Monday, April 11, 2016

Interview with Gary Cooper (the Omegaverse series)

Author of the famous Omegaverse series G.R. Cooper is a twenty year veteran of the game industry, mostly spent in the trenches of massively multi-player online game development. He's done a little of everything; producing, level design, AI scripting, community management, customer support - even a little 3D modeling - but he considers himself a game designer at heart.

MDB: Why gaming? What prompted you to dream up a virtual world?

GC: It's been one of my jobs for the past twenty years. I started work at one of the pioneers in online gaming, Kesmai Studios, in 1995 because I was so involved in the "virtual" worlds of the era and knew deep down that it was the beginning of something big. My career almost since college has been in developing online gaming. Sometime around the year 2000 I began designing my "dream" game - that game is very much like the game described in the first three volumes of the Omegaverse series. Given that it seems unlikely that I'll ever have the opportunity to make the game, I thought it natural to at least use what I'd designed to, hopefully, entertain some folks in another way. When I discovered LitRPG, it all kind of fell into place. One of the tools a game designer uses is called a "use case". That's where the designer describes, in prose, what the player will do and how they will interact with the game world as well as other players. It helps us to visualize the activities from a player's point of view and is a very good way to discover problems with the design. When I first read D. Rus's Alterworld, something in my head clicked - a lot of what he'd written was much like you'd read for a game design use case. When I discovered that there was an audience for that kind of writing, it just felt like a natural fit with what I'd been doing for years.

MDB: If you could transport yourself to the world you created, would you do that? And if you would, which of the game characters would you like to play?

GC: I'd go in a second. The main theme of my books is to explore what it would really be like to live within a virtual world that operated within a game mechanic. How would all of our senses come into play? How would we be different? How would we be the same? To be able to cross into the virtual world permanently would provide us not only a vastly expanded possibility of experiences, but we'd also have the ability to redefine ourselves - even down to how we look. It would also, at least in my books, provide you with an unlimited time in which to exists - how would our lives differ if we knew we had all of the time in the world and we couldn't really die? I'm tempted to say that I'd want to be my main character, Duncan, since he has had such an incredible run of good fortune - not luck - he has been given much, but it wasn't luck. He is being tested, and since I know what some of those tests are going to be and why he is being tested, I'll have to say that, no, I don't really want to be my MC. ;-) Honestly, just give me a ship that I can use to explore the universe, and I'll be happy not to be part of any larger story.

MDB: In your opinion, is playing MMORPG games just mindless entertainment and a waste of time? Or does it help one to grow and develop one's particular skills and character traits? Which ones?

GC: It's a simplistic answer, but they can be whatever you make of them. They can be mindless entertainment and a waste of time. I've been guilty of that in the past. They can also expand your horizons and introduce you to people and cultures from all over the world. One of the first things I did online was to "fly" an air combat simulator against other players from around the world. One of the people I would fly against was a guy in Australia. We'd chat as we approached each other, fight, then chat as we set up for the next fight - he in the middle of his night, me in the middle of my day. That was in probably 1991 or so, and we're still friends to this day, though we've never met. The stories of young men or women learning their leadership abilities by working within their online clan are fairly common, but more common are the people who fall in love in a game before ever having met. Two friends of mine did that and they've been married for over twenty years. I think that's the biggest thing about these games, the people you meet and the friendships you make. Ultimately, whether you're face to face with someone or just typing or speaking to them online doesn't really matter - as one of my game design mentors says, "the heart can't tell the difference."

MDB: What do you find more exciting: to play a game or to write about it?

GC: That's a difficult question to answer - I love them both. One is an insight into another game designer's mind, one an insight into my own. Ideally, I could play the game that I write about - that would be the best of both worlds!

MDB: Can we expect your new books to expand into other genres? What genres would they be?

GC: Yes. The first three books in the Omegaverse series are in a science-fiction setting, but the fourth begins an arc that takes place within a fantasy world. Once that arc is completed, there are unfinished tasks and open questions within the science-fiction world that will have to be explored, but I already know how that's going to play out.

MDB: Can we expect new Omegaverse books or do you have other plans?

GC: The current plan for the Omegaverse will probably take it to about 12 books (I'm currently working on book 5). I've got the outline for the high level story complete, so I know where it's going to go. The difficult part that's now on me is how to create another half dozen or so books that each have satisfying story resolutions (I'm not a fan of cliffhangers) while pushing forward the larger stories. Once those dozen'ish books are complete, there will likely be other areas within the Omegaverse to explore, but likely with different main characters. I'm also working on a "normal" science fiction series. I hope to have the first volume of that published this year - I work on that in between Omegaverse novels (while I'm outlining and thinking through the details of the next Omegaverse story, I write my other novel, which is called The Better Part of Valor).

MDB: Which other LitRPG authors would you personally recommend to your friends and readers?

GC: I have to admit that I really haven't read a lot - my kindle has a lot of LitRPG books that are 10-20% complete. Once I start reading LitRPG, I tend to drift off and start thinking through my own story. It makes it hard to concentrate. I read the first three of the D. Rus' Alterworld series, and enjoyed them very much. I read the first and first half of the second of Aleron Kong's books - I wish I could write with the infectious enthusiasm he has. Some of the books I'm still going through (and having a great time reading) are Otherlife Dreams by William D Arand, Sector Eight by Michael Atamanov, and Survival Quest by Vasily Mahanenko. I've actually been spending a lot of time reading about writing - trying to increase whatever skills I might have in order to create better books. On Writing by Stephen King was one I read this weekend. I'd recommend that one to anyone hoping to join in the fun.

MDB: Thank you very much! Good luck with your work!

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  1. Great interview. Thank you! Love GR Cooper! Mahenenko (my second favorite LITRpg) is another great author but you literally cannot beat the sci fi arc from Cooper imho and the transition to fantasy was smooth and also very well done.

    1. Thank you! Check out the Mahanenko interview in a new post :)