Talitha Kalago is an Australian writer, horror aficionado, multi-genre geek and all-around good egg. She recently took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about her new YA novel, Lifesphere Inc: Acquisition, ruminate about the quality of stories told in video-games, and discuss the future of writing.
Firstly, on behalf of myself and all my readers, I just want to thank you for taking some time out to answer some questions and put to rest a couple of the rumours we’ve been hearing about your incredible novel, Lifesphere Inc: Acquisition.
I think the first thing a lot people were surprised about, myself included, was the lack of romance in Lifesphere. Every other book out there on the market, especially YA, seems to be a romance / paranormal novel because there’s a significant number of readers interested in those kinds of stories. Could you step us through your decision process on why you decided to “buck the trend” and write not only a sci-fi novel, but also one with a male protagonist who is totally not into girls at this point in his life.
Lifesphere Inc is really targeted at 10 to 13 year olds, so it’s more of a middle grade book than a straight YA. However it’s been frustrating, because most retailers don’t have a middle grade section. However I avoided romance because I don’t really enjoy reading about it. As much as possible I stay away from romance in all genres and I think one of the reasons Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy is my favorite series is because the romance is all at arm’s length–and largely unrequited until the end of the third book.
When I was younger romance in books made me uncomfortable. I used to skip over those sections–I just wanted to get back to the story. However I don’t consider avoiding romance to be bucking the trend. Harry Potter is the most successful YA series ever and the romance in it is very minimal.
There is a little romance in Lifesphere Inc. Squall has a very obvious crush on Aquillis and Eli had a huge crush on Tally Talmon, the famous news anchor, but as she is ten years older than him and they’ve never met, I’d say that romance is doomed.
On that note, I’d like to like to talk about a rumour I’ve heard relating to the future of Lifesphere’s universe. It’s a two-part query. Firstly, is it really true you’re thinking about taking Lifesphere’s world and using it as the basis for a RPG game? Secondly, could you give us a brief rundown on what it would take for us to see this goal become a reality?
I would love to make the Lifesphere Inc world into a play by post rpg game. I’ve been working on the idea for several years now and have grand visions of how it would work, however the cost of hiring developers and programmers, as well as paying for the servers, would be prohibitive. If launched, the game would be completely free to play, so I’ve considered using kickstarter or another project funding website to get it off the ground.
Those who supported the project would get benefits in game and I would hope to find ways of making it well worth everyone’s while to contribute.
I really want to get into the weeds of this game because it sounds so good. Essentially, from the rumours I’ve heard, you’re looking at a tweaked Neopets model where people are rewarded for their creativity and depth of posts. I know it’s a work in progress, but is it possible for you to give us an overview of how this game will connect with players who are used to high-definition graphics and linear character development?
Play by post rpgs are really designed for people who have a love of creation, not just people who want to absorb content created by other people. People who love to write tend to be drawn to rpgs, because it’s interactive storytelling. You tell your part of the story, then someone else comes and interacts with you, telling their part.
RPGs based on books, movies and TV shows are very popular with people who write fan fiction and I hope people who love Lifesphere will want to come to the Lifesphere RPG, create a character and role play in that world as an author sanctioned way of expressing their passion. Of course, I’ll be thrilled if they make their own RPGs and write fan fiction too. I think that’s a huge compliment for an author.
In the Lifesphere RPG, players will be rewarded for improving their writing skills. Longer, well thought out posts will earn more in game XP and money than short, poorly constructed ones. Characters and the meka will have combat stats, money, player houses and be able to compete against each other in fighting arenas.
I hope playing on the Lifesphere RPG will make people better writers, just like playing RPGs for the past 21 years has for me.
As a gamer, do you think user interactivity for story narrative is going to increase the overall quality of video-game plots / character development? Even for linear-based games such as Diablo III and Mirror’s Edge?
I think it will for some players. The truth is, different people want different things from their gaming experience. Generally speaking though, players like to feel they are in control. I always loved the final fantasy games, but essentially you’re grinding, then watching a movie clip, grinding then watching another movie clip. Sometimes that’s what you want and that’s okay. Sometimes you want a sandbox game like Sims 3 where there is no plot and you can kill people by surrounding them with toilets.
We’re not there yet, but I think soon gaming is going to revolutionize the same way publishing has. It used to be self publishing was very difficult and expensive, but then e-readers came along and everyone could publish cheaply and easily.
I think in the future they will develop game engines that allow someone to make high quality computer games at home. Like Little Big Planet but on a much grander scale. I imagine being able to design your characters and setting, then just ‘create’ a game like Dragon Age at home with intuitive software. The new Neverwinter MMO already lets you create your own dungeons and missions for yourself and other players. It’s already starting.
So when someone asks me how I think interactive story narrative is going to affect gaming, I say we’re going to be creating our own games and stories. There’s going to be a huge glut of them, just like there has been with e-books and a lot of the gaming companies who are screwing with people (*coughEAcough*) will crash and burn the same way the publishing house are.
The future of gaming is glorious and chaotic.
Second last question, in your post, RPGS and Writing, you discuss a friend of yours who is an amazing author but has no interest in writing a novel / novella / book at all. If she (and others) can go on-line and create / read quality writing, universes and stories which they can have direct role in shaping, what’s the incentive for them to keep reading novels? Do you think this is the last burst of the novel era before we start switching over to a more organic writing model?
Why will people keep reading novels? Laziness. Creating takes time and huge amounts of energy. It’s a wholly different experience to reading something created by other people.
Lots of people love TV, but virtually none of them are going to rush out and become actors in their own TV shows. It’s exactly the same thing. We all want to be entertained, but we don’t all have the time or energy to be the entertainer.
I create all day every day, and I still absorb books, TV shows and movies at an alarming rate. If anything, the more I create, the more I need to absorb. So there is also the ‘feeding of the mind’ aspect.
If you were able to recommend one game, excluding MMOPGs, to our readers which you think would allow them to see the world in a different light, or understand the world a little differently, which title would it be and why?
It’s a tough question. Firstly because I don’t have a lot of life changing experiences gaming. I love games, but they are very much reserved for the part of the day when I can no longer do anything productive and I just want to bash a keyboard mindlessly for a few hours.
It’s also a tough question because I want to say Sims 3, but I can’t recommend Sims 3 to anyone in good faith, because while it is a fantastic game when it works, it rarely works. It’s so buggy you’re likely to spend a fortune on something you play for an hour, and then can never get to load again.
However when it does work, it’s brilliant. There is so much user generated content from the Sims games. It’s not just clothing and hair styles that youcan use in your game. Legacy blogs are fantastic. There are numerous ‘goals’ and ‘rules’ people have made up so you can challenge yourself and it’s amazing to see a game generate so many stories and inspire people to write blogs and make communities.
If the game worked, it would definitely be one of the best games in creation. However it doesn’t work, so it’s just an exercise in frustration.