Alcatraz, by Brandon Sanderson

Cassandra Ramos

"Remember, despite the fact that this book is being sold as a fantasy novel, you must take all of the things it says extremely seriously as they are quite important, are in no way silly, and always make sense. Rutabaga."

— Alcatraz Smedry, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians

The Alcatraz series is quite unlike author Brandon Sanderson's other fantasy novels. For starters, the books are aimed at younger readers, so they are much shorter than his usual doorstopper fare. They take place in what is supposedly our world, separate from Sanderson's metauniverse he calls the "Cosmere." They are also told from a first-person point of view, unlike the third-person of his other novels. So are these dissimilarities what would make the Alcatraz series into an interesting RPG? In some ways, but it mostly has to do with the books' narrator the title character Alcatraz Smedry and how he recounts the story. His cynicism, snark, and odd tangents could make for an entertaining and original RPG if done right.

Some explanation as to the background of the series may be in order first. Alcatraz Smedry is an orphan boy of some thirteen years of age, who is shuffled from one set of foster parents to another due to his unusual curse of breaking almost anything he touches. In the first book, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, he learns that the world (or most of it) is secretly ruled by a cult of evil librarians. He also learns that he is part of a famous noble family from one of the nations that oppose the Librarians. As a Smedry, Alcatraz has inherited some special abilities. First, he's an Oculator, able to use various powers when he wears magic lenses. Second, his apparent curse is actually a magic Talent, and he can use it to his advantage, though not with consistency. He uses these powers to help the Free Kingdoms, the collective name for the nations that resist Librarian rule, alongside his Smedry relatives and the young Knight of Crystallia, Bastille.

The books are supposedly Alcatraz's autobiography, which are also released in the "Hushlands" (the countries we are familiar with) as fantasy for young readers in order to bypass the Librarians. As he constantly points out, though, what occurs in these books is very much real. Indeed, he tells readers a lot of things, as he feels these books are his chance to reveal to the public the truth about him, as much of the Free Kingdoms revere him as a hero. He constantly says that he is no hero, and slowly over the course of the books, the reasons why come to light. He often speaks directly to the readers, and with a heavy dose of sarcasm. Alcatraz even tells his reader what they should and should not think of certain situations, even saying that he would "ask that [the reader] kindly refrain from drawing conclusions that [he] doesn't explicitly tell you to make. [It's] a very bad habit and it makes authors grumpy."

Alcatraz also makes it a point to stress that he is an author, and as such has the power to do what he wants in and to the books. He even claims that most authors enjoy torturing people, but since physical punishment is frowned upon, they do it by creating likable characters, then doing terrible things to them in stories as well as ending chapters in cliffhangers. He has what he calls an especially bad habit of ending a chapter on a cliffhanger, then beginning the next chapter with a relevant, but seemingly random, observation or comment. This is not only restricted to chapter beginnings; he'll even interrupt a scene by making an occasionally pointless, if amusing, comment. These are meant to annoy readers, though more often than not a person's reaction is to laugh at it and at Alcatraz's sarcasm and self-conscious style of narrating.

Translating this into a video game may be difficult, but could be highly amusing if done right. Alcatraz's narration can be strewn about such a hypothetical game, though it should probably be kept to story sequences. Perhaps there can be one instance that Alcatraz purposely interrupts a battle, but doing so repeatedly may get annoying to gamers. Much like in the books, he could interrupt exciting story sequences; explain something that is usually relevant (but not always) to the plot, or even tell outright lies. Another running joke could be Alcatraz the narrator making comments on how different video games are from books, or comment on the game's nature as an RPG. Knowing Alcatraz, he would probably prefer his books to an RPG since he has more control over the former. While he may claim to have written the script (just as he says he wrote the books) he may wish he had more decisions over the gameplay. He could even comment on changes made to the books in order to better adapt it to being a video game.

While Alcatraz's narration would be the most interesting feature for a possible RPG, other aspects of the books could also make for a fun video game. The powers of Oculation and Smedry Talents would make for interesting gameplay mechanics. Oculators are rare in the Alcatraz series, so in-game these would be limited to the title character, his grandfather Leavenworth, and his cousin Australia. A number of lens types, such as the Tracker's Lens and Oculator's Lens would be used on the overworld to solve puzzles and such, while others like the Firebringer's Lens and Windstormer's Lens would be used in battles. Smedry Talents would be more widespread, and could grow in skill as the characters gain levels. Talents could also have battle and overworld uses. Alcatraz's Breaking Talent would be the most obvious one, being able to break open doors or break enemy bones in combat. Other characters may have to be tweaked slightly to make their abilities more suited to RPG combat, like Sing Sing's tripping and falling over Talent allowing him to body slam opponents, something he doesn't do in the books. As to the story, while the snarky and self-conscious narration would probably be the most prevalent aspect of the game's story, these books have some great characters, and an intriguing, quirky setting that could make for a great game.

As the Alcatraz series has yet to be completed, any hypothetical game couldn't really tell the whole story. Besides, these books are fairly short, so having a single game cover the four current ones may make the story feel like it is jumping around too much. Perhaps a new story occurring between the books can be used for such an RPG. Regardless, these novels could lend themselves well to being made into an RPG. Such a game, very funny and tongue-in-cheek, not just because of the narration, but because of the rest of the eccentric Smedry family, the strange lands of the Free Kingdoms, and even the very notion of the world being controlled by evil librarians. Even so, the narrator Alcatraz's insistence that he is neither a hero nor a good person hints at a terrible event that has yet to happen in the books. This can perhaps be touched upon in such a game as well.


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