Game Time/CASB: After-Battle Report
I bowed out of NaNoWriMo this year. There’s two reasons – one is the usual “there is no such thing as downtime” problem that my household has had to deal with for the past year (and, sadly, the foreseeable future). The second is a bit odd, and I don’t know if I can put it into words. Basically, I find myself writing not so much novel narratives as I do video game narratives. There’s an intangible element that begs to be put into 16-bit RPG form, and it just doesn’t carry over to the standard prose of a novel in a satisfying manner. I’ve tried, but the stories I want to tell need audience participation and run on that unique video game logic.
I bring this up because I recently revisited a planned project, and while I can’t really justify it as I had it planned, it did resonate with this problem. It also is a cautionary tale of what happens when you try to take a video game narrative and apply it to another medium.
I speak, of course, of Joe Mad’s infamous series Battle Chasers.
First off, I want everyone to know that I did not pay perfectly good money for that series. Even if I wanted to, Image’s decision to release it only in a box set and charge $100 would nerf that idea. So thanks to one of my credit card companies, I got this box set for free with reward points. I knew from the Major Spoilers Podcast that this series was basically a train wreck, but at least I got a nicely packaged train wreck. But dammit, I’ve gotta have some standards.
On the MSP, the hosts repeatedly compared Battle Chasers to “a D&D game that never got past the second session”. Having never had the opportunity to play D&D (and don’t even ask about my aborted attempts to get a BESM group going in college, it’s too depressing), I can’t vouch for that. What I can say, however, is that the entire existing series feels like the first third of an off-the-peg SNES RPG. The characters are all moved into place very gradually (padded narrative for sake of random battles), some exist solely for the sake of fight scenes (non-story bosses), and while some are more likable than others, all of the characters are off-the-peg as well (to the point that some, like Calibretto, feel like rip-offs of existing characters, like Chrono Trigger’s Robo). While there are comic-related reasons the series is now a joke beyond the ridiculous delays, I feel that the real reason that Battle Chasers is terrible is that its story was never meant to be read – it was meant to be played.
There are characters that exist for no reason than to plant seeds. While she never rises above her role as Mandi Tori Titshots in the issues, I would hope that this was the reason Red Monika was given such a focus. The only time she even showed personality beyond “look at these funbags” is in the stories by Adam Warren, telling me that the creator didn’t know or care what role this character had in the plot. Others feel like their stories were never meant to intersect in any way; Garridan’s story feels like it was shoe-horned into Gully’s just because Joe Mad wanted a big brooding dude with a sword on his team, not because it makes sense for him to help her. In a video game, you can excuse having a flat character or a character who doesn’t make a lot of story sense in your roster because they presumably have some play utility. But when you remove that play utility, they feel totally superfluous and show that the creator really didn’t care about how it really worked as a narrative.
The frustrating thing about Battle Chasers is that not all of it is terrible. There are good moments and potentially interesting characters that are thrown aside for the sake of more crap. Out of the regular characters, Gully and her posse are pretty likable (even if, like I said earlier, Calibretto is pretty derivative). The villains all revolve around her, so it should be her story with her oddball friends, but like I said, we needed the Sword Guy by law, so there goes her focus. I was particularly intrigued by the story of what I would call a “boss fight” character, the possessed thief; her plight & backstory struck me as more entertaining than our main good guy or main femme fatale, but the story can’t even keep her skin tone straight. She could be a cool tragic character, but she’s just sort of tossed aside with less care than the first boss of the game. And even Red Monika was interesting under Adam Warren’s pen; the story with her as a rookie thief, desperately chanting “I’m lucky, I’m lucky!” while dodging arrows, gave her more cunning, charm, & personality in six pages than Joe Mad could muster with a million anatomically impossible poses. But squandered potential is one of the most frustrating things I encounter in media and makes me hate the end result more than anything else. Still, contrary to popular opinion, there was something there.
That said, if Battle Chasers was the video game it clearly always wanted to be, it wouldn’t be very good. I’ve played many, many RPGs in my time, and if this was one, it’d be one I’d play for about six hours before I threw in the towel (unless, of course, it had a good gameplay engine). It would be so totally generic a fantasy setting that it would roll off the pier and leave me no choice but to play Dragon Quest V again to get the tang of boredom out of my mouth. Still, removing it from what was clearly meant to be its real medium and forcing it into comic book form highlighted all the pitfalls of bringing a video game narrative into any other medium. When you write a game narrative, you want your characters & plot to be endearing enough that your audience will want to work with you in revealing every part of it. It’s meant to be cooperative. So unless the author is willing to fill those gaps in their story, you really can’t adapt it to another medium. And that’s assuming you have a story that people want to be experiencing in the first place, not a failed D&D campaign.
In other words, I’m not writing this year because I’m afraid it’ll come out like Battle Chasers. Just with less boobies. And that’s a fear to keep you awake at night.