Q: What is going to happen with [future plot point]?
A: I avoid commenting or speculating on future plot points or what is going to happen with whom. :) Please don't ask me to reveal spoilers.
Q: Who is the main character of this story? You seem to spend as much time on [some other character] as on Kirito.
A: Strictly speaking, there is no “main” character; this is a multi-POV story. Think Game of Thrones or Wheel of Time with far fewer characters and you’ll be on the right track. Kirito remains central to the plot, and his importance will grow over time, but he is not the only person trapped in this world who has a story to tell, and he is going to have to earn his place in the spotlight.
Q: Can you just focus on Kirito? He’s the main character of SAO and I don’t really care about [insert other character name here].
A: No. While the active viewpoint characters will change from act to act and even from chapter to chapter, depending on narrative need, the multi-POV format of this story is not on the table. If you don’t like it after getting through Act 1, you probably won’t like it later either.
Q: Can you tell me who the OCs are and who the canon characters are? I haven’t read the light novels.
A: No. If someone who doesn’t already know the characters can’t tell the difference, then I’m doing my job as a writer right. I’m not going to give anyone an easy excuse to skip entire sections of my writing just because they have some kind of prejudice against original characters beyond the merits of the characters themselves.
Q: But I really don’t like OC fics.
A: Every character in every original work of fiction ever written has been an "OC"; this is a distinction and stigma that seems to exist only in fanfic. From a narrative perspective, OCs are just characters like any other, and the only thing that should matter is whether or not they are well-written and add value to the story. The world of Alfheim is far too big for the cast to consist solely of the relatively few characters shown in canon (which only got away with it because of the huge timeskips and narrow focus on Kirito). But if it matters to you, all of the POV characters are canon.
Q: Will Kirito get a harem ending with all the girls? You know, "One Ultimate Way".
Q: Then who will he end up with?
A: I don’t really have any interest in writing Kirito with anyone other than Asuna, which should be pretty obvious by the end of the second act—and I hate NTR. With that said, this isn’t really a “pairing” fic. Their romance is a part of the story, but it is not the focus, so calibrate your expectations accordingly.
Q: Asuna’s characterization early in the fic seems off to me. Why is she so standoffish and short-tempered?
A: The shock of the death game trap and the terms for escaping were far more traumatic for many players than they were in canon. This kind of trauma and stress can bring out the worst in people. For Asuna it exacerbated the temper that she’s occasionally shown in canon, and as a non-gamer with a competitive personality trapped in a world where survival depends on becoming a gamer, it made her desperate to prove herself and touchy about her independence. The further we get into Act 2, the more we can see that side of her softening and her gradually returning to her “normal” self.
Q: Why is Kirito so weak in this fic?
A: He's not—he just isn't as unrealistically overpowered as he was in canon. A solo player cannot grind or clear as efficiently as a party putting in the same time and effort; MMOs just aren't balanced that way. It is only Kirito's obsessive dedication to leveling up that keeps him slightly ahead of the curve for clearers.
And as he notes in the story, magic is a dangerous force multiplier; one player being outnumbered by multiple human opponents is still in a lot of trouble unless the power differential between the sides is overwhelming.
Q: Why did [insert character here] do [insert stupid/unwise decision here]?
A: Because even the best of people do not always make the optimal choice for their circumstances, especially under pressure or when affected by strong emotions. I try not to give characters the Idiot Ball when it isn’t necessary and appropriate, but they’re also not perfect—nor are they in possession of all of the insight and information that the reader has.
Q: Where do the "Alfheim Online Manual" excerpts in the chapter epigraphs come from?
A: I made them up. It helps that I’ve done technical writing for manuals and knowledge base articles before. Usually I use the epigraphs to highlight some aspect of game mechanics that either isn’t explained in the story or can’t be described in enough detail without being an info dump, but which is important for readers to understand.
Q: Why are the names of some locations and capital cities different from canon?
A: Only four of the cities were explicitly named in the light novels: ガタン (Gatan, Salamander), スイルベーン (Suirubeen, Sylph), フリーリア (Furiiria, Cait Sith), and アルン (Arun, neutral). At the time that I began writing this story, there were no official romanizations, and none of the other cities were named. When choosing what to name the existing cities, I used the romanizations from the fan translations: Gattan, Sylvain, Freelia, and Aarun. I later decided to go with Arun rather than Aarun, but the other three have been and will remain unchanged. For the five unnamed cities, I used my imagination and a bit of historical/mythological allusion. Can you spot the references without looking at TV Tropes?
A deliberate deviation of particular note is the "official" romanization for the Sylph capital, which is shown only in the anime in one scene as "Swilvane"—a transliteration which, while more closely matching the pronunciation of the original Japanese, is completely asinine as a name for the Sylph capital. Sylvain (or, if you prefer, Sylvane) makes far more sense, given that the name of the race is "Sylph"; the voiceless labiodental fricative at the end of /sɪlф/ voices to /v/ and makes Sylph > Sylvain a logical progression. This will not be changing. Nor will I be changing "Arun" to "Alne", a romanization which comes from the same scene and is speculated to refer to Arun; nor will "Yuld" change to "Yrd" (in fact, if you see the currency spelled any way other than "Yuld" in this fic, please let me know).
Q: Why are some character names romanized differently from canon?
A: The answer is very similar to the previous one—these were the dominant fan romanizations at a time when there were no canon romanizations to use as a source. The names usually in question are Diabel (ディアベル), Corvatz (コーバッツ), and Yurielle (ユリエール). In the wiki these names are given as "Diavel", "Kobatz", and "Yulier", respectively. Of these, "Diavel" is official, per a tweet from Kawahara; I have considered changing it. "Kobatz" from the SAO wiki doesn’t really sound right to me. "Yulier" is official per S1 of the anime, and is an aesthetically terrible romanization; "Yurielle" is equally valid for the original Japanese phonetics and is much more sensible as a woman’s name. Neither Corvatz nor Yurielle will be changing. For that matter, Yoruko (when she shows up) will not be written as "Yolko", which makes her sound like a frakking egg.
Q: Why does the dialogue occasionally call out the Japanese pronunciation of a word or use honorific suffixes, but not consistently?
A: My personal preference is to avoid gratuitously throwing in Japanese words or tacking on honorific suffixes to names unless there is something in particular to emphasize about the original word or how it sounds. The only place I can recall doing this thus far with honorifics is with the way Rosalia repeatedly called Silica "Silica-chan", emphasizing the mocking way she was using the term. Occasionally I will show the fully-enunciated way a character is pronouncing a word in Japanese—in cases like this, it is usually to show the way the word sounds to their ears, often in order to highlight the unfamiliarity of a game term or loanword. A good example of this is in the first chapter, when Asuna repeated "PK" as "piikei", to show that she was hearing it as an unknown word in Japanese phonetics rather than a familiar acronym.
Q: Why are there sword skills and a level system? ALO didn’t have character levels, and sword skills only showed up after the Aincrad update.
A: Short answer: because it’s more interesting that way. Long answer: because it’s better game design, facilitates a whole lot of storytelling hooks that would be absent without those mechanics, and makes the gameplay in ALO less of a deviation from canon SAO (or pretty much any MMORPG ever made).
Q: Why are sword skills usually called "techniques" in this fic?
A: To avoid the confusing misuse of terminology that afflicts canon SAO. One principle of good game design and technical writing is to avoid using the same term to refer to different concepts. In canon SAO, the word "skill" is used to refer to both the categorical ability that is equipped in a skill slot (e.g. «One-Handed Straight Sword» or «Searching»), and the various actual movesets that a player can execute as a result of equipping that component (e.g. «Linear» or «Starburst Stream»). If you ask a player "how many skills can you use" in canon, they have no way of knowing whether you’re referring to the equipped skills or the moves themselves. Additionally, the term "sword skill" is used universally in canon to refer to both types of skill, whether or not they have anything at all to do with a sword. This in and of itself is confusing. Yeah, I know: "Sword Art Online". It’s still bad design and bad writing.
Q: Why does this fic use an original magic language rather than the Old Norse incantations from canon?
A: The only thing that canon’s bastardization of Old Norse had going for it was that it was thematically appropriate for a game based on Norse mythology. It sounds good on paper, but as both a linguist and someone with experience in software development and game design, it makes me want to beat my head against the wall. The incantations are nothing but poetic sentences in pidgin Old Norse that say things like "I cast a flame of Muspilli, call the crash of death, hurl down at their households in the groves"—which is cute for a world of "real" fantasy magic where things don’t have to make sense, but doesn’t work so well for a game engine. The system—if you can call it that—is inflexible, inconsistent, and impractical for a game to parse procedurally into predictable effects.
It is, to put it bluntly, what you get when an inexperienced author gets an idea (this game is based loosely on Norse myth; let's make the spell language based on Old Norse for flavor!), cobbles together some sentences using Wikipedia and Google, and then—as his story gets bigger and the system needs to expand—realizes that he hasn't really figured out how the system works, and tries to shoehorn in some rules that don't scale and can't be consistently applied. So I threw it out completely, and I'm very glad I did so. People writing stories set in canon Alfheim might have to put up with this mess, but thankfully this is an AU and I don't have any obligation to do so. :)
Q: Why are players sometimes able to glide to the ground when their wings are depleted, and other times their wings disappear?
A: It’s one of the disadvantages of Voluntary Flight. When using the controller, all a player has to do in order to glide is pull back on the controller. The manifestation of wings is system-controlled. But with Voluntary Flight, the player is in full control of their wings. Someone skilled can practice to the point where it’s as unconscious as walking, but it’s still possible for something or other to distract a player enough to dismiss their wings.
Q: How do the anti-harassment mechanics actually work? They seem inconsistent, like shouldn’t Rosalia have triggered the system when she grabbed Silica?
A: Each player has a hidden “harassment violation” score which fades over time, and the anti-harassment system has a defined threshold for when it issues a warning. Various factors contribute towards a player’s score, and they are weighted differently depending on circumstances that the game can procedurally interpret—things like the respective genders of the players, their surroundings and other recent actions, whether or not they are currently in combat, are partied or married, whether the touch was necessary in order to perform a game-related action (such as casting a touch-based spell or physically attacking), where the touch occurred and how long it lingers, and so on. For example, Rosalia didn’t trigger the system because she grabbed Silica’s wrist, the action stopped Silica from falling, they were the same gender (which shouldn’t be relevant, but is a cultural blind spot in Japan), and the touch didn’t linger longer than necessary to pull her to safety.
Q: Why is the MMO terminology you use different from what I'm familiar with?
A: Probably because we played different games. Each MMO—and sometimes, each server on the same MMO—has its own culture and jargon. While some terms are fairly universal, there's quite a bit of variation in how each player defines what is meant by terms such as "mob" or "adds", or whether you use "mats" or "components" or the like to refer to crafting/upgrade materials. If you see a familiar term used in an unfamiliar way, it's best to assume that that's just how it's used in this game.
Q: Why do the Imps have passive night vision in this fic and the Spriggans don’t? In canon the Spriggans had the best night vision, and the Imps the second best; both races had both a party buff and passive ability.
A: Because it was inconsistent with the other racial traits. The Imps live underground, can fly underground, and have an affinity with Dark magic. Spriggans live in forest ruins and have an affinity with Illusion. To which race does it make more sense to give better night vision? I switched the traits around and gave Imps the best passive night vision, and Illusion magic gets a buff version because that element is concerned with altering a player's perceptions.
Q: Why are Spriggans described as having “ash-gray” skin when the anime shows them with the same light skin color as the rest of the races?
A: Spriggans are described canonically in the LNs as having a darker skin tone than the other races, but for some reason this has never been reflected in the official art—probably because giving them an "inhuman" monochromatic skin tone would make their main character look kind of ugly and hard for viewers to relate to. While we don’t really have a good visual reference for their actual skin tone, I visualize it in this fic as varying from about #4F4F4F to #B4B4B4, with Kirito’s being a medium shade of gray that is approximately #999999.
Q: What is your background with MMOs?
A: I spent years raiding endgame content in EverQuest 2 before retiring from the guild, though I still have an account. Beyond that, I've played Guild Wars 1/2, WildStar, Tera, STO, and many others.