Sunday, June 03, 2007

Fiction Addiction: His Majesty's Dragon

I'm almost done reading
His Majesty's Dragon, the first volume in the Temeraire series.

I had to hit the first chapter at least four times. I'd read, get bored, put the book down for a few weeks, come back, read, get bored, rinse, repeat.

Last week I slogged through the opening chapter using pluck and determination. Now I'm almost finished with the book.

Yes, it got much better.

For those unfamiliar with the book's concept, Napoleon is rampaging across the Continent and has set his sights on England. Pretty familiar story.

And there are dragons.

This ends up being much cooler than one might expect. The only deviation introduced thus far is dragons - no nods to any other kind of magic or fantasy.

One thing became clear to me while reading: the book is a Romance between a human and his dragon. Not in an erotic way, though I'm sure there is plenty of fanfic exploring that aspect; The treatment is purely platonic. In this respect it fits into the class of books like Where the Red Fern Grows or The Yearling, in which a protagonist lucks upon an animal that becomes a constant, enduring companion, forging a special bond which is unbreakable.

The author, Naomi Novik, has her own Livejournal with updates and interesting notes about her work, including some of the real-world places from the Temeraire series.

Turns out that she worked on Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide. According to her bio, "she realized she preferred the writing to the programming, and, on returning to New York, decided to try her hand at novels."

Smart move.


It's old news now, but word is that Peter Jackson was set to option the books in order to bring them to the big screen. I can't find any updates, but hopefully the deals are progressing.


The natural progression of things, then, is the inevitable video game.

First, the likeliest result:

EA licenses the movies and makes a straight-up action-shooter. The graphics are good but the gameplay is repetitive and uninspired. The primary complaint is that it's just a retread of Lair, which was itself essentially a prettier retread of Panzer Dragoon.

EA goes on to make six games in the series that get progressively worse as they farm the work out to less-experienced dev teams.

Meanwhile, Ubisoft licenses the novels and puts out a serviceable action-RPG nearly indistinguishable from a beat-em-up. There are some unlockable combos but the whole thing feels uninspired.

Second, what I'd like to see:

A strategy-tactical game similar in form to Star Wars: Empire at War. The strategy map has simultaneous turns, where both sides give their orders and then the turn plays out. This map is used to manage supply routes, order your dragons, and keep an eye on the enemy.

Information in your territory will be completely manageable, but any time a flight is sent into unowned territory then the player must issue scouting orders, which the unit will attempt to follow (with the danger of being attacked/shot down).

The tactical map will be like Homeworld, a full-3d view of the battlefield. Play will be pausable, orders can be queued up, or the whole thing can be done in real-time. Formations will be the key to managing the battlefield and achieving superiority. While the player will be solely in charge of the dragons, they will fight alongside AI-controlled naval and ground units, scenarios which will require striking changes in thinking.

Dragon, pilot, and crew will have their own stats that are interdependent. In addition, units in a team will earn bonuses as they train together. Maneuvers will allow more sophisticated variations as a team advances.

There are several different campaigns with different levels of detail (much like Civilization's map size variations), including a worldwide map. There are several different countries available for play, but only ones which have a sizable dragon contingent.


Enough speculation. Since the author has prior experience in the game industry, it might be that the inevitable licensing will yield something grand.

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