Monday, October 7, 2019

Interview with Michael R. Miller

Michael R. Miller is the author of Battle Spire. An amazing crafting LitRPG novel (Amazon Top-100!) and the first one we translated in Russian. We talked to Michael about his book, possible sequels and his gaming preferences. 

Your book is amazingly detailed. Classes, races, skills and system popups – everything is very rich in detail. Why was that so important to you?

I wanted the game to feel fleshed out and as fully realized as possible. We only visit a couple of locations in the book so I felt it was vital to give that sense of a broader game world beyond the Imperial Spire. Also, should any non-litrpg readers pick the book up I wanted them to be as familiar with the classes as possible before combat began.
It was also just a lot of fun! Being able to world build more freely compared to a ‘real’ secondary world fantasy was refreshing. I do hope to return to this world to write sequels too so having more of the game built helps with that.
As for the system pop ups, recipes etc. I wanted to make what is happening clear to the reader. As the Scavenger class relies on crafting and items, it made sense to have those item descriptions be as in depth as possible.

Some readers criticized the book for the weakness of the MC (in real life). It’s rare for LitRPG (maybe because readers like to put themselves in the MC’s shoes). Why did you chose to make him like this?

Some readers have certainty criticized Jack in the beginning of the story. I think they see him as too self-deprecating, and perhaps he is. As a reader and writer, my favorite characters are the ones who go on great personal arcs of transformation – e.g. my favorite character in Game of Thrones is Jamie Lannister – and I wanted that for Jack. I wanted to take him from a total loser to the sort of person that could save the world.
If Jack started as a heroic person, then his journey up the Spire and fighting Azrael wouldn’t be as important to him. Here in the UK (I’m Scottish and live in London) we often make fun of ourselves and are quite self-critical by default. Given reader feedback it could be that I ‘over did it’ in the opening chapters for readers in other markets.

You’ve got both swords and rifles in the same setting, in a traditional fantasy world. Why?

I intended the rifles to reflect those fantasy style rifles you see in the likes of World of Warcraft. As I wanted the engineering profession to feature heavily, it made sense to have steam punk style gadgets and gizmos, and thus guns to an extent. 

Maybe you can find a way to answer this question without major spoilers but do you think Azrael might have had a point doing what he was doing?

I think you can sympathize with Azrael’s goal and motivations, and that’s what I hope makes him a good villain. I think the best villains are the ones who see themselves as the hero in their own story. However, just because he had good intentions doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have been stopped. To do what Azrael did signals him as unhinged. He killed someone, put hundreds if not thousands into hospital and was willing to risk millions of lives. If he’d achieved his goal, who knows what steps he might have taken next now that he’d crossed that line.
After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The means do not justify the ends!

There is so little of the real world in the book. Do you think it’s important for the genre?

The real world didn’t play a major role in Battle Spire due to the premise of the story. For my personal tastes, I enjoy a story more when the MC has real world motivations for playing the game. I think a lot of that has to do with my love for Ready Player One.
With that in mind, I wouldn’t want the real world segment of a LitRPG story to dominate the book. I’ve picked the LitRPG up to read about the game world or perhaps the unique class the MC has. The real-world stuff can sometimes get in the way for me if it’s over done.

When do you plan to start working on book 2? Is there a plot already?

By the time Spire released this year I was already committed to working on a YA Dragonrider project. I am still not finished that book yet. I have a lung condition called Cystic Fibrosis and my health had been poor this year. I spent several weeks in hospital in September. Health issues plus my work at Portal Books has slowed my personal writing.
I do intend to write a sequel to Battle Spire one day. I don’t have a full plot outline yet but I have some cool ideas that I’ll keep refining until putting pen to paper. 

Trapped in game is a classical LitRPG trope. Perhaps this won’t work as a suspense holder in book 2 as well as it did in book 1. What other plot devices do you keep in mind for that?

Yeh the trapped in the game trope is hard to make work. I think my terrorist attack angle and the fact that it was clearly temporary and unintended by the developers helped to sell the concept. For book 2 I’ll definitely do something else.
I think having other players as the primary antagonists is great as it helps to give it an MMO feel. Given how flexible the game world is, I’m thinking some grand, game altering quest line triggered by a player from a rival faction that threatens all Jack has built between the books could work. But it’s early days yet.

The MC’s parents don’t find computer games a worthy hobby for their son. And they’re not alone in thinking like this. What do you think of such a hobby? Considering you can only make money in games if you’re a professional cyber sportsman.

I very much drew on personal experience for that one. It’s not that my parents were against me playing games per se but they didn’t understand that, to me, playing with my guild was just as important as if I were playing in a sports team or band. When you’re working in a large team like that, you learn all sorts about people management, how to train, be dedicated, communicate well to people in multiple languages and how to problem solve on the fly. I used to lead raids during the Burning Crusade era of WoW and that was an experience like no other.
So I think there is a lot of positives from gaming.
Sadly, I think gaming still suffers a stigma today, especially if you’re a bit older.
Like Jack mentions early in the book, if there is money in it then perspectives will change. I think when esports become more mainstream then perspectives on gaming will change.
As a hobby for me, there is nothing greater than a super immersive RPG game. Seeing a solid story unfold over days of playtime while taking a character from nothing to god tier is so satisfying. Sinking into a game like this is meditative for me and VERY relaxing.

Do you play games? If so, which ones?

I don’t play as many as I used to. My preference has always been for a good RTS or RPG game. Probably my favorite new game in recent years was Kingdom Come Deliverance. I’m a big Total War fan too, and played Age of Empires to death growing up. My all time favorite RPG game is Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2 (such a messy masterpiece!) and Dragon Age Origins is a close second place to that.

I enjoyed Halo A LOT back in the day but as I got older I found FPS and MOBAs would just make me mad when playing which I didn’t find a relaxing way to spend my free time. Right now I am playing Classic World of Warcraft and reliving the dream again!!

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