Drew Wagar and his novel, Elite: Reclamation
The upcoming Elite: Dangerous space trading and flight simulator promises to give us an incredibly extensive and living universe to explore and live in. The human space and the unexplored galaxy of this universe will be riddled with opportunities for each gamer to find their own path and tell their own story. In order to make the universe feel as real as possible, Frontier Developments recently revealed that they are taking full advantage of the creativity of the numerous authors who are writing the official fiction that will accompany the game’s release. In short, they will be including, where possible, aspects of the novels and stories in the game, so that the gamers can experience the locations or even parts of the stories while they play.
Drew Wagar is perhaps the best known writer who is bringing his talent to the Elite universe. He is previously known for his fanfic tales for Oolite (Elite remake) as well as his recent contemporary romance novel, Torn. We last interviewed him in December 2012 when his work on Elite: Reclamation was only beginning. Now, we revisit him at his work desk and to find out his latest thoughts about the project.
First things first, which Elite game was your favourite? Which ship(s) featured in the original games would you love to fly again in Elite: Dangerous?
I’ll admit to being a die-hard fan of the original game Elite. I played it compulsively on my ZX Spectrum from the age of thirteen. I genuinely got to the coveted rank of ‘Elite’ too. I have since played the two sequels (for research!) and I can see the attraction of them. They’re unique, but whilst they have great depth, for me, they lack the sheer fun of the original.
My favourite ships? The definitive ship will always be the Cobra Mk3, but I have a soft spot for the Imperial Courier from the sequels; it’s a beautiful, aggressive, if rather impractical, looking ship. The entry level Eagle from the sequel games also plays a part, along with the top secret ships from the new game – sorry, can’t reveal them at the moment – but there are some exciting designs in there.
You already mentioned the upcoming ships, but what do you consider to be the most exciting part of Elite: Dangerous based on what you’ve seen so far?
That’s a tough one. The space station interiors are certainly one thing that has me obsessing over the current artwork, there is something very majestic about such enormous structures. I’m a fan of architecture, and I can see myself just flying around the stations just enjoying the sheer spectacle rather than properly playing the game!
The prototype representation of the system map, a modern take on the ‘orrery’, also looked excellent.
The possibilities that procedural generation affords on 21st century equipment also appear phenomenal, so I’m intrigued to see what Frontier will do with that power. We’ve seen tantalizing clues about procedurally generated stations, missions and cities. I think there’s a lot more to that we’ve yet to see, so it’s pretty enthralling.
Drew, you have recently finished the first draft of your story. Could you tell us a bit of how you feel about it now?
A great sense of relief! It’s been something of a mad dash to be honest. Whilst I knew what I was taking on having written several books beforehand, I had to set myself some fairly aggressive targets for the first draft to ensure I would be ready on time. It was a hard graft at times.
I was pleased to find that after eight months I missed my deadline by only two days, so I wasn’t far off with my estimates.
In terms of the story itself I’m very happy with it. My editor has been taking it on two chapters at a time and offering feedback as I’ve been going through, so it’s already much tighter than it would otherwise be. It’s a sharp twisty plot, inhabited with well fleshed out characters that I hope the fans will fall in love with.
I hope it will appeal to a wide spectrum of readers, as it’s a character driven tale. Yes, there are spacecraft and fire-fights, but they aren’t the main focus. I aimed to write a story that explored the thoughts and feelings behind being a trader, a bounty hunter and a pirate, throwing some of my own nuances into the mix.
What kinds of problems did you encounter during the writing process that you did not foresee?
Initial approval from Frontier took much longer than I expected. This wasn’t a bad thing, but I underestimated how closely they would be checking details and enforcing the feel of the Elite: Dangerous universe. They’re pretty strict! There was also a vast amount of background material available and more was being developed as we wrote. This did force me into a few revisions as a result.
Other than that, occasional writers’ block of course. I had one occasion where I wrote myself into a corner and had to dump about 3,000 words. That wasn’t a good week. Fortunately my fans came to the rescue and got me back on my feet.
The game is not out yet, so we must ask you if you have had much (or enough) insider information about the game. Are there many open questions still remaining?
We’ve had a lot of information given to us, most of which we’re not allowed to reveal! We have a timeline of significant historical events, detailed guides on the factions, ships and other entities in the universe. These have been essential tools and, credit to Frontier, fan contributions have been accepted into them too. Michael Brookes, the executive producer, has been incredibly responsive on turning around questions and getting answers on top of his day job.
Are there open questions? Yes, lots. We’re still awaiting some crucial details, notably a workable star map and some information on weapons. The game comes first of course, but as these things are decided we get to see some of the work in progress which is a great position to be in. All the writers will have to do some editing as more detail emerges.
That sounds like a convoluted process. What are the differences between writing a novel based on a game compared to your previous books?
The biggest difference is that I’m not in control of the universe. In my previous books I’d done a lot of research, but I could improvise at whim on the details. If I wanted a weapon that did something peculiar, as long as it made rational sense I could put it in my story.
With an official Elite story I don’t have that flexibility. I can make a request, and it may be accepted, but often the answer is , ‘No you can’t do that’. The lack of anti-gravity tech is a good example, which took many of us by surprise. Keep your magnetic boots handy!
I have a lot of placeholders in my manuscript at the moment too, because the exact locations and descriptions of the planets and stars, trade routes on so on are not available. We may not see these until the ‘alpha’ release of the game, so the final drafts are a way off.
Frontier is planning to include aspects of the fiction into the game. Do you have many ideas of what details of your novel you might want to see in the game? Are you willing to reveal some of them at this point?
This is probably the most exciting part of all.
We’ve been promised that Frontier will work with each of the authors to see which aspects of their story could be realized in game. Secretly I always hoped this would be the case, so I deliberately crafted my story with that possibility in mind.
As a result I’ve got plenty of situations that would work well in game, from trade runs, bounty hunting missions, to smuggling, blockade running, search and rescue, message delivery and, of course, a chance to choose your side in a final deadly confrontation between the military forces of the Federation and the Empire. Nothing is confirmed yet, but I hope gamers will get a chance to help or hinder the heroine from my story in her quest to reclaim... well, you’ll have to wait and see!
There’s also been the chance to include some new ‘mythos’ into the game. I loved how players of the original game went hunting for things like ‘Raxxla’ from the original stories, so I’ve added some of my own ambiance in and collaborated with the other authors too. You’ll have some mysteries to investigate once you leave the core systems, that’s for sure.
What are the next steps in your writing process until the book is delivered onto the readers’ hands?
The manuscript is currently with my editor for a thorough going over for pace, flow, snappy dialogue and structure. After I’ve made those modifications it goes for a proof-read, hopefully eradicating all the typos. Then it goes to a bunch of international readers for an ‘alpha’ read. They’ll read it as a novel, but critique it, looking for plot-holes, tacky situations, dialogue that sounds ‘off’ and so on. Then it’s back to me with comments and another round of editing.
Once I get that back I’ll have something pretty polished. I’ll be able to send it to Frontier for their approval. I may need to make some changes at that point too. Hopefully some of the detail regarding the planets, systems and weapons will be available by that point. Once that’s in I’m at a final draft.
Alongside all this my publisher will be working on a cover design for the book, based on images and themes from the story. I need to give them detailed character bios for this, so they can craft something that gets the essential theme of the story across.
Then it’s typesetting for the ebooks and paperbacks, organizing promotional material such as new graphics, trailers and audio excerpts. That should see me up to the launch in March.
Writing the story is only half the job!
Thank you, Drew, for taking the time from your busy work to respond to our questions. For the readers who want to know more about the man behind these words and the upcoming novel, we recommend that you visit the author's official site at www.drewwagar.com.