BattleCorps Author Interview: Cody Ouellette

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 The canon of official BattleTech continues to grow, and in my endless quest to get to know the people who are shaping what is to come, and what has already passed, I was able to catch the ear of BattleCorps author Cody Ouellette just long enough to get him to answer a few questions for me about his personal BattleTech journey and about his dreams to write BattleTech fiction.

Here is what Cody had to say:

Dave:  What was your first experience with the BattleTech universe?

CO: I’d seen BattleTech boxed sets around, but my first real contact with the BattleTech universe happened when I was twelve years old and stumbled across the recently-published Malicious Intent. I was an avid reader as a child, and I’d read pretty much anything set in front of me. I was instantly smitten with the BattleTech universe and not just because of the giant robots.

It wasn’t long after that I bumped into MechWarrior 2 while in a Sears, of all places, and I convinced my father to buy it. From there, I pretty well devoured every BattleTech novel I could get my hands on and eventually got into the tabletop game as well.

Dave: What is your favorite BattleTech era? What intrigues you about that era over the others?

CO: It’s not an easy choice, I’m most familiar with the Clan Invasion and truce era because that’s what I grew up with; but I’d still have to say the old Star League era is my favorite. It wasn’t the sunshine and roses utopia the Clans seem to believe and there’s a lot of room for new stories: from the Camerons’ stagnating human colonization efforts, the tyranny of the Ice Cartels, and theoretically-leashed House Lords fighting wars with proxies, mercenaries, and bandits.

I’m also really looking forward to a possible time-skip to 3250, which feels like a return to the 3025 era. There’s a lot of potential for new and interesting stories there. How would you like to discover a LosTech Gestalt?

Dave: With all of the various factions and places in the Inner Sphere and the Clans, where do you consider your home to be in the 31st century?

CO: I don’t really view the universe that way. Most of the Great Houses would be really terrible places to live, even for the nobility. They’re fun to write about, and there’s so much potential for intrigue, but I wouldn’t want to stay. If I had to choose anywhere in the Inner Sphere, I’d pick the Calderon Protectorate. Their frontier spirit, emphasis on personal liberty, and self-reliance appeals to me. Then again, those are the same reasons I wouldn’t want to live in any of the Pirate Kingdoms.

Dave: What is your favorite BattleTech story or novel?

CO: It’s so hard to choose, but I’d have to say Wolves on the Border is my all-time favorite. A lot of the early BattleTech fiction has a different feel from the more recent work. There was a lot of experimenting with the universe back then, a lot of places things could have gone. But the foreshadowing of the Clan invasion still sends chills down my spine. The earlier BattleTech novels taught me to always experiment with my writing because you never know when a scene is going to grab hold and pull you in.

Dave: Your first published BattleTech story was recently published on BattleCorps. What got you interested in writing BattleTech fiction, and how did you come across the idea for your story?

CO: I’ve always enjoyed writing, but my foray into writing BattleTech fiction actually started in an unusual place: my BattleTech Let’s Play thread on the Something Awful forums. I’d always loved the series, and when I started the thread there was no sign of MechWarrior Online. I wanted to introduce new people to the franchise (in the form of an alternate universe Clan invasion, so they could experience the ups-and-downs and have a real impact on the shape of the Inner Sphere). Three years later, the thread’s still going strong and people are still having fun with BattleTech.

It was during this time that someone referred me to the BattleCorps manuscript submission guidelines; and I took the plunge into writing real fiction for the universe! It’s been a fantastic experience all-around, and I’m really glad I decided to put myself out there and take the risk!

Dave: What have you learned about BattleTech since you started writing fiction for the universe?

CO: I’ve learned that there’re at least three (arguably) intelligent or near-intelligent nonhuman species in the BattleTech universe. As a more serious answer: I’ve learned not to fear having a story rejected. Rejection doesn’t mean a work isn’t worthwhile and it doesn’t mean you’re a failure as a writer. It just means that sometimes the tiny piece of the puzzle you’re working on just doesn’t fit the universe as a whole. You can learn just as much from a failed writing experiment as you can from a successful submission.

Dave: You previously mentioned that you play MechWarrior Online.  What has your experience been like with the game and player community?

CO: MechWarrior Online is a profoundly disappointing game. It’s earned the 66 it’s gotten on MetaCritic, and I’d say that score is (unfortunately) pretty accurate. I’ve never really enjoyed purely PVP games unless there’s an actual goal to work towards, but in MWO the only goal is grinding money so you can buy more `Mechs to grind more money with. There was so much potential–and the art design is absolutely fantastic–but as of the time of writing there’ve been no major content additions since very early beta. The lack of a matchmaker, so groups and friends can make their own fun in the form of tournaments or lance-on-lance fights really hurts the game immensely; and the “balance changes” in place which took the form of undocumented hidden penalties rather than simple numbers changes all turned me off on the game very quickly.

There’s an anecdote I feel the need to share, which sums up my feelings on the game fairly concisely: Back when the game launched, the developers held a big party with a team tournament (they had to make a special server just to do this, as the game doesn’t support tournament-style play). During this tournament, the lead developer Paul spent the entire time sitting on the stairs to the main stage playing Tetris on his iPhone. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions, but that spoke worlds to me.

I didn’t personally enjoy MechWarrior Online, but that doesn’t mean other people won’t enjoy it. If you haven’t checked it out, it’s definitely worth a look!

Dave: What is your favorite Mech in MWO? Do you have a style you like to follow with your Mech configurations?

CO: I never found a style I really enjoyed, but I will say that the art style in Mechwarrior Online is fantastic. I really hope Alex Iglesias sticks around with the franchise, his designs have been inspirational both to me and to a friend of mine who’s artwork has now appeared in several new TROs.

Dave: Thank you for taking the time to tell us about yourself and experiences. Do you have any final words for BattleTech and MechWarrior fans?

CO: In the words of the immortal bards? Be excellent to each other. We’re all fans for different reasons, and we all enjoy different aspects of the universe, but there’s no wrong way to enjoy the BattleTech Universe. Whether you like the Jihad or the Clan Invasion or just prefer to hang out in the year 3025, there’s a lot in the franchise to enjoy and experience; and I look forward to seeing where Catalyst takes us next!

And if you get the chance, you may want to check out The Last Contender, a non-canon short story I wrote for my friend Mr. George Ledoux, the voice actor behind Mechwarrior 4’s Duncan Fisher.

I certainly thank Cody for taking the time to answer my questions. If you would like to check out his BattleCorps story, Call or Fold, it is now available at BattleCorps.

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