Sunday, August 26, 2012

Initial Reaction to Ali Luke's Novel Lycopolis

So as you all know, for whatever reason I've had no drive lately. I have about a dozen fanfiction stories piled up in my email inbox. I have two more stories chillin' on DeviantArt. I only casually browsed through this week's post on Aliventures. I just don't feel like reading anything. I have TONS of ideas for stories, but no inspiration to actually WRITE them. I stare at the screen and go.... "meh".

Silver lining? I'm using my free time to put together bookshelves to create a library in our small side room and finally unpacking all of my books. YAY!

Anyway, I usually kill time during my work breaks and lunches by writing. No drive to write means fifteen minutes of solitaire on my computer instead. Sooooooooo, I decided to switch gears and finally crack open Lycopolis. I've only been reading it the past two days, and until my usual "can't sleep without my husband"Sunday Insomnia, I read only while at work. So I'm only a few chapters farther than the first five chapters that Ali shares as a free sample of the book.

I pretty much never read anything that isn't by an American author, and so reading a story with all the British terminology for things - such as Biscuit Box, Mum, Wardrobe door, Holiday, Half-term, Corridor - is kind of fun. It's easy enough for me to figure out that in the US the above list easily translates to Bread Box, Mom, Closet door, Vacation, Homecoming Weekend, and Dorm Floor. So I can just chuckle a little at getting a glimpse in to another culture. Other things that amuse me are things like school uniforms. Sure, more and more US public schools are starting to adopt this idea, but for the most part students can wear "street clothes" in school, so remembering that most countries have uniforms is interesting to me. That and the fact that most non-US countries have a more formal setting for schooling, which includes such things as a Head of Year. I guess that could be the equivalent of a Class President, but at least in my school the CP was more in charge of stuff like the school dances and what the Senior Gift to the school would be and organizing the class reunions.

So, getting past the cultural stuff. How is the story itself?

Well, maybe it's because I have my hand in a variety of Role Play types - such as table top, pen & paper, forum, video game, and Live Action - and maybe it's because I haven't actually participated in the type that inspired Lycopolis - Ali sites the game Wolfenburg/Kingdom of Heroes - but I find it hard to picture the game mechanics.

The actual story of the characters in real life, as well as the story-within-a-story of the in-game characters, are both very well done. When I'm reading the IRL parts I find myself tearing through the pages, hungry for more. And the In-Game prose is also very compelling. However, I can't seem to let myself get as immersed in the In-Game part of the story. At least, not as much as I should. I find myself reading the book critically; perhaps a left-over habit from Beta reading, or perhaps it's because my mind is trying to figure out the game mechanic.

Part of how she describes the game makes it feel like there should be graphics that the players see and audio that the players can hear. There are descriptions of how the characters look, and how they turn when they hear footsteps, and how they can see the wolves and sacrifices, etc. There are even lines stating how the game creator meticulously built the world code by code and how he can manipulate the world however he wants. These all make it feel like it should be a MMORPG like World of Warcraft or something.

Then there are descriptions along the lines of hearing echoes, or reacting to each other's vocal cues or tones in their voices, or even a strong urge to kneel that must be fought against. One description that really stuck out as odd was "Perhaps he imagined it, but he thought he saw her shudder." How does that get described online!? Did the female character type "She shudders, but so faintly it is hard to tell" and then his character gives the "Perhaps he imagined it..." description? Did his character come up with that all on his own - assuming her character would shudder? Is that why the "Perhaps he imagined it" is there? Because he's going "God Mode" on another player? Or did the game itself give some description that would imply that she was shuddering? I don't know, but descriptions like these feel more like a LARP than an online game. Even the fact that a demon can be unknowingly summoned through role play makes it feel more like LARP than an online game. HOW DO YOU SUMMON A DEMON VIA THE INTERNET!?

Then you go back to the tagline of the book "Words never hurt anyone..." and there are other descriptions that clearly state that everything is in text. So now I'm picturing the game sort of like the X-Men RPG which is a forum-based game. Although everything there is done sort of in script format, when I relayed passages here I put it more like prose so it was easier to follow. Maybe that's what was going on whenever things in-game were described in Lycopolis.

Then I got to the following passage in the fifth chapter:
"It's a sort of game," she said. "All in text, no graphics."

He didn't ask anything else, just looked intently at the screen and said, "They're waiting for you."

Kay was impressed that he'd managed to pick up that much. When she'd tried to explain the game to her parents, they'd been bemused by the lines of text appearing in different places - the gossip and in-jokes in the Chatroom window, the main action in the big Game window, private messages in the Inbox.
And then this passage towards the beginning of the sixth chapter:
A Small Room With Stone Walls
This room is identical to the others along the row. Cold, with a hard bed and a blanket, it smells of damp and worse. There's little light, and no candles. The thick wooden door has no lock on the inside.

Edwin had been playing Lycopolis long enough to pick up on clues pretty easily. He typed "examine door" and was told:

There are deep gouges in the heavy wooden door, on both sides. There's no lock, but the outside has a thick metal ring that matches another on the wall. A chain or padlock could easily be hooked through these.

Soooooo, the game is sort of like Zork? A completely text-based game with heavy descriptions of the world? Is all the code-by-code world building a Zork-like reference? The main issue I have is that the character Seth is the world creator and apparently the only storyteller of the game. How can he be everywhere at once and available whenever people want to be on? How does the game progress a story without him? How was Kay able to do an activity in-game without him? How would it be programmed in? If it were all forum-based; ergo player driven, then it would make more sense. I had tons of RP scenes where Hubby wasn't involved.

Maybe these questions will all be answered the further in to the book I get. Maybe I need to track down Kingdom of Heroes and play a little bit - if it's still up and running. Maybe I should stop being suck a geek and just let the story unfold without thinking about the game mechanics. Or, maybe I should just combine all four aspects of RP - graphic, LARP, forum & text-based - in my mind so I can stop over thinking.

In the meantime, more plot bunnies are being birthed in my brain. Back when I re-watched all of The Guild I grew a strong urge to one day do a similar Web Series using my own RP experiences, but using D&D instead of MMORPG as the base. Now that I'm reading Lycopolis, I sort of want to write a book based on my current vampire LARP character. It would be perfect too. Since she's a freshly turned vampire all the jargon regarding the world has to be taught to her - and so the reader is taught as well. The reader learns with the main character. The question is, do I want to do an original story loosely based on what already happened in-game; do I want to just directly transcribe what has happened so far; or do I want my Hey Arnold fanfiction crutch and have a cross-over using World of Darkness?

Yup, another grand story idea just waiting to be written, and yet I don't have the drive to actually type anything out. What's up with that!? At least I have Lycopolis to keep me company until the writing juices again flow.

Next week I'll either have something dealing with new writing that I've done, or I'll tell you guys more about my MASSIVE HYBRID CROSSOVER STORY!!! Sound good?


  1. Sorry to hear that you haven't had any drive to read/write anything. I hope you get the motivation soon! I know you can do it!!!

    As for me, I've actually been getting motivated to write more of my story again, I just need to find the time now. I hope to get some of that done soon. In the meantime, I've got another pic starring you in the making. Seriously, why are you so fun to draw?

    Anyways, take care of yourself and I hope that things turn alright for you soon! :D

  2. Sorry it took me so hideously long to reply! I'm so glad you're enjoying Lycopolis. :-D :-D

    To (hopefully) clear up things regarding the in-game sections a bit: I struggled a lot with how best to write these. (My critique group raised similar issue to you, actually.) In the end, along with my tutor, I decided that the best approach was to tell these pieces as a story -- in just the way that we apply a bunch of conventions (like less-than-real dialogue) when writing fiction generally.

    If it helps, the best way to think of them is that each in-game scene shows what the POV player is imagining. (So when it's Kay's POV, you get the in-game scene from Tristram's perspective -- including his thoughts, but not other character's thoughts.)

    I'll try to write about this in a bit more detail on the Lycopolis site, though, because I'm sure you're not the only person who's had questions -- and I still wish I could've found a more elegant solution for the writing!

    And congrats on the British --> American translations, you have them pretty much spot on. :-) Just a few I thought I'd clarify:

    Biscuit Box = Cookie Box (you'd probably have a Cookie Jar though, I think)

    Half Term = I'm not entirely sure of the nuance of Homecoming Weekend! Actually, "half term" is rapidly becoming outdated here in the UK -- but it's a week-long holiday (vacation ;-)) from school in the middle of each term (term = semester, except we have three per year -- though this recently changed to six, so all the holidays are end-of-term holidays). The half-terms (or ends of terms one, three and five now) are usually October, February and May. I figure most parents and kids probably still *call* them "half-term".

    Head of Year -- this is a teacher, not a child -- in charge of the whole year group. When I was Edwin's age, we had nine form groups in our year, and each had a teacher; there was a Head of Year who was a supervisor of those teachers.

    But anyway, I'm very glad the British-isms aren't putting you off reading! And hope you continue enjoying Lycopolis ... would love to hear what you think of it overall when you're done. (And I always welcome more Amazon/Goodreads reviews...) :-D