To Boldly Nerd…

Video games, pen&paper RPGs and other nerdery

Otherland MMO, huh


When my friend Caitlin helped me and created this banner for the new blog, I sent her an assortment of images to create something with. Most parts are pretty obvious. My license plate, Merrill from Dragon Age 2, a death rift from Rift, and my very own WoW main, Kadomi. But what’s that yellow bit there? It indicates my love for SF&F literature, by showing a snippet of the cover of City of Golden Shadow. It’s also commonly known as Otherland, even though that’s the title of the series of four books by Tad Williams.

When Otherland was released in the late 90s, I thought it was sensational. I started MU*ing in 1996, text-based roleplaying games using telnet clients, and it was my most absorbing hobby at the time. Otherland was set in the 22nd century, and the only real difference in technology was that everyone was utilising the Net for everything, using a physical connection through implants (which reminded me of Shadowrun). From there begins a plot that children using the Net can’t disconnect anymore and fall into a coma, until Renie Sulaweyo, the main protagonist, starts investigating after her little brother is affected. A large part of the first book is based in Durban, South Africa, so that’s exotic enough from the start. Renie’s sidekick is !Xabbu from the Kalahari desert.

What blew my mind the most was really the virtual reality full immersion stuff. Two of the characters are teenagers who stumble upon the main plot while playing their Net version of an MMORPG, Middle Country. I thought it was exciting, a glimpse at the future, full immersion in a fantasy world. Keep in mind, that was six years before WoW was released, a year before Everquest. I was having my RP only through text, so that part really seemed amazing to me. I think Tad Williams probably was influenced by the MU* scene at the time. The biggest shopping mall on the Net is called Lambda Mall, and if you were MU*ing at all, you probably had heard of LambdaMOO, which is pretty much a predecessor of Second Life in text form.

I have re-read the series in the meantime, and still love it very much, but it’s not as mindblowing anymore a decade later. Still, fantastic books, regardless, and always highly recommended by me. If you haven’t read any of his works before, be warned, he is verbose, has myriads of characters and a very slow style of prose.

Well, enough about the books, this was to be about the MMO. You ever heard of Otherland MMO? I bet most of you didn’t. I heard about it last year when his wife tweeted about it. For a game that’s supposed to be released this year, there’s a whole lot of hot air around it, but hardly any real information. I don’t even know how you would play in Otherland, based on the books. Otherland is basically a virtual playground of the rich, who all run their own simulations, all connected by a river. The screenshots seem to show some of those simulations, but also the faceless avatars of Lambda Mall. Will it be like Second Life? Where’s the game here?

Information is vague. ‘MMO fans can also expect a fascinating gameplay experience. Based on the globally successful novels, the Otherland gameplay is distinguished by a unique narrative structure. Rather than retelling the story, players will experience their own individual stories within the Otherland universe and will encounter many of the familiar characters from the books. The game world will change dynamically around them during the course of the game.’ Sounds fantastic, but what does it really mean? Supposed Tad Williams is involved with the creation of this game, but that might just be PR talking again.

I just hope they won’t ruin my amazing memories of the books and will treat the series respectfully. It’s definitely a game I’ll keep my eyes on, even if it has all the components to be a major underdog.


  1. I hadn’t heard of this. It seems like a strange choice. The series was good (though could have used a *leetle* tightening up 🙂 – I’ve never felt drawn to re-reading my copy because of the magnitude of the task) but it was good because of the story. The setting worked, insofar as it supported the story, and was imaginative, but I can’t really see the separate virtual worlds being especially compelling.

    It seems that the only reason you’d pick an environment like Otherland for an MMO is because the virtual reality concepts *suggest* an MMO, not because it would be a particularly good setting. And for it really to reflect the books, those virtual worlds would have to be huge – far bigger than WoW zones. Maybe bigger than all of WoW.

    And then the idea of modelling a virtual world story in a virtual world strikes me as something that would be incredibly difficult to get right. It might be better done outside of an MMO, like the .Hack series did. Modelling a non-VR SF or fantasy setting would seem much more promising. I’d dearly love to see an MMO based on Cherryh’s Merchanters’ Universe, where you could have any number of interesting worlds and fascinating stories quite independent of the published fiction it supports.

    Incidentally, I wonder if you ever read Donnerjack (Roger Zelazny and Jane Lindskold). It was contemporary with Otherland, but handled virtual reality in a very different way to Otherland and Snow Crash. Some of the ideas of Donnerjack reminded me a lot of Otherland, but Zelazny always found a way to extend reality in interesting ways.

    • As much as I love Tad Williams, his verbose style could use a lot of tightening, this is true. Otherland is MASSIVE. I re-read City of Golden Shadow last summer, it’s a bit of a daunting task alright.

      Like you I am not sure if this game would work, I don’t even know how they would plan to have all those various worlds, within worlds. It’s a very creative setting, because basically anything is possible. I just don’t know how they would make a compelling game from it. There is so very little information.

      The only books of Zelazny I ever read were the Nine Princes of Amber, which incidentally I feel the urge to re-read now. I think at the time I read it, when I was like 14, I wasn’t ready to quite comprehend it. I read it, because of the text adventure game that was created around it. I’ll put Donnerjack on my Goodreads list!

  2. Memory, Sorrow and Thorn remain one of my favorite fantasy series, partly because of what it did *to* the genre rather than within it :). But Tad Williams himself refers to book 3 as “the bloated epic.”

    Zelazny is all excellent. Poetic, usually intense. “24 Views of Mt. Fuji by Hokusai” is my favorite story of any genre, length (it’s a novella) or style that I’ve ever read. Donnerjack is a bit different, though. Zelazny died before finishing it, and his partner Jane Lindskold finished it. So some of the poetry may not quite be there, but the story’s both outrageous and highly compelling, and it’s definitely an interesting contrast to other VR stories. It would definitely *not* lend itself to a video game.

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