Headlines and Deadlines

Monthly update time again! This is going to be a long one. I’m going to start with a quick status update and events information.

The book’s technology overview section is complete, lighting the way for expanding and improving the equipment lists, and the word count so far is 108,800.

Since I’m focusing on the writing the other side issues are being given a lower priority – that means that no more dice or rings have been sent out yet and are unlikely to be until the first draft is done. Which I think I’ve said before, but no harm in repeating it.

Big news!

Two major events regarding Elite and the RPG are happening in the summer.

First there’s the second annual LaveCon 2014, organised by the awe-inspiring Lave Radio team. This year LaveCon has been expanded into a science fiction and fantasy multimedia extravaganza, and I’ll be there running introductory sessions of Elite Encounters! The convention starts on Saturday July 5th and runs all through Saturday evening and Sunday. A dedicated spot in the “Jameson Room” has been reserved for yours truly so I look forward to seeing some of you there!

Following that on Saturday August 16th is Fantasticon, the release event for the Elite Dangerous books being published by Dan Grubb’s Fantastic Books. Dan has asked if I would be there with Elite Encounters, and I’m delighted to say that I’ll be there to again run some sample games and answer questions about the game and its development. So that’s the update part of this post.

Now for the darker side of the news…

Bad News

It’s April. The month where this project was supposed to be complete. As I’m sure most of you are already aware, the book is not going to be finished by the end of this month, and there’s still a fair way to go. I’m dragging behind, and look like I’m going to be the last across the finish line, at least in terms of the other Kickstarter based authors doing book deals with Frontier.

I apologise for this unreservedly. The reasons for it have been discussed already so I won’t go over it all again, but obviously the five month period of being unable to work is the biggest reason for this missed deadline. As such this would indicate that the most likely point at which the book will be fully ready will be sometime in September, so that’s the deadline I will be pencilling in for now.

On my return to work I had optimistic goals for when the writing would be done, and I will admit here and now that I completely underestimated the amount of work that would be involved in writing this book. Strangely the bit I thought would be the easiest has proved to be the most time-consuming. I’m talking here about the background sections, where the history of the Elite universe is described in detail. My theory had been that the job had been mostly done already by the members of what I called “the writer’s bible group”: myself, Allen Stroud, Michael Brookes, David Braben, John Laws and T. James had collaborated since the start of out writing projects to create a set of guidelines for writers, most of which went into the background and history of the universe in much the same way as my book’s background section would do.

“Well,” thought the younger me, “all I need to do is copy all that into the book and surround it with some colourful text!”.

I’ll pause here to let the experienced authors out there stop laughing.

My take on it is this: writing is about finding your own voice. Trying to write using someone else’s voice is almost impossible and if you try, it’s most likely that you won’t be able to engage with your work, at which point it becomes a chore. Almost straight away I found that I was rewriting the text into my own style as I was adding it into the book. So what I had naively considered to be a quick “copy and paste” process turned into a rewrite of about 50,000 words into my own “voice”, along with the self-editing that went along with writing so much text. The main challenge was to ensure that enough information was included about the timeframes of the original games so that players and GMs could set games in the older computer games’ eras and not only the Elite: Dangerous setting. Rather than writing a flowing piece of prose, I also have to ensure that there are plot hooks in the text of this “sourcebook” that GMs can grab to craft their stories.

I’ll pause here again to elaborate on that concept, because it’s an important one to me. I learned early on in my literary life that the richest stories are those that can call on an equally rich history. There are a few examples of that, with “The Lord Of The Rings” and (controversially for some) “The Belgariad” being the ones that come easiest to mind. Both of the fantasy worlds in those series were supplemented by a detailed history and a purpose for the characters and their predecessors. The One Ring, the smallest of plot points in “The Hobbit”, became the MacGuffin for the legendary trilogy that came after it, and all of them were rooted in Tolkein’s “English mythology” as laid out in the extensive notes and stories that became “The Silmarillion”. A closer example is the original Elite computer game itself. The game had no history or background or even identification of galactic powers in it. It was a 3D game where you flew a ship between planets and traded goods. What brought it to life was the manual and novella that were packaged with it, outlining that you worked for the Galactic Co-operative of Worlds and that it was a galactic alliance that spanned 2000 planets, with Python freighters, Sidewinder fighter pilots and Viper police ships – none of which were evident in the original game. Thanks to the manual when you saw a Viper you knew it was a police ship and that you better behave. It gave your “fly between planets” job more meaning. That’s why the historical part of the RPG is so important to me (and Mr Brookes will testify to the number of arguments we’ve had about historical matters!) and why the source material in the RPG has to be right and has to be something I could engage with. Hopefully that will rub off on you, the eventual readers of this book.

Anyway, back to the point. Plot hooks in the historical background are important because the GM can use them to hang a story from. Then, when that plot hook is mentioned in a game session, the players will remember it and, if they are lucky, so will their character. It gives the player a sense that their character is part of that history now.

The same drive for plot hooks is a factor in other sections of the book. At the moment I’m outlining the technology and equipment that is common in the Elite universe and again there are elements that can be relevant for plots (as well as bringing colour to the day-to-day life of a character in the Elite Universe). Corporate rivalries, inventions, profit and loss and the all-important balance of power between countless factions all provide content that needs to be written into the book. And it’s all taking more time than I thought.

The game system (at least as far as I know) was the easy part. I haven’t had any feedback yet from the Alpha testers so either they’ve all been so disgusted by the rules that they just can’t comment, or it was all perfect and they’ve got so carried away that they have ascended to another plane of existence in their ecstasy. I wasn’t counting on releasing a Beta rules set that was practically identical to the Alpha version, but it’s looking very much like that will be the case. The only additions to that will be (as things stand) a list of character templates, a list of “Aptitudes”, maybe a modification or two to the initial stat points allocation system and more detailed ship combat rules. I was hoping to have the ship stats available for the Beta, but that relies on Frontier and the finalisation of the ship statistics themselves.

Not least among the delays is that Frontier themselves have announced that the release of the Elite: Dangerous game is itself being held back until at least September. The RPG was always tied into the release of the computer game, and more so because of the sensitive nature of some of the content. Frontier will be editing the RPG drafts and asking for anything that is “spoiler material” to be removed, and this is why I cannot release a copy of the first draft to backers. Once Frontier have had the first draft and I’ve removed the material they’ve asked me to, then I can look at getting the book layout sorted out and ready for release.

So, in short, you have my apologies but the book is going to be delayed. I’m not going to give a hard estimate at this time because there are a few uncontrollable factors that will contribute to the release date. I currently devote an average of two to three hours a day to the book writing depending on the day job and the other unforeseen demands of a rather busy family life (my second grandson was born at the start of March in difficult circumstances, which took up about a week of my time, for example).

Sadly, this is the nature of many Kickstarters, especially those that are reliant on a single person doing all of the work as is the case with this RPG. Recently I’ve learned that many Kickstarters miss their deadlines due to unforeseen circumstances, and it’s something that two of the Kickstarters I’ve backed have recently suffered, although their reasons are possibly more tangible than mine (depending on how seriously you take clinical depression, I suppose). For example poor old Rich Burlew, a comic artist, almost cut off his thumb: a serious disability for a comic artist.

The delays will mean that the RPG will be better than it would be if I cut corners to meet the deadline, a compromise that I’m sure you’d prefer. It also allows me to make sure that the other products coming with the game are given enough attention and are produced to my own high standards of quality. Things like the GM screens and card model pledge rewards will take secondary priority to the book, especially in the case of the GM screens, which will rely on the book’s content anyway.

I’m prepared for a lot of questions about this, and I welcome them. I understand that there may be some pledgers out there who are impatient for their product to be released, and I want to assure them/you that no matter the cost to myself, this book will be released at the soonest possible point. All I will ask is this: if you do have questions, please ask them on the Daftworks forum, where the structure is better for a lengthy discussion (much better than the comments columns below these posts). The URL is http://www.daftworks.co.uk/forum.

That’s it for another month then. The next milestone is the 110,000 words mark and the completion of the technology and equipment descriptions, then the creation of the full equipment list.

All the best,