Spacebattles has done its April Fools joke. The one last year crashed the site for a day (!), and they’re crazy no matter what.
So, there’s a dirty little secret about Worm fanfiction, the kind that has taken SB/V by storm so much the mods had to make separate boards. I didn’t realize this secret because I (wisely) stayed even farther away from the fanfic scene than I did from the original story, but then I found out once I discovered more.
It’s not based on Wildbow’s original story.
It isn’t. A lot of Worm fanfic writers admit to having never read the original. Now, under normal circumstances, I would denounce that. And I still do. But even if it’s hard to defend, I can at least understand why people wouldn’t want to slog through a story that’s about as long as War and Peace and In Search of Lost Time put together. And has terrible pacing and other fundamentals.
And going for more fanfics makes it more flexible, since there’s nothing in the way. This explained everything when I came to that conclusion in one of the many Worm discussions. It explains why Wildbow’s later stories, including Worms own sequel, have generated basically nothing in terms of Spacebattles fanfics. It explains why everything is so divergent and why certain elements are latched on to beyond the usual “fanon” misunderstandings.
Wildbow writes, long dark, fantasy stories. The Worm fanfic writers write in a superhero sandbox, and the original work might as well have been an RPG sourcebook that was never meant to be treated as anything more than a vague guideline for the GM to fill in the blanks.
Now I’d be honestly interested to see what the main stories were that sparked this “fanon Worm”, the critical mass of early fanfics. Because it’s them and not the main story that are the real source material.
I’ve found myself using the word “crunchy” a lot to describe settings with a lot of detail. I could think I read it somewhere, but haven’t been able to find someone else using it in that way. As for how I took to the word “Crunchy”, I think it might be two things.
- A derivative of “number-crunching”.
- A metaphor for density-it’s dense, “solid”, and thus crunches when you bite down.
A use of it in context could be “Worm has a lot of crunchiness to it, making it a favorite on a board [Spacebattles] that likes such things.”
So, now that the first three chapters of Ward/Worm II have been posted, I’ll give my impression. The impression is simple.
Typical Wildbow so far. You have the detailed, at least theoretically interesting setting, the dark tone, and the mediocre prose that feels kind of “infodumpy” and has trouble moving to different tones. That wasn’t surprising. (Neither is the argumentative discussion on Spacebattles, unfortunately).
The big question mark will be pacing. Pacing was one of the big weaknesses of the original Worm. It managed to be 1.6 million words long, or almost three times the length of War and Peace. Yet it also managed to escalate far too much. Even Wildbow’s shortest full web serial, Pact, is only slightly less than twice the length of that legendary thick book. For me, it’s at least easier to follow if I read from the start and read one chapter at a time (which is easy, I read fast), instead of binging on millions of words written clunkily.
So, I’m not exactly surprised by anything I’ve seen so far in Ward. The question as to whether it can recapture the magic of Worm in SBCRW also remains unanswered. To answer that will have to wait until the story develops more, and then to see how many fanfics use elements from Ward and Ward alone.
That’s Ward after three chapters. More or less what I expected, with all of Wildbow’s strengths and weaknesses. I hope it can improve, but given how it’s checked so many of the boxes already, I’m a little skeptical.
After nine teaser previews and much anticipation, the first chapter of Worm II (with the formal name Ward) has been posted.
I read it. It’s at least fresh, even if I still have issues with Wildbow’s prose and the excesses of the setting. One literary note is that the narrator’s name (Victoria Dallon) is somewhat clunkily inserted, and done at the very end of the chapter as a cliffhanger.
I’ve hopefully absorbed enough Worm knowledge through Spacebattles to get the general setting view. And speaking of Spacebattles, I’ll just say I’m glad there’s a seperate Worm forum in CRW.
Although Twig has not officially concluded, much less Worm 2 having started, the first epilogue of that story has been posted.
The question of whether I should try to get into Worm 2 is tough. I tried to get into Twig a bit, but it just didn’t really grab me, however thematically interesting. Reasons I’d want to get into Worm 2 are:
- I could be pleasantly surprised.
- I want to know more about Spacebattles’ favorite weird niche webfic.
- Most importantly, reading it as it starts means I’m not buried by a gigantic overload of previous chapters.
However, the reason why I wouldn’t, and why I haven’t, are twofold.
- Wildbow (the author) has prose that’s just “meh”. Not terrible, but not the most gripping.
- The pacing of the stories isn’t very good, which combined with their (admirably) fast update schedule means I catch up on several chapters of nothing.
That being said, I’ll still give it a try, and if nothing else, I might be motivated to read through the many updates of Worm 1 while Twig winds down. Maybe I’ll find it an acquired taste. It’s certainly happened before with stuff that didn’t seem good at first impression.
I loved this game, and was fortunate enough to play it at its height. But I can also see the reasons for its decline.
The free browser zombie game Urban Dead was an example of player-driven gameplay. With no NPCs, humans and zombies could organically fight for territory, set up groups and plan battles with real consequences. It was a unique and fun experience.
It was also a horrifically and inherently unbalanced game that managed to give both sides gigantic advantages, in likely unforeseen ways. Individual humans could do far more than individual zombies. Zombies essentially cannot communicate in game at all, and it’s far easier for a human to build barricades than a zombie to destroy them. In individual play, a human can do a lot more.
However, groups of zombies are more or less unstoppable. Because they can just stand up after being killed, in a weird “DETERMINATION”-style system that preceded Undertale by a decade, the only method of actually beating them was to outlast the willpower of the players controlling them. And zombie metagamers turned the in-game communications weakness into a strength, setting up out of game networks.
Because of the PVP nature of the game, any balance changes were bitterly contested, making the community an often unpleasant place. This, combined with the inherent limitations of the game, made the playerbase drop.
There are other factors, most notably the game being incredibly beginner-unfriendly. But its balance was, in my opinion, the biggest reason.
Now, it’s exacerbated. A human can hide in a heavily barricaded building and be safe in normal play (too bad there’s little to do), to a ridiculous extent. Yet with even malls being virtually empty, a small organized group of zombies can attack with basically no resistance. Like its namesake, the game is reduced to shambling on.
But it was fun in its heyday. I remember playing it when I was younger, finding it through (what else) Spacebattles.
One piece of webfiction in particular holds a peculiar trend. The work of fiction would be the web serial Twig, by “Wildbow”, the author of the Spacebattles-favorite superhero epic Worm. The trend is for fans to declare that the storyline must be almost over.
The claims that Twig must be ending soon first started appearing in earnest around Arc 10. Now Twig is at Arc 20. And there’s talk that, honestly, really, Wildbow’s close to finishing it off.
When browsing through the Worm community, I’ve found an explanation that I felt made a lot of sense. People want Worm II, Wildbow’s announced sequel to the initial blockbuster, and they’re so eager that they want Twig to be over.
I admit to being one of them. A story I could follow a chapter at a time could get me to know the setting better than having to dig through a gigantic million word archive. At the same time, I’ve always felt Wildbow has had pacing issues, and thus I’m not surprised Twig has gone the way it has.
The morbid question I have is “will Worm II overload Spacebattles even more?” According to a running thread, around 15-20 of the top stories in Creative Writing are Worm-centric. I personally feel that if it catches CRWs attention again (which is not a guarantee-Pact has only two fanfics written on Spacebattles, and Twig has zero), most of the “victims” will be other wormfics.
It’s a weird coincidence.
Shortly after I made my post about how I’d soured on Alternatehistory.com, there was an incident in the dreaded Chat. The board administrator had undertaken another mass banning and issued a rant that many considered to be far beyond his well-known anti-Israel bias, crossing the line into being outright anti-Jewish. As a result, with the aid of friendly staff, a breakaway (sub)forum was set up on Sufficient Velocity.
Many people pointed out the irony of that, since disagreements with board administrators was how SV got started to begin with. And like the Athene Incident, I viewed the latest blowup as primarily a catalyst. Mass bannings/kickings [tempbans] over Israel and the administrator’s view on the country were not exactly a new experience.
This makes me all the more glad I moved away when I did.
Someone on Spacebattles made and posted this background document for the infamous Infinite Loops project. In terms of showing how goofy oneshots turned into something as tangled as it is, it’s worth a million words.
Linked here because it’s too big to fit in this post. The thumbnail below shows why.