Those of you who follow my Facebook or Twitter feed probably already know that the next game in the Blackwell series - entitled Blackwell Deception - is underway. Things are moving a bit slowly while I get the last few design issues sorted out, but I envision things to start taking off very soon. I am aiming to get it done before Christmas, but I'm not going to officially announce a release date until I am sure. This has been the first time in a long while that I've been able to design and produce something completely in-house without any distractions from a publisher, so it's very exciting. I feel like I've got my indie cred back. Anyway, I thought I'd start a design diary to talk about the ups and downs of making it.
A few years ago, I got a call from a friend. She needed a favor, but was embarrassed to ask it. To respect her privacy, I'm going to use a fake name and call her Cindy. For around six months or so, Cindy had been seeing a psychic. One of those storefront psychics that you see on every other block in this city. At the time, she had been drifting a bit aimlessly, unsure about her career choices and her place in life, and the psychic totally took advantage of that. The psychic told Cindy that her aura needed energy work, which cost about $200. After Cindy paid this amount, the psychic said that she would immediately buy a special candle and meditate on it. From there, Cindy just went deeper. By the time Cindy wised up, she was about $5,000 in hock to the psychic. Angry at herself, she decided that she was going to expose the scam and prevent the same thing from happening to others.
So, she called a news network.
The news network was interested, and they wanted someone to go in with a hidden camera and get footage of her defrauding someone. Did Cindy know anyone who'd be willing to do that? Yes, it turns out, Cindy did. I had just finished the first Blackwell game and she knew I was interested in that kind of thing. "I figured you'd think it was cool," I remember her saying. She was right.
I met up with Cindy and the news crew and they affixed a button camera to my shirt. It was pretty slick, even though it was a slightly different color than the other buttons. "Don't worry," the news lady said. "You just look like a guy who doesn't care about his appearance." Fair enough.
So I went into the psychic's office to get defrauded. She asked me a bunch of questions about my personal life and did something with tarot cards. Sure enough, the psychic eventually told me that I needed energy work and it would cost $200. I told her I'd think about it, and I left feeling proud of myself for getting it all on camera. Unfortunately, my life as a spy was a short-lived one. I had aimed the button camera one inch too far to the left, and ended up with 20 minutes footage of her wall. James Bond I am not.
In the end the network decided not to pursue the story, but the experience opened my eyes to a subculture in New York that not many know about. Cindy's story is not an isolated one. Fortunately for her, she got out before any major damage was done. She's now kicking butt and taking names in the self-esteem department. Others... are not so lucky.
The inspiration becomes a Blackwell story
In the years since this happened, it's stuck with me. I would walk around the city and I would see one of those psychic storefronts and I'd flash back to what happened to Cindy and what the psychic attempted to do to me. I have read reports of victims who got totally brainwashed by these psychics; giving over their life savings and breaking off from their families, simply because their psychics told them to. They attract the kind of people who are confused or lost, and then milk them for all they are worth untill they are dry.
I knew there was a Blackwell story in this somewhere, and as I've seen more and more of these storefronts my imagination began to wander. It's weird, I'd say to myself, there sure are a lot of them. I know of four psychic storefronts in my neighborhood alone. Move up towards midtown and you'll see them even more frequently. They've all been in place for as long as I have lived here. Even in this economy, they are still around. How come major bars, restaurants, and shops - which have been in existence for 50 years or more! - are all going out of business left and right while all these parasitic phony psychics remain open?
Surely, I felt, they must be organized. There must be some kind of unifying power behind them. Something beyond the mere storefront. Something even more sinister behind the scenes. But what could it be?
I think Rosa and Joey are about to find out.