I was so foolish-an online history

One website has left a bad impression on me, because I was a mark in it. It set back my writing talent by a noticeable amount. Now it’s apparently reaping what it has sown.

So, that site was the Project A.F.T.E.R. Forum. It mocked fanfiction. It mocked a lot of fanfiction, and a lot of bad fiction. I like mocking bad fiction. I found it with a detailed mock of the infamous Salvation War[1]. I fit in. What could go wrong?

A lot. They had a blanket dislike of all fanfiction[2], a dislike of nearly everything popular. Maybe the writing should have been on the wall when I checked out something they were mocking and unironically enjoyed it. But I was younger and busier. I kept my ideas in my head because I had this (paranoid and unwarranted, but still present) fear of – “Oh no, they’ll find that Coiler’s writing fanfiction.

I grew past it. It got more mean-spirited, the most aggressive members broke off to form a new endeavor, and then the rest of the site just went down. Not literally, but figuratively. If one registered user is on, it’s amazing.

Now, looking back at it, I realized that Stardestroyer.net collapsed in an almost identical fashion. I’d washed my hands of that site when its true decline started so I didn’t have a front-row seat like PA, but could see it.

  • Snipe at easy targets. In SDN’s case, it was creationists and overrwrought Star Trek fans. In PA’s case, it was the legitimately awful fanfiction.
  • Get a huge sense of superiority from your mocking of said easy targets. Keep a ‘nerd attitude’, for lack of a better term, but have zero empathy. “My nerd stuff is good, yours isn’t”-I think you can see that.
  • Then, after the bitterness increases, you inevitably turn on each other. Either partisans of the losing side or just normal observers inevitably leave, and the whole place falls apart.

SDN has, as of this post, only eight registered human users online. Spacebattles has over two thousand, and even its spin-offs have many, many more. I think its effect on my writing might have been overstated, but it was there, and I feel bad for it.

[1]It’s here for what it’s worth. Ironically, googling “M2 Bradley” brought me to SDN, and then to Spacebattles (long story).

[2]I don’t hold that against them. Nor do I wish even the abrasive ones any ill will-I still listen to some of their podcasts some of the time.

 

 

Spacebattles now has a Worm forum

Spacebattles has, thanks to board upgrades, finally been able to implement a Worm subforum for their Creative Writing board.

The Worm craze has been gigantic, and is every bit as big now as it was when I first blogged about it. Making it opt-in is preferable to just stuffing everything into a subforum to cries of “fencing off”.

So hopefully this works without much issue.

Bad Fiction Spotlight: The Big One

This is one of the first bad fiction series I found out about online, read for myself, and then criticized. So it’s kind of special-in multiple meanings of the term, of course.

This series is called The Big One. Written by a naval analyst named Stuart Slade, they’re both the most uninteresting (badly written with not a hint of excitement in the battles, obvious chapter-by-chapter webfiction turned to self-publishing with only a hint of the battles), and strangely interesting (the whole mystique around it).

So, first an examination of the “what.”

The timeline begins in 1940, with Lord Halifax seizing power from Churchill in a parliamentary coup. Then he makes peace with Germany, who then deploy “guards” to England, in a prelude to a Crimea-style taking of Britain(!). The US enters the war, fights on the mega-Eastern Front, Stalin is killed and the USSR reverts to Russia, and the war drags on until 1947, where a huge fleet of B-36s easily nukes Germany into utter ruin.

That was the “sane” part of it. The work had originated from a what if forum post, and turned into a sort of mix. Part of it was showing off the power of the early Cold War nuclear bomber fleets, and part of it was debunking the “wehraboo wunderwaffe” exaggeration of WWII Germany, showing that if the US enters the war, it will just be nuked even with artificial advantages.

Then things get crazier and crazier.

With Russia turned into a cuddly, fuzzy, Britain Special Relationship-level teddy bear, the opposition is dubious. First you get the holdout Germans who’ve managed to keep their logistical state in southern Russia going for a bizarrely long period before taken out in a final Russian ground offensive. They flee into the Middle East-

-And ally themselves with an anachronistic “Caliphate” that is blasphemous to any form of Islam, given that Stuart simply copy-pasted the Taliban organization over everything, and made things even worse by making Khomeini the “first among equals”. The goal is simply to turn a region that’s a decades long-puzzle of complexity into a pop-up bombing target that in terms of competence, makes the 1991 Iraqis look like aces in comparison.

(This was written around 2003-2004, for historical reference)

The other opponent is “Chipan”. A mix of the lazy “China absorbs its conquerors” pop history-gimmick and plot device, it’s a mix of China and Imperial Japan. Yes. The goal is to A: Neutralize both, and B: provide a “Cold War” against a state that has all the USSR’s weaknesses but none of its strengths.

One guess if it succeeds.

The US itself is a min-max army of nothing but nuclear bombers, aircraft carriers, and Marines for the obligatory ground battle.

All the books beyond the original suffer from being a sequence of events, where Stuart simply takes a snapshot of everything happening in the world and stuffs them all together in a way that makes sense for a posted-one-at-a-time forum work, but not in an actual novel.

The characters have no characterization. At best they’re one-note stereotypes, and at worst they’re just unit names. The battles-well, for anything American, it’s going to be an effortless victory, and for anything non-American, it’s a dull “LP-esque” description that makes the battles in The War That Never Was seem gripping.

The few recurring characters are a mix of forum member self inserts (one particular one being a “C. J. O’Seven”), and the immortal Mary Sues that make sure the timeline goes right. The leader is known as “The Seer”, and I’m sure it’s a coincidence that one author username was “Seer Stuart”.

These magical realist immortals have the historical lineup of presidents, to make sure the right decisions were taken. Of particular note is Robert McNamara, who is viewed as an evil man for cancelling the B-70 in real life, and thus is to be taken out-not just written out, but put into office so that he can be shown how wrong he was.

The books themselves would be a small diversion.

What’s more interesting is the internet drama around them.

Stuart was a massive panderer, which is why the hard-right cold warrior was able to stay at left-wing Stardestroyer.net for so long. By downplaying his views and presenting himself as the True Expert in a board that loved “true experts”, he stayed.

This sort of “true expert” phenomenon led to a weird condition where the books as written were obvious forum-pandering works. However, after they were completed, they turned into Serious, Important Works that had to be defended. Why, that book wasn’t a stompfic, it was a story of people trying to minimize the damage from an unavoidably bad outcome! It wasn’t celebrating the Massive Retaliation doctrine, it was criticizing it! The Seer wasn’t a self-insert, he was based on other people in “the business” Stuart knew! Honestly!

Then came the Salvation War series. These featured a seemingly un-mess-upable plotline: a Doom-esque struggle of modern weaponry against literal demons. (It was no coincidence that SDN had a reputation of being incredibly anti-religious).

Stuart messed it up.

The humans win easily with boring battles, then win slightly less easily in the sequel. That’s basically it.

At that point, SDN turned on him. First, people began openly criticizing the work, in a place apart from the main thread where it would be drowned out by cheers. Second, the true ‘horrors’ of the tiny board he had been based on became known, and his reputation as an unorthodox but still powerful “expert” dropped there. Third, there was the Publishing Incident.

According to Stuart, he was in the process of getting a huge advance from a publisher to legitimately set the books, but then someone posted the story on the internet for download, and the deal collapsed. That someone was an insulted religious fundamentalist.

No one believed the story, and Stuart ended up being outright banned, his works treated with mockery thereafter in the declining SDN.

Was there any lost potential drowned out by the sea of sycophancy? In the original The Big One itself, a tiny bit. But very tiny. It’s at least more focused due to fewer plotlines, as opposed to later events where, between a bomber being shot down over the Middle East (thanks solely to McNamara’s evil intervention, of course), and the response to that, the reader gets an unrelated chapter including a long infodump on the politics of arms sales to Taiwan.

So, probably-not.

Who Could Be A Fitting “Sans”?

First, an obligatory spoiler warning for Undertale (even if this is like closing the barn door long after every single horse has left).

 

 

So, one of the most interesting and challenging characters in Undertale is Sans the skeleton. At first seeming to be just a silly, lazy character (in contrast to his overexcited, bumbling brother, Papyrus), he’s later revealed to know about the timeline changes caused by the main character/player saving and restarting the game, and becoming apathetic to the world because of it.

Unlike his brother, Sans never fights the player on either a “normal” route or a pacifist route. However, on the so-called “genocide route”, where the player must go out of their way to keep killing literally every single monster in every single area throughout the game, Sans finally rouses himself into action and serves as what is generally considered by far the hardest boss in the game.

The Sans battle in its entirety.
Sans is jokingly referred to in the game’s “check” screen as the “easiest enemy”, having only one HP (but dodging every attack), and only doing one damage (per frame).
Now, I goofily wondered what a rough counterpart to Sans would be in other games. Not in terms of the character (either lazy or uncaring), nor even in terms of being an incredibly hard battle (the mechanics would be different). No, what I was thinking of was the style. To be a Sans-equivalent, said character would have to:
  • Be established throughout the main storyline, regardless of what path the player takes.
  • At the same time, having a good justification not to fight the player unless they go to a terrible extreme.
  • Nonetheless, in that extreme case, going to action.

 

For the most literal example, from my favorite RPG of all time, Fallout New Vegas, the replacement for Sans would be none other than-Yes Man.

Yes Man is a robot/computer program that is programmed to enthusiastically obey any order given to it by anyone. The character is a clear plot device, intended to serve as a bailout for players who fail the other three main quest lines. Yes Man obviously can’t say no, and their inability to be permanently killed (even if contrived) is to prevent the the player from losing that way.

New Vegas’ own pseudo-genocide route requires the player to use Yes Man (after all, even the crazed Caesar’s Legion needs you to spare them). 

The psycho ending.
So, while clearly not existing in the real game, my fanon would involve the Yes Man battle. Throughout the game, not only will he not oppose you, but he can’t. (If you went down that path in the fanon, you’d see hints of indecision and warning start to pop up in his speeches).
Then, after the normal final bosses are dealt with, Yes Man comes, and instead of his congratulations and statement of “assertiveness” (misinterpreted as him going rogue, but another plot device to make him just loyal to the player), he’d (with a changed voice tone and image from the silly smile), say “Do you really want to rule?”, and have a short conversation about how the Lucky 38’s computer installed a defense protocol inside him (the same one that largely spared the area from the nuclear war).
(The player can do a speech or science check, which doesn’t do anything even if passed-the implication being “Ha, now you’re trying to bypass fighting, sorry nope”).
From there, the player has to fight through waves of upgraded Securitrons (all with the “Yes Man” angry face) until they blow up the Lucky 38’s reactor, which destroys the entire area in a giant mushroom cloud and kills them. The end.
Ok, that was still pretty dumb, and me trying to shoehorn in too exact an analogy.
_ _ _ _ _ _
From my childhood RPG dream, there’s a lower-stakes but much easier way to include a “Sans”. That setting would be Pokemon, and the metaphorical skeleton is obvious-the professor that gives you your starter.
Give the player the option of evil shortcuts (stealing trainer Pokemon, using dubious power-ups)-and then, should they use said shortcuts, have them face the disappointed professor with a team of six level 100 fully evolved Pokemon.
The boss would say things like “Do you really care about loving your Pokemon, or just winning at all costs?”

 

(Even Rare Candies might technically qualify, given the number of people who used the item duplication glitches to munchkin their way to the top.)

There are undoubtedly more ways, both as contrived as my Fallout example and natural-seeming as my Pokemon one, to give the player a bad time throughout numerous games. This is one of those silly speculations I love thinking about way too much.

 

Captain N revisited

There was a show starting in 1989, at the height of the NES boom. This show was sloppy and nonsensical even by the standards of toy commercial tie-in cartoons, and featured “adaptations” of numerous NES characters alongside a wish-fulfillment protagonist.

The show was called Captain N: The Game Master.

Naturally, the question was asked on Spacebattles as to what a modern Captain N would be like. Some answered, not unjustifiably, “Wreck-it Ralph”. I disagree.

Wreck-it Ralph actually avoided the pitfalls it might have encountered. The references are used as references before going to a story taking place almost entirely in an original game, making it a fun movie rather than the mix of brainless slapstick and references it could have been.

The context has changed, thanks to Nintendo’s iron-fisted approach to adaptations following the Super Mario Bros. film debacle and an increasingly aware internet. Everything is so different that including modern gamers (who are far more diverse than the stereotypical Kevin Keene), would just be anthetical to the show’s original character.

So, my reboot idea would be an 80s NES hero-gamer-in a set of more modern games, from deep-plot ones to sports games to grey dark to quirky. The poor hero would find out just how everything has grown and changed.

I would take care to keep the references in check, and not have it be “silly for its own sake”.

 

Examining the Loops, Part 2

So, what would I do to improve the loop-threads?

This is legitimately tough. A part of me just wants to go “Ok, I’d criticize them, but let them be as long as they don’t have inappropriate content.” Another part of me just wants to impose better rules.

Rules like the Familiar of Zero ones, designed to turn a previously spammy fandom substantive. The problem is that FoZ is a specific setting, and the Loops aren’t.

So, if I was in charge of policing the Loops on Spacebattles, here’s what I’d do.

-Inactive loop threads are unceremoniously closed. For active ones, I’d give the authors a short time to write a finish, and then close them as well.

-Canon is flushed-the entire Yggdrasil excuse setup is gone. 

-Snippets have to be very long.

-No one-liners, no dare/suggestions.

-The writer should ideally set out an endstate.

This is an disproportionately large burden, but the loops are disproportionately vulnerable to the worst excesses of goofy fandom. I’d feel reluctant in some ways, but consider it necessary in others.

Examining the the Loops, Part 1

I’m going back to loopfics.

 

-There’s one big problem with them. They have no ending.

Then again, the same can be said about nearly all fanfics. What makes loops stand out?

-Ok, they have no plans for an ending.

The same can be said about even more fanfics (even of the ones that were completed, many were improvised), and many professional works as well (Hi, Mass Effect writers). What makes loops stand out from those?

-They do have plans for an ending-in that they explicitly and completely remove the possibility of an ending.

What does that actually mean?

-Here it is (Warning, spoilers for Undertale and several other games follow)

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _ _ _

Well, from the author’s guide, here’s the backstory:

Yggdrasil, the world-tree computer that is/runs/controls the entirety of all universes in existence, has broken down for some reason. The Admins who run Yggdrasil have decided to keep all the universes looping in time in time while they fix the problem (whatever said problem is). Some people within these universes remember events from time loop to time loop: these people are called loopers. The Infinite Loops are the various stories of these loopers, who are based off fictional characters from any and all media, as they try to live with time continually repeating. They aren’t completely bored out of their minds though. Occasionally, loops will have variants where people swap places, gender gets bent, history is vastly different, or the loopers are placed in a moment earlier (or later) in their lives. Loopers themselves are the only ones that remember anything about any of the loops: anyone who isn’t looping will just reset. Death means nothing to loopers: they will just reset into existence next loop (having still remembered their death though.) Sometimes different universes will cross over, either merging for a single loop, swapping loopers or non looping characters, or just creating any number of fanfiction-world variants. Virtually anything is possible.

Virtually every looper is very very stir crazy. And very very powerful.

Seeing as the time-till-completion of the Yggdrasil repairs is infinity, they better buckle down for a long ride.

So, it’s a justification.

What is it?

Before the loops began, something (and no we do not need you to explain what caused it.  This is the frame for our Excuse Plot.  Just don’t think too hard on it okay?) happened that destroyed a large chunk of Yggdrasil and threatened to destroy all of reality. Instead of simply rebooting the whole multiverse (which might not have worked in the first place) the Admins that run Yggdrasil decided to go for an alternative solution: lock the universes in repeating time loops until they could solve the problem. How long until they solve it? Well the given number is Infinity. Though there was a number in the Warhammer 40k loops semi-recently: a section of the multiverse was 0.000….002% restored. Yeah. We’re nowhere close.

So yeah, that’s what it is. Out-of-universe, it’s a novice writer’s dream. In-universe, it’s a character’s nightmare. This is, as they say themselves, an obvious excuse to just write “crackfic” snippets-except by linking everything together, it becomes a twisted monster.

If there was no linking, no canon, and it just was a crackfic free-for-all, then I wouldn’t care for them-but also not gaze at the concrete foundation supporting the mess. Maybe it’s SB’s love of the quantifiable, but the gap between the rigid base and the ‘random’ mess it supports is huge.

The loopfic authors themselves don’t think that much of the stated backstory-but, for whatever weird reason, I do.

_ _ _

One of the things that got me inspired (or, to make a reference, determined), was seeing an increasing amount of Undertale loops. Undertale has time-loops in its own universe (they’re the in-universe explanation of saving and restarting the game).

So, this is not only a little bit of an issue, but it illustrates the other parts. Sans the skeleton is arguably, in the looper’s terms, Awake, and it has turned him into a cynical, lazy creature. Flowey, the antagonist, was driven to evil thanks to the SAVE ability and getting bored by everything. Characterization the actual loopfics noticeably lack.

Realistically, anyone who looped would go insane. But with dramatic license removing that, there’s still no theme, no point. Compare this to existing works of fiction featuring time loops.

-Imagine if Groundhog Day ended with the loops continuing. The final scene would be Phil Connors waking up after dying fighting a grizzly bear, and in the scene before that he built a jetpack and flew into one of those oversized mascots.

-Imagine if Majora’s Mask ended with Link doing something even weirder, with the main conflict not even resolved.

-Imagine if Undertale ended with the main character trying to bounce out on a trampoline.

That’s the level the Loops are at. Goofiness propped up by a setting. Shackled by the fact that the theoretical end-point is totally out of the protagonist’s control. Yes, only 2×10 to the negative 1903568th power percent of the multiverse is restored, and the few universes that are are probably some throwaway games or generic action novels.

_ _ _

If I had to write a loop, what would I do?

-Show everything.

-Have a planned ending with the multiverse being returned to normal, with plenty of drama to come from that.

-Build the story around the loops ending.

That way, the loops would be used as a plot device, rather than as an excuse.

Next installment, I’ll talk about possible suggestions for reforming the loop threads.

Spacebattles Creative Writing Trends

Spacebattles has had several huge fanfiction trends, most of which I’ve naturally missed.

-Star Trek/Wars/B5/BSG/Stargate fics. Waay back in the day. I entered just as those were fading. Mostly before my time, and Creative Writing was a relatively small, out of the way forum.

-Familiar of Zero. Already mentioned. Gained popularity because of its enormously crossover-friendly setup. Has since largely petered out.

-Self-inserts. Not an exact genre so much as a style of writing. Goes against everything a writer is supposed to do, but as a combination of wish-fulfillment and way to write in an established setting, it worked.

-Worm. This was a bit of a surprise. A long, obscure web-fiction about a superheroine, Worm’s fandom is concentrated on SB-but is very concentrated. Having read only a little, Worm’s draw of both “taking advantage of” superpowers and its surprisingly crossover-friendly nature (fanfic writers love to give the main character different powers) have earned it a huge following on the board.

-Time-loops. Lowest-common denominator goofball-fic. Basically, think Groundhog Day-styled stories. Add in characters of all the settings one could want. Huge needlessly complicated backstory and set of nominal rules. Ability to avoid such matters as plot, character development, or pacing by just rushing ahead to the goofy. (You get the feeling about my opinion on these).

As of the time of this writing on the Creative Writing front page:

Worm, Worm, Star Wars, Worm, Self-Insert, Worm, Loop, Loop, Mass Effect, Worm Self-Insert, Worm, My Little Pony, Worm, BSG, Self-Insert, Self-Insert, Worm, Self-Insert, Loop, Loop, Self-Insert, Loop, Loop, Pokemon, Stargate, goofy meme, Lord of the Rings, Self-Insert, Worm.

My Spacebattles Velocity History

My Spacebattles Velocity History

Sometime in 2006, I typed in a Google search for “M2 Bradley” and began clicking through page after page of results. Little did I know that this IFV would end up changing history. I went to a page on Stardestroyer.net, a “Star Trek vs. Star Wars” site. Then I saw references to a spacebattles.com, and signed up for that.

For most of my early time on Spacebattles (starting with my signing up in December 2006), I hung out in the Vs. Debates section. In hindsight a silly attempt to quantify the inherently arbitrary, it nevertheless appealed to me at the time-especially given the choices.

Then I sort of burned out and reverted to lurking, not posting very much. I was still active in viewing, just not in posting. At the time, I didn’t really see the huge change in the site. Now I can see it. Basically, by 2008-2009, the old sci-fi standbys of Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5, and even Warhammer 40,000 had started to run out of steam. In Stardestroyer.Net, this meant the site itself (though there were many other factors involved) began to just fade and drop in activity. But Spacebattles changed.

Huge amounts of roleplayers signed up, as did fanfiction writers. The center of the site shifted to the relevant subforums. Creative Writing, once a sleepy little board, became gigantic. Space Battles General was so overloaded by quests and RPs that a spinoff had to be made. And-then the server woes began.

Space Battles only remained in business because a programmer acquired it as a guinea pig board for vBulletin. Said owner was-to put it mildly-an absentee landlord. The latest server upgrade under him was done with the assumption that its growth would continue at the same mild rate-instead of increasing eightfold (!).

Naturally, the server became overloaded as the board grew. Changing board software to XenForo helped somewhat, but everything was only a temporary reprieve as the post swarms continued. Then in 2014, the slog became a breakout.

In April came the Athene Incident (named for the moderator’s name). Athene, a longstanding and loved moderator, was dismissed in the worst possible way. The board administrators tried to cover-up with a statement about “retiring”, but didn’t consult Athene on the coverup to see if she would agree to it (!). Page after page of flamewars and anger continued, and that’s when the split occured.

Several members of SB launched a spinoff board, named Sufficient Velocity. I stated at the time that I viewed the Athene Incident was a catalyst-it would have probably blown over had it not been for the server issues. (Also, there was a definite culture split-I think the incident was the ignition, the server issue the powder, and the shell was the different user culture).

I saw no problems with the creation of Sufficient Velocity. Although I spend far more time on Spacebattles, I have no problems with being a member of both boards.

On Spacebattles itself, things changed. The administrators apologized, there was a semi-coup with supermods becoming new admins and the older ones settling into technical roles, and (after a while), the site itself was taken under new ownership and upgraded. Now I primarily stay on the Creative and Spacebattles General boards, not going into Vs. Debates any more.
Quite the adventure.