Ben is essentially me, but much hotter and more Korean. This is wishful thinking of course, but I aspire to the ideal of a geek who is charming because of his geekiness, not in spite of it.

Where do you think the #LoveHacks crew is headed after the series finale? What's your headcanon (or is it just canon)?

Megan: A sneak peek at our headcanon of the future... Flash forward to a year later. Dani, Leah, and their blog are kicking butt, and Andi interns for them after school. Ben is preparing to do a Solaris panel at the Seattle HeroCon. Mark and Isaac bond over Isaac's success running Dopey Cat and the sequel, Dopey Cat Bros. Sereena has finally graduated, and Aiyana has moved in with her. The friends meet up for a drink at the Double Tap, and toast together just like old times.

Owen: ...And also Horatio's a cyborg now. 

Give us one last #LoveHack. For old time's sake.

Megan: Be picky. You're worth it.

Owen:  Be as strong as Sereena, but as kind as Horatio. And don't underestimate a good cologne.

What's next for the #LoveHacks team? Tell ussss.

Megan: Sadly, the LoveHacks team is splitting up! (RIP) But I'm really excited about my next project! I can't say much more about it right now, but keep an eye out for something new in the coming months!

Owen: I am a wandering swordsman, going from team to team, wherever the people cry out for a hero. (I'm actually literally doing some writing on Hero with Keyan right now). But soon I'll be teaming up with Coco from the Rules of Engagement team for a different TOP SECRET PROJECT that I am honor-bound not to disclose.

Like Brooke said, this feels like the end of an era. LoveHacks will be missed, but I'm sure the jokes, the friendship, and the spirit of Dopey Cat will live on in my heart and the hearts of many others. To everyone who took the time to read this finale post, thank you! We hope you're looking forward to whatever's next for Choices.

-Jessica

The Royal Romance: Book 2

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Just this spring, The Royal Romance: Book 1 kicked off with a dance in the palace ballroom of Cordonia. The whirlwind romance of the first book ended with a courtly plot against you. Who in the court can you trust? And how will you fight back?

All will be answered in Book 2... The Royal Romance will return at the end of September! To read more about the upcoming book, check out the interview with the team behind The Royal Romance below:

Soooo... how's book two of The Royal Romance going? What's next for our Cordonian crew?

Jeffrey: Well, next I'm probably going to go home, cook some vegetables, listen to a podcast, then socialize with some friends through the interwebs--

Oh, you meant the characters, not us. Well... In Book 2, we want to take the main character's journey in a more experimental direction where she really discovers who she is and what she wants. First, she was living under the expectations of her role as a waitress in New York, then she escaped into the trappings of high Cordonian society. Now's her chance to pursue her true self.

Kara: Even though we're not releasing chapters right now, we actually started Book Two right after we finished Book One! I finished writing the last few lines of the Coronation and then immediately started writing the first chapter of Book Two! We actually had to do most of the planning while we were still working on Book One. We've got a lot of fun planned--even though things can get a little dire in the Royal Romance, the fun of being at court and spending time with your friends is still there. We're going to travel the world, meet new people, build a barn, and probably talk more about hats.

It's a pretty big understatement to say Book 1 had quite the cliffhanger. Can you tell us a little bit about where this is going?

Kara: I think the most striking thing about the reactions to the end of book 1 are how people interpret what happened differently. It all happens so quickly, and we only gave people a few lines to read into, but it really isn't very much to go off of. You don't know exactly how the Prince is feeling, or why he picks who he does. From the writers' perspective, we jump right into writing Book Two, so there's not much of a wait. I wish our players didn't have to wait either, because a few weeks of being in suspense can go a long way! In Book Two, you'll be able to finally fight back and figure out who framed you and Tariq in Book One.

Jennifer: I don't want to say exactly where Book Two is going, but questions that were brought up during our brainstorming were: Who sent the blackmail note? Will Olivia come back? Who tried to sell the bachelor party photos?

I need to know. Will we get our happily-ever-after?

Jennifer: I think you can really tell by a writer's favorite novels what kind of outlook they have on endings. My favorite novel is Pride and Prejudice, so you could extrapolate how The Royal Romance will end from that. On the other hand, Kara likes Wuthering Heights, and Jeffrey really likes Hamlet, so... take from that what you will.

Hm... interesting. Now given Olivia's ancestry and other factors, Cordonia is essentially the modern day version of Stormholt from The Crown & The Flame, which had quite a bit of worldbuilding. What does worldbuilding look like for The Royal Romance?

Jeffrey: Worldbuilding is a delicate and intricate process. First, I like to devise an economic system because economics answers a few questions on how we organize ourselves. For The Royal Romance, we developed an export market for the Cordonian apple sector by defining the exchange rate between the Cordonian currency versus the Euro. We have spreadsheets, graphs, and everything. It's very professional. In fact, if you look closely, you can see a subplot where Cordonians attempt to tackle the housing crisis and rising inequality.

Once you have an economic framework which people organize themselves around, you can move on to the stories engrained in the national identity. What do they believe and how do their surroundings and past traditions influence them? What are the dissenting points of view?

With these two pieces in place, you can finally embark on a 10-volume historical record following the rulers of Cordonia, which will prompt a body of work on Cordonian history from the perspective of the common people. When you can recite the third edition of the Encyclopedia Cordonia, the writing can begin.

Jennifer: Jeffrey will be publishing his next novel, "Cordonia: An In-Depth Look At A Glorious Peoples" in Spring of 2028.

Very funny. (Just so we're clear, Jeffrey is joking. Sort of.) Out of curiosity, who's your favorite character to write in The Royal Romance?

Kara: I love writing Maxwell. In the first draft of The Royal Romance Chapter 1, he actually didn't exist, and Bertrand was your only host. But that world felt too flat and un-fun. I realized we needed someone more playful to be opposite of Bertrand, so that's how Maxwell was born! (He was originally just "Nobleman 2"). Right away, everything in the group felt like it finally clicked, and everything got a lot more fun to write. Even though we had to do a lot of last minute changes to the plot, I think it was worth it. Now he's such a major part of the book that it's hard to imagine a world without him! I also love writing Hana and Maxwell together because they're both very sweet and playful but in very opposite ways. Hana also kind of reminds me of Jennifer and Jessica in some ways... XD

Actually, it's very striking to me how each of the three Royal Romance writers for Book One has influenced the world and cast. Jennifer gives everything a touch of formality and courtly grace, and Jeffrey brings in a lot of wacky humor about horses and hats and poodles. If I've added anything, it's probably making Bertrand meaner, throwing in more silly group moments with your crew, and probably having Drake drink too much whiskey. (I don't even like whiskey.) But overall, it's really thrilling to see the world and the characters that come out of this combination.

Jeffrey: Madeleine. It's fun to write someone who's constantly trying to spin a situation to their benefit, and making power plays along the way. I've actually been writing for Madeleine since her appearance in Rules of Engagement: Book 2, so we're practically besties.

And who's your favorite love interest? *wink* *nudge*

Kara: I love them all! I probably end up writing the most Drake, but I often get to write some of the Prince's speeches to you, and I love how considerate and loving he is. There's nothing selfish or mean about him. He's the kind of person that you'd want to be around in real life.

Jennifer: In my personal game, my love interest is definitely Drake, and I totally make Kara write him just so I can read his scenes and enjoy the romance. =) Writing-wise, I enjoy Hana the most because I feel like we have a lot in common, and some of her struggles with trying to please while simultaneously trying to figure out what will make her the most happy in the long-run really resonate with me.

Is there anything you'd like to tell the fans before Book 2's release?

Jennifer: We hope you'll enjoy the twists and turns we have planned for Book Two!

😱 🤔 Well, that's something to look forward to! To everyone reading along: Check back at the end of September for the start of The Royal Romance: Book 2! And as always, we've got more on the way...

-Jessica

High School Story in Choices

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As longtime Pixelberry fans know, Pixelberry's journey started with the game High School Story. The same team behind Cause of Death and Surviving High School launched High School Story back in August of 2013. Since then, the Pixelberry family has grown and found new ways to share our love for storytelling.

When Choices first launched, we called our first few books the spiritual successors to SHS and CoD. Over a year later, things have truly come full circle with the release of High School Story in Choices. As the original game (fondly called "HSS Prime" around the office) continues, we are so excited to bring the adventure, drama, and romance of high school into the Choices universe.

What ties this story together even more perfectly is the team behind the new High School Story book... Last winter, Oliver wrote on our blog about one of our new writers, Wendy. Before she joined the Pixelberry team, she was a High School Story fan. She started out writing for The Freshman, but now she writes for the Choices version of High School Story. She -- along with Rachel, another new fan-turned writer, and Max, the original writer for Surviving High School -- has been working on Book 1 for the last few months. (Fun fact: Max first started writing with the team back when he was in college. And yes, he's the namesake of HSS Max... but they're total opposites in temperament!)

For more on the High School Story journey, keep reading for our behind-the-scenes writer interview...

Let's start at the very beginning. What's your experience with High School Story? Specifically the game, not the Choices book.

Max: I loved writing for HSS Prime. One of my favorite quests to write was 'Hope's Story,' which spearheaded our anti-cyberbullying efforts. I loved the original HSS for its blend of humor, heartfelt earnestness, romance, hijinks, and social consciousness. I'm hoping that we've carried that spirit over into HSS within Choices.

Wendy: I started playing the game back in 2013, shortly after it launched, and it quickly became my not-so-guilty pleasure. It's a lighthearted, idealized game, but the challenges the characters faced were grounded in reality in a way that really surprised and impressed me. I never got to write for the game, but I have played it faithfully ever since launch. Working on this new book has been a fangirl's dream come true.

Rachel: So I was a fan of HSS Prime from day one. I remember downloading it the first day it came out on the App Store after I heard about it from the old Surviving High School and Cause of Death days. When I started working for Pixelberry, I had the chance to write for both High School Story and Hollywood U before moving over to HSS for Choices! It's been a fun journey from fan to writer.

Can you give us a quick introduction to the High School Story book? What's it all about?

Wendy: It's been two years since the original HSS game, and a lot has changed. You play as Jordan, a new student who just moved into town, and help him or her make friends, find love, and navigate the always-crazy world of high school.

How does the Choices version of High School Story differ from the original? Will we see any familiar faces? Like, are we gonna see Nishan? This is important. He's my fave.

Max: The biggest challenge of writing HSS for Choices was to make a world that both rewarded returning fans and welcomed new ones. Our ultimate strategy was to feature our existing beloved characters like Sakura, Julian, Wes, and (of course) Nishan, but to also introduce several new, younger characters that could take up the torch and live their own story. I think we ended up with something that's a natural extension of the HSS world that can be enjoyed by new and old fans alike.

Wendy: To me, the biggest difference came about with the shift in genre. In the original game, you were a student at the school, but you were also the founder, and a huge aspect of gameplay was building the school from the ground up and recruiting new students. This time, you're a new student trying to find their place in a world that already exists. In that sense, the game has much more in common with The Freshman than it does with the original HSS.

While this story mainly focuses on a new cast of characters, you'll definitely see some familiar faces! Most of the major characters (including Nishan) from the original game appear in this one as upperclassmen, and a few even have a major effect on the plot. We're also introducing some family members of the original characters, such as Ezra's brother, Caleb, and Nishan's cousin, Myra.

With the original High School Story and Hollywood U, one of our guiding principles has always been to create stories with heart and a positive message. How does that translate to the new High School Story book?

Rachel: I think this has definitely carried over into High School Story for Choices! You'll get a chance to cheer up your friends and be the person to rally everyone together. It might be your first day at a new school when you start out, but if you make the right choices, I can guarantee you'll leave a lasting impression on the school.

At this point, it's practically an Inside Choices tradition to ask, but... who can we date in High School Story? The public must know!

Max: Oh man. This is something that almost broke us, but we've created FIVE dateable characters in HSS (usually for a new book, we max out at three!). In addition, you can play as a guy or a girl! This all led to a massive amount of extra coding and writing, but in a game called 'Choices' we felt like we should be pursuing a truly customized player experience. I think we've delivered that with HSS.

Who's your favorite High School Story character to write? That goes for the original HSS cast or the new HSS. (If we're talking original HSS, mine's Nishan. I'm just gonna keep bringing up Nishan. #Nishan4Life)

Wendy: I have so many feelings about Maria, the type-A leader of the homecoming committee. Teenage girls are not only expected to be pretty, smart, popular, and successful, they're also expected to make it look easy. Maria's story is about realizing it's okay not to live up to that standard.

Rachel: I absolutely love writing the dad! He's so awkward and dorky in such a lovable way! Plus, I love coming up with the dad jokes! I can only hope I make my own father proud... Besides the dad, Frank is a lot of fun to write. He may be a huge defensive football player, but inside, he's a lovable teddy bear who just wants to have fun. I wish I had Frank the Tank as a best friend in high school!

With Book 1 out in the wild, what are you working on now?

Wendy: No spoilers, but we've got some seriously cool plot twists planned. Stay tuned! (Do you say stay tuned for video games? Ah well, you know what I mean!)

Yay, can't wait! We hope High School Story fans will enjoy this fresh spin on the HSS world... and we hope Choices fans will check out the original HSS game! If you haven't started the newest Choices book, what are you waiting for? The first day of school is here, and the possibilities are endless.

-Jessica, Level 8 Nerd and Wallflower

Hero

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It's a bird... it's a plane... it's the latest Choices book! Summer has come and gone at Pixelberry, but that doesn't mean we're taking a vacation from new stories! The Choices team has been working on Hero for a while, and we're excited that we get to share it with all of you. To get the scoop on Hero, I talked to our resident superhero team...

Let's start with an introduction. What is Hero? Who is the, ahem, hero of Hero?

Keyan: Hero is the story of someone who’s granted extraordinary powers and confronted with the question of how best to use them. We’ve all dreamt of having superpowers... this story lets you decide just what kind of hero you want to be!

Hero is the first superhero story we’ve had in Choices. What has your experience been with superhero comics?

Royal: I was pretty fortunate. When I was little, my grandfather bought me The Smithsonian Guide to Comic Book Comics. I don’t think he actually understood what he was giving me, but that collection contained some of the finest comics ever printed. From the first appearance of Superman and Batman to classic EC war and horror stories. That book was a treasure -- page for page, maybe the best book on comics ever printed. From that point on, I was hooked. I’ve been reading comics voraciously ever since.

So... can I date a superhero? Asking for a friend.

Royal: Yes, you can. Turns out, you can marry one too! My wife is superhumanly kind, smart, and beautiful, so I know it’s possible.

Keyan: Come on, you don’t really think we’d write a superhero story and NOT let you date a superhero, do you? Of course, it might take you a few chapters to actually meet some of these characters...

If you could be a superhero, what would your powers be?

Royal: I already have a minor superpower. I demagnetize credit cards, and I constantly shock myself and other people. But if I could have anything... flight. Who doesn’t want to throw a bunch of clothes in a backpack and just jet away to a tropical island? So either that, or limited precognition.

Keyan: I’ll take time travel! Sure, there are all those pesky temporal paradoxes to worry about, but it’s hard to resist the appeal of traversing humanity’s past, present, and future at will. Imagine how much more value you’d get out of every vacation - instead of listening to some tour guide drone on about the Coliseum, you could just zip back through time and experience it firsthand! Hmm, maybe that’s a bad example...

Mayyybe. If you haven't already, definitely crack open your Choices app and check out Hero, available now! If you're caught up on the latest chapter, tell us who your favorite superhero so far is. Of course, the Choices team has more exciting stuff on the way for you - both in Hero, and in Choices - so keep an eye out! 

-Jessica
 

Rules of Engagement: Book 3

Since it launched last fall, Rules of Engagement has been going full steam ahead. Now on its third book, the trilogy is settling the question of your nana's inheritance, once and for all. Will true love prevail? Are you headed for married bliss or total disaster? And can your siblings figure things out in time? All will be answered in the upcoming Rules of Engagement chapters!

A chat with the Rules of Engagement writers has been long past due, so here they are! To get a behind-the-scenes peek at Rules of Engagement, read on...

I remember the feeling of excitement in the air when Rules of Engagement was being brainstormed as the first book to follow up the initial three in Choices. How did you come up with Rules of Engagement? Where did you want to go with it?

Kara: I was still working on TC&TF, which was a trilogy, so it felt right to think of this one as a trilogy too. With how big the cast was, I think it would've been hard to do justice to all of the characters and plots that we had planned in a shorter amount of time. We knew we wanted to get another book out fast, so we didn't have too much time going into it. We brainstormed each sibling's plot separately, which was a lot of world building, but we were really happy with how different each story came out. We knew we wanted Rules to have more crazy twists and drama than the other books, so it was really fun trying to come up with those, but mostly I just fell in love with all of the characters and telling all of their stories.

Jennifer: I remember when we were first brainstorming, one of the themes we wanted to touch upon was the theme of family. That's why the siblings are so close, and I think the idea of keeping the family together was what inspired all of Nana's zany requests. Even though Nana's will seems pushy, I always thought, at the heart of it, what she wanted most was to see everyone happy which is why the tasks push them to making such drastic changes in their lives.

Coco: I didn't join the Rules team until later on in Book 1, but I know they wanted to create a book that enabled players to travel often and see new places! Because cruise ships are so mobile, the Ember of the Sea was an ideal setting. I have an uncle that worked briefly as a pianist on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean, so I drew a little bit from my experience when I visited him! Getting to write about travel adventures was one of the aspects that excited me the most, and I can't wait to show the different places we'll go next!

What's new about Book 3? How do you think the series has changed?

Coco: In Book 3, players get to plan different aspects of their wedding from the vows to the decorations! The finale will be fun either way, but the art and events change depending on your choices, and our artists did a great job. I hope this gives a more customizable and personal feel to your wedding day!

We also reveal a bit more about the backstory of the family members, particularly your aunt and your cousin. In particular, how you choose to treat your cousin will affect your playthrough and ending of the series. I have something of a soft spot for cousin -- she's so snarky and fun to write, but she's also been through a lot. I'm looking forward to developing these characters more and revealing new dimensions to them.

Since this is Rules of Engagement, we've gotta talk romance. Who would you date in Rules of Engagement?

Ariel: Actually, the Rules of Engagement writers each have a different favorite suitor. There's no lack of love for any of our leading lady's prospective fiances! We often joke about which writer is the leader of their favorite guy's fan club and who's the hottie of the Ember of the Sea, but at the end of the day, each suitor has their own strengths designed to make us swoon. The businessman appeals to those who want to get swept off their feet and enjoy grand gestures, while the prince is perfect for anyone who loves adventure and being spontaneous, and last but not least, the bartender speaks to those who desire that confidante who always knows how to make them laugh.

Coco: Ariel came up with a very diplomatic answer, but don't be fooled! She's Team Bartender all the way! :P I have to agree with her; I think falling in love with your best friend sounds like the ideal. However, I think the prince is the most fun to write because he's the most rebellious.

Jennifer: I originally wrote for and have a soft spot for the businessman. But if I could personally date anyone in Rules, it would be the older brother, Alex, because I always find his chapters hilarious.

Aside from the cruise and the massive inheritance, a good chunk of Rules of Engagement ties into real life. There's the ups and downs of dating, figuring out your future and identity, being there for your family... How do you relate to the story? And how does that influence your writing?

Kara: Rules has always been close to my heart because I was able to put a lot of my own family experience into the story. I'm the youngest of four, with an older brother and two older sisters--I guess maybe that makes me the Jess? Also, like the Rules siblings, I'm biracial, though I'm half Chinese and they're half Filipino Chinese. Growing up in a big family, I've always loved sibling dynamics and how each person can be related and have these shared experiences of childhood, but also have their own personality that they bring to the table. I think what I like most about Rules is that the siblings all love and support each other so much. That's what I've always loved about my own family. We're each off doing our own things in life, but deep down, we're a team and we always have each other's backs. I really wanted the Rules siblings to have that same feel.

Jennifer: I relate to the story on many levels which is why it's so near and dear to my heart. Having a close family is a big one like Kara was saying. My nuclear family isn't that big, but I grew up with my sister and my cousins, so it felt that way. That made it super fun to write the sibling scenes, particularly the ones where you get dressed with your sisters or stay up late to giggle in your room talking about life (and boys). Another big one is that my own family is Chinese but grew up in the Philippines, so the blend of those two cultures was something we decided to put into the family's background. And of course, I drew on my own experience dating (eep!) when it came to capturing the excitement of meeting someone for the first time and realizing you're falling in love as well as portraying the doubts and thoughts that crop up as you're discovering who you are in that relationship and how you relate to the other person.

A key part of the whole inheritance task deal is that each sibling has to learn something - whether its responsibility, spontaneity, or discovering true love. Which of Nana's lessons speak to you the most?

Coco: I think I'm somewhere halfway between the twins Jess and Nicole (perhaps most people are?), so I'm not sure that either of their tasks fits me perfectly. But I think all of the inheritance tasks were their nana's way of guiding the cousins along to the future in the best way she knew how. As a 20-something who recently graduated college (ugh, a millenial, I know), I can definitely relate to them in terms of trying to figure out my next step and where to go from here. I feel like the summer tasks give the cousins a chance to experiment and explore, whether it's with careers, love, adventure, or independence, as well as learn that these don't all have to be mutually exclusive.

Jennifer: Of all the siblings, I'm the most like Nicole in that, when I was younger, I wanted ultimate control of my life. In college, I had a very detailed plan to become a doctor and save the world, so I think it's funny that I became a writer for Pixelberry. Of course, writing was such a big part of my life growing up--I started when I was six and kept writing throughout high school. I'm surprised I didn't embrace that side of myself earlier, but I think I was a little afraid since so much of writing is putting yourself out there. I guess what I learned and tried to put into the Nicole arc is that life throws you so many curveballs, that some spontaneity and a little bit of courage is necessary for you to figure out what you want most and to go for it.

What do we have to look forward to with the rest of Book 3? What are you most excited about?

Jennifer: Planning your wedding! =) Also, I hope people enjoy the conclusion as much as we enjoyed brainstorming it. There's something very satisfying about tying up loose ends.

Coco: There's plenty to look forward to, like new ports to visit, new outfits, new characters, new animations, and also a few new romances for the supporting characters! In the first two books, we wanted to give you more of an opportunity to go on different dates and have fun, but in Book 3, you'll hopefully get to know your special, chosen fiancé on a deeper level. I'm probably most excited about bachelorette/bachelor party shenanigans, but also a few things that I can't quite share with you yet! ;)

As we reach the conclusion of the series, thanks to everyone who has been traveling on the cruise ship with us, from the several writers who have moved on to new projects, and of course, to the players! We hope you've had fun escaping to the Mediterranean with us.

Be sure to check back Wednesdays for new chapters of Rules of Engagement: Book 3! Where do you think the cruise will go next?

-Jessica

The Crown & The Flame

With Choices nearing its one year anniversary, The Crown & The Flame trilogy has come to an end. It's been an epic year-long journey for Kenna, Dom, and the rest of their ragtag crew. As one of the first books to launch with Choices, the team behind TC&TF started work on it long before August. Months later, saying farewell to one of our first series feels like saying good-bye to an old friend.

The team has weathered marathon brainstorms and late-night writing sessions, and celebrated epic plot twists and awesome character art. With the final chapter in the rearview mirror, the writers of TC&TF took the time to reflect and reminisce...

The Crown & The Flame trilogy is over, and it's been quite the journey. How do you feel?

Kathleen: Super weird. It kinda feels like graduating from college, actually. Like, you've been immersed in this cool new world for so long and surrounded by these people you've grown to love (even though Val's always stealing your food and Dom wants to party all the time instead of doing homework), and you get so attached that you kind of forget there's a world outside. Now graduation is looming and half of me is like "oh thank goodness" but the other half is going "WAIT, NO, I LIKE IT HERE, AAAAA".

Eric: So many feelings! Sad because I’ve dedicated so many hours to TC&TF, and it’s like saying goodbye to close friends. Happy because we were fortunate enough to get to create this whole world from scratch! Proud because I feel we’ve brought the series to a satisfying conclusion. And of course grateful for the fans, whose passion for it made Books 2 and 3 a reality.

Since we're at the end, why not talk about beginnings? How did TC&TF first come about? What were the early days like?

Kathleen: Lot of brainstorming, LOT of revisions. The first story that we outlined was much more focused on courtly intrigue, less so on the action. It looked totally different from the version of TC&TF that exists today, but there are a few relics from that first version that we kept because we loved them so much. For instance, Sei Rhuka was one of the first characters we created for that earlier story, and she survived the move to TC&TF pretty much unchanged (because what would you change? She's perfect).

There were some late nights, and times when I definitely thought I was gonna crack under the stress. Fortunately I had Eric and Kara, two heroes of legend, fighting by my side.

Kara: The first draft of TC&TF was written under so much pressure and at such a frantic pace that it was nothing like the book that ended up being released. To give you an example of how much things change, Val Greaves, everyone's favorite mercenary, was originally a male character just named Mercenary. Kathleen had the idea of making her a woman, and then the character of Val really started to emerge as the snarky, mean voice that the cast was currently lacking.

Another thing that came about because of that time was just the incredible trust between the writers. On most products, there's a more formal process of logging changes, but because we were so short on time, we were just actively editing each other's work, and I think we managed to get through that without killing each other, so it really says a lot about how well we work together! Sometimes you write your first draft and you don't realize how much better it can be until you take a step back. I wrote a scene once where Dom is carrying a sack of flour down the castle hallway, and I thought, this is boring, I'll add in a choice. Oh, I'll give the choice a timer! Then I realized I'd just made a minigame about carrying a sack of flour. So I cut the whole thing. But sometimes it isn't until you write the scene that you realized you're going down a bad or boring path. The early days were a lot of that.

We rewrote a lot of things together, but it was such a privilege to work with Kathleen and Eric on creating this world. It was amazing when we reached a point where we'd revised and revised and revised and finally felt like we'd burned away everything that was boring or not working and all that was left was even stronger than it had been before.

Eric: Hectic! It's one thing to write a book now, knowing what Choices looks like, but back then we were writing with placeholder art (everyone was Queen Adriana!) and we just had no idea what was going to work and what wasn't.

Also, I echo everything Kara said above about trust. So many times I wrote a thing and thought, "Oh gods, I'm a fraud! I'm a terrible writer!" and then had either Kara or Kathleen or Jessica swoop in and turn my garbage into gold. Having the safety net of a great team makes standing on the tightrope a lot more fun.

Strong world building is crucial to any good fantasy story. That ranges from history and culture to what you yell when you stub your toe. What was the worldbuilding process like for the Five Kingdoms?

Kathleen: You start super general (place names, general time period/level of tech, climate), then build your details on top of that. Every detail comes from somewhere, everything is the way it is for a reason. In those early stages it helped us to give each of the kingdoms a "thing" that they're known for. For Fydoria, it's knowledge and art, for Thorngate, it's trees and archery, for Lykos, it's jerks and backstabbers, lol.

That gave you a jumping off point for what these people would be like, and how they relate to the other kingdoms. We were also very deliberate about what colors and styles of clothing the different kingdoms would wear, which I was really into. It's great to look at a character and immediately know whose team they're on (or whose team they want you to think they're on...)

Then you take your pages and pages of notes to the artists, and they do some kind of beautiful magic that turns your dreams into something real you can look at. We work with some AMAZING artists. I have the Aurelian castle set as my computer's wallpaper because I like to stare at it all day.

Eric: Ditto what Kathleen said. The incredible art helps tremendously with this process. Sometimes we'd get a piece of art back and it'd be SOOOOO good that it'd inspire us to go in a new direction. That kind of moment (like with Val) is really special.

What did you consider the most challenging part of writing TC&TF?

Kathleen: Not making every chapter 5,000 lines long, haha. I have issues with writing these super long, flowery dialogues, but thankfully Eric is there to keep me in check. It can also be hard to find a character's voice sometimes, especially if you and that character don't have a lot in common.

Eric: Keeping Kathleen in check. HA! Seriously, though, we had a HUUUUGE cast, and all of the characters have compelling backstories and fun voices and fans on social media. Trying to make sure everyone got ample screentime (while still telling a good story) was tough.  

Going off of that, what were your favorite scenes to write in TC&TF? (Spoiler alert!)

Kathleen: Oh man. I'm a mean person who loves writing the super intense emotional climaxes where everyone is crying and screaming at each other. So basically the whole Whitlock/Hex arc. One of my favorite writing moments though was when I was working on that kraken scene in book 2 and I had to turn to my boyfriend and say "Hey, what sound does a kraken make?" Boyfriend: "<kraken sound>" Me: "Yeah... but like, how do you spell that?"

Kara: My favorite scene to write was a dream sequence where Kenna and Dom get married, because I got to jump around in different scenarios and it felt a lot like fan fiction in the best way. But my second favorite was when Val has to pretend to be a handmaiden for Zenobia Nevrakis. I loved the idea of getting to see from Val's point of view as she has to infiltrate this girly world of gowns and bodices. She's usually a character who's seen it all and can handle anything, so it was fun to get her out of her element for once.

Brandon: I had a major blast with the entire final battle, but I have a special place in my heart for the scene between Luther and Kenna in Chapter 13. I love when you get to shine the spotlight on a bad guy, in a way that makes you almost sympathize with them...but not quite.

Eric: By far, the action scene where Dom turns into a dragon for the first time. I was actually writing from my apartment, and I was like, "If I turned into a dragon, what would be the most fun, badass things I could do?" (Cut to me flapping my arms through the air as I run around my apartment breathing imaginary fire on unsuspecting Nevrakis boats...) It was silly, but I did get some good stuff outta that.

TC&TF is filled with so many different villains, heroes, and everyone in between. Who was your favorite character to write?

Kathleen: I have a soft spot for terse warrior types who just have no time for your nonsense, so writing Sei is always super fun. She behaves the way we all sort of wish we could, except she can get away with it because she's crazy strong and can light you on fire with her mind.

Brandon: Oof, tough choice. I think we all have a lot of fun writing Val (because who doesn't love that character who gives the bad guy the finger?). Personally, though, my favorites to write have been the Nevrakis, specifically Luther and Zenobia. Zenobia is just so annoyed and out of place most of the time, which is fun to play with. She's like, "Ugghhh, dragons? Really? Whatever." It's like she stepped in off the set of Mean Girls. And Luther is just such a fun jerk. He's got sort of a cynical wisdom, but also has zero self-awareness and is totally unapologetic for any of the ruthless stuff he's done. That is a character I really love to hate.

Eric: Severin. I felt like his art asset was really imposing, and his character represented this first challenge for Kenna on this impossible path. It was fun to make him this physical, monosyllabic, gruff presence that couldn't be reasoned with. She'd have to eventually fight him in combat to prove herself. Plus, he's kinda dumb, and I love writing dumb characters. Alas, no one seems to care much for Severin...

In a way, TC&TF lives on in The Royal Romance. Olivia in TRR is a descendant of Zenobia, for one thing. If Kenna and Dom and the rest of the crew were around now in present day Cordonia, what do you think they'd be like?

Kathleen: Kenna is super responsible and runs her Kingdom like a proper adult, but when she gets frustrated with politics she dreams of running away to tour with Val and Sei's metal band (Damsels of Destruction). Kailani just won like, 12 olympic medals for weightlifting and martial arts. During the off season she and Noa split their time between running a gym and touring with Cirque du Soleil. Whitlock runs one of those tech companies that does supersonic maglev trains and smart dishwashers and stuff. He's totally gonna colonize Mars. This is fun, I wanna do this all day!

To write fantasy, you had to know the fantasy genre pretty well. What makes the fantasy genre special to you? And what are some of your favorite books?

Kathleen: I was raised on a diet of Grimm fairy tales and Greek legends (which probably explains a lot about me). I love the fantasy genre because you take these wild, magical worlds that look completely different from anything we know, and use them to explore themes that are really close to home (coming of age, sacrifice, family, etc). Fantasy is a dramatic metaphor for real life. Because I'm a huge nerd, I dig fantasy books that have logical, internally-consistent magic systems. Sabriel by Garth Nix is hands down my favorite book, but the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede was the first series I got super into. Arglefraster!

Eric: When I was little, I wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons with the older kids in my neighborhood, but they wouldn't let me play. That led me to this one book (I don't remember the name) that was basically like single-player D&D. It had a page where you kept track of your hit points, potions, etc. It was incredibly nerdy, but also the awesomest book I'd ever experienced. Little did I know it was paving the way for my career.

Pixelberry was the first place where I really felt comfortable letting my inner nerd loose. I finally got to not only play D&D (we ran a campaign after hours), but to write something within a similar world...

What's next for The Crown & The Flame team? Can you give us a hint about what you'll be working on after this?

Kathleen: *Evil cackling, hands rubbing together in glee* Ahem. I don't want to give anything away, but I will say that I seem to have been typecast as a genre writer and I am 100% okay with this.

Eric: No hints. We're definitely not planning something for Halloween.

Ooh, intriguing... To all the fans of The Crown & The Flame, thank you for coming with us on this epic journey! Check back every week for more Choices adventures!

-Jessica

The Sophomore

Last month, The Freshman ended on a high note at the Aurora music festival after a road trip with your friends. Now it's time to head back to school in The Sophomore! To make The Sophomore happen, the team behind The Freshman worked around the clock to set the scene for your second year of college. With the new book out in the wild, I managed to grab its writers for a few questions:

What does The Sophomore have in store for everyone?

Chelsa: We don’t want to spill all the beans, but I think we can safely say that it’s going to be a whole lot of fun! Sophomore year is when a lot of people work on finding themselves and figuring out their passions. We really tried to progress the storyline with the idea that these characters have been together at Hartfeld for over a year and show that through their personal and professional growth.

What's new and different about The Sophomore? How does The Sophomore put a fresh spin on The Freshman?

Saran: All your favorite characters will be back, but they’re slowly growing and changing, of course. We’re introducing a new ‘encouragement’ system that allows you to help your friends follow their dreams—and they’ll be inclined to help you in return. The biggest new feature is the introduction of the closet where you can see the full head-to-toe look of your outfit, just like in #LoveHacks. We’re also really excited about some new songs for the soundtrack debuting in this book!

Will we be meeting any new friends? Love interests? *wink wink*

Maya: It wouldn’t be a Sophomore book if you didn’t! There are some new faces coming in this book, both friends and enemies alike. As far as love interests go, you’ll just have to play and find out. Some Freshman players already know who your emerging love interest is, and boy do we have plans for her. There may even be new possibilities for some of your single friends!

What I loved about The Freshman was the way a group of unlikely friends were there for each other through the ups and downs of college life. More serious topics have been tackled in recent books. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Saran: Be warned: Spoilers up through Freshman Book 4 ahead! I think the college years are important for many because it’s a time of self-discovery and personal growth. In the last book, we delved into Zack’s breakup, Zig coming out to your friends as bisexual, and Becca struggling with her parents’ divorce. We wanted to show that these are part of the normal ups and downs of life. For players with similar experiences, we hope they’ll see that they’re not alone and others have gone through the same things.

Chelsa: I personally feel pretty lucky that the rest of my team feels as passionate and dedicated to some of these more delicate issues as I do. I suffer from anxiety myself, and have had many friends suffer similar breakdowns to the ones that haunt Zack in book four, and I hope that we showed people that it’s really, really important to create a conversation about it, especially with the people that love you.

Maya: It feels great when you’re represented in media you care about, and when it comes to bisexuality, too often it’s a sexuality that’s erased or skirted around. Regarding Zack, it was heartwarming to see how many players picked up on what he was experiencing and were full of support. We want to continue trying our best to dispel stigmas through our writing.

Who's your favorite character to write in The Freshman (well, now The Sophomore)?

Chelsa: My favorite character is Zig, definitely! I had so much fun putting together his look and personality when he was created for Book 3. I even have some Tumblr fanart of him as my phone background right now.

Saran: I’ve always been a fan of Twombly, myself! I appreciate her friendliness and comedic relief.

Maya: Becca! I’m so excited about the story arc we have planned for her in The Sophomore. She can be such a brat, but since meeting you, she’s developed this inexplicable urge to sometimes be... nice? What in the world is happening to her?!

For some of us, playing The Sophomore means reliving our college years. What was your favorite part of college?

Chelsa: Probably my Freshman year when I lived in the college dorms. One of the crappy things about adulting is all of your friends are busy with their careers, or live in different cities, or are getting married. I miss the days where if you were bored, you just went and knocked on the door next to you.

Maya: I personally really enjoyed my classes - what a nerd!! I also loved finding myself in this new place where I could be whoever I wanted. I remember walking to class at the beginning of my freshman year and telling myself ‘you are a smart, confident, beautiful person, and nobody here knows you well enough to think otherwise’. I basically faked it until I felt it, and then continued to build this sense of self throughout college.

Any tips or wisdom for current college students?

Chelsa: Something I still think works well for me outside of school is to remember to give yourself a break every once in a while. Sometimes the best way to study for a test or finish an essay is to take a step back and do something you enjoy for a little while. Staring at the same problem for hours doesn’t help you solve that problem. Also, if you’re not a morning person, don’t take a 7 am class. You will not get up for that 7 am class.

Saran: Get more sleep, don’t skip class, and take advantage of all the opportunities around you (seriously, there are endless resources on campus for finding internships, residencies, study abroad programs, grants, and more, and tons of people who will help you with any of them). Go forth and conquer!

To everyone reading along, what are your thoughts on The Sophomore? Let us know! And be sure to check into your game for new weekly chapters and more. The summer isn't over yet, and we've got more on the way!

-Jessica

#LoveHacks: Book 2

It's summer here at Pixelberry! That means ice cream breaks, duckling sightings, and new Choices books! We've got a few coming out this summer. The Royal Romance was the first of these. Endless Summer will be released around the middle of the summer. And LoveHacks: Book 2 is out now! (That's not all we have planned, but the rest remains a surprise.)

This week, I scooted on over to the other side of the office to get the lowdown from the LoveHacks team:

LoveHacks ended on quite the cliffhanger. Like, who's getting married? What?! Tell me!

Megan: No spoilers! :P You'll have to wait to find out like everyone else, but we are really excited for the wedding!

Owen: I can tell you it's not Martin and it's not Aiden. From there, you are free to use the process of elimination.

Okay, now that that's out of the way... what will LoveHacks: Book 2 be about?

Megan: At the start of Book 2, Dani is in a very unsure time in her life. She moved back to the Bay for a job she just quit, and she's trying to start a company in a city that eats startups for brunch. If that weren't enough, her love life is at a major crossroads. A lot of twenty-somethings face this kind of uncertainty, and we wanted to capture the humor of it (because sometimes the only way to deal with major life decisions is to laugh about them). Of course, Dani's not the only one facing new challenges in Book 2, and we have a lot of new stories planned, especially for Ben, Leah, and Mark.

Owen: Yup. Something happens to shake up pretty much all of the character's lives. For some of them it's work, for some of them it's dating, and for some of them perhaps a minor amount of property damage.

Ooh, can't wait to read more! So what part of Book 2 are you most excited for?

Megan: The Closet! Our artists do an amazing job with the outfits, and Dani has never looked more fashionable. Plus, if you carry over your choices from Book 1 to Book 2, you'll keep all of the outfits you purchased!

Owen: The new characters! Exclamation point! Guys, they're pretty cool. And some funny plot lines are coming along with them.  

Half the fun of LoveHacks is the revolving cast of characters and their adventures in San Francisco. Who's your favorite character to write?

Megan: I love everyone, but I think my favorite character to write is... Brooke. She's so upbeat and fun, but she can also kick your butt, literally. I also love the friendship between Brooke, Sereena, and Dani. Often the media portrays female friendships as toxic or fake, ready to fall apart at the mention of a man, but these women truly love each other and want to lift each other up. They still tease each other, of course, but in a only-I-can-say-that kinda way.

Owen: It's hard for me not to say Sereena or Cole, because they deliver some of my favorite jokes, but I think my answer is Ben. It's rare to see a "geek" in the media that isn't a nerdy caricature, so getting to write a geek that was natural and confident and charming was pretty cool. Also, it's even MORE rare to see an Asian male love interest, so TAKE THAT, MEDIA.

Give me a #LoveHack. You have five seconds. Go!

Megan: Drink lots of water. Works for both life and love. :P

Owen: Be more attractive. Lolz jk. Just be more confident. Lolz jk again. Just be yourself. That other stuff is too hard.

#Truth. Thanks for chatting! If you're reading this, I hope you're also playing the first chapter of LoveHacks: Book 2, out now!

-Jessica

Most Wanted News

Last summer in August, Choices launched with three titles -- The Freshman, The Crown & The Flame, and Most Wanted. They represented three distinct genres, each an experiment with what was possible for different styles of storytelling in our game. From the start, Choices was envisioned as a sort of bookstore with an ever-growing selection of books spanning different genres.

Since then, Choices has grown, adding quite a few more books to its shelves. But what happened to Most Wanted? Good question. This is what I can tell you right now:

You'll meet Sam and Dave again. The story will continue. Most Wanted ended on a cliffhanger, and like you, I really want to know what happened to [insert major spoiler here]. I've definitely asked the Most Wanted writers before, but no dice, it has remained a well-kept secret. (Usually, I can get spoilers out of the writers. The finale of Endless Summer: Book 2 is going to blow your mind, just FYI.)

While there are plans to continue Most Wanted, we don't know when the story will come off hiatus. Before Choices launched, our focus was on adding to the game's book selection. To do that, senior writers from each of the first three books were assigned new books to lead. Senior writers are our most experienced writers, and they know how to get new books off the ground. The Most Wanted team in particular was made up entirely of senior writers. Since last summer, the Most Wanted writers have gone on to lead Endless Summer, LoveHacks, and other unannounced projects, where their knack for mystery, comedy, and vivid characterization come into play once again.

As Choices grows, we've grappled with how exactly to balance our current books with brand new ones. That balance is something we're still working on, and we're grateful that all of you have stuck with us throughout, sending us encouraging messages and tweeting hilarious gifs come Wednesday. (I haven't seen this much Spongebob since middle school.)

To sum up: Most Wanted is on hiatus right now, but it isn't forgotten. It will always be near and dear to us, and we plan to return to the story. When it continues, we don't want to, as Tyler from The Freshman would say, half-butt it. We want to do things right. That means it may be a while, but I promise it'll be worth the wait.

So what's happening now? The teams behind each Choices book are busy with the new chapters you see released every week and other books that are works-in-progress. It's always great to hear from all of you, and we truly appreciate your feedback. Because of awesome fans like you, we have plans for books with more main character customization options and all-new storylines. This summer is going to be an exciting one!

If you're loving Choices and want to see more of it, keep playing and tell your friends! Your overwhelming support, incredible fanart, positive comments, and yes, laugh-out-loud gifs are what motivates and inspires us. We've got big plans for the future, and we hope you'll be right there with us.

And if you want to get in contact - to just say hi, give us your feedback, or ask questions - there are several ways to do that (here's a quick summary). The two best ways are via the Choices app, or messaging us on Facebook. We love hearing what you have to say and getting to know all of you. Weeks later, I am still amazed that one fan named her baby after an Endless Summer character (like, whoa, that's cool).

When I write these posts or respond to fans, I find myself saying thank you over and over again -- and it always feels right. After all, you are what makes all of this possible. So thank you for reading, and thank you for playing Choices! Until next time...

-Jessica

Endless Summer: Book 2 News

Back in December, Endless Summer kicked off alongside LoveHacks and The Haunting of Braidwood Manor. It began as a fun tropical island adventure, then transformed into a deepening mystery, complete with a final puzzle that you all worked together as a community to figure out.

The journey continues in Endless Summer: Book 2, which will come out around mid-summer (about July for those of us in the US!). It's been fun hearing from everyone about how excited they are for Book 2, and I promise you, it's gonna be epic. To tell you more about the upcoming book, here's the Endless Summer book lead!

First off, what's Endless Summer: Book 2 going to be about? No spoilers, please!

Endless 2 picks up right where we left off. Some of your friends have been kidnapped, and the island's mysteries are only getting deeper. But as our misfit heroes search for the dark truth behind La Huerta, they’re going to uncover some dark truths about each other… and themselves.

When Endless Summer: Book 1 came out, it was a departure from the previous Choices books in both art and narrative style. Do you have anything new and different planned for Book 2?

We’ve actually got quite a few fun, new gameplay ideas and features that we’re putting into Endless 2. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say that all the relationships you built up in Book 1 are going to matter way more in Book 2.

What are you most excited for readers to encounter in Book 2?

I have to say, I’m most eager to see how our fans react to our biggest plot twists yet, especially the ones we have in store for the end of this book.

From where I sit, I'm always overhearing bits and pieces about the next Endless Summer book, whether it's some wild plot twist or new character art. What's your favorite part of creating Endless Summer?

Endless Summer has had a lot of freedom to explore what’s possible in a Choices storyline. My favorite experience has been using Endless to invent new, meaningful ways for players to determine their character’s choices and see their decisions unfold, in both expected and unexpected ways. Book 2 takes that mission statement even further, and I can’t wait to see what our fans choose to do in their adventure.

If you had to be trapped on a mysterious tropical island with one of the Endless Summer crew, who would it be?

Maybe I’m crazy, but I’ve gotta say Raj. Nobody would be better at making me laugh through tough times, and besides… I think he’s a lot smarter than he lets on.

Interesting choice! To everyone reading, thanks for your patience as the Endless Summer team works hard on the next book. Keep an eye out for Book 2 around July!

Writers plotting out mysterious Endless Summer things on the whiteboard! Hmm...

Writers plotting out mysterious Endless Summer things on the whiteboard! Hmm...

-Jessica

The Royal Romance

It's been an exciting few weeks at Pixelberry! Spring is in full bloom, and with it, we've seen the release of the newest The Crown & The Flame book and Endless Summer's grand finale -- and yes, Endless Summer: Book 2 is currently in the works.

But that's not all we've got in store for you! We just released The Royal Romance, a thrilling whirlwind of love that doubles as a spin-off of Rules of Engagement. It's the first of several new books we're hoping to unveil throughout the spring and summer.

The Choices team is pretty much constantly hard at work on current and future books... but I did manage to snag the two writers from The Royal Romance for a quick chat:

Let's hit the basics first. What is The Royal Romance about?

Jennifer: 'The Royal Romance' is about a normal girl who has one magical night with a prince and makes the spontaneous decision to travel to his kingdom to try to win his heart. But will you end up with him or fall for someone else along the way?

Kara: We'll sometimes start off with a guideline, kind of like a one-line prompt. For Rules of Engagement, for example, our goal was something more dramatic than The Freshman and following four different characters. For The Royal Romance, our premise was to write a fish-out-of-water romance about a normal girl who gets swept into the world of royalty. We knew we wanted there to be some kind of competition element to it, so what we ended up with was something like a cross between The Bachelor and The Prince and Me--all of the thrill of falling in love with the adventure of traveling and trying to compete for the person you love.

It's always fun spotting the crossovers in different Choices books and seeing the universe grow. How did you settle on the idea of creating a Rules of Engagement spin-off?

Jennifer: We'd already started developing the kingdom of Cordonia for Rules of Engagement, and when we found out we'd be making a romantic, royalty-focused book, it seemed like a good opportunity to expand the world and dig deeper into what it's like there since you don't see it very much in Rules.

Kara: Technically, The Royal Romance is also a continuation of The Crown & The Flame, though that may be a little more subtly done! One of the characters, Olivia, is a descendant of Zenobia, who appears in book 2 of TC&TF. Readers can probably tell that we love crossovers. Part of that's because we all love seeing what the whole team is working on, so we play all the Choices books. But part of it's also because writers will switch books when we need to help out with something else. For example, Jennifer moved from The Freshman to help launch Rules of Engagement. The writers from Most Wanted are currently working on Endless Summer and #LoveHacks, as you might have figured out from all the mysteries and jokes! Braidwood Manor had a writer from The Freshman on it, which is why there's some cameos there.

Sometimes it can be hard when you work on a story for so long to then move on to start up another book. Leaving The Crown & The Flame to focus more on Rules and The Royal Romance was really difficult for me because I love those characters so much, but TC&TF was fortunate to have two other amazingly talented writers to keep it going. We're always excited to get the chance to tell new stories, tackle new genres, and experiment with new ideas, but I think we all also have so much love for the other characters and worlds we've created that it breaks our hearts to leave them behind. I think that's why we have so many crossovers in the whole game! It's our way of taking our worlds with us.

What do you personally love most about The Royal Romance? And what are you most excited for our readers to encounter?

Kara: One cool thing we really wanted to do was have people get to pick their prince. This is the first time we've let you customize a love interest! Another thing I'm excited for is that because we're using the same customizable character as #LoveHacks, we were able to get more skin tones and facial features so players have more options for how to customize their own character, too.

Jennifer: Also, we've had a lot of fun building up the characters around the Prince, and if dating a prince isn’t your cup of tea, it’s quite possible there are other lady and gentleman suitors for players to encounter.

All of our books have, to varying degrees, some romance in them. But this book is unabashedly about romance - it's in the title! What are your thoughts on romance as its own genre?

Jennifer: I love romance and reading romance! Whenever I talk to people about it, though, they usually bring it up in a guilty way like maybe it's something to be embarrassed over or perhaps because some don't really see it as real literature. It makes me sad when people feel like they need to be ashamed of what they like! It feels sometimes like certain genres are deemed less literary or worthy, and I feel like the genres that get called out are often ones that are loved by women or young adults. A certain genre might not be for everyone, but that doesn't make it less important to the people who care about it.

I think romance stories have a lot of heart, and that's something I love in storytelling. To me, ultimately, a good romance is about seeing how people relate to one another and find meaning in their life. Connecting with people--whether it's romantic or not--is a fundamental part of existing, and romance stories have the opportunity to explore that. And if you can find something real in what you're reading, then isn't that the point?

This book came together while you were simultaneously working on Rules of Engagement. That's taking multi-tasking to a whole new level. How do you do it? Just how much coffee do you drink in a day?

Kara: Sometimes it feels like we never stop working! When you love the stories and the characters as much as we do, it can be really hard to stop thinking about them, even in the middle of the night. Plus, Jennifer and I have been best friends since high school, so we spend a lot of time outside of the office together, and when we're excited about a project, we can't stop talking about it. On New Year's Eve this year, we were brainstorming The Royal Romance while everyone else was watching the ball drop.

At the end of the day, though, this isn't just a job to us, and I hope it shows in the stories Choices puts out. It's crazy how much we end up caring about the characters and the stories we're telling. I think that's the hardest part. We love writing and we want to do our best, tell the best story, and write something that will touch people. In most other forms of writing, you'd get a lot more time to agonize and revise, but we've got to hit weekly releases, so when Wednesday comes, time's up. There's a lot of pressure to write well, write fast, and, in this case, to build something new in a very short amount of time. The scariest thing is feeling like with so many things that go into every chapter and every book, and so many deadlines to hit, we might mess something up and let our fans down. But when it all goes right and we put out something that readers love, it makes it all worth it!

Finally... I've got to know. What's your favorite fairy tale princess story?

Kara: Sleeping Beauty! I was convinced after I heard that story that my parents would some day reveal that I was actually a princess in hiding...

Jennifer: Cinderella. I love it as a transformative rags-to-riches story and also as a tale that you can see told across many different cultures. I do tend to favor more modern interpretations though, like the novels Just Ella or Ella Enchanted which are two of my favorite books.

Thank you for taking the time to chat! And to all of you reading along, The Royal Romance is out now -- check into your game for a whirlwind of love, adventure, and more! Hope you love it just as much as we do.

-Jessica 

Hollywood U Reflections

Not long ago, we released the final quest of Hollywood U (Pixelberry's 2nd of 3 games), something I'd been a writer, story lead, and producer on. This big moment caused me to take a step back and remember the long journey we've made together.

We launched Hollywood U two-plus years ago in December of 2014. What's crazy is that we did so in a matter of months. The energy in the office then was electric, with everyone scrambling around trying to hit their impossible deadlines.

We seem calm here, but the excitement on launch day was through-the-roof...

After our launch, we celebrated with an on-theme film festival. Several brave souls dug up embarrassing videos of themselves for everyone to watch.

The team has always been passionate about whatever it works on. And that passion comes through in cosplay... 

Recognize these characters?

...in dedication. Many of our writers wrote quests week in and week out. But we still managed to have fun together in our writing and in our brainstorms.

...and in collaboration. Here we are blitz-writing hundreds of dates for HWU's Couple's Corner. It was a very busy lunch.

The best part of Hollywood U was, well, all of you. Your creativity and enthusiasm -- expressed through fanart, headcanons, ships, and messages -- was what drove us to keep writing and doing our best. Eddie, who you might know from our livestreams, had this to say:

"To all the HWU players, thank you for all the love you've given us, thank you for the hours of livestreaming, and thank you for this adventure that was a big part of my life." -Edward

Some of you have already played the Hollywood U finale and even reached out to us about how the game has influenced you. That means the world to us. The next game update for Hollywood U will be its last, and weekly quests will no longer be released... but the spirit of Hollywood U continues to burn bright.

And for those Choices players who have no idea what I'm talking about... I hope you'll take a minute to check out Hollywood U and see this awesome game now that the story is complete. There's literally hundreds of hours of romance, adventure, and Hollywood excitement that we've poured our hearts into bringing to life.

When I look around our office, I see the Choices team dedicating the same hard work, creativity, and love that they put into Hollywood U. As we shift focus to Choices, the team will grow and evolve, but our love for storytelling remains the same.

It's been a long journey, but we're glad we made it with you.

-Eric

The Crown & The Flame: Book 3 News

For everyone up to date on The Crown & The Flame, you know that Book 2 ended on a huge cliffhanger. Since then, the team behind The Crown & The Flame has been working hard on the most epic Book 3 possible. That means new characters and even more grand adventures... Kenna will be tested like never before.

The Crown & The Flame team is beyond excited for Book 3 to come out. It's currently still a work-in-progress. There's a lot of work, writing, and of course, new art that is going into this book, and we hope you'll find it worth the wait.

I wish I could tell you more, but I don't want to give too much away. Keep an eye out for Book 3 near the start of April! In the meantime, I can give you an exclusive sneak peek of what's in store. Here are some new faces you'll meet in Book 3:

A while ago, two of the writers were sketching their vision for the cover of Book 3. Of course, I had to get a picture. No promises that the cover will look anything like these sketches, but I have it on good authority that the final product is going to be incredible.

Hope you're looking forward to Book 3! And of course, more will be revealed as the release date draws near. Be sure to look out for new The Crown & The Flame adventures around the beginning of April. Thanks for your patience, and thank you so much for playing!

- Jessica

An Inspiration for Others

Our story games through the ages. Notice how small the first Surviving High School was.

Every once in awhile, while I look around at our studio, I get amazed by how much things have changed for our team.

I remember back to 2004 when our team was the first to create story games for phones. At the time no one had thought about creating stories for phones. In fact, when we first came up with the idea, we didn’t even have a writer on our team yet. We ended up finding a talented student, Max, at Stanford who would write for us at night after class. He’s now our Head of Content and namesake (but not inspiration) for High School Story’s Max. 

We launched our first story game, Surviving High School, in 2005. It was the first and only story driven game on cell phones for many years. We thought a text based game was a perfect fit for cell phones that were limited by screen size and power. Our belief was that with limited information, our players would use their imaginations to fill in the blanks. And even though our art has greatly improved from the pixel art of a decade ago, that basic premise continues to today.

Surviving High School grew in popularity and became the #3 game on the biggest “app store” at that time, Verizon’s Get It Now service. It did better than well known brands, like Pac Man and Madden Football. Story had proven its appeal.

Later at EA, our team developed a brand new version of Surviving High School for iPhone and Android. We followed up with Cause of Death. And later, as Pixelberry, we launched High School Story, Hollywood U, and Choices. Even though we’ve been with four different companies - Centerscore, Vivendi Games, EA, and now Pixelberry - it’s always been the same team. 

Through the years, our story games have inspired many other companies to follow. But as pioneers of the space, we take great care in making sure that the quality of our current work rises to the expectations of the many fans we’ve delighted over the years.

And together, as a team, we’ll keep on innovating in the space.

- Oliver & The Pixelberry Team

Trust

As the new year begins, I’ve been thinking a lot about the past year. 2016 was a difficult year for our studio, and today I’d like to share a behind the scenes story of Choices… a great example of why I love the Pixelberry team.

By the time May 2016 was starting, our team had been working hard on Choices for many months. Our writers were deeply enmeshed in writing all three launch series, our artists were creating the characters and backgrounds for the game, our engineers were making the game come alive, our testers were hammering on the game, and our designers were tweaking features on the fly. The office was filled with a buzz, you could feel the energy as everyone pulled together to finish the game.

But despite our best efforts we knew that we weren’t going to have our first three books ready for a July launch. Only The Freshman would be done in time.

Normally, we’d push the launch back, but we also faced another problem. Pixelberry was running out of money. We projected that after we launched in July, we’d have only one month of cash left and we’d need that month as we waited to receive our first earnings from the game.

As we explored our options, I came up with an alternative plan that I presented to the team for a vote. We could launch in July as planned or if everyone took a 20% pay cut for several months, we could postpone the launch of Choices to August. We would take a blind vote and the majority would win.

An overwhelming majority voted to take the cut. This type of outcome is pretty rare in the workplace and the results were a testament to the team believing in both Choices and in each other.

Afterwards, multiple people approached me about concerns that even though they voted for the cuts, they were worried that a reduction in salary might be too hard for someone else on the team, especially those buying a home or with babies at home. I was even asked if they could cut their salary deeper to spare the cuts for others. We declined because leaders of the studio were already planning to spare from cuts those for whom it would be too much of a hardship. But it was so touching to see that people on the team cared for each other in such deep ways.

Thanks to you, our players, Choices had a great launch in August. A week after launch, everyone’s salaries were returned to normal and several months later, the cuts were paid back. Today, the studio is investing the money we are making into hiring more writers so we can create more and better stories.

And as the new year begins, we go into it knowing that the people we work side by side with every day genuinely care about Pixelberry, the game we're making, and each other.

- Oliver

The Haunting of Braidwood Manor

With two new books and The Freshman: Book Three, the Holiday of Choices is still going strong! To cap off this season, we're releasing our final book for the season: The Haunting of Braidwood Manor!

Many of you have been asking for a horror book, and we heard you. The Haunting of Braidwood Manor is a gorgeous and eerie tale that takes place within a haunted manor. For more on our newest book, we turned to The Haunting of Braidwood Manor's story lead:

Tell us about The Haunting of Braidwood Manor. What's going down? Will there be ghosts?

'The Haunting of Braidwood Manor' is just what it sounds like: a haunted house story. But like all good haunted house stories, there's much more to it than faces in the windows and bumps in the night. This is a deeply personal story about one girl's journey to understand life after death - a journey that brings her to a place stranger and more mysterious than she could ever have imagined.

As for whether there will be ghosts... I'd say that's something for the readers to find out on their own. Assuming they're brave enough, of course.

What are you most excited for the readers to encounter in this book?

Can I say everything?

To start with, the art is absolutely incredible. Braidwood Manor itself is a fascinating setting because it's creepy and possibly haunted, but it's also one of the most beautiful houses ever. If it was a real place, I'd move there in a heartbeat, ghosts or no ghosts.

Speaking of ghosts, this book has some of my favorite Choices characters yet. I can't wait to see how our readers react to them... especially if those reactions include fan art!

Finally, I'd recommend that this book be played with the sound on and the volume turned UP! Music is one of the key ingredients of horror, and 'The Haunting of Braidwood Manor' is no exception.

This is a horror book, but the people need to know. Will there be any romance?

Horror doesn't necessarily preclude romance. After all, what could be more terrifying than telling someone how you feel about them?

On a scale of 1 - 10, how spooky is this book?

Jessica, they haven't invented a scale that could possibly quantify just how spooky this book is.

Eek! Check into your game for the release of The Haunting of Braidwood Manor and so much more. The team has been working around the clock to make the Holiday of Choices happen, and we're so excited to share it with you! Happy 2017, everyone!

- Jessica

Warmth for the Holidays

We received a really well written and heartwarming letter this past week. Although it doesn’t relate directly to Choices and instead focuses on another one of our games, High School Story, I thought this letter would be great for the holiday season. Victor, thank you for letting us share your letter. Because of you, our High School Story team is now considering a MG storyline.

- Oliver

Dear Pixelberry Studios,

Hi! My name is Victor and I’m a huge High School Story fan! I’m a regular player, and I’m also a new player to Choices! I absolutely love your mobile games, and I even bought the official High School Story shirt! I wanted to reach out to you for a few reasons, but first I’d like to tell you about my story that led to Pixelberry.

I was born with a rare autoimmune disease called Myasthenia Gravis (MG for short). It is extremely rare in children, yet I acquired it at age five. Basically, it weakens all of the muscles in the body, making it difficult to breathe, walk, eat, and complete simple tasks such as opening a water bottle, or a jar of pickles. Over the years, I’ve had multiple surgeries, appointments, and a lot of missed school due to recovery from surgeries and tests. Unfortunately, I’ve had to miss quite a lot of my “high school experience” due to my body’s limits, such as my inability to participate in sports, stay late at football games, be included in after school clubs, participate in PE, and even make friends. Eventually, I was forced to be homeschooled online because I couldn’t physically make it through a day of walking from class to class. Overall, it was hard for a teenager in high school to live with a disease that is constantly making me weak and unable to participate in regular teenage activities.

Then, my sister introduced me to High School Story. My siblings and I are big Laura Shigihara fans, so when we discovered her video where she sings “Best Day” live on YouTube, we had to check out your game! Since I had to stay home a lot, often recovering from surgeries or regaining strength, I became quite a gamer in my spare time at home. I have multiple consoles, and I’m into all types of genres. High School Story really got me hooked within the first few quests, as I was interested in the type of game that makes me feel like I need to continue out of curiosity of what will happen next, like reading a mystery novel. I absolutely fell in love with your game, and was soon playing it daily!

After playing for awhile, I realized that I was a big fan. I had my favorite characters (Julian, since he is just like me, and Autumn, since she looks and acts just like my sister, along with Payton, Mia, and Nishan topping my favorite), along with my opinions on the characters and anticipation quest after quest, which I would discuss with my siblings. The character development of the characters was so good that I felt attached and proud to be a High School Story fan! (Big props to the writers and developers, by the way). I would get so worked up when Kara and Max were bullying the characters, or when Ace betrayed the Avatar. I would laugh out loud with some of the stuff that came out of Payton and Nishan’s mouths, get excited when I heard a reference from other franchises like Star Wars, and happy when all of the characters came together and were there for each other. It was surprising to me, that I was getting emotionally invested into a mobile game. Now, I realize that maybe it’s because that’s what I was missing out on in the hospital. I was feeling the “high school experience” vicariously through this game.

It wasn’t until now that I realized that this game was such a good outlet for me. It was disappointing and upsetting to understand that I couldn’t get the typical high school experience that everyone else had. I felt very left out. Playing the game, however, felt more fun and raw than my real-life high school, since it showed every side of the students -- students who had real problems and relatable struggles and feelings. Your game made a very positive impact on me.

If you’ve read so far, thank you so much! I really appreciate how you listen to your fans. A major reason I wanted to contact you is because I was wondering if it’d be possible to include a Myasthenia Gravis patient as a student in your game. The MG community is very unknown to the public, and I believe that recognition in such a successful and widespread game would contribute great awareness to their community. I’ve seen Pixelberry team up with inspirational foundations, such as Girls Who Code and Cybersmile, so I was hoping there would be something we could work out. One of the things I love about this game it how relatable it is with the struggles of high school, such as character with bad home lives, kids feeling pressured, disabled characters (Ryan with the robotic arm), wildly diverse characters, and questioning and changing the stereotypes of high school overall. It shows people how a jock isn’t just a jock, or a nerd isn’t just a nerd. I believe it’s very important for kids and teens to realize that it’s not about having the typical high school experience, but more about understanding each other’s differences and learning to embrace everyone for who they are. Also, it’s about enjoying the moment as it is, and being okay with having your own type of experience in high school, and in life in general. I think adding an MG patient would truly help prove that all types of teens can triumph through adversity.

Thank you again for your fun, addicting, and amazing game! I truly appreciate everything it has taught me, and how it helped me get through high school. Now a senior in high school, I hope that I will be able to teach others the values your game revolves around. Even if I never get a reply from this, I am so glad I wrote to you, because not only do I want you to know the positive impact it had, but also because I feel like I was able to leave my insecurities about missing high school behind, and move on to enjoy life as it is. Thank you!

Sincerely,  

Victor 

~Class of 2017~

~A Fan from Seattle~