Allen Stroud – From Elite: Dangerous To Chaos Reborn

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Those of you familiar with the world of Elite: Dangerous will no doubt be familiar with Allen Stroud, who is responsible for writing one of the official novels of the series. You’d think that being Course Leader of the BA (Hons) Film and TV Production and BA (Hons) Creative Writing for Publication degrees at Buckinghamshire New University would leave no time at all for other ventures. This isn’t the case for Allen though, who has still found the time to write, compose and work on a Ph. D.

FB: Allen, let’s talk games. How did your journey into the Elite universe start?
AS: Originally by playing the game with friends when I was nine or ten. My friend James had the game on the BBC Acorn Electron and I would be a kind of co-pilot. Back in those days we didn’t have much in the way of multiplayer games, so I’d be in charge of the missiles, the ECM and keep an eye on the scanner. I’d also read the manual and Robert Holdstock’s short story, The Dark Wheel, that came with the game.

My involvement with the new game began with me browsing Kickstarter looking for a good example of crowdfunding to talk to my students about. I came across the game of my childhood being remade and couldn’t help but getting involved.

FB: You wrote Elite: Lave Revolution, one of the official Elite novels. I understand this is not the only way in which you have been involved in the written material side of things. Can you tell us more about your involvement, both past and future?
AS: Well, I started by backing the Kickstarter and saw the upper tier pledge opportunities to write official fiction and had to be talked out of committing what would have been my entire bank account into getting the opportunity. When the campaign ended I was crushed, but then realised that my academic and writing experience might be useful. I contacted some of the other writers and offered to help edit their work and then contacted the games company Frontier Developments as I have master’s degree in writing background for Fantasy worlds. To my delight and astonishment they were keen to have me help.

During the early part of 2013, I worked on six guidebooks that would help inform the work of the fiction within the game and help the writers working on their stories. I would get up every morning and write before going to lectures then come home, write into the evening, get up again, etc. After six weeks, the springs in the seat of my couch gave way because I’d been sat in the same place for so long!

FB: Elite: Dangerous has its own radio station and annual convention. It is obviously a very popular game – what was the drive behind these two aspects and what made you want to be involved beyond the books?
AS: The community of backers. I think that’s been the most enduring thing of the whole process. Lave Radio is a fan run podcast that goes out every Tuesday night and has covered the game’s development process for nearly three years now. I met some amazing people who had similar memories to me about growing up shooting Thargoids and docking at space stations. Finding those people who are now in all sorts of different professions and places is still an amazing thing.

The four of us who started Lave Radio decided we had to meet up and so booked rooms in a hotel in Wiltshire. Fozz (the host) decided it would be an idea to let people on the Frontier forums know and suddenly we had sixty-five people showing up! All for a game that was still eighteen months away from being released!

After that, my partner Karen and I decided ‘Lavecon’ ought to become something a bit more formal, so in 2014 we hired a conference centre in Northampton and two hundred people showed up. Then last year, we booked the Sedgebrook Hall Hotel and 250-300 people came.

We’re back at the Sedgebrook this year on the 16-17th of July. We released tickets just before Christmas and already we’ve filled three-quarters of the hotel.

FB: You are also working closely with Snapshot Games CEO, and legendary game designer, Julian Gollop on Chaos Reborn. Can you give our readers an update on what is happening on that front?
AS: Elite Dangerous kind of led me to working with Julian. He produced two of the great games of my formative years – Laser Squad and Lords of Chaos. When my Lave Radio co-host John Stabler showed me he was running a Kickstarter for a new Chaos game, I had another ‘I have to be on board’ moment. We interviewed him on Lave Radio and gradually I’ve got more and more involved in helping on the new game.

My role is a bit different to what I did on Elite Dangerous. Instead of writing ideas and sending them to the company to edit and change, Julian and I work quite collaboratively. He’s based in Bulgaria with the rest of Snapshot Games, so we talk quite a lot on Skype. My job is to devise all the history and current lore of the game, but also create stories and in-game content. I wrote sections for the loading screens and “Journal of the Gifted One”, a ten part story included in the game that tells the story of a fledgling wizard learning about their powers. The end of the story is the starting point for the single player campaign of the game.

In addition to that, I’m working on a set of books called The Death of Gods trilogy. These are the story of how the world of Chaos Reborn came about. I’m also devising something called ‘The Loremaster’s Guide’ which is packed full of background information on the world.

FB: Star Citizen has created a lot of expectation in the MMORPG world and you have been writing a series of articles following the development of the game. What is your take on it?
AS: I’ve written a couple of articles on Star Citizen. The crowdfunding campaign was going on at the same time as Elite Dangerous and has continued since. In terms of my view as a fan, I didn’t back it owing to the merchandising of in-game assets, which I’m not in agreement with, particularly concept art ship sales. However, I can see why other people did as the announced concept is quite incredible.

Unfortunately though, I’m still not convinced about the eventual delivery of everything being suggested. There has to be some compromises. Whereas with Elite Dangerous developing a core of background, engine, flight model, etc was the priority from the outset, Star Citizen appears to have tried to do everything at once. Someone said they saw it as ‘putting up wallpaper without the walls’ which I think is a pretty good analogy. Back in 2013 they produced huge amounts of lore in videos, articles and all sorts, but because the spec of the game changed, a lot of it will need revising. That’s the sort of thing we’ve been trying to avoid with the games I’ve worked on.

That said, the prototype game of Star Citizen is really making strides now and I wish them all the best in delivering on what they’ve set out to achieve.

FB: You have some remarkable music scores on Soundcloud. I understand that some of them are being used in a project for a Chaos Reborn audiobook. Can you tell us more about this project?
AS: Composing instrumental music has been something I’ve done for more than twenty years as a hobby with the occasional piece being used by a commercial short film or two. My Lave Radio colleague Chris Jarvis produced audio book versions of some of the Elite novels and also created two seasons of an unofficial Elite dangerous Audio Drama – Escape Velocity, all of which I wrote music for. After I agreed to work with Julian, I introduced him to Chris. He’s just completed a successful Kickstarter to fund the audio drama for Chaos Reborn and that means more trips to the attic for me to the music studio.

FB: You’ve been appointed editor for the British Fantasy Society’s journal, which is quite an honour. You have also written several Fantasy novels in the last few years. What is it about Fantasy that captures your imagination?
AS: I love the way fantasy gives you the chance to invent myths and encourage readers to imagine. As a child I’d imagine the lives of the people in the space stations or the wizards and creatures visiting all different realms. Stories like Lord of the Rings left you wondering what the societies were like to live in and what else had happened before and after the adventures in the books. I guess I want to give something back in the same way and write about characters who catch the imagination of others. If I can encourage others to write by doing so, I call that a win.

FB: What’s next for you? And what surprises do you have in store for us?
AS: Well, I’ve just finished The Forever Man, an urban fantasy novel that’s currently being sent out to literary agents and I’ve just completed the first book of The Death of Gods trilogy – Dreams of Chaos which hopefully will go out as well. I’ve also had a short story accepted by Ian Whates at Newcon Press for a science fiction anthology he’s putting out later this year.

Right now, I’m trying to finish my Ph.D. in Creative Writing which uses my work on Elite Dangerous and Chaos Reborn as case studies. After that, I’ve a boardgame I’m working on too as well and a fourth Wisimir book to get on with and… maybe a little sleep?

You can find out more about Allen Stroud on his official website.