Review of Video Game Plotline Tester by Atamanov

Tl;dr

It’s about a 3 stars book. The premise gets dragged down by too many plot coupons, unrealistic reactions from people, and numerous violations of the book’s own rules. This is a shame because Atamanov’s other series, “Perimeter Defense”, is at the top of the list for my favorite LitRPG novels. (Yes, I know it’s LitRPG light.)

The plot of this book, however, is nonsense and Atamanov has to repeatedly intervene to keep the story from collapsing on itself. Most of the problems occur when the book transitions between the game World and the real World, and virtually every real-World scene is pointless.

Long version, spoilers, obviously:

The problem with this book is that the actual plot of the book makes no sense. Because the plot makes no sense, Michael Atamanov has to use numerous “plot coupons”, or things that continuously happen throughout the story that only happen because the plot could not continue if the story behaved consistently.

This is why in my LitRPG sins, I have Keep the Outside World Out as a sin.
Travis Bagwell is a noticeable exception to this rule, but for most authors, introducing the outside World into the game just creates tons of plot holes, problems, and doesn’t do anything to enhance the novel.

In Video Game Plotline Tester there isn’t a single thing about the outside World that makes the novel more interesting. It’s not modern times, but it’s so blandly described that it makes me wonder why he bothered doing anything more with it than using it as a McGuffin to get the story going.

Instead, we jump between video game action and boring-real-life, and to try to make the boring real life scenes interesting, Atamanov has to invent ridiculous scenarios, in no particular order:

  • Game studio that builds MMOs is hostile to people who play MMOs. and hostile to employees. This seems unrealistic. Reason given: Plot requires this guy to be bad.
  • Girl alone in a building with protagonist gets naked in front of him and doesn’t freak out about it. Pretty sure if an attractive woman is naked in front of someone she has never seen before, in a building where she’s all alone with him, she’d freak out. This seems unrealistic.This is also a trope scene that’s literally in every anime.
  • His sister is only 14, but he says she only uses one name in games. But she’s only played one other MMO game. This is because plot needs us to know that she’s his sister.
  •  Even though they explicitly say that they would be teleporting in people into unique locations, he somehow manages to get on the same ship with his sister. Because plot needs this to happen.Reason given later is that she specifically requests to go to this part of the game. But he doesn’t talk to her before he gets his character and his starting location is random. She also doesn’t know it’s him when she meets up. So the explanation makes even less sense.
  • The first PK’er is on that same ship, and his idea is apparently to wait in a starting location trapped in a cage for a newbie to come along and kill him. It also makes no sense because other people killed don’t respawn on the ship, but he does.This makes no sense, but plot says this needs to happen for conflict.
  • When he gets called into the office to be reprimanded, it literally makes no sense. The reason for the scene though is because the plot says he needs money, so the scene is setup to get him paid.
  • He keeps getting reprimanded for finding bugs in the game, but his job is to test the game, and one thing you test for in games is bugs. This seems unrealistic.
  • A “shakedown” occurs that’s supposed to be tense, but instead is so half-assed it’s painful.  A gang finds out that he has tons of money and wants him to pay for protection.  Instead, he says he will only talk to their boss and will do so later on that day.  They let him leave, let him move out, and then never pursue this again.  This is because plot wants him to be late and get a new apartment.
  • Plot introduces us to an awkward romance that consists of the fact that PC happens
  • Incredibly weird interactions with his boss and his boss’s secretary that you could never imagine happening at any fortune 500 company.

So the plot: The PC needs a job, in a vaguely defined future World. He decides the best way to get money is to apply to become the titular video game plotline tester at a company hiring for this position, after the game he normally plays starts to go under from a dwindling player base.

The company wants to hire a bunch of “video game plotline testers”, because according to them, they have developed numerous Worlds in the game, but no one is playing them because everyone has become a human, elf, or other major race.

This sets up the first problem. If that’s the reason for this, wouldn’t the game developers simply remove restrictions to the areas and make them all human/elf cities? If it’s just programmer code, then they can patch it anytime they want, so the scenario is ridiculous.

Instead, the corporation decides a better strategy than that is to hire a bunch of people, assign them random races and character skills and builds, make them get to an arbitrary level in an arbitrary amount of time, fire most of them, and then hire a few, and that by doing that, these players will show themselves doing cool things so that new players will want to play the other races.

And it has to be new players because the game only allows you to have one character, if you screw up, you have to start over completely. Again, it seems if they wanted people to play new races, offer a discount for a few months for anyone willing to try to play as a new race. That would bring in money (each player pays money to play) instead of losing it by hiring a bunch of random people.

It’s about the most convoluted way possible to setup the plot. In addition, the company doesn’t write any game stats or guides for new players, so each of these random testers has to find out through trial and error what their skills are.

It seems if they really wanted people to start playing new races and builds, they would explain to people what cool abilities they’ll gain instead of saying, “Either you can purchase a character with a known progression path or you can waste all your time and money on a character that can turn out to be a dud.” Hm… what a hard choice.

Again, this seems like something they would have fixed before coming up with the idea of hiring a bunch of random people and putting them in virtual reality capsules that are supposed to be incredibly expensive.

Even worse than that though is the main character is supposed to be a vampire goblin, a hunted race. So he’s supposed to keep his race a secret. So he’s hired to write a level and skill guide for a race and class that he can’t reveal having… What?

From there, there’s three major problems with the novel.

1.) Tremendous amount of plot coupons. The game developers can sometimes do things in an instant, sometimes they can’t. Sometimes, it’s illegal to do somethings, but other times, it isn’t. What’s the logic? Well, it depends on what the plot needs to have happen at any moment. There’s so many that I could barely get three pages into the novel without a plot coupon being used.

2.) Unrealistic behavior. No one in the novel behaves like a human. An example: He gets approached by hooligans who want to shake him down, and they then see that he has a huge amount of money.

He says that he will only deal with their boss. Their reaction? They’re perfectly fine with him leaving, but still break into his house after they already know he isn’t there. What? Why?

I’m pretty sure this isn’t how a shakedown works. People don’t say they’re going to mug you, then allow you to setup a future date and time for your mugging, and then watch you move out your house. So why does this ridiculous scene happen? Atamanov wants his character to move out. It would have worked better if he just said, “Hey Sis, let’s move out now that I have money.”

3.) There’s no tension in the novel because the PC solves most of the problems as soon as he’s given the task. This creates the meandering problem of “Does Anyone Remember What I’m Doing?” Before the book is halfway done, the main character has already solved all the problems: He has a new apartment, he has lots of money, he’s hired by the company, etc.

There’s no sense of urgency because he can just log off, so once he’s done his main objectives, we’re just stuck meandering around with him.

4.) When he inadvertently “cheats”, he gets reprimanded. This is strange because he’s a video game tester and he’s supposed to be testing for bugs. But later, when he cheats on purpose using the same glitch, nothing happens. What?

Why wouldn’t the game developers just simply patch the bug instead of leaving it and saying, “Hey, don’t exploit this obvious loophole we’ve left in the game?”

Likewise, what the devs can and cannot do changes depending upon what needs to happen for the plot.

I initially compiled a list of plot coupons used in the book, but grew tired of it.  The book is a series of plot coupons, culminating in the end where the biggest plot coupon gets used to resolve the story.  I find it weird that people get offended by the ending, but it’s nothing that hasn’t happened repeatedly throughout the story.

Bottom line: If Atamanov wants to make the outside World interesting, he’ll have to spend time setting up people, characters, motivations, and reasons for it to exist. If he doesn’t, then the only thing we need to know is that he wakes up, gets into the capsule, and then plays the game.

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