A fellow called Marko Susimetsä is one of the authors who jumped at the chance to write a story for the upcoming Elite: Dangerous tie-in anthology. He is a Finnish writer who’s previously published and edited mainly textbooks and research reports. But he’s written sci-fi and fantasy stories on the side for most of his life, including the Marcan Rayger fan-fic stories for the third Elite game, Frontier First Encounters. He put his first historical fiction novel on hold in order to write a short story, Beyond Civilisation, to be included in the Tales from the Frontier Elite anthology.
Marko, what is your favourite past Elite title and is there a ship in the originals that you especially liked and would love to see in Elite: Dangerous?
This is a tough one. The original Elite I played on Commodore 64, which was my first computer, and later on Amiga 500 and 1200. It consumed a big portion of my teen years and is naturally something that I remember fondly. However, it was Frontier First Encounters that gave my imagination a real treat when I purchased it for my first PC. I went so wild with it that I started writing fan-fics at a time when fan-fic writing was still taking its baby steps.
Picking a favourite ship is a lot easier: Wolf Mk II. This was a ship that I first encountered in the Amiga version of Elite and it captivated me immediately, making me wish that I could fly the ship in the game. I was very disappointed when it made no appearance in the later Elite games.
How about the upcoming Elite: Dangerous? What do you consider to be the most exciting part of it, based on what you’ve seen so far?
The same thing that captivated me in Frontier First Encounters and made me write all those fan-fics: the fictional setting. I’ve always found games very restrictive and my imagination has been responsible for making them exciting. With the developing technology, games are slowly coming to a point when they can give one’s imagination a good challenge, but I cannot see them ever offering as much freedom as imagination does. Therefore, I look forward to reading all the tie-in novels and stories and experience the stories that the game itself will have to offer.
Marko, your story has been sent to Fantastic Books Publishing for the professional editing rounds. How do you feel about the story now?
In some sense, I’ve distanced myself from the story by this point. I wrote it in December 2012 and concentrated on honing and tweaking it over the next few months as more details of Elite: Dangerous were revealed. These intervening months have allowed me to take a step back and look at the story critically and tinker with it every now and then. Since I’ve written other stories since, I no longer feel such a personal connection to this particular story. In fact, my mind is already working on how the story might continue and I hope Frontier will one day give us authors a chance to go back and write more novels and short stories for their universe.
What kinds of problems did you encounter during the writing process that you did not foresee?
There were some minor surprises along the way, mainly to do with how the Elite Universe has been revisited and changed for this fourth instalment. Things that existed in the previous games, such as sleep fields and artificial gravity aboard ships, have been discarded and we will experience a more realistic universe in many ways. Other things have been added, including the instant hyperspace jumps and the new in-system fast travel mechanic, to accommodate the multiplayer universe design. These tweaks here and there have required me to ‘jump gears’ in my imagination to forget the past and concentrate on what the universe is like this time around.
The game is not out yet, so we must ask you if you have had much (or enough) information about the game universe. Are there many open questions still remaining?
For the point of view of my story, I’m very satisfied with the amount of information that we currently have. The only thing remaining is to get some hands-on time with the game itself to see and feel the way the ship-to-ship dogfights work. My fight scenes are almost ready as they are, but I wish to add some visual cues to make them feel more like what you will see in the game when you play it.
You’ve previously written the Marcan Rayger stories and some other fiction. What’s different about writing a story based on a game compared to your previous work?
There aren’t as many differences as one might think. Naturally, the situation with Beyond Civilisation and the Marcan Rayger stories is very similar: the same universe and largely the same methods of research of politics, technology etc. factors that affect the stories. Compared to my historical fiction (and even academic writing), writing for the Elite Universe is a lot easier: there are fewer facts to worry about and more room for your own imagination. The research phase is thus shorter and you can get to writing a lot faster.
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?
I have some ideas, yes, but not many that I am willing to reveal at this point. Some aspects are details that we authors have cooked up together, while others are particular to my own story. Certainly the star system in which my story takes place is something that I wish to see realised in the game world.
What are the next steps in your writing process until your story is delivered onto the readers’ hands?
Actually, we are currently living one of the most exciting periods of the process. My short story is in the editors’ hands at the moment and I eagerly look forward to what they have to say about my story. But that’s not even the most exciting thing. The thing that keeps me most busy at the moment is the fact that our publisher - Fantastic Books Publishing - was so taken by the four Elite books (three novels in addition to our anthology) that he launched a special Kickstarter to be able to publish them as audio books. The campaign is running at this very moment and it also allows the backers access to some very special editions of the printed books.
Thank you, Marko, for this opportunity to chat with you and see inside the head of a writer. If the readers want to learn more about the story and the anthology that it is a part of check out the Tales from the Frontier site. Additionally, the Kickstarter mentioned in the interview can be found here.