Some of you probably know MMO/geek blogger Professor Beej. He’s a good friend of Bio Break, and when he asked to do a guest post about his upcoming novel, Birthright. Beej is attempting to self-publish using Kickstarter to fund it, and he’s hoping you can help him out.
When World of Warcraft was first being developed, I didn’t care one iota about Blizzard’s soon-to-be megatitle. I was content with Ultima Online, EverQuest, and Star Wars Galaxies.
In fact, I was a little irked when I read about this new and revolutionary technology Blizzard was going to be using for WoW’s dungeon content. It was called “instancing,” and for an old-school, open-worlder like me, it sounded like blasphemy.
Why did every group need its own private copy of a dungeon? Bah! Bah, I said! Sure, you were locked away from kill-stealers and other griefers, but at what cost?
WoW launched in 2004, and instances were a major hit. People loved not waiting on spawns or worrying about griefers. No more camping lines and social etiquette; no more post-midnight alarms from your guild leader telling you that Korfok the Unintelligible had respawned.
Outside of quality-of-life changes like cross-server groups, party-size limits, and automatic dungeon finders, instancing has been pretty consistent across MMOs for the better part of a decade. Anyone familiar with modern MMOs should be familiar with the technology.
So when I started worldbuilding the Technomage Archive (my upcoming trilogy, which begins with the novel Birthright), I took the old adage to “write what you know” and ran with it. What I know are MMOs, and I wanted my novels to somehow represent my fourteen years of experience with online gaming and communities.
Which means that instancing could–and should–make an appearance.
Luckily, Birthright is hybrid-genre SF/F–think Ender’s Game meets The Lord of the Rings. That in itself presents more than a few worldbuilding challenges; however, it also opens up just as many possibilities. As an author, I’m not limited to a single genre’s narrative conventions anymore.
Since The Technomage Archive is a fantasy series that wears the shiny, technological veneer of science-fiction, there is no magic. Everything is based on technology or science in some way, shape, or form.
Instances, then, are pocket universes that fall within the control of the titular Technomage Archive. People can move between Instances through various portals that exist at fixed points in the world, and part of the conflict in Birthright arises from the loss of control of these Instances.
Before, the technomages could control the growth and evolution of the Instances, these synthetic universes. They could be as large as a planet or galaxy, or as small as a library. The Archive used them for such mundane tasks as adding wings onto school campuses, or for more specialized tasks like sequestering and isolating a prison of dangerous criminals.
Now, though, new universes are spontaneously and naturally being created, which should be impossible. Even the controlled, synthetic universes aren’t obeying the laws and rules built into them.
And unlike Star Trek and Star Wars-style, galactic-level conflict, this fundamental breaking down of the laws of physics is literally happening right on top of everyone.
They just don’t know it.
While Instances in MMOs are limited by the technology and gameplay mechanics of the games themselves, the idea behind the technology is what intrigued me. Creating multiple versions of the same reality has so much storytelling potential, I couldn’t resist exploring it.
I mean, in WoW, each expansion has its own storyline where certain NPCs kill the big bads, with the “merry band of adventurers” helping. Each Instance in the game is just as valid as any other. We’re all the hero. We all win.
But in Birthright, that isn’t the case. When these gameplay mechanics are excluded, there isn’t a single common ending for all realities. There are any number of realities stacked on top of one another, some created and some natural, and throughout the Technomage Archive, they’re all coming to a head.
I want to explore the real-world implications (if you’ll forgive me the use of that term) of this kind of God-playing–not just the creation artificial intelligence like in I, Robot or virtual reality like in Neuromancer, but full-on synthetic universes made of real-as-you-and-me organic matter. I want to explore the question that when the very foundation of your reality is both real and created, is there even a distinction anymore?
And if I hadn’t been an MMO gamer for the last fourteen years, I never would have had the chance.