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For those considering embarking on the ambitious effort of building their own original story telling arena, take heart. It can be done.
But it is almost always easier - and generally more advisable - to take elements of popular themes and mix them together into an overall original concept than to try to devise something that is so earth-shatteringly new and breathtakingly ground breaking that it scares away anyone trying to get a grip on the theme.
My creation, OtherSpace, is almost three years old. Our busiest nights see 50-60 people online, which is fairly remarkable for an original-theme MUSH.
But in OtherSpace, if you look carefully, you'll see hints of the seeds of inspiration for the vines that grew and entwined themselves together to become what it is today.
I'm in my 30s. When I was entering adolescence, the original Star Wars movie was released. As that star destroyer rumbled across the screen in the first scene, my fate was sealed. I wanted to create something as visionary as George Lucas. I can't say I've been nearly as successful - there are no Dimitri Volstov action figures or Guardian Fleet fortress play sets - but I do think I've managed to take full advantage of the opportunity to develop my vision for an audience on the Internet. The vision continues to take shape practically on a daily basis.
As I grew up, I came to learn that George Lucas didn't just weave Star Wars out of the ether. Although the characters and races and worlds are his own, they had their genesis in the movies of Kurosawa and the myth theories of Joseph Campbell and the swash buckling movie matinees of the mid-20th Century.
So, where did OtherSpace come from? What are its seeds of inspiration?
Star Wars, absolutely, is a heavy influence - I wanted a sweeping space opera with a focus on characters. That's Star Wars in a nutshell.
Some people look at the Castori, a bear-like people, on OtherSpace and think immediately of Ewoks. No way to avoid that. And, they were inspired by them, certainly. But only in the sense that I wanted to create a race of bear-like creatures who didn't wander around being cutesy and rolly-poly all the time. The Castori are a doggedly determined bunch who, unlike Ewoks, are very technologically advanced.
A glimpse at the Mystics - they wear robes, commune with The Voice, and have psionic powers - reminds some people of the Jedi of Star Wars. That's not an unfair comparison, although I'd argue that Mystics are like Jedi with the sense of humor of a Vulcan from Star Trek.
Babylon 5 also played a key role in the foundations of OtherSpace. First and foremost, it was from Babylon 5 that I drew the idea of evolving story arcs for my universe. Babylon 5 features the Centauri, a rather noble and vain people who pride themselves on appearances, and the Narn, a fierce race of oppressed reptilians. Elements of both those races come together in my Demarians, noble felinoids who live on a rugged desert world.
Jurassic Park inspired the Nall - they look and act a lot like velociraptors capable of speech with a code of honor.
The Centaurans, our crystalline jellyfish, are inspired by a Discovery channel show about land-locked jellyfish that live in a freshwater lake and survive by a symbiotic relationship with organisms that create nutrients for the jellyfish through exposure to sunlight.
The Specialists, my mass-produced human clones, certainly owe a debt of inspirational equity to the works of Philip K. Dick, such as "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?," which was the basis for the movie "Blade Runner."
The Timonae, a race of humanoids with a reputation for confidence trickstering and thievery, are drawn from roots in the Romani, or gypsies, of Earth.
One of my favorite story arcs, "Sanctuary," found much of its inspiration from the old "Battlestar Galactica" TV series, with the alien invasion and flight of the survivors in search of new frontiers. Elements of the last story arc, "Unraveled Dreams and Forgotten Obligations," were inspired by the original Star Trek "Mirror, Mirror" episode.
It isn't a bad thing, drawing elements of many different sources to create something new. In fact, I would suggest that it is probably the key to the success of just about any originally themed project, whether it be a MUSH or a series of science fiction novels.
The frontier may be new, but for those traveling the strange land, it helps to see things that make them comfortable, that give them some sense of familiarity. And you can also use that comfort to throw new twists on old ideas.
September 2001 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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