The road to the Far West began four years ago, in May of 2007. That’s when the idea settled in my head, and development began. This first entry is an attempt to quantify that development, so you know a bit where I’m coming from. If you can see my tracks, then it’s easier to follow me, neh?
The inspirations for Far West were, like many things, seemingly separate events which suddenly coalesced. In the introduction added to the more recent printings of his Dark Tower series, Stephen King wrote something which really resonated for me:
“….I saw a film directed by Sergio Leone. It was called The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and before the film was even half over, I realized that what I wanted to write was a novel that contained Tolkien’s sense of quest and magic, but set against Leone’s almost absurdly majestic Western backdrop.”
That planted the seed. Fantasy, but instead of elves and dwarves in a mythic amalgam of Western European culture and history, one which was based upon the American myth — the West.
I’ve been an afficianado of the wuxia genre for quite some time, and I’ve always been struck by the similarities between it and the American western. Both are heroic genres, set in an mythologized idealization of a culture’s past. At the core of both genres, in fact, lies a similar theme – -a theme once spelled out for me in a delightful drunken evening at the Origins Gaming Convention’s Big Bar on Two. Ken Hite, Master of Esoteric Knowledge, said that all of the best westerns can be summed up as follows:
Civilization must be protected from the Barbarians, and to do that, somebody has to pick up The Gun. However, if you pick up The Gun, you become a Barbarian.
The same theme is echoed in the tales of the wuxia. The wandering heroes were outsiders, who do not follow the rules of conventional Chinese society because of their focus on individuality and the use of force to resolve conflict. Their wandering lifestyle, and rootless existence was seen as a rejection of family and traditional values, and yet the virtues that the wandering heroes espoused (traditionally these eight: altruism, justice, individuality, loyalty, courage, truth, disregard for wealth and desire for glory) contained most of the values considered by the Chinese to be the signs of a superior person. So the heroes in wuxia are heroic, protecting civilization, but outside of it.
From there it was a short leap to combining the two. Not only were the themes similar, but the trappings were also often repeated in both genres: the wandering hero, the frontier location, the evil landowner, the downtrodden peasants, etc. I had my genre: The Wuxia Western Fantasy.
I decided to add elements of steampunk for one reason only: It’s cool.
OK, OK — there’s more to it than that. I wanted some element of the fantastic — the wuxia tales feature high-flying kung fu, but seldom do the tales involve “magic”, as fantasy fans would define it. The majority of ‘magical’ elements in wuxia stories are secret knowledge — alchemy, hidden techniques, etc. Far-fetched, to be sure, but within the realm of “science”, as it was understood. Given the 19th-century vibe of the western, the best analog to that would be steampunk. Far-fetched, but within the realm of “science”, rather than the truly magical.
So I had my basic elements — the ingredients for my genre mash-up.
Over the next four years, the concept went through a number of iterations. It started as a tabletop role-playing game (RPG) — the pen-paper-and-dice variety, like Dungeons & Dragons — but I wanted more. Short stories were written… novels begun. But there was more that I wanted to include. A webseries was outlined; online video that could eventually be compiled and sold as a DVD. All the while, there was a dissatisfaction in having to nail down the epic setting and concept into just one thing.
Then I discovered the concept of transmedia storytelling. Simply put, transmedia is storytelling across multiple forms of media in order to have a wide array of entry points by which consumers can interact with a particular property.
…and that’s when everything clicked. I would create the world of Far West and then provide a wide array of methods to explore that world. Of course, that meant that the job had just gotten massively more complex, so I looked for help — and found it in my old design partner T.S. Luikart, and in artist and designer Rick Hershey, whom you can read more about by clicking “Bios” up there on the left.
The work continued, and now, after four years of development, we’re ready to open the doors and invite folks in to our fine little establishment. As you’ve read on the front page, the Far West site will be continually updated with setting information, development diaries, art displays, glimpses into our source ‘inspirography’, fiction vignettes and more.
Those updates start today.
Welcome to our place. Keep your boots off the table and your weapons holstered, if ya please. We run a respectable joint.
June 1st, 2011