Monday, 29 October 2012

#50 Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Vampire Hunter Club Live

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably been drooling in anticipation at the release of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter on DVD, the movie of the book written by that guy who thought of taking public domain works of literature and making money by inserting the word “zombie” into every other sentence.

You may even have heard of the press event launched to promote the DVD, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Vampire Hunter Club Live, a game put together by the minds behind our favourite Zombie LARP. Regular readers will be familiar with my previous zombie LARP adventures, from my heroic death during the tragic tale of Team Scavenger, to our first doomed foray into Station Zero at the Friar’s Walk Mall, to the Zombie LARP Christmas Carol, where we learned that Morris dancers are apparently way more badass than any of us thought likely, in such a way that some narrow-minded people may believe, ahem, completely broke the game.

But that was all a long time ago. This time, rather than assembling yet another team of doomed comrades and leading them to their death, I joined the staff at the event, playing one of the evil vampires that were being hunted. As a result I was given food and travel expenses that were ultimately paid for by Fox, so I’ve finally sold out and everything I say from here on in is probably suspect.

Grant Howitt, one of the game designers behind this and Zombie LARP, has already written an excellent blog post on the things he learned designing and running the game. And Alex Hern has already written an article for the New Statesman on his experiences playing a vampire hunter, and we have no wish here to duplicate content already provided by that fine publication.

So today I’m going to tell you some of the things I learned as a vampire, intermingled with a couple of player stories we’ve received from some LARP virgins.

Vampire Lesson One: Talking With Fangs Is Really Hard (And A Bit Racist)

The whole point in being a vampire is that you receive eternal life, superior strength and otherworldly beauty, but that it comes at a terrible cost. Many vampire stories are vague about just what that cost is (Do you really believe in a soul anyway?). Well, having walked in a vampire’s shoes I can tell you what that cost is, and it’s not worth it.

Eternal life, eternal beauty is great, but trying to do that with two massive prosthetic fangs crowding the front of your mouth completely ruins the whole thing. After I’d had my make-up applied and my teeth glued in I discovered to my horror that becoming a dark creature of the night meant I could no longer pronounce my Rs or my Ss. My speech had taken a form that was hideous, and yet somehow familiar. Before long it dawned on me. In my efforts to speak clearly with those fangs in my mouth, I was apparently doing some sort of weird Fu Manchu style Chinese accent.

I spent the remainder of my preparation time before the game saying “The rain in Spain falls mostly on the plains” in a desperate attempt to learn how to speak normally in case any Asians turned up to the game.

Interlude: The story of Ryan Sullivan

I had a great time at the Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter Live Vampire Hunt (ALVHLVH).

I had no idea what to expect when I arrived. All I knew was I wanted to get my hands on a weapon and head out on the first expedition. I didn't have to wait long until a shotgun was put in my hands and a brave doctor - discernible by his white lab coat - was leading an exploratory mission out into the dark.

After checking the several small rooms we passed, didn't want to fall victim to a simple ambush on the first outing, we arrived on the Dancefloor; which would become one of the bloodiest battlefields of the evening. Here we found a solitary vampire who retreated before our awe-inspiring awesomeness. So we gave chase to the little hellspawn!

This is when I had my first lesson in "don't underestimate a vampire." He'd lured us right back to the nest of vampires. One had turned to eight. We beat a hasty retreat to the Dancefloor and the battle began. I quickly ran out of ammo and had to abandon my team-mates temporarily to reload. This action was noticed by a bystander and my bravery, or lack thereof, was quickly pointed out to me.
Once I was rearmed I returned to the fight and helped to save a fallen comrade and dispense of the undead horrors. We returned to the safe house as heroes, laying waste to four of the vampire scorn. That was only the beginning.

A plan was forged by Leo, the maker of plans. We were to plant a bomb in the heart of the vampire nest and cleanse this place of their foul stench once and for all. My ammunition had long been spent and I went onto the battlefield armed with nothing but a single bandage to aid any injured companions. It was terrifying, the feeling of complete vulnerability.

Soon a brawl broke out and I pulled a man from the front lines to administer the aid I could, lest he fall to the dark host and become one of them. My comrade had dropped his weapon in the commotion and the demons were close to swiping it. I wrestled it away from their cold dead hands and looked in awe upon the Axe of Abraham Lincoln. It was glorious.

With our forefather's axe in hand and Leo's excellent plan, victory was assured. Our group was separated by a last ditch ambush from the vampires but they were too late and they knew it. We closed the door on the safehouse to hear the explosion boom above us. It was over. The night was safe once more.

Vampire Lesson Two: People Don’t Object To Being Sent Into Certain Death As Much As You’d Think

The Vampire Hunter game took place in two sessions, with two very different and distinct feels. The first game could be best described as, well, a total and utter blood bath. The players swarmed out into the abandoned nightclub, armed with NERF shotguns or, as Zombie LARP veterans call them “No way are you sending me out there with one of those, I want to try and make it through this game alive!”

We did our best to give them a fighting chance, but before long the vampires found ourselves surrounded by Thralls, the unwilling, brainwashed slaves we’d made of murdered vampire hunters. Thralls are discernible by several qualities. First, the red bandage wrapped around their arm to signify their allegiance to the undead. Two, that they are totally useless in a fight unless you can procure a weapon for them. Three, that although they’ve fallen in battle, they’re still paying to be here, so despite being your army of obedient minions, you also have to make sure they’re having fun.

With so many dead, many vampires soon found themselves with far too many thralls under their command, and it was hard to give them all fascinating and engaging tasks to do. So when in doubt it wasn’t uncommon to tell them to just charge head on into a front line of axe wielding survivors. What was quite spooky though, was the sheer enthusiasm the thralls seemed to have for what would inevitably turn out to be a short and sticky death (especially given the fact that seriously, players never, ever, ever learn to pull their blows).

Interlude: The Tale of Rebecca Cosgriff of Books Becca Buys
Having never before attended a 'livegame', I wasn't quite sure what to expect when me and my (coerced) friend turned up to Islington Metal Works. I wasn’t massively reassured when I was ushered inside amongst some leather-clad compatriots to sign a liability waver.

Only slightly deterred, we congregated inside the main room of the metalworks (furnished with a rather fetching faux train carriage/burger van) to hear the welcoming speech from our hosts, Serious Business. Promptly informed that we were not to expect mere immersive theatre but a live action horror game to solve and participate in (cue clammy hands), we were let loose with strict instructions to hit only from the chest down and try not to seriously maim anyone.

What followed was at least 30 minutes of general standing about feeling confused and, if I’m honest, a bit left out. Some people had obviously attended similar events before and got straight down to de-coding baffling messages strewn around, and volunteering to take the limited weapons on a scouting mission. Those of us not so sure of ourselves were left behind with nothing to do and no weapons to brandish for quite some time. I understand that this sort of game involves proactivity but it would have been nice if some of the cast members had engaged with those of us obviously standing around looking baffled, and ensured that everyone had a turn being led through the labyrinthal metalworks on an mission (my group were selected to get nuked up and taken out into the field, only to get forgotten about and left, tempted to give up the ghost and just order a burger).

With only about 30 minutes to go my friend and a couple of other lost souls decided to just go for it, grabbed a weapon from a cast member and got involved. I have to say it was a lot of fun, despite stubbing my toe and screaming, in a way that would have made Buffy turn in her grave (before being hastily resurrected), trying to run away from the hissing, prosthetic-clad un-dead. We managed to merge with a more experienced group and I was soon responding to frantic calls for “MEDIC” and bashing away at some poor(presumably) underpaid actresses with a foam axe. Bliss.

The whole thing struck me as a terrifying medium between Secret Cinema and the London Bridge Experience, and all in all I had a good laugh and met some nice people. But my experience would have been much more positive with a bit better organisation, a few more (working) weapons and some effort to include people not so sure of themselves, or at least introduce some ‘getting to know you’ activities before things kick off so the n00bs can team up with the pros.

I can’t say I’m a live action simulation convert, but I definitely would consider giving it another bash (literally) when the Serious Business has a bit more experience.

Vampire Lesson Three: It Is Mankind That Is The Real Monster

The second game had fewer players, but more alarmingly, they got organised. Where’s in the last game if Grant and Mary wanted to shit the players up they just had to send a couple of us running and screaming into the safe room to watch them scatter and panic, this time we’d run into the safe room to meet a barrage of NERF darts and axe-blows.

Listening to the referees and the human NPCs we kept hearing how terrified the players were, but as a vampire you would see only death. Instant, violent death.

And then came my moment to shine.

One of the elements Grant and Mary had added to Vampire Hunter to differentiate it from Zombie LARP was the introduction of Interrogations. A vampire would be dragged kicking and screaming into the safe room, tied to a chair and questioned for valuable information that the players would need to progress. As a vampire you were given two pieces of information, and a “trigger” that would cause you to spill everything.
My compatriot in previous LARPs, Alina, for instance, played an agile, parkour-esque vampire who would tell you everything if you threatened to damage her legs. Within seconds of being taken into the room someone had chopped off one of her legs and she sang like a canary.

We assumed the players had done their research, and so I was looking forward to seeing what would happen when I went in. The interrogator dragged me into the safe room, and before I was even tied to the chair... they started hacking my legs off. Now this wasn’t my trigger, so I just had to limp over to the chair and continue the interrogation, and throughout I was slashed at, had things chopped off, and threatened.
But worst of all was the look in their eyes. People who I’m sure I’d love to meet socially were clearly really, really enjoying the torture. Like, a lot.

When they finally got all the information they could from me, I was brutally killed and tossed back out into the corridor, and I don’t mind admitting it was something of a relief.

When this blog started we used to play a regular drinking game of apocalyptic movie tropes, one of which was “mankind is the real monster”.

It is my friends. It definitely is.

Thanks to Lynsey Smith for letting me use her photos of the event. See the whole gallery here.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Next Big Thing

A slight shift from business as usual as this week we're taking part in The Next Big Thing. It's sort of like one of those annoying Facebook chain questionnaires, except instead of Facebook it's people's blogs, and instead of all those really dull people you know, it's authors, so, y'know, it's cool.

I was very kindly tagged in by Kim Curran, author of the real-life-save-game-function novel, Shift. Once I'm done here I'll be tagging the next bunch of writers who'll keep the chain going. But first, here's some shameless plugging for my cloning novel, Mark II.
What is the working title of your book?
Mark II

Where did the idea come from for the book?
From TV. I was watching a documentary about cloning, and one of the people interviewed was a parent who wanted to clone their terminally ill child. It got me thinking about what the clone would think about this. I started off trying to write a short story about a clone who was brought about in this way, but it sort of expanded into a novel.

What genre does your book fall under?
Young adult science fiction. Or teenage science fiction. Or science fiction with teenagers in it.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
This is always difficult when all the interesting people in your cast are children, as all the actors who could possibly play the part have this horrible habit of growing up. My current favourite for the role of Mark Self and his clone is David Rawle from the Chris O'Dowd sitcom Moone Boy. He can pull off two most important things about Mark- a look of wide eyed innocence and look that looks a lot like wide eyed innocence but really, really isn't.

Oh, and the theme tune has to be this.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Phil's best friend Mark dies after a long illness, only to be replaced by a clone who looks like, sounds like and has some of the memories of his old best friend, but is a new person altogether.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Roughly 12 months. Started writing it when I should have revising for A-levels, finished it when I should have been doing coursework for university.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
A lot of people have compared with Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, I think mainly because it has a child narrator with an unusual perspective who doesn't quite get the "rules" of everyday human interaction. I like to think of it as Frankenstein, if the monster had found some people who actually liked him.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
It started off being about playing with an idea that seemed like a very possible real world application of cloning technology. I fudged the science and made my clone vat-grown and speedily aged up because I didn't really want to write about a newborn baby, but I really liked the idea of doing science fiction story that didn't seem to have any of the usual trappings of science fiction (although I love writing stories with all those trappings as well!).

In the end though the thing that kept me interested in the book was the friendship between Phil and Mark's clone, which felt very real to me, and I have a lot of fun writing Mark's clone, an intelligent, articulate boy who's only real probably is that he's unflinchingly honest about everything and assumes everybody around him is the same.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It's quite a while since I wrote this now, but looking back I still love the way Mark's clone takes all the little rituals and unsaid rules that dominate teenage friendships and just picks them apart piece by piece.

For another Q&A I've done on Mark II, check out this interview at the Bluewater Waterstone's YA fiction blog

Now, over to the next, Next Big Thing.

Alexander Gordon Smith has turned up here before in our drunk author interview. Go and read about his Next Big Thing here.