As promised: Succubus, a LitRPG about a warlock with a sexy succubus sidekick, or something. As per usual, this is a blind readthrough and I have no idea whether it’s going to be great or rubbish.
Succubus is certainly making itself easy to summarize, by giving me a quote that succinctly describes the opening conflict:
I had made it to the final round of interviews for a Quality Control position, and I desperately needed this. I had been laid off from my previous job three months ago, my bank account was getting perilously low, and I was a month late on rent.
So that’s where we are, and here’s who’s at the other end of the table:
Three mid-level managers were sitting across the table from me, looking at my résumé. A guy in glasses, a bro-tastic dude from Sales, and a woman from HR.
Jesus, you’re looking for a QA position and three managers showed up to interview you? Is this one QA position the fulcrum upon which half the company turns or are two of these people on break and just showing up for the lulz?
If you’re wondering just how “bro-tastic” we’re talking:
Sales Guy loved what I was saying. “Ian, yo – have you tried the full immersion unit yet, my man?”
Crap. I prayed my borderline poverty wasn’t going to sink my chances. “I, uh… I want to, but I could only afford the basic system. I’m saving up, though.”
“The basic is good, but you gotta try the full immersion. It is sick, dawg. Get this – you have a beer in the game? You get buzzed. You have five beers? You get drunk. I shit you not.”
That is how much. Do people like this actually end up in management in video games? It feels like something that could happen. A lot of video game companies are kind of a shitshow.
After some discussion of medical trials that Jimmy Protagonist put on his resume because it was better than a blank space:
Glasses Guy spoke up. “The reason we’re asking, Mr. Hertzfelder, is because we’re working on a prototype for a long-term immersion system – the kind where you could conceivably stay in the game for weeks at a time, maybe even months, and not suffer any ill effects. That’s the QC position we’re hiring for, and your background in medical research really stands out from the other applicants.”
Shit, this QA position is the fulcrum on which half the company turns. Also, Google informs me that getting QA and QC mixed up like I’ve been doing disqualifies me for ISO-9000 compliance. They’ll never take me alive.
“It’s safe, right?”
“Perfectly safe,” Glasses said.
“Absolutely safe,” the woman agreed.
“Totally safe!” Bro-Dude exclaimed. “But the best thing is, we’re paying $50 an hour plus overtime. So, say they want to hook you up to the system and have you pull a 24-hour shift. After eight hours, that’s time-and-a-half, dude, so we’re talking $75 an hour. After twelve hours, it’s double-time – so you’re making a Benjamin an hour for getting drunk in a game, dawg! It don’t get any better than that!”
I have to admit, the sales guy was good at his job. He was selling me on exactly what I wanted to hear.
Really? Because what I’m hearing is “this thing is so dangerous that we’re offering tons of extra money to mitigate the possibility of death.” I’m also wondering how much this “medical research into long term immersion” is going to end up being anything but a framing device for why this guy is in an MMORPG for a massive stretch of time and can’t leave early. The “can’t leave” part might be worth the setup, if the visit turns out to be more harrowing than expected, but otherwise – why not just have this guy be playing an MMORPG? We’ll see whether or not it ends up being relevant. Likewise, I’m not sure if that $50 is in 2018 dollars (the book was released in April and already has a sequel) or if it’s 207X dollars like in Awaken Online. If the former, it’s super suspicious that they’re offering six or seven times minimum wage for a job that is literally just playing a video game for three months to double check whether or not it kills people. That amount of money kind of suggests it totally does kill people.
Wait, hang on, already? These chapters are short.
Jimmy Protagonist gets the job – side note, if it took me like 20% of the way through Awaken Online to learn the name of the protagonist it could be a while before I figure out this guy’s actual name – so Jimmy Protagonist gets the job and gets taken to the hospital room by his new boss, John. That’s not the “give characters whose names I can’t be bothered to remember a common name” gag again, his bosses’ name is just actually John. No word yet on whether he’s got ludicrously severe multiple personality disorder.
There was a hospital bed with a big mechanical donut-looking thing circling the top of the bed, sort of like an MRI machine. Dozens of cables and wires snaked everywhere across the floor, connected to a bank of computers and EKG machines lining the side of the room. There was also an IV stand with a saline drip next to the bed.
Are you sure you’re not working for Abstergo, Jimmy?
“Cool – do I get to choose my name?” I asked.
“It’ll be Ian.”
“Really?” I asked, disappointed. “I mean, that’s a little… bland, isn’t it?”
“It helps to keep the reports simple,” John said. “‘Ian’ is a lot easier than ‘Vargosterok.’ That way we don’t have to try to remember who’s who – we know Ian did this, Janet did that, Sandeep did something else. All the QCers use their own first names.”
I’m not sure, but it’s possible the book has anticipated that readers might find a first-person protagonist’s name to keep track of, so they found an excuse to drop it a couple of times here and help get it cemented early on. This way people can talk about the book online or with their friends a bit more intelligibly.
“Just remember, the game won’t throw anything at you that you can’t handle – at least, nothing you can’t handle with a little ingenuity. When in doubt, remember that there are no coincidences inside the game. You ready?”
Holy Hell, how much playtesting did you give this thing that your MMORPG has no coincidences in it?
OtherWorld never ceased to amaze me. The game actually beamed sensations directly into your brain so that you saw, heard, smelled, felt, and tasted the video game world exactly as though it were the real world.
It’s 2018. We do not need the concept of full dive explained to us.
There were some things you could vary – for instance, you could turn your pain settings down to zero
Ian monologues about his status screen:
‘Health’ was the amount of damage I could take, and would regenerate slowly over time.
‘Mana’ was basically magical power, or my ability to cast spells. It was the base stat for Warlocks and Mages – basically anything magic-related. Which kind of sucked for me, because I was used to playing classes where the main stats were Strength and Focus. So this would be a learning experience to see how Mana worked. It would be depleted with the more spells I cast, but just like Health would regenerate over time.
‘Intellect’ was one of the basic core stats, and increased the amount of Mana I had to cast spells.
‘Stamina’ was basically how much punishment I could take during a fight.
And ‘Armor’ was how much protection my current outfit provided against attack.
I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand: You’re writing LitRPG. That intellect is tied to mana is probably something worth establishing – that’s common but not ubiquitous. But we know how red and blue juice works. You don’t need to tell us what health and mana are.
And meanwhile, the difference between health and stamina is unclear. Is stamina some kind of natural armor? Does stamina get depleted in a fight and then rapidly replenish from health, while health regenerates more slowly? That would allow for individual fights to be potentially lethal while also allowing for several in a row, because you could get reduced down to 10% stamina during the fight, then quickly regenerate back to max stamina from your larger health pool, while health regenerates more slowly and thus serves as a constraint on how long you can keep fighting. Having higher stamina means you can raid dungeons with more powerful opponents, while having higher health means you can fight more of them before you need external healing. That would be an interesting mechanic, but it’s also a wild guess. I have no idea if health and stamina work that way at all.
I looked at the action bar in the lower half of my vision – basically a strip of icons across my lower frame of vision.
This description is weird. Is the action bar mounted to his eyes, his head, or his shoulders? His ability to look towards them at all implies it can’t be mounted straight to his eyes, plus that would be the least convenient possible setup, but saying the strip of icons is across the “lower frame of vision” implies that it has, if not a fixed position in his eyesight, at least a typical position in his eyesight. So taken together, the action bar is probably fixed to his head, which is the second least convenient setup, because it means you have to turn your eyes without turning your head to focus on things, which does not come naturally. Fixing the HUD to the position of the shoulders solves this problem. It means your action bar will turn when you do, but also that you can turn your head to focus on it. I don’t think Awaken Online mentioned what its HUD was affixed to, but Sword Art Online also has the head-affixed HUD and I don’t know why this is so common, because it is a terrible setup.
I hovered my finger over the ghostly image [of the ability], and a small window appeared:
2.5 seconds cast time
15 hit points
25 Mana to cast
Range: 50 feet
I’m going to damn with faint praise here and say that at least this gives strong and immediate indication that this world runs on legit MMORPG rules, not just vaguely similar, but to the point where being familiar with WoW or GW2 or whatever will actually give you a frame of reference to help predict how this world’s world works.
It does answer why the ability bar is set up at the lower end of Ian’s vision, though: Because this game is importing MMO mechanics with no effort made (so far) to adapt them to full dive. You examine abilities by hovering over them for tooltips, which is convenient with a cursor but less so with a finger. The game knows exactly where Ian is looking because it has to in order to be able to model his changing field of view, if it didn’t know where Ian was looking it would be unable to show him the things he is looking at, which means there’s no reason the tooltip can’t pop up as soon as he looks at the icon for longer than a half-second.
I was really loving being a Level 1 Warlock so far. (That was sarcasm.)
Thanks for the tip.
Technically a warlock is just a male witch, but Warlock was the game’s designation for a particular class of fighter, so that’s what she was listed as instead of ‘witch.’
This whole “explain basic MMO concepts to an audience reading LitRPG” is gonna be a theme, isn’t it? AJ, what about your book’s hook of “succubus boning” made you think yours was gonna be the LitRPG that broke into the mainstream?
“Permanent bindings come from dark magic embodied in the physical form of collars
I placed the collar on the floor and started to read the incantation. I didn’t know the language, but the game took care of details like that. You didn’t have to learn complicated spell casting, either – you just thought about an action and the game took over. In this case, words in a guttural language I didn’t recognize tripped off my tongue as easily as though I had grown up speaking it from birth.
I don’t know if this is another “beam knowledge into your brain” thing or if it’s just the game hijacking your avatar in response to a command, but it’s dumb. Having some amount of auto-correct training wheels for things like attacking, climbing, and so on makes sense, even though it’d probably be disconcerting as Hell to have something else moving your limbs like that. If your low level enemies are even remotely competent, then players will need some practice sword fighting before they can kill them, and some people will want to skip to the good stuff.
But this is gratuitous. People have no difficulty memorizing Skyrim dragon shouts or Witcher spells. A twenty word vocabulary of 1-3 syllable words in a made up language is something people can memorize without a whole lot of trouble, especially since there’s no need to learn grammar or syntax or weird declensions. It sounds like the incantations Ian is getting up to are significantly more complex than that, but they don’t need to be.
Ian summons an imp. Which is exactly what I’d expect from a level 1 Warlock. What’s weird, though, is that this isn’t a harem book. The description says there’s going to be one succubus. Are all the rest of Ian’s demon minions going to be non-sexy monsters like the imp? Or is he going to stumble into an endgame succubus summon and have no need to summon anything else?
Either way, I am cautiously optimistic about Succubus. It’s basically just World of Warcraft, but at least it’s reasonably good at being World of Warcraft. Adhering to existing game design is better than trying to come up with something new when you have no idea what you’re doing. The premise is reasonable, the introduction of game mechanics is working, and it hasn’t really stupendously fucked anything up yet. Of course, I was also pretty keen on Threadbare for the first three chapters, so we’ll see how this goes.