IamA Tracy Hickman, Award Winning Author of the Dragonlance series and Paul Neurath, Founder of Looking Glass Studios and OtherSide Entertainment AMA!
My short bio: Tracy Hickman has teamed up with OtherSide Entertainment to write a novel based in the infamous Underworld. Tracy is also writing for Shroud of the Avatar which shares some lore with Underworld Ascendant from OtherSide.
My Proof: http://www.underworldascendant.com/images/proof/paulproof.jpg http://www.underworldascendant.com/images/proof/TracyHickmanproof.png
We have about 10 minutes left. Go ahead and post your questions and we'll try to get all of them answered before we have to go.
Thank you everyone for your questions. It was fun! We will hopefully be returning soon to answer more.
TRACY: We love the Deathgate Cycle and it is such a wonderful world. We have often thought we would like to return to that world but keep coming up with new places to visit ... like Underworld Ascendent, for example.
Tracy, any chance for a future novel or series with Raistlin? He's too great a character to just have a couple trilogies and a smaller role in the Chaos War. I'd love to see him end up in 15-20 books like Salvatore has done with Drizz't.
TRACY: First of all, I have to state that 'Dragonlance(r)' is a trademark of TSR Hobbies ... er, I mean, Wizards of the... no, sorry, Hasbro, Inc. and is used here without their permission.
That said, I would love to return to Dragonlance and Margaret, I am sure, would love to write more about Raistlin. We'll let you know if the holders of the IP ever give us a call.
Do you find that the writing community looks down on fantasy writers?
TRACY: Not so much the writing community and the literary community (assuming they ARE a community). I have often had young people write to me, telling me their teacher wouldn't let them do a book report on my novel because it isn't REAL literature. My response was when the teacher can show me their published book, we'll talk.
I'm also a huge fan of the Death Gate Cycle. Have been since 1999 and I regularly read all the books. Would there be any chance to sneak in a Haplo-, Alfred-, Hugh- or Alake-reference into Underworld Ascendant at all? ;)
TRACY: We are often finding characters from our other worlds somehow making appearances in places where they don't belong. Only time will tell if they appear in this work, too.
Will the Underworld Ascendant collaboration go beyond the prequel novel and include in game lore discovered by the player's character?
Paul – Yes. One of the real benefits of having Tracy write the Novel is that it gives the design team a rich lore to then pull from when we’re making the game.
Tracy Hickman, how do you personally feel about ebooks becoming more and more popular?
TRACY: I think ebooks were inevitable ... you can't stop technolgical evolution. The printing press, movable type ... all these things make publishing what it became and popularized reading.
What I sorrow over is that a basic misunderstanding on the value of the book has made life unbearable for many authors. People came to believe that the value of the book was found in its WEIGHT. Hardback books were perceived as being more expensive because they were larger and weighed more. Paperback books were thought of as less expensive because they were smaller and weighed less.
Which brought us to ebooks ... which because they weigh NOTHING are perceived as being without value.
The value in the book is found in the worlds and the meaning they inspire .... but Amazon seems to have taught us differently.
To Paul and Tracy,
Previous Underworld games had sandbox elements in how they allowed players tools and let players come up with creative solutions to which the world responded, but they were still somewhat linear with levels to the dungeon.
My understanding is that Underworld Ascendant will be less linear. How do you craft a meaningful narrative that is dynamic and non-linear?
TRACY: There are basically three approaches to interactive narratives:
LINEAR NARRATIVE: Which is where you go from A to B to C to D with no branching whatsoever. This is a terrible waste since there really is no interactivity with or guiding of the plotline.
OPEN MATRIX NARRATIVE: This is where you start at A (usually a tavern in a fantasy realm) and can branch to A or B or C or D ... each of which then branches to another ring of choices in a never-ending display of options. This is wonderful for the player but torture for the game designer since it requires an expoential level of narrative for EVERY choice made in the game. It is impractical and unrealistic for design.
CLOSE MATRIX NARRATIVE: This is where the player has choices that effect the narrative ... but they are limited to within the branching of the story. This is where games can provide the illusion of free choice while still remaining inside a managable game design.
PAUL – Good question. It is a challenge to take fiction, which is traditionally a liner art form, and weave it into an interactive, non-liner game experience. One technique that has worked well for us it to “breadcrumb” a story by sprinkling atomic bits around. Players then feel they are weaving together the story by their explorations.
Paul - Thanks everybody for your questions for Tracy and myself. Read more fantasy!
TRACY: Thank you for your questions!
Can you tell us what kind of angles you are looking at for the Dark Elves in Underworld Ascendant? How different are they going to be from the Dark Elves that show up in many fantasy properties?
TRACY: There are four basic classifications of creatures in Shroud of the Avatar which will likely translate into Underworld Ascendent:
- Human: Sentient creatures occurring naturally.
- Animals: Non-sentient creatures occuring naturally.
- Fomorians: Sentient creatures shaped by magic.
- Monsters: Non-sentient creatures shaped by magic.
Dark Elves would be classified as a type of Fomorian ... as might lizardmen.
One of the things I loved about the ultima series and the underworld titles in particular is the way the game manuals, hint books etc. were all written from the perspective of a character in fiction and this overlapped with journals and notes and other musing of theirs in the game proper. Any chance we will be seeing a return to this style of total lore immersion?
PAUL – We enjoyed writing from this perspective as well. I’m sure we’ll do some of this with the Underworld Ascendant materials that come in the box.
What funding advice would you give for a ultra focused, serious game designer with a solid and novel MMORPG idea?
PAUL – Funding is challenging, especially if you don't have a proven track record. But if you can build a compelling demo that shows the core MMOPRG idea off, that’s probably best way to try to get traction.
In an age where there are vastly more games produced in a year than when LGS was founded, and more mediums competing for our entertainment budget, how do you plan on creating visibility for a new indie studio?
Paul – It is harder to get attention for your games these days. Kickstarter can help get early visibility. Also making really good games.
Could you please elaborate on what exactly your lore contribution will be? Is it limited to just the novel or will you be writing any in game story/lore? Found books, scrolls, parchment, etc.?
Paul – Not sure if Tracy will be writing any in-game lore at this point. Focus is on his writing the novel, which our design team will then adopt elements from and riff on.
Hello. Wonderful to have this event today. I am curious to how Tracy Hickman is pulling together resources for the novel. Will the novel be exploring the world or just certain characters?
Paul Neurath; Do you see your work at LGS carried over to other development teams? Meaning is there some sort of secret formula LGS used over the years? It's truly remarkable how well LGS's games were created (eg: the world, characters, and the overall feel of each game).
TRACY: Paul tells me that I get to be working with all of the creative staff to help define the background for Underworld Ascendent. I'm very excited about that, getting everyone involved in all aspects of the story.
Paul – Secret formula ;) Certainly a thread of DNA through the games which I think is recognizable. Part of it comes from trying to break the conventional rules of game design, at a least a bit, with each new game.
We've seen inXile and Obsidian collaborate as two smaller RPG studios each using Unity with limited budgets by sharing technology and tools. You're obviously partnering with Portalarium on cross-promotion and lore. They've had a two year start building an RPG engine around Unity.
Have you discussed a technology partnership with them (or perhaps a studio like inXile or Obsidian) to leverage some of the work they might have already done creating quest, inventory, tactical combat, character progression, dialogue, AI, path-finding or whatever to Unity?
Paul – We will be exploring collaboration as we go forward. These developers are friends, and we’ve worked with them before on projects over the years.
I just saw Conan for the first time and I now really want to try Stygian Black Lotus! Who were your biggest influences when you were young and impressionable like me?
TRACY: I love to read anything but I think Isaac Asimov was the most influential to me ... along with a Canadian author by the name of Stephen Leacock. I got to meet Isaac Asimov before he died. It remains a special memory for me.
Last I heard, Blade of the Avatar was going to be expanded and then turned into a trilogy. Can you provide an update on this?
Will the hardcover/physical copies of BotA coming as SotA pledge rewards be the expanded edition?
When might we see the expanded edition or the next book in the trilogy?
TRACY: Richard Garriott and I have outlined two additional books in the 'Blade of the Avatar' series and we believe we have a publisher for the complete trilogy. We'll let you know as soon as the ink is dry.
PAUL - I need to run off, but thanks again everybody!
Are you going to run killer breakfast at Gencon this year?
TRACY: I will indeed by doing a Killer Breakfast at Gencon this year! I think there would be a riot if I didn't.
what sort of guidelines and resources are given when writing for a property with an existing world?
TRACY: It depends on who owns the property. When I wrote my Batman novel 'Wayne of Gotham', I was told I could do anything I wanted with the character. My first thought was ...'Dude, do NOT be the guy who screws up batman!' Some others have very stringent guidelines. It all depends on for whom you are writing.
Who are some of your favorite fantasy authors from the present time and some that have written the classics?
TRACY: I'm a big fan of R. A. Salvatore ... largely because he's such a great guy. Classically, I am a Tolkien fan.
Tracy when you take on nostalgia projects like these do you play through the original games in the series for inspiration or do you prefer to come up with original ideas inspired by your collaborative partners? (or both I guess)
TRACY: What I really enjoy is the idea of 'Here is what we want to build ... and here are the pieces we have to work with to build it.
Hey Tracy! What advice would you give to an aspiring author struggling with procrastination? Thank you!
TRACY: As for advice ... I suggest visiting my writers website: scribesforge.com!
Tracy - I'm a huge fan of your works, Dragonlance and Death Gate Cycle are 2 of my favorite series.
My question is, as a fantasy writer starting a new series, is it ok to use the classic fantasy races, or should one try to create their own races?
For instance, if I wanted elves in my story, can I call them elves, or should create a similar race that's called something different?
TRACY: There is a lot to be said for both tropes and archetypes. They allow easy accessibility for a new reader. You say 'elf' and immediately an image springs to mind. Creating something from scratch takes up a lot of time in the narrative and space in the book ... and often for no reason beyond avoiding using elves.
Between Blade of the Avatar, Sojourner Tales and now Underworld, writing fiction for crowdfunded games is becoming a frequent occurrence. Is this a potential staple for you? That is do you expect to provide background lore for even more projects going forward?
TRACY: I love working in collaborative environments and, with publishing being in the state it currently is in, it behoves authors to look at all different possible avenues of expression. I have had such great experiences with Richard Garriott in Shroud and am so enjoying my work with Paul and his team, that I think this sort of project may very well become a standard arrow in my quiver of expression.
Hi Tracy and Paul, thanks for taking the time to do this AMA. Paul, I understand you got the rights to do the new underworld (which I backed and am very excited for), but without the Ultima canon. I was just wondering if it's difficult to keep the lore and history of the abyss intact without using the main Ultima lore, and as a small side question, is there a chance we'll hear some updated versions of the music tracks from the original Underworld in the new game? Thanks!
PAUL – Actually looking forward to creating new canon to replace the Ultima canon. It was fun to work with at the time, but looking at going in some new directions now. Besides, the Underworlds only lightly used the existing Ultima fiction, so not a lot to replace.
First of all, thank you for your time! What inspired you to write? Also, do you have any unique methods in your writing process?
TRACY: Desperation originally inspired me to write! I was out of work and without job prospects. Writing for a job was an act of desperation originally. As for unique methods, I am very much a structuralist when it comes to writing. I like to examine the structure under the story as I create it. I am a big fan of the Dramatica Theory of Story. You can read about it at: http://dramatica.com.
With Otherside pushing the angle of player driven narrative for their game, how do you intend to approach the challenge of making a compelling backstory to enrich that experience while staying open ended enough to avoid making the players feel like their characters are just being lead along in the wake of preordained events?
PAUL – Having a rich backstory to pull from is not at odds with open-world gameplay. While the novel Tracy is writing will be linear itself, we can borrow from this material in lots of ways and plug into the game without the game itself becoming linear in any way. Also, Tracy’s novel is going to be set a generation or several before when the player enters the Abyss, so it is literally back story.
Who was your favorite character to write and who was your least favorite?
TRACY: My favorite character to write was actually Joker from my Batman novel.
Word? Scrivener? Something else?
TRACY: I use MS Word primarily for my word processing. Just habit at this point.
Tracy, the Underworld novel is supposed to be about Dark Elves from New Britannia who travel to the world of Underworld Ascendant.
Is there a distinction amongst Elves in NB between normal Elves and Dark Elves? Are they separate races?
As a book for Underworld Ascendant, will the book primarily be about what happens after they cross through a rune-gate, or will the story expand upon the lore of both settings?
TRACY: The book for Underworld will deal with the Dark Elves after their crossing although their memories of their life before certainly will be part of the story.
Who are some of your favorite fantasy authors from the present time and those who are considered to have written the classics?
TRACY: I'm a big fan of R. A. Salvatore ... largely because he's such a great guy. Classically, I am a Tolkien fan.
My favorite epic series of all time is your collaboration with Margaret Weis, the "Death Gate Cycle". I've re-read it in its entirety at least 3 times now, and enjoyed the point and click adventure of the same name, although it deviated from the canon considerably. My question: Do you ever consider revisiting that world, in apocrypha or prequel form, or have you ever been approached to translate any or all of it to TV or feature length films? I can't tell you how many times I've wondered why the hell no one had adapted your incredible story to film. Thanks!
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