Erikson VS GRRM VS Goodkind

I’m currently reading in parallel Memories of Ice, Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule, and A Game of Thrones because I’m curious about the real differences between them.

Erikson is the one who brings up more controversy between fans and haters, Goodkind is rooted in the genre, hugely popular and vastly hated by critics, Martin uses a more realistic setting and approach, is popular, and vastly loved by critics.

It’s a good mix of radically different writers.

One aspect I was considering and that sticks out the most is that in Erikson’s books there are NO slices of life. I can’t make a single example. This is maybe the main reason why the books aren’t able to “capture” the reader on a emotional level and why so many complain that the characterization is shallow.

I am often arguing that the problem of Erikson’s books is not that they are too long, but that they are short. There is no space for things to calm down and let the reader becoming familiar with what is going on. Characters are first and foremost plot points, then characters. I think that Erikson’s characterization is deep and interesting. Original and challenging. But sweeping changes happen so quickly and so deeply that the reader doesn’t have ways to “familiarize”.

What makes a book fun to read is the immersion, so the identification. The main reason why writers like Goodkind and Stephanie Mayer are popular is because those books rely heavily on a certain audience that is going to identify with the characters. In order to do so you need a lot of exposition about “slices of life”. Something like “life before the plot”. First you build the characters, introduce them to the reader, give them some normal life to which readers can connect (romance, school, for example). Then you trigger the plot that builds the tension. I used Goodkind and Mayer as an example, but even Tolkien worked like that. It starts with a birthday party. And Hobbits are a race shaped to welcome the reader through certain familiarities and quirks we all share. Shaped as “bridges” between the two worlds.

That’s exactly the opposite of Erikson. No matter what book you read, what you find from the first page to the last is plot. Plot, plot and plot. Every step is a pivotal turn and the setting is already so alien and relying on its own mythology that it’s nearly impossible for the normal reader to connect with it.

So this is the point. Characters suffer from lack of space. The prose and plotting is so dried to the essential that the story feels mechanical. It lacks naturalness. And this leads to all the critics about Erikson. That the first book is unreadable, that it’s filled with deus ex machina and that the characters are shallow.

From the first page to the last the characters are involved and react to plot points, similarly to what may happen in the Silmarillion. There is no space for the familiarization and for characters to become accessible on an emotional level. The setting is so disconnecting and different that it’s impossible to relate to it if not on a cognitive level that leaves out the emotional impact.

There’s one particular aspect that involved Felisin in the second book. I’ve read reviews saying that Felisin is a flat character that sees no evolution, when to me it’s one of the most fantastic and challenging journey. Problem is, most of these changes happen before the first page, and I’m not joking.

Felisin is Paran’s sister. She only appears in a handful of lines of dialogue between Paran and Tavore in the first book. 99% of the readers will start book 2 without remembering that part. The deep changes that Felisin lives are only perceivable if one has an idea of how Felisin was BEFORE but this is never shown explicitly in the book.

Felisin is supposed to start as Paran’s little sister. The naive, innocent character who spends all her time reading books, to whom Paran is protective (and then guilty for having left her). Opposed to her older sister, that is the antithesis. Cold, determined, assertive. During the second book Erikson cruelly tortures the typical “innocent character” in every way possible. And he shows how a life can shape a person. He shows how everything “beautiful” can become corrupt and mimic what it saw. How it can lose all that beauty, physical and emotional.

But all this is lost. Readers find Felisin as a disagreeable character, almost a villain. No change is perceived because the “first” Felisin is never shown, we just get the evil one. And this transition and its thematic effect is completely lost (along with the prologue, where Erikson narrates from the point of view of Felisin and only reveals last that she is chained. Who cares to see a chained character if no one remembered her?).

This is just an example but is the way I feel this series. I’m awed by how it’s challenging and how it never takes the easy, predictable path. But it also feels like it overdoes and overreach, so becoming a niche product that only works when you give it enough dedication. And most readers aren’t willingly to fill all the holes that Erikson left behind.

Hence the lack of vaster popularity.

Most writers know and use all their tricks to lure the reader and make them follow. Erikson uses none. Either you want to follow because you share a certain mindset, or he doesn’t care and leaves you there.

Devices and Desires – K. J. Parker

And so it is Christmas. As every year and every holiday I feel like I’m not up to the task, so I just wait it to pass, thinking the next will be different and me being ready.

In the meantime I ordered and received another book:

On a forum I was criticized because I opened a thread complaining about a book cover, being told that it’s stupid to buy a book just because of the cover. In fact I never do it. What I do instead is spend a lot of time researching all the editions around the world so that I can pick the one I like the most. The choice to buy the book happens before. Then, when I’m sure I’m buying it, I start to look for the best edition and if I’m not satisfied I even happen to buy different copies of the same book.

In this case I’m rather content. This is the UK edition from Orbit. I have of the same author The Colour in the Steel, still from Orbit, and that edition isn’t so great. It is a cheap mass market book, rather shallow, barely passable cover and an ugly typeset. Instead I was surprised by this book. It’s fatter (700 pages), the cover has a very good style and textured paper, the typeset is elegant, paper quite good. It simply look much more “competent”, and adds to the flavor of reading :)

I have the habit of reading about twenty pages of every book I buy, especially because months and years may pass before I start the ‘serious’ reading. So I read some pages to quench some curiosity and frame the book a bit better. First impression was – Oh god, not fencing again. The book I’m currently reading already deals with fencing and the author walks a fine line balancing the technical details and precise descriptions without boring me. She (author is a she) was always successful but I was worried that I was going to read another trilogy that looked too similar. Instead she wins again. Few pages and it grabbed my attention. The five books that she wrote between the one I’m reading and this one justify the improvement in writing style. Somewhat more balanced and elegant, but still triggering a familiar feel of an author I know (and the reason why I bought another book). Again I found the slight, witty humor and finely crafted, intelligent characterization. Can’t go wrong.

But it will have to wait. I was just too curious and wanted this edition, but the ‘serious’ read will have to wait as I have already four books that I’m reading, much more on the pile, and still the whole trilogy to finish from the same author.

Two more books on the way, drifting further from the genre.

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Damn it…

Page 750 of Memories of Ice, 250 Wizard’s First Rule, 230 The Colour in the Steel…

…and I’ve started A Game of Thrones.

Also spending all my gaming time into flight simulators. May talk about this soon (hoping one particular sim arrives on Steam).

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Malazan series grows to 22 (twenty-two) books + novellas

Meaning the Malazan Book of the Fallen series written mainly by Steven Erikson and then his friend, Ian Cameron Esslemont.

– The 10 books of the main series written by Erikson, with the ninth out in September 09.
– Two more future trilogies, also by Erikson, one working like a prequel, the other like a sequel.
– The two books already out by Esslemont, Night of Knives and Return of the Crimson Guard.

The recent announce is about Esslemont’s agent signing a deal for four more books, with the first of the four to come out in 2010.

What are these new books about? Considering the old rumors, the next one will be titled “Stonewielder” and will deal with the Korel campaigns. Meaning Malazan empire stuff that probably fits in the middle of the main series.

The next one should be a book about Darujhistan revisited, but nothing more than this is known. Especially because it was all planned before Erikson wrote the eighth book also set in that same city.

This leaves out two more books. One should be about one continent, Assail, that was left almost in the dark in the main series. The other is supposed to be an epilogue to the main series.

So: 10 of the main series + 3 prequel trilogy + 3 sequel trilogy + 2 Esslemont books already out + 4 of the new book deal = 22 books total.

To add Erikson’s novellas, that are the best thing he ever wrote up to the point where I am at reading.

Well, this alone deserves the title of EPIC. Especially because I think the quality is superb. This is becoming a hobby on its own.

Ganoes Paran

Beautiful passage from Memories of Ice:

Aye, the truth of it. I won’t be collared, Nightchill. And I tell you this, now, and you’d do well to take heed of these words. I’m taking a step forward. Between you and every mortal like me. I don’t know what that man Gruntle had to lose, to arrive where you wanted him, but I sense the wounds in him – Abyss take you, is pain your only means of making us achieve what you want? It seems so. Know this, then: until you can find another means, until you can show me another way – something other than pain and grief – I’ll fight you.

Told to a God, it makes quite an effect.

Which isn’t the case of Kruppe, who has already the favor of a God:

‘Cheats? Gods forbid! What hapless victims are witness to on this night of nights is naught but cosmic sympathy for worthy Kruppe.’

Star Wars Galaxies 3: SWTOR

As I wrote on the forum I wouldn’t bet today any money on the success of the Bioware MMO. It’s not about the announce/denial of the game being based on RMT, which again may be ascribed at the difference between “being official” and “being true”, it’s that there are only reasons to justify skepticism.

The horrible art style is the 1# reason why I’m skeptical about this game. From the first screenshots released a while ago, to this new video I simply think it looks terrible. I’ve looked up their art direction guy, Jeff Dobson. It all makes sense: he comes straight from Star Wars Galaxies, another game that I thought looked like ass. Plus this video has also crappy and jerky animations to make it worse.

2# reason that justifies skepticism: the game is built on a bunch of unproven third party middleware. From the graphic engine to the server, they are using third party tech. And it’s third party stuff that has never been tested on a *real* game.

3# reason: no good ideas at the foundation of the game. These are some of SWG guys who believe that the main flaw of SWG was that it wasn’t heroic enough. So they make this new game. They give everyone a lightsaber and a single player story. Nope, the main flaw of SWG wasn’t not being heroic. SWG flaw was that it had, simply put, bad gameplay (just think of the combat system). Giving everyone a lightsaber (as they tried to do with NGE) didn’t help the game in any way, if anything it pushed away those few who liked it. So the Bioware guys stick to what they do: single player storyline. Which doesn’t answer the most simple of the questions: why a MMO?

Bad art, unproven tech, no ideas that develop the innate qualities of a MMO. I just don’t see anything that is worth looking for in this game if not the big names.

Bioware is known for the good stories, so it made sense for them to stick to what they know. But again, why a MMO? Either you do as Blizzard and change the face of your business and welcome a dramatic change to adapt to a wholly different genre, or you stick to what you do already: single player games.

The main problem is that no one likes to read online, especially in multiplayer. Everyone has innately different speeds to immerse himself in a story. The very last thing you want is that every player in a group is stuck at different stages, while other wait someone else to finish reading and make his choice. You have played WoW, you should know very well that even the small text in the quest window sometimes feels too much. Online games need a different pacing, and in particular they need to use their potential to the fullest, not to the minimum. This Bioware game is attempting to do a MMO through a style that is inappropriate to it and that doesn’t use any of the potential.

Sure, you can add voiceovers, branching dialogues and ramp up the interaction. But this increases exponentially the costs and the time required to develop content. At some point the game has to launch. At lighting speed players go through all the content and surpass the speed at which that content is done. Moreover, to avoid boredom the content has to stay fresh, and its freshness is proportional to all the possible interpolations (variations), so limited by an engine.

What I’m saying is that this model is suicidal, simply because it can’t realistically work in the longer term. Assuming, of course, that you expect this MMO to have a longer life cycle than the average single player game.

Maybe you can reduce the odds by adapting the business model, like making players pay for smaller content pack (which is why I say there may be some truth in the RMT announce by changing the perspective). As Guild Wars, you won’t be scared if players leave, as long they return when you’re done developing content overhead. But this just seems a hopeless and pointless battle to fight, when instead what makes sense is simply to EMBRACE the potential there’s in a MMO and that still all the major companies are scared of.

My opinion, of course.

Want something to look forward with slightly more hope (at least till they don’t sink those hopes)? I’m waiting to know more about Guild Wars 2 and that side company to Bethesda, Zenimax Online. Something good may come out.

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At loss for words

Yes, Warhammer again.

It’s like the perfect manual on how to be COMPLETELY out of touch with your game and community. Full denial of problems. Head in the sand attitude, and some of the stupidest ideas coming out of the blue.

Apparently as the first players rush onto the system and spread out across the servers, a ton of information and feedback will come flooding in via game forums, initial reviews as well as raw internal data. The temptation then is for the team to rush in and immediately start fixing things based on extremely small data sets and subjective interpretations. What the Warhammer Online team did instead was what might be referred to as “game triage.” They needed to decide which problems were truly game-threatening and focus on those and which could wait.

So they weren’t fooled. They wisely waited to address the real problems. Oh, really?

“When we look at game balance, we look at it in terms of realm vs. realm balance,” said Jeff Skalski, Warhammer Online’s RvR Strike Team Lead. “As long as we’re hitting that realm balance, we’re happy. Factional, racial or career population imbalances aren’t as critical.”

In fact, the team asserts that one of the biggest criticisms and fears around launch time — the potential for population or class imbalancehasn’t really materialized.

Yes, denial will help. As always.

The team also takes message board and player feedback very seriously and will address issues when they reach certain critical thresholds. A recent shift to healers, for example, occurred because the complaint by healers that their big healing spells were essentially useless in combat was backed up by internal data that showed how often such spells were used. As a result, many big healing spells were jazzed up to become more attractive for players.

Interesting, because the latest patch just reset the timers on those “big healing spells” to how they were previously.

Of all the problems the most crucial one the game had was one that many players doing other things missed — there weren’t enough people playing in the lower tier open realm RvR. While this had always been an anticipated problem as the player base aged and leveled up, all the data indicated that it was happening faster than it should. It was clearly something that needed to be addressed.

So they realized something wasn’t working. Now let’s see what it is:

“What we’ve found is that Scenarios tend to be their own reward,” Drescher said. “People who really want to do Open RvR, though, were falling behind PvE and scenario players in terms of gear. We needed to do something to draw people back into the ‘RvR lakes.'”

What!? Scenarios being “their own reward”? People in ORvR falling behind in terms of gear?

Do you have EVER played your own game? Scenarios weren’t their own reward. Scenarios were played because they gave HUGE boosts to experience and renown. ORvR players were falling behind in experience and renown. They are still falling behind.

In fact Scenarios didn’t provide gear in any way. If not through renown, which is again proportional to the experience.

If anything playing in ORvR will make your renown level advance FASTER than your experience level. This means that you proportionally get more gear via ORvR than what you get via Scenarios at the same level. The exact opposite of what you said.

And you are saying that in ORvR players were falling behind IN TERMS OF GEAR? And that, since you realized this, you fixed the problem by adding influence as another system to obtain gear WHILE YOU LEAVE EXPERIENCE UNTOUCHED?

Excuse me, this is nothing else than a plain display of utter incompetence. This is not a blogger with an axe to grind, this is just not having a clue about what you are doing.

Working on the Open RvR system also allowed the team to try and get ahead of another problem — the aging of the player base. The first element of this is the addition of “chicken content.” This is a series of quests that encourage higher tier player to revisit lower-tier zones (where they get turned into a chicken) in exchange for a fun series of Tome unlocks and quests that also provide interesting content for lower level characters as well. Apparently players will get experience for killing high level player-chickens and according to the team, there are as many Tome unlocks involving them as there were for fighting while naked.


Josh Drescher, a name to remember.

If you had said we’d be where we are just a few months after launch last year, we’d have called you a liar,” Drescher concluded. “We’re ecstatically happy with where we are

Good for you then. If only you could persuade me you’re convinced of what you are saying.

In fact it sounds simply pathetic.

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Warhammer 1.1a patch aggravating ORvR instead of improving it

Had to be expected. After the gold bags at keeps encouraged avoidance instead of conflict (keep trading) now there’s the new influence system that takes player kills in very little consideration while it hugely rewards keeps takeovers.

Result: another incentive to avoid a fight and cooperate with the enemy faction. You trade keeps and maximize the rewards. Before it was gold bags for gear, now it is gold bags + influence. I also note that now there are three overlapping systems just in ORvR that provide gear: gold bags, renown vendors and influence system. How many broken systems you are going to pile up before you start to make work what’s already in the game?

This is a perfect example of Mythic not understanding the basic of game design. Not only they made the mistake with the gold bags, but instead of recognizing it, they make it worse.

Official response from a CM:

James Nichols: Unfortunately the path of least resistance is also tempting,

Nope, it’s not tempting. It’s the way the game is designed. Doing quests in WoW isn’t “tempting” it’s the way the game was designed.

Simply put: You continue to design RvR so it promotes avoidance. You got many occasion to correct this, instead you make it worse.

James Nichols: rest assured though we’ll continue to improve RvR to make it so that conflict is a common occurrence as best we can,

How? Does your team even recognize how game design works? Because with every step they are making things worse.

James Nichols: but players adjust to massive RvR may still have yet to learn that a lot of the fun of RvR has to do with what you make of it.

It’s hard to be fun in a game when bad game design is an obstacle. Blaming the players because they don’t know how to have fun is blaming them for your very own faults and failures.

James Nichols: We expect to see players naturally migrate towards conflict as the initial influence frenzy calms down.

After the players understand even better than avoidance maximizes the reward? I don’t know what trends you see in games, but over time things get “gamed” more and more. If players pursue the path of least resistance NOW, in a week or a month they’ll do it even more.

Making mistakes is one thing, but making them over, and over, and over… well, there are no excuses for that. See below, Warhammer had its chances. It wasted them all.

Warhammer selling less than EQ2?

From PC World.

Top PC Game Sales for November 2008

1. World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King ($36)
2. World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King CE ($70)
3. Call of Duty: World at War ($50)
4. Spore ($48)
5. Fallout 3 ($49)
6. World of Warcraft: Battle Chest ($34)
7. The Sims 2: Double Deluxe ($19)
8. Left 4 Dead ($48)
9. The Sims 2: Apartment Life ($21)
10. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 ($49)

WoW wasn’t the only MMO to make November’s top 20. Sneaking in at #14? Sony’s Everquest II: The Shadow Odyssey expansion pack.

No Warhammer?

EDIT: Aye, confirmed.

11. World Of Warcraft – (Activision Blizzard) – $18
12. The Sims 2 Mansion & Garden Stuff Expansion Pack – Electronic Arts – $19
13. Nancy Drew: The Haunting of Castle Malloy – Her Interactive – $20
14. EverQuest II: The Shadow Odyssey Expansion Pack – Sony Online Ent. – $40
15. Far Cry 2 – Ubisoft – $50
16. World Of Warcraft: Burning Crusade Expansion Pack – (Activision Blizzard) – $29
17. Bioshock – 2K Games ( Take 2) – $14
18. Spore Creepy & Cute Parts Pack – Electronic Arts – $19
19. IGT Slots: Little Green Men – Masque – $20
20. Assassin’s Creed: Director’s Cut Edition – Ubisoft – $17