1/24/2013

READY PLAYER ONE

DISCLAIMER: when games making noob writes a review, he first focuses on everything that he found ridiculously bad. Then he moves on to weaknesess and for dessert, he leaves the things he liked. Most people never reach these cool things he saves for last.

READY PLAYER ONE is, like most of the modern american literature, in fact an elaborate movie script and has very little in common with an actual novel. Pretty much every scene, every dialogue and every character is prepared for the silver screen. The amount of suspence used on under 400 pages of RPO is probably two times bigger than in whole Dostoyewski's and Hemingway's collection put together.



Characters are more flat than those in Parappa the Rapper - every single one of them can be described with only one dominating and in most cases stereotypical feature: Japanese are honorable, protagonist's crush is sarcastic and his best friend is his cheering bitch. The enemy is as evil as any faceless James Bond's nemesis. Dialogues between them always sound like this:
Protagonist: I am saying a clever, cool line to impress the girl I am in love with.
Japanese 1: Protagonist-san is a honorable man.
Best friend: Lol, protagonist, high five!
Japanese 2: Protagonist's best friend-san is also honorable.
Protagonist's crush: This is a retort shooting down the protagonist, just to act like a bitch.

Luckily, the dialogues between those guys happen really rare. What's also very fortunate, is that the book is written in the first-person perspective, which forces the author to actually make the protagonist more 3-dimensional. Since most of the book is about his solo actions, the flatness of other characters lets us treat them like we would treat any other episodic NPC.

Logic and probability aren't Ernest Cline's best friends either. I would say his relationship with those two virtues has an on-again, off-again character. Everything that happens in the book is really cool and highly implausible. Like a group of teenagers beating the crap out of a horde of "bad guys" that were recruited for analytical thinking, but just all happen to be dumber than a pack of tic-tacs.

One thing that actually seems really cool is the world Cline has described. Every social and economic element of RPO's setting really adds up - both outside the Virtual-Reality-MMO and inside it. On the other hand, I would be really surprised if it didn't. The world outside is a generic cyberpunk setting and the MMO is nothing more than WoW mechanics + Entropia Universe economics + Second Life social functions blown way out of proportions. There's just no way to go wrong there.

Summing up this rant - if you looked at it from the literary side - Ernest Cline's READY PLAYER ONE is really a terrible novel. Which didn't stop me from immensely enjoying every bit of it. Imagine a story about a kid, living in the future, that starts a D&D-style quest. Correction - not a quest. A QUEST. A QUEST that leads him through the whole popculture of 20th century's 80's. Imagine pac-man arcade machine sounds jamming the Van Halen and AC/DC music in the background while the CRT TV plays "War Games" or "Revenge of the nerds".


Now I myslelf, being born in mid-80's, know most of this culture from my parent's records, from TV re-runs of older movies and sitcoms and from digging in the old games libraries. I knew maybe 60% of the references, but it still felt great. If you happened to actually grow up in the 80's, this book will probably make you cry more than once. It's a true tribute to the decade.

Once you realize that what you are reading is not supposed to be Blade Runner or Johnny Mnemonic but rather Goonies or Back to the Future, you stop caring about the logic or how the characters are built. You don't give a shit whether the universe is a total cliché. You just go out on a quest with Parzival. You fall in love with Art3mis and go save the virtual world from Sux0rz. And it's worth every minute spent with the book.

And if you are an aspiring developer, you should read this book for one other reason. Apart from being about the 80's popculture, it is about secrets and Easter Eggs in games. It shows their importance, the fun they bring and how they build a dialogue between the developer and the gamer. It touches the topic of Easter Eggs so much that you can find one in the book itself. People who found it had a chance to win Cline's DeLorean DMC-12. The contest is long gone already and tips how to find the Egg in the book are already googlable, but I encourage you to try and find it yourself, without help. As an excercise in geekiness and perception.





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