Our author this week, Darren Grey, is no stranger to hard-core gaming as he is a long-time fan and programmer of the so-called Roguelikes and is, in fact, the host of a podcast concentrating on this genre of games. Darren Grey is writing a short story for the Elite Anthology: Tales from the Frontier, titled The Comet’s Trail. Luckily he was easier to reach for an interview than those streaks on the sky and we managed to ask him a few important questions.
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?
Frontier by many light years was my favourite. I’ve put more hours into it than most other games combined. Elite was a little before my time (though I did play it after Frontier) and FFE was too buggy on release for me to be interested in. But Frontier was a mind-blowing experience, a game unlike any other I’ve ever touched. Douglas Adams once said ”Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.” Well, Frontier really proved that, and though the Milky Way is just a speck of the universe you got a full appreciation of its scope in the game. And all on one floppy disk!
As for a favourite ship, I’m not so fussed about that. To me ships were always a bundle of stats on hyperspace range and weapon capacity. In fact I found some old notes recently from when I was a kid playing Frontier. There were lists and lists of figures and calculations on the different ships and trade routes, but not a single hand-drawn sketch of a Cobra! I was just obsessed with what was optimum for the game. For Elite: Dangerous I guess what interests me more is the new ships we’ll get to fly, completely original works that we haven’t seen before. And all with lovely new stats to analyse!
What do you consider to be the most exciting part of Elite: Dangerous based on what you’ve seen so far?
As a game designer I am absolutely loving watching the design process. It’s so focussed on balance and details and getting things exactly right. Not sure how much the fan discussion forums will mess it up with their cries of ”you’re ruining the game!”, but I’m hugely looking forward to seeing the output of Frontier Development’s design vision. It’s a very special thing to see a piece of art painstakingly crafted together.
Darren, you have recently finished the first draft of your story. Could you tell us a bit of how you feel about it now?
Pretty good! Many parts of the story came together better than I expected. I’ve had the story in my head for many months, turning over the details and the characters in my mind. There were various problems I was worried about with things coming together, but once I wrote things out everything just clicked into place, solutions to issues simply jumping out apparent from the natural flow of the story. As a writer this is the most blissful of experiences!
The feedback I’ve had from others has been great too. Lots of useful suggestions and areas to tweak. The worst thing I want to hear when I show someone a piece of writing is ”yeah, that’s all fine”. So getting excellent constructive feedback has been a huge pleasure for me.
What kinds of problems did you encounter during the writing process that you did not foresee?
Changing and uncertain background information has been difficult to deal with. I’m lead writer for the RPG Tales of Maj’Eyal (www.te4.org), so I’m fine with sticking within the limits of another person’s design or universe. But when those walls are amorphous, changing as soon as you touch them, it becomes very difficult! Some things we still don’t know. I have battle scenes yet I don’t know what colour the laser beams are, or how the ship will steer when hit. It’s quite the challenge to grope in the dark like this.
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 have some insider information, but so little of it is really related to gameplay. Lots of historical facts, political titbits, etc. Very little of this is relevant to my story, and more importantly I want my story to reflect how the gameplay feels. Until I actually get my hands on the beta version I won’t have a full grasp of that and my story will be incomplete.
What’s different about writing a short story based on a game compared to your previous writing?
Since I’m mostly a game writer, it’s mostly the same! I suppose the biggest difference is that most of my previous writing appears in-game, which means it must be much shorter and more directly relevant to the game content. The story I’ve written for Elite: Dangerous is possibly the longest I’ve ever written, and it has been nice to be able to embellish the characters and their personalities more.
Also, this is sci-fi. I’ve never written sci-fi before. It’s led to a lot of reading of odd Wikipedia articles on scientific topics. I’ve a background in physics, so that helps a little in absorbing these, but also makes me ever more pedantic about getting the details right. Still, at the end of the day the setting is just a vehicle for the characters, and sci-fi is very similar to fantasy in a lot of the ways it empowers and restricts characters.
Frontier is planning to include aspects of the fiction into the game. Do you have many ideas of what details of your story you might want to see in the game? Are you willing to reveal some of them at this point?
That information is classified.
Only joking, I just don’t have much plan in that direction at the moment. I think I’ll have more ideas when I see other people putting up suggestions of how their story could be plugged in.
What are the next steps in your writing process until your story is delivered onto the readers’ hands?
I have to produce another draft based on feedback from the other writers. Then I need to tweak that to match the location details from Frontier. And then there’ll be some more tweaking to match in-game details after the beta access in January. Then if the other Anthology authors are happy I’ll submit to Frontier for final approval before publication. I’m not anticipating any problems with this along the way as all the more uncertain details were included in my approved synopsis or direct questions to Frontier. Right now I’m very happy with the stage my writing is at, and I’m glad to have the free time to help with editing and proof-reading the other short stories.
Thank you, Darren Grey, for taking the time to respond to our questions. If you want to read more about Darren and his story, head over to the official Tales from the Frontier site.