The author of Elite Reclamation talks about his creative process, and his love for the 1984 original.
Tell us about your book, 'Reclamation'
I was one of the original official authors for Elite: Dangerous, having managed to secure the first ‘Writers Pack’ kickstarter pledge back in 2012. The end result of that was my book ‘Elite: Reclamation’. That came out around 18 months ago and has been selling well ever since. It’s an adventure that centres around the Imperial superpower and how the various strata in their society interact. The central character (Kahina/Salomé - I hesitate to call her a heroine because she often isn’t!) starts out as something of a spoilt brat in the high echelons of the Empire, but is brought low by political infighting and ends up experiencing the universe of Elite at the hands of bounty hunters, traders, explorers and pirates. Through daring exploits and space-battles we see the universe through her perceptions, both its wonder and its danger. You can check it out on Amazon or in the Elite store.
Frontier was also generous enough to put aspects of the book in the game. You can actually visit the Prism system, where a lot of the action takes place, and there are mysteries alluded to in the book which can be investigated in the game. Since then I’ve contributed a handful of GalNet articles and, more recently, been lending my support to various in-game factions now present in v1.4. Many players have expressed an interest in seeing characters from Elite: Reclamation continue to take part in Elite: Dangerous post my story, and it’s been a great honour and a privilege to help them out with this. I also pop into the forum every so often when there’s a ‘lore’ question I can help to answer.
How did you get involved in the first place?
Ah… That story is probably something of an Elite legend by now! When I saw the Kickstarter for Elite: Dangerous back in 2012, I asked myself whether the tradition of having a ‘book’ come out with the ‘game’ (as per previous Elites) was going to be continued. The Dark Wheel, written by the late Robert Holdstock actually inspired me to start writing back in 1984. I sent an email in via the kickstarter asking whether or not there was a chance to audition to write a book for the new game. I felt I had enough credentials as I’d written a popular and (cough) unofficial set of Elite stories a few years earlier called the ‘Oolite Saga’ which continues to be very popular with fans (they’re free on my website –http://www.drewwagar.com/books/oolitesaga ). I didn’t get a direct answer at the time, but almost immediately the ‘Writers Pack’ appeared as a pledge reward, for £4,500.
My first reaction to that was ‘Game Over, Commander!’ I didn’t have a spare £4,500 lying about, more was the pity. However, one of my on-line friends suggested we could run a Kickstarter to… fund a pledge on the ED kickstarter. It was a crazy idea, very controversial at the time and did cause some initial friction in the Elite community. But it worked. I raised the funds in 9 days and hurriedly had to come up with stretch goals as a result. Many other would be authors followed the route and we ended up with a real selection of books (and an RPG!) as a result. I think we gave a major boost to the main Elite: Dangerous kickstarter too.
Why did you want to write about Elite Dangerous?
The first thing I ever wrote was an Elite story. I’ve still got it. It’s complete rubbish and you’ll never get to read it! In my defence I was only 13 at the time. Truth be told, Elite has never really left my consciousness since those early days. Even thirty years on, those of a certain age will still happily reminisce about Space Dredgers, Generation Ships and the legend of Raxxla. The original game cast a spell which remains to this day. The chance to write an officially sanctioned Elite novel, to be unarguable part of the lore, to crystallise one of my adventures into a game universe I’d loved from childhood was an item so near the top of my bucket list that there was simply no way I was going to miss out. It was a dream come true and a major ambition realised.
The other compelling thing about Elite is that it’s a very self-contained universe. It has quite clear rules and a unique style all of its own. It’s just as well-formed as Star Trek or Star Wars, but there are far fewer stories within the Elite universe. There are so many more stories that could be told – it was great to be able to flesh it out a bit more. I’d love to do another one.
What’s your favourite thing about Elite Dangerous?
That’s a really hard question to answer! The standout quality aspect for me is the soundscape; the engines, the clicks, whirrs and beeps aboard your ship all give you such a sense of really being in the cockpit of a spacecraft from the future – I actually rewrote parts of Elite: Reclamation on hearing the in-game sounds during the Alpha, so full marks to whoever is responsible for those. Overall I think I’d have to say the experience of flying the Cobra is my favourite aspect. The re-imagined ED version is bang up to date but also captures the charm of the original wireframe version from all those years ago. What I see in-game today is pretty much what was playing in my head back in 1984. For today’s dev team to have captured that and bring along new players is quite a feat.
I could afford a more expensive ship, but somehow it doesn’t feel right in flying anything else but the Cobra. I love heading out of the docking corridor and thinking “So… where to today?”, pushing the engines up to power and heading off into the stars.
Are there any other community activities that you enjoy getting involved with?
I have been involved with so many I’ve lost count. I set a precedent after being ‘persuaded’ (read blackmailed) to go to the original LaveCon in 2013. I’ve grown a sponsored moustache, been mercilessly lampooned on the ‘Dockers’ show as the arrogant and incompetent ‘Senator Drew’, been interviewed by (and corrected the egregious mathematical and scientific errors of) the Lave Radio crew in their Orange Sidewinder, joined the twitch streams run by Kerrash, Maddogg, Kate Russell and James Vigor and expressed the odd controversial opinion on my blog – I was even stabbed to death on camera once! That’s before I mention the daily emails, tweets and facebook posts about Elite and Reclamation from the fans out there. The conventions are amazing too, always fabulous to meet folks and discuss the game in person. I was particularly touched by Frontier employees coming up to me at the Premier and saying how much they had enjoyed my book. It hadn’t occurred to me that so many employees would also be die-hard fans.
Nowadays I put up a token resistance and then get dragged in to the next crazy madcap idea someone, usually Psykokow, comes up with. I think the community is probably the most valuable and wonderful thing about Elite. I’ve made some wonderful friends through it. I got to meet David Braben in person, a real pleasure. It was the fans that allowed me to realise a lifelong dream in the creation of my book. I’ll never forget that. If there’s something I can do to keep the Elite community going, I’ll do it. All of the crazy activities have been great fun. Long may it continue.
Right now, fans of Elite: Reclamation may be interested to know I’m just about to publish another book – Shadeward: Emanation. It will be launched at Fantasticon later this month. This is entirely my own work. One of the restrictions of Reclamation is that I had to follow certain rules and have my overall story-line ok’d by Frontier. With this book I have 100% creative freedom. It’s both a blessing and curse! On the positive side I’ve been able to make this a ‘harder’ SF story (there are no ‘magic’ hyperdrives or ‘top speed in space’ for instance) basing the story around actual plausible physics. On the flip-side I’ve had to do all the background creation myself, which takes up a lot of time and effort.
It’s set on a tidally-locked world where half the planet is in eternal sunlight and the other in permanent darkness. It has a post-apocalyptic feel to it. It’s a page-turner in the same style as Reclamation, so if you liked that, you should love Emanation. It has complex characters, a strange and unusual world that will appeal to SF fans; politics, religion, conflict and some very strange technology. Even better, it will be the first part in what I hope will be a five part series running up until 2019. So plenty there for folks to look forward to! http://www.drewwagar.com/books/shadewardsaga
What’s your favourite thing about the Elite: Dangerous communities that you’ve spent time with?
It’s the enthusiasm and generosity. My kickstarter was funded to over £7,000. I’d not met the vast majority of the pledgers before I started. They trusted me with their money and I hope I did them proud. The community sends Pizza to the devs, mugs for the staff, organises charity fundraising which is always supported way above the goals stated. People go out of their way to do that little bit extra. My wife, not a computer gamer at all, commented how welcoming and friendly everyone at the Premier was – she really enjoyed it. The spirit of the community really shone through.
How long have you been playing Elite for? What’s your first experience of Elite?
I’ve been playing Elite right from the start. I had a friend at school who had rich parents back in 1984. He had the BBC Micro computer with disk drives and showed me Elite. I vividly remember my jaw dropping when I saw the 3D vector graphics and hidden line removal. I was fortunate that my dad was an electronics engineer back then. He had built a computer from scratch at home so I was already au fait with 6502 assembly code at the tender age of 13. That meant that I really understood what I was seeing when I first saw that Cobra rotate on screen in ‘84. I was awestruck such a thing was possible and even more impressed when I discovered David Braben and Ian Bell were only about six years older than me.
After that I had to wait a year or so. I saved my pocket money and bought one of the original ZX Spectrum 48k machines. I got my own copy of Elite for Christmas in 1985. I genuinely got to ‘Elite’ status after the requisite 6,400 kills, despite supernovas and Thargoid invasions!
Anything you'd like to tell the community about?
For those fans who have read Elite: Reclamation and want to see more of the characters, they may be interested to know that they can now join up with many of them in game since the launch of v1.4 of Elite: Dangerous. Groups of players have approached me asking whether they can ‘adopt’ some of the ER characters to act as figureheads for their factions. I’m really delighted they’ve been so enthused with my characters that they want to do this. Even better, these groups are putting together artwork and fan-fiction – continuing the stories I started – emergent gameplay which promises a whole new adventure!
Kahina/Salomé is now the leader of the “Children of Raxxla” faction (childrenofraxxla.com), Ambassador Cuthrick and Admiral Brice are involved in “Loren’s Legion” faction in the Prism system and Commissioner Neseva has recently been promoted in the Sol system. You can find out about all of these factions in the ‘Groups’ section of the Frontier forums – they’re actively recruiting. It’s great to see the fans write on, Commander!