Kupopolis: A Literary Discussion


#1

Hey Guys!

I was watching some lectures last night on Scifi, and it got me thinking about the nuances of Sicfi and fantasy in the Kupop tradition.

I don’t think we have any pretenses of winning any Hugo Awards any time soon, but I think we as a group do like talking about our influences and thought processes on our individual works. I don’t think we take the time to often to talk about our collective works.

I think what’s really interesting is although we’re based on a story universe based off of Japanese RPG games, a lot of our writing has an essentially post WW2 dime store pulp feel to it. The Great War has acted as a backdrop to the bulk of our writing and the stories deriving from it has become more sophisticated as we’ve grown into adults. Even then, a lot of our works have an “our ideals vs their ideals” plot to it, and it is only in the latter half our existence have we dived into plots of moral ambiguity. I think apart of that is because a lot of what we liked in the 90’s was carry-over from concepts created in the 80’s, which were still very cold-war influenced.

We haven’t had yet our true cyberpunk moment where it comes to our plot lines. Yes, we have megacorps, we have supercomputers, but they are still controlled by individuals and understood by individuals–concepts that distinctively make them not wholly cyberpunk. A key facet to true cyberpunk is the concept of the unknown when it comes to technology and identity. We delve a little bit into this with the Omnicent Conflict, but that ended with a us-vs-them plotline. I think the concept of White Cell War, where the massive organization that protects the status quo self-implodes, is a great step forward. Travis took the initiative and re-introduced the unknown.

One thing Kupopolis has grown into as a narrative tradition is ground the fantastic in daily life. In television media we see it portrayed often as alter egos, but in Kupopolis there is always a subculture or inner circle where these characteristics are commonplace. We have secret agents and superheroes play video games in their downtime. We’ve had heroes who fly giant mecha discuss the pros and cons of pulp in orange juice. I think this is a reflection of our group has a whole; a lot of the scifi tradition has been based on alienation, but its the internet that brought us together based on shared media.

Anywhoo, what do you guys think our our stuff collectively?


#2

I’ve oscillated over the years. When I was young, I wrote what was fun and nostalgic and appealed to my immediate interests. The Esper Wars started as Julius Caesar by Shakespeare because I just read it in sophomore English class. Esperian ships had Gigamerton Cannons because they were just Reflex Cannons from Macross/Robotech. Robots took off as I got deep into Gundam fandom in my late high school/early college years, and I kinda grabbed Trav by the collar and brought him with me on that ride.

I think the dime pulp comparison is accurate, because of that. A lot of what I did was very good-is-good and evil-is-evil or it was basically the opposite, to the point that it wasn’t deeper. A lot of the early Esper Union and Fascist stuff was basically edgelord nonsense born out of a sixteen year-old’s desire to be shocking, rather than meaningful (and that sixteen year-old didn’t know the difference between them).

As I got older, I wanted to make my work “important.” This was, honestly, kind of a paper tiger and I think it made me less pleasant to work with; I cared too much about message and too little about having fun. A lot of that message was still very derivative; Mayday was a little too inspired by Gundam 0080, for instance. I also never quite got moral ambiguity right, but I tried for it.

Now, I think I’ve come back to the place where I feel – more than anything – it’s important that we have fun with what we write. That’s probably made me more pulp-y in ways. I am also a sucker for heartfelt drama (like, I watched Your Name and was not emotionally okay for three weeks) and I like to work in that kind of stuff, even if I am not as good at it. I like exploring how the world we made affects how the little people feel; I think my recent stuff and my last few offerings at the end of my stay in Proper explore that?

I think there’s a lot we could do still. I figure I’m probably gonna be towing the line between fun, pulp-y action stuff and the character-driven stuff I got into towards the end. I’m still feeling out that line and how it works best. (I will say that introspective character stuff is really hard to make interactive.)


#3

Well, there’s much I can say on this topic (and well if I have the time, but I’m at work now!)

-A lot the stuff in Kupopolis was inspired by (or ripped off from) things we, as writers, like. There are some elements that worked well because we understood them really well. I think a lot of the story’s political intrigue and war worked really well for a long time because many of the writers involved had a deep passion for history. Some parts didn’t work so well – parts where I tried to copy something that I thought was cool, but didn’t understand how it worked. I might put Fara Somers 1.0 in this category. “Hey, Buffy the Vampire slayer is awesome! I should totally do the Mana Knight, but like a girl!” I like to think that in the intervening years my understanding of the superhero genre and female protaganists has improved.

-I’ve gone around and around on whether or note all the extra detail (stats sheets and the like) is enriching texture or so much clutter, especially when it comes to military stuff. I definitely went through a phase of “Celiose shows up and wins, because Celiose,” but now I’ve kind of settled on “military characters should know their shit, and it’s a strength of mine that I know enough military history to show a commander behave in a way that shows that.”

-It’s interesting Mike brings up cyberpunk, as Shadowrun was clearly one of my Proper-era influences. Although I think I brought some elements over, there’s still a lot that’s missing. Mike points out that much of cyberpunk is about alienation, but most of our characters seem quite in tune with technology and the world they live in. I think part of the issue was that my Proper-era writing tended to focus upward, on the leaders and warlords, the movers and shakers. There’s not many cyberpunk stories where the arms dealer corporate mogul is the protagonist.

-I have stated that Reborn Tasnica will be cyberpunk-y, the fall after their Gilded Age in Proper (but not quite yet the long dark night of Neo.) I’m thinking about how I want to revisit some of the things that made cyberpunk compelling.

-I get what Tex is saying about trying to be “important.” Kupopolis definitely went through a self-serious phase. I remember reading a post by one of our guest writers and the writer definitely seemed to think he was making a meaningful point about religion, but all I took away from it is “this writer dislikes organized religion.”

-THAT SAID, I think certain things turned out really well. The founding myth of the Great War, of a world where the gods have been banished, has proven suprisingly durable.

-So I’m going to do a CoH notes post when the Season 1 Finale is done, but since Mike started this discussion, I do want to point out that there are points where I tried to write CoH as being in dialogue with Proper. Like, remember how Celiose, despite his superlative military skill, is not exactly a people person and has alienated everyone around him? Such that at one point Aurora pitched me the idea of a Celiose/Shana divorce (which I regret shooting down?) The implication being that his life-study of warfare had led him to be almost incapable of having a normal life? Go read the CoH Pilot. There’s a point where Roxanne basically says to Fara, “don’t train all the time, it’s important for you to have friends, an education, and be an emotionally healthy person.” In episode 6 Eleod and Roxanne have a kind of Mom-and-Dad argument over whether or not Fara should even be going to college if she’s not going to study something useful like military history.

-…it’s interesting to me that the character I created when I was fifteen was ruthless and even a little amoral at times, but the character I re-created at thirty-five is more traditionally heroic.

-…and since Mike mentioned grounding the story in daily life, this is something Matt and I continue to (try to) do in CoH. Osprey and his damned samurai movies…

…man, where’s Nick? This sort of thing would totally be his jam.


#4

Also: re “good and evil” vs. “gray and grey”…you know, I don’t know if it came through very well, but since I loosely based a lot of the Great War on World War II, it included the Grand Army and Celiose doing a bunch of nasty stuff. Like, the strategic bombing campaign in the Dragon Dimension is some bombing-of-Dresden-type stuff.

Now, the fact that the GA/Celiose are treated as heroes and legends are part and parcel of the hagiography of the war and GACA propaganda. Surely almost everyone living in the Web today believes it, which is part of what made the OmniSent arc so effective because the Omnisent was largely comprised of people who knew better.

That said, the distinction between what the writers know and how the characters should act is not a distinction teenage-us always handled very well. I also don’t know if the gap between reality and mythmaking is the sort of thing the old skool kupoposcript format got across. It doesn’t help that much of the 1995-6 era posts were already lost to the sands of time, and didn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense. (“Let’s invade Baron!” “Ok!” ::invades Baron::).

…I mean, I could do a whole post just about Celiose and his various treatments by various different writers – Mike tends to treat him as a wise warrior, Dustin showed him as aloof and disconnected, Aurora showed him as a failed husband, and I always thought of him as a sort of Albrooker Achilles, a man who needed war to find his peace. I still want to do White Cell someday as a capstone for the character and give him a more fitting sendoff.


#5

Oh AND ONE MORE THING:

I know we’re approaching some of our old work with an air of self-deprecation, and we do handwave away some things with “ah, I was young and stupid and didn’t know any better.” And yeah, we’re probably not winning any Hugos (though after all the Sad Puppy stuff, I’m not sure about that.) BUT – the stories we made did resonate with us. It’s been kicking around in the back of my mind for ages. And the amazing thing is, it wasn’t just me. For us to come together TEN YEARS (!) after the last Proper word was written and work to rekindle the story is pretty amazing. Even if you think it was just a silly story about video game worlds at war, anything that had that kind of impact on us must’ve had something going for it.


#6

Kind would love to keep this discussion going!

What do you guys think are some of the aspects that resonates with you?

I think for me its been the sense of fantasy as the abstract familiar. Like no one would question a dragon going to the bank. At the same time we all know he/she probably wouldn’t, they have people for that, plus they probably own the bank.


#7

Well, I think for me a big part of the appeal of the universe is its lived-in quality. This is a setting with a lot of history in it that we’ve done, such that in Reborn we’ve had characters who have lived through most of the story that we’ve written.

Though I do get what you’re saying about the “abstract familiar.” Despite all our relatively fantastic technology and magic, there is a healthy dose of how the more banal stuff would interact with it. (sometimes it’s just the result of a clever pun; although http://wiki.kupopolis.club/index.php?title=K-Pop should maybe be added to the category ‘Cel’s crimes against music’, it was really funny for me to write.) It’s funny, one example that springs to mind is in one of Matt’s CoH posts where he describes Albrook’s restrooms as requiring a variety of different facilities to accommodate the waste disposal needs of a wide variety of the Web’s denizens.


#8

I definitely dig the “abstract familiar.” I like that it’s relatable; there’s a lot of arcs, I think, that ended up drawing upon various personal experiences, magnified out into a Kupop twist. I see a lot of our collective college years in Fara, for instance.

The friends is also a big factor; I don’t think I ever left Kupop behind, even if it was dormant during some tough times for me (and, without getting too real, times where I didn’t realize they were tough when I was younger and more stubborn).

I also like the parts of Kupop that feel like a game; I like that we can play a bit of a simulation of countries with each other… and occasionally break out rules, Roll20, etc. for some things. But, we’re not wedded to that either.


#9

Well, I like the game-like elements, too, but there are times in Kupopolis’s history when it’s been a double-edged sword. I do like how we can take an RPG approach, or a strategy game approach (I still remember playing Tex’s Civ II mods for the Imperialist Wars!). And again, this is something I’ve increasingly leaned into (“if this were an RPG, how would this character’s powers work?”)

It’s funny, at one point I had planned to do a “Forces of the Web” compendium giving information about various military forces and using RTS game reference points. Like, the GA/White Cell would be the faction of stats, with big beefy units that hit hard at long range. The Scandians would be more the Brotherhood of Nod-esque sneaky faction (with giant Dragon mecha, because, well, because.)


#10

oh, another thing that’s awesome; coming back years later and finding new plot elements. Especially if you’re inspired by other people’s stuff.

I actually have to give Matt a lot of credit for this as turd polisher par excellence. He’s very, very good at hunting down that character your forgot about and mentioned once or twice ten years ago and constructing an elaborate arc for him.


#11

As I have seen this man construct a two part D&D mini-campaign based off of a random backstory of an Ewok, I am inclined to agree.

I think that’s what makes it fun to write about though. Its not so much that there’s loose threads everywhere, there’s just endless doors to open and explore. I feel there is also a bit of “let’s put this idea out there, see what resonates, and expand from there”.


#12

100% agreed. Matt actually combats one of my worst instincts, which is to go “meh, my old stuff sucked, I shouldn’t.” He finds the good stuff in it, reminds me of it, and then I have a compelling thing to do!

And I agree, Mike. I think it helps, too, that I don’t feel all this stuff needs to happen now.


#13

So let’s talk about stats sheets, as I, the “stats sheets guy”, am responsible for their introduction into the Kupopolis universe, and I’m willing to bet that they’re not that common in more “traditional” fanfic.

I have mixed feelings about these.

On the one hand, certain writers (myself included) enjoy talking about military hardware and tactics, and I think most of us love the politics and history of our shared universe. On the other hand, there is a such thing as too much, and new writers can find it daunting, and sometimes it’s not all that useful. (“You guys sure love your political and economic systems!”) And, it does take time and energy – at one point I was in a really dark moment where I was convinced that the wiki had caused the End of Proper, because people had lazily started to use wiki entries to advance their plots instead of actual posts. And this “fictional nonfiction” style is useful for exposition, and it’s handy as a reference (especially now, many years later) it’s not actually a substitute for character development and storytelling.

…it happens to me every so often that I get the bug to wiki about this or that. Like, I played Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock and did a rework of Scandian ships (http://wiki.kupopolis.club/index.php?title=SLCM-Space_Ships)… Playing Battletech and mechwarrior online has got me thinking about giant robots. (and I love CoH to death and I’m jazzed about the space race, but I can’t help but wish for some more GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING.)

We’ve also gone round and round on whether or not Real Numbers are good to have or not. Like, in the very first drafts of stats sheets nations had a huge proportion of their population in the military. I tended towards including less and less numbers in favor of more relative comparisons which I find a little more useful. (And, of course, getting consensus on certain numbers is tricky…witness our debate over space travel times…)

Overall, I do think the world-building is one of Kupopolis’s great strengths, but there are times when I sometimes overdo it. One of my issues with Legends is that I constructed a world but didn’t really do much in the way of narrative or characters. Part of this was a knee-jerk overreaction on my part from Neo; I had internalized the Neo criticism that Neo was overplanned, and made it difficult for other writers to interact, so I went the other direction in Legends and tried not to plan anything, which turned out to be a terrible idea.


#14

Hey guys.

So, I’ve been following this thread for a while and tried once or twice to craft some kind of all-encompassing response that hits on all of the points that I wanted to touch on, but then you guys keep responding and points keep getting added and then I look back and don’t like what I started writing and it just became this vicious cycle of self-loathing and metaphorical treading water.

So let’s see if I can toss out some 2¢ worth reading.

  1. You guys are way too hard on yourselves. You guys note my “turd polishing” skills, but I think this is less about me than it is about any special skill I have and is more about the process of writing with different people and having multiple sets of eyes on the same material over the course of two decades of writing.
  2. I think it’s interesting that Mike brings up D&D, because I sort of think that the skills I bring to writing in Kupop are within the same wheelhouse as the skills one needs to run a tabletop RPG. This also speaks a little bit to what Travis calls my “turd polishing”: I like working with the stuff other people write (or have written, or wrote decades ago), and that’s part of why we’re all here. When I dredged up Avalon out of Travis’ old Kupop files, and saw what it was, I immediately saw some potential for it to be fun and relevant again (and, btw, we should sorta go back and keep that fun and relevant thing going…). Sahl Endeberg’s new Reborn-era nation of New New Lunaris sort of came from the same thing.
  3. I’m actually one of the few who doesn’t think the Wiki is a bad thing. I think that part of what drives people to be critical of expository Wiki writing is guilt over the story’s slow periods, and looking for something to blame for not writing posts. By way of offering a counterpoint: the stuff that we did on the wiki when the story itself was in a period of slowness/inactivity was, itself, keeping the story and the story world fresh and alive. I also don’t think the inactivity in the story is something that anyone should feel guilty about. The reality is, we all grew up. We don’t have the stamina and/or free time that we used to when we were in our teens and twenties.
  1. Likewise, stat sheets are not a bad thing. Sometimes they’re useful. I think that, as a group, we strike a pretty good balance between specificity and vagueness with respect to how we define the universe we create and share. Some of this has to do with differences of styles, and that’s okay: the flavor of Kupopolis is the blend of all the styles we bring to the table.
  1. Hyrule Warriors is probably the best and most fun Zelda game ever. Or maybe I’ve just decided I like beating the snot out of hundreds of people at a time with a sword than solving another goddamn Hylian dungeon puzzle.
  2. Can we talk about Breath of the Wild? I tried to get into it, I really did, but after sinking all those hours into Skyrim I just couldn’t. And it’s odd, because I recently went back and played around in Skyrim and it was fantastic. Fantastic because I could beat on as many dudes as I wanted and my fucking weapons wouldn’t break. Oh, and I could shoot a bow and arrow and it would actually go where I was aiming instead of arcing like I had lead arrowheads and no fletching. Also Skyrim let me go into first person instead of forcing me to look at the back of stupid Link for hours and hours. And the “open world” seems a hell of a lot less open when you’re gear-gated from going anywhere the hell you want – which, yes, is inherently part of the Zelda game idiom, but then don’t fucking advertise it as an open world when it’s only open if you’ve got a fully upgraded hookshot, all three armor-tunics and access to Epona. In Skyrim I could go from the start zone straight to Windhelm and see how long a fresh spawn would last in a desperate attempt to save the Empire by putting a sword through Ulfric Stormcloak’s throat before being cut down by all the guards. You can’t say the same thing about Breath of the Wild. (also Hyrule Warriors is better)
  3. Dunno how I got off on a rant there, but these are the important things that have been on my mind lately.

#15

Also, they should bring back my infested toads. … this might need context, but I think it will be funnier if I just throw that out there without any kind of explanation.


#16

Well, I think Matt’s right that at times, we are too hard on ourselves. “I had this idea but I guess it’s shit” is a feeling I’ve had a couple times; most of the time it’s more of a case of “I have this idea but I don’t have the right angle/execution to make it work as well as I want.”

To some degree, this is a function of our young roots where we copied stuff we liked without necessarily thinking about why we liked them or how to properly emulate what made it cool in the first place.

I mean, not to undercut my forthcoming CoH notes post (and the finale I’m working on now, or would be if I wasn’t at work): I was really on the fence about using the Secret Imperial Society as the season 1 “arc villains”. Matt insisted because they are sort-of Fara’s designated villains, which did force us to go back and revisit them. Now, way back when I introduced them as an antagonist for Fara, I just thought that fu manchu type stuff was cool, and hadn’t figured out how to really make it work, and I definitely didn’t think too much about the unfortunate implications of the “yellow peril” stereotype. (Or, you know, why a villain with influences in Asian mysticism would be chilling in Tasnica, typically portrayed as pretty thoroughly Western.) So we had to think a lot about it and now we’ve ended up with this Ra’as Al-Ghul/evil Dr. Strange thing which definitely works for me.

(Though, I haven’t posted the finale yet, which is of course his big showcase. GET HYPED!)

Which I guess brings me to character creation and development. Let’s talk about character creation! How do you make a character?


#17

I think you bring up a good point @Celiose about we tend to be more considerate with our source material as we get older, as our worldviews expand. I think we’re also fortunate that we’re always looking to grow and develop and not stagnate in our concepts.

Also @Scen I was on the fence about getting hyrule warriors, I was using some of its lore in my gaiden post, but your enthusiasm has sold me!


#18

Characters!

My characters tend to come together very organically. Typically I start with an objective and think of what kind of person would be after that objective. Tarr, for example, I wanted a more burocratic GA representative who would play the role of facilitating the space race. These things seem contrary, so in my mind I saw a character that was outwardly pragmatic and a realist but inwardly a fanboy and a romantic. I had initially thought of him a while back as a concept for an antithesis of my idealized Celiose Cole, but giving him an objective flushed him out beyond a sheet of opposing character traits.

Clay Reynolds is the same way. Pragmatic opposite of Abdiel Zion. Which also leads me to another convention, sometimes I choose a name that suggests who the character should be. Abdiel was an angel from Paradise Lost who didn’t pick sides. That’s mostly been his role in the story as he seems to be more of a facilitator and observer of events and rarely an active participant. Gallus is named after a general, my goal was long term with him to build him into a Celiose Cole of space. Clay is named Clay because he’s literally being molded by Zion through the tasks he’s given. Clay is also named after Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay. Its not mentioned often but Clay has darker skin but his ethnicity is never specified. He has sandy brown hair too so I always wrote him as kind of a mix of ethnicties with no identity in mind, similar to Zion being an orphan. I feel that’s why in later posts they are friends.

So yeah, I create characters based around an objective, or let their names help define their actions.


#19

I think this is actually a good game that we should steal from for Kupopolis. :slight_smile: Especially since, as we extend our long term hobby of ret-conning in fun details about the Great War, we look at the fact that we have only a few named Dark Wrath leaders, heroes and military commanders, and even then only a handful from Hyrule and the Eastern Light Dimension (Octavian, the renegade Hylian noble; Ganondorf [of course]; and Shana Goldmoon [before her love of Celiose flips her]), and Hyrule Warriors has a pretty robust cast of playable badguys.


#20

My character names are kinda all over the place. Celiose is “Celes” + “Riose”, a general from an Isaac Asimov book (and I apparently liked the name so much I used it again for Praxer, whose name is derived from the Klingon Moon in Star Trek VI.) Most of the Great War generals have names similar to generals, often (but not always!) the general they took their name from.

So we get:
Rimmel Coward – Rommel, of course, and I character I had used in Hyrulean Adventure.
Model Steinmetz – based on this guy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Model), Germany’s “best defensive tactical commander”
Howe Lingane – Despite his name taken from the Revolutionary War, he’s based on Chester Nimitz (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chester_W._Nimitz)
Gage Rizett - Again with a Revolutionary War name (and not even a good commander), in-story he’s based on Arthur Harris aka “Bomber” Harris (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Arthur_Harris,_1st_Baronet). The WWII citybustying campaign has long been an interest of mine, and although some degree including it in our video game worlds at war was edgy teenager stuff, It was good (I think) to show that the Grand Army were not necessarily traditional heroes – they were willing to do what it took to fight and win. (And, it’s funny, because now a lot of my writing is more like ‘actually, traditional heroes are awesome.’)
Torstensson Lenart is an outlier – he’s not based on a world war II guy. but a Thirty Years War guy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lennart_Torstensson). It’s strange that the one based on the most obscure figure should ascend to being one of the more memorable of these Great War guys.

Burzmale and Celiose aren’t really based on anyone, though Burzmale is a name taken from a Dune book. It’s interesting that Celiose sort of evolved/was retconned into actual military genius, as of course in his early outings he relied on copious amounts of plot armor. (…though, even by 1997 or so, most stories about Celiose weren’t about Celiose, the soldier, they were about the legend of Celiose.)

I am, of course, much more careful about picking names now. Some characters have been consigned to the dustbin of history because I decided later on I didn’t like their name. (Matt convinced me that that Nauquan Kurita was a perfectly serviceable name for an Eblanese noble.)

…though my understanding of the World War II has evolved, so maybe if I did it again I might’ve picked different guys.

I do try to mix more organic and deliberate approached in character creation…I can’t think how many times I launched a character with much fanfare thinking “this person will be the Next Big Thing!” and then they didn’t go anywhere. (Like, say, Fara 1.0. Or Talina Svensgaard.)

I do think I struggled sometimes in old Kupopolis with a need to “fill all the deck chairs,” especially when cabinet meetings became a thing we liked to do. Like, how many memorable spymaster characters can I create? None of them will ever top Praxer! And it’s really hard to write “here’s this guy, he’s pretty good at his job, but not as good as that other guy!”

And, since this is an interactive story, it’s worth mentioning that interactivity and other writers perspectives contributes immeasurably to certain characters. Like, Roxanne was originally intended to just show up and give useful expository dialogue (thus negating the need to have Rainere show up all the time), but Matt really pushed for her as a full-fledged character.

…and I will get Hyrule Warriors soon. I plan on picking up a switch during my trip to Hong Kong next month (the Mainland has crazy taxes on that). It feels strange I don’t have one, even though I have a 3DS. I mean, I’ve had Nintendo systems in my house for ages – it’s like one of my household gods. I even had a Wii U, which wasn’t very good. (Though I didn’t have a Virtual Boy.)