To Farshores, and Beyond: Part I

I remember when I decided to be a writer. Not the exact day, but I remember the event that triggered it. I’m sure many writers remember a similar event in their lives: the first time they read the Lord of the Rings, the first time they watched Star Wars, or some other exposure to a work they wanted to emulate. That work likely got them thinking about how that story could continue. They felt as if they had begun a conversation, and now it was their turn to speak.

When I was about 9 or 10 years old, I had dabbled in fan fiction. BattleTech fan fiction, to be exact. I was a GM for the BattleTech RPG, called MechWarrior. I loved creating stories for the neighbor kids, who themselves loved participating in them. Years later, one of those same neighbors recalled fondly a particular adventure I had taken him on in our little mech-filled universe. That was a big moment for me. I also loved reading BattleTech novels—particularly the ones written by Michael Stackpole—and eventually thought I should try my hand at writing one.

I did. It wasn’t good, and I only wrote a few pages before I ran out of steam. I decided to go back to what I was good at, which was running our game.

This wasn’t the moment that triggered the “I am a writer” compulsion in me, not really. It was just a false start. The real moment wouldn’t come until years later, but it too was brought about not by a novel or a movie, but by another game.

The year was 1997. I was just about to turn 14 when that fateful moment occurred. When Final Fantasy VII was released.

One of the neighbor kids (different from the BattleTech neighbor kids) brought over a copy of the game to play on my sister’s PlayStation. It was all this kid would talk about, and he begged me to borrow it so he could talk about it with someone who understood it. I did borrow it, somewhat skeptical (I was a dyed-in-the-wool sci-fi guy, and wasn’t interested in fairy tales and fantasies), and gave the disc a spin later that evening.

I went to bed, red-eyed and bleary, at around 7 AM the next day. And at that moment I severely resented my body and its stupid need for sleep. As soon as my eyes were open—perhaps after about 4 or 5 hours of sleep—I was back in Midgar with my spiky yellow hair and enormous Buster Sword.

ff7_us

When I finally finished the game, I sat back and realized something.

I could do this. I could write a video game script. Perhaps one even worthy of Final Fantasy.

That was the moment.

From that moment on, I was consumed with the idea of creating my own RPG, from developing the world and characters, to writing every line of dialogue. For that game, which I had titled Paradigm (for some reason), I had come up with some unique twists on the typical JRPG formula that the world wouldn’t see until years later, with the release of Final Fantasy XII (I honestly think someone in Japan read the script from Paradigm before creating that game. It had way too much in common with the one I was making).

I became an avid JRPG fan and played everything I could get my hands on. Another pivotal moment was, of course, the next iteration of Final Fantasy. This game, with its more realistic characters and (slightly) more realistic setting was more in line with what I wanted to create, me being the sci-fi guy. It was then that I decided on my hero, who incidentally had an awful lot in common with FF8’s hero, Squall.

I worked on this game for years before I finally was able to type the words “The End.” In that time, I had researched what it took to be a writer in the video game industry. It turns out to be a lot harder than I had naively thought as a 14-year-old kid. A lot of writers started out in testing, then worked their way up through design and finally into writing. Others already had writing credits to their name, having written stories and novels or worked in some other media before finally writing for video games. One does not simply declare oneself a video game writer, I learned to my dismay.

It was a sobering lesson. That was where I wanted to go. Into writing video games. I seriously considered going in through the testing route, and even tried my hand at it for a brief time, before I learned that was not where my skills lay, and I would have to work harder than everyone else just to get to the point where I could write games.

Then I turned to the other common route: writing in other media. The obvious media was novels. I had read a lot growing up, and when I started seriously considered writing novels, I had recently discovered a genre I had previously scorned: fantasy.

You see, I had never actually read a fantasy novel until I was 23. If there weren’t any spaceships or robots, I wasn’t interested. But once I finally caved into pressure and picked up my first fantasy novel, a little book called Wizard’s First Rule, I became utterly and totally obsessed. This was the second time in my life that I was convinced I would be a writer. This time, a writer of novels.

It wasn’t long before I decided that writing for video games would be just another dream job that I grew out of, like being an astronaut, a mad scientist, or a ninja. Writing novels would scratch the same itch as writing video games, and didn’t need to be a mere means to an end. It could be an end in itself.

I proceeded with this line of thinking for years, and much to my benefit. Here I am, on the eve of completing my first novel, and I am satisfied.

Mostly.