• Published 4th Feb 2012
  • 35,745 Views, 3,148 Comments

Project: Sunflower - Hoopy McGee


As the Earth is under threat, humanity reaches out for one last hope of salvation.

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Author's Notes

If you've stuck with me this far on this story, then I have one thing I would very much like to say to you: Thank you!

This has been an incredible experience for me. So many people have been incredibly supportive, in private messages and in the comments.

Once again, I would like to thank Easteu for the incredible cover art for this. I'm not kidding when I say that getting that picture was one of the most wonderful things I'd ever received. I have that up on my PC as my desktop wallpaper right now, as I write this!

So, here is where I will try to answer some questions, and go into details on the process that brought Sunflower to life.

Just a word of warning, there's a lot of "behind the scenes" stuff here. Hopefully, it won't alter your perspective on the story itself, but some of my early ideas were terrible, comical or just very different than the final version.

Project: Sunflower, how it began:

After my unexpected success with Interview with a Princess, I wanted to write a new story with some actual substance. Interview, as fun as that was, was more or less a fluff piece that I knocked out in about two weeks, all told.

So, I sat down and thought about what kinds of stories I liked. And I realized that I really liked stories that had humans interacting with ponies.

A few things came together all at once at about this time. I was going through my old stories that I had started writing when I was a teenager, and found the first appearance of what would later become the Black Tide. I also saw my first summary of The Conversion Bureau on EQD, though I didn't read it at that time. The thought of "ponification" seemed compelling to me, and I realized that I wanted to write a story where a human had a valid reason to become a pony.

The third thing that happened, and that made everything start to gel, was GeneralZoi's pony creator. I was playing around with it, making OC's, and I happened to make one with a light brown coat and auburn mane. She was a blank flank, though, and I thought about what would look good for a cutie mark. I did some internet searching, stumbled across a sunflower... and Sunflower the OC was born.

That's where everything kind of went "click". I took my old idea of a world-ending threat, the idea of ponification which I'd blatantly stolen from the TCB setting (though I did change it a little) and then I co-opted another old idea I'd had of making portals to various worlds.

Then came the planning stages. You would not believe some of the stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor. Most of this was during the initial planning stages, before I put down even one word of story.

One thing I wanted to mention, I've seen some comments about my knock against TCB stories in one of the later chapters. I really hope I didn't offend anyone. I'm a fan of the TCB setting (I really like the idea of an actual reason to 'ponify'), though some of those stories are disturbingly misanthropic. I just couldn't resist a quick dig, given the similarities between that setting and mine.

What's next? Sunflower: Side Projects and sequel

There will be a full-blown sequel to Project: Sunflower some time in the future. I want to write on some other projects, for a while, to clear away some of these ideas I've had kicking around in my head, plus I have a couple of other big projects I've been aching to get started on.

To keep my hand in, and keep this particular world fresh, I'll be writing Sunflower: Side Projects, which is intended to be a collection of one-shot side stories, based on this setting. Side Projects will fill in some of the gaps in this story, as well as bridging the gaps between Project: Sunflower and the still-untitled sequel.

Also, one of my thoughts on writing this was that this could be a somewhat open setting for other authors. Between Harmonics and Ascent, we have multiple possible worlds, as well as the ability to change into ponies, or whatever other form you wish.

So, I'll leave the setting completely open. My only request is that nobody else writes Erin as a character. Refer to her in your stories, yes, but please don't have her as a character in your actual story. It would feel really weird to have Erin running around in someone else's work.

Other OC's are fine, and don't worry too much about keeping 'canon'. Just have fun with the setting. And, if you do write a story based on this setting, consider adding it to the Project Harmonics group, to keep them collected.

Equestria-side antagonist

One of the things I realized right away was, as big of a threat that the Black Tide was in the story, the Tide itself was... boring. I needed an antagonist in Equestria to spice things up, make things interesting. Otherwise, it would have been chapter after chapter of "oh, no! The Earth is being destroyed and we can't stop it!" style angst.

Malachite wasn't my original antagonist on the Equestrian side. During my early planning stages, it was going to be the Fae Queen, an analogue of the old faerie legends, and not the nice Disney ones. Think the Brothers Grimm. This was going to be a serious threat, deadly and vicious.

The Fae Queen and her subjects had been locked away ages ago by Luna and Celestia, into a small pocket dimension. Humanity's continuing forays into Equestria would have weakened the dimensional walls of the prison, and allowed her to escape.

I decided that I didn't like that. I think the main reason I didn't like it was because Terry Pratchett had already done a much better job with that story in Lords and Ladies. Once I realized that the Fae Queen was essentially the same villain on hooves, I decided to ditch the concept.

A while later, Queen Chrysalis of the changelings showed up in the show, and I was really glad I had changed it! Far too similar for my tastes.

My next idea was a creature called Hive. It wasn't much, simply an eldritch abomination type critter sealed into a cave ages ago by Celestia. I didn't like the idea much, because it was a very two-dimensional character. It was evil for the sake of being evil, which I've always disliked. Why did Celestia seal it in a cave? How come it couldn't get out? How could I make it interesting?

There was only one thing about my concept of the Hive that I liked, and that was its ability to possess technology. I toyed with the idea of that being why Equestria's technology was so lagging: Anything that Hive could possess was forbidden tech. Contact with the Earth turned our world into a candyland for the Hive.

Hive lasted for about two days, with me sketching up ideas and discarding them, completely unsatisfied. I simply couldn't make it interesting! So, I abandoned the concept of an Equestrian antagonist with reluctance.

Malachite appeared in a flash of inspiration at about that time. So many things just came together all of a sudden. The concept of otherworldly faeries and a hivelike creature all came together, and I realized that it was a pony, a former student of Celestia, who was going to be the antagonist of the Equestrian side of things. I didn't plan it. Malachite sprung into my mind, almost completely formed, just needing a few details fleshed out.

As soon as I had his bio done, so many parts of the story just fell into place. That bio was later fleshed out to be the side-story "Death is not for me".

I'd like to take credit for creating him, but honestly, there was no planning involved. He just showed up one day and introduced himself.

Wait, wait... No Malachite? Then what was the original ending?

Well... before humanity's time ran out, and before the mass exodus begun, Harmony was discovered. A new, uninhabited planet that humans could move into en masse, without displacing any ponies. And, what's more, it had magic so ponies could live there too. And there was Ascent, so humans could become ponies, and ponies could become human. For absolutely no reason, really.

I'm really glad I didn't go with it, though I kept the concept of Harmony (which will feature largely in the sequel). Going with that ending would have just been like, "Oh, all those struggles you went through? Yeah, those were pointless. Here, have a pristine new world just handed to you."

As soon as I thought of Malachite, I knew how this story would end. As did many of you. I have to confess, the urge to alter my ending (changing it specifically to something that wasn't mentioned in the comments) was very high. In the end, though, I kept the ending that was originally in my mind, once I discovered Malachite.

It just felt right. And the other ideas I had were... kind of silly.

What are some other things that didn't make it into the story?

Romantic sub plots, and the sleeziest pony you know:
Erin was going to be in the middle of an unwanted love triangle between Big Mac and Lucky. Actually, she wasn't even going to be aware that she was in a love triangle, until Quick Sale (remember him?) got a little bit too pushy, and Big Mac and Lucky stepped in to put him in his place.

I pulled the part with Quick Sale, because I realized that I hated the "big guys step in to save the little girl from the bad guy" thing. It wasn't fair to Erin, who could take care of herself and hardly needed rescuing.

Then I realized the romantic sub-plot was dragging the story down, so I axed the whole thing. This was one of the few things I changed while actually writing. There were some pretty sweet scenes with a shy Big Mac trying to talk with Erin, and failing miserably. I honestly felt bad for what I was going to do to the poor guy!

Oh, well. That's what Side Projects is for, right?

Erin the hero:

I knew I wanted Erin to be a hero to Ponyville at one point. My first thought was that she rescued the Cutie Mark Crusaders from the Everfree, where they had gotten lost. But, nah, that was too boring, and pretty cliche.

Before I even started writing, I briefly considered an arc where the CMC got kidnapped by Paul Velchiek, because he was frustrated about not knowing how magic worked and they presented one of each type of pony as a research subject. Erin would have rescued them and brought them back to Equestria, simultaneously outing herself and becoming a hero.

That was on my mind for about half a day, which is honestly a lot longer than it deserved. It crossed the line between "this guy did a bad thing" and straight into "people are bastards" territory, because I realized that Paul couldn't have done this on his own. He would have needed the help of quite a few people. And it changed him from a guy who thought he was doing good things to save the Earth, and straight into cartoon villainy territory.

Honestly, I might as well have given him a white cat to pet while he laughed sinisterly at the Erin's attempts to thwart his plans.

I decided on the scene with the chimera, which I really like, and was very excited to finally write. Because Erin does some good things there, some brave things, but she doesn't save the day by herself. No, she needs the help of her friends, which reinforces the whole point of the show. And, also, it showed that the ponies, while being colorful, soft, and friendly, could also kick major butt when needed.

The Many Lives of Major Morris.

Major Morris was originally going to be a lot more interesting. He was originally going to be Erin's backup in "Ponyworld", having been ponified himself, and ready to rush in if she needed a rescue. he was also going to be a potential romantic interest, before I decided that, nope, he was married with kids.

That was axed because I wanted to focus on Erin's interactions with the ponies, and having a second human there would have been a distraction. Also, what does it mean that he'd be her backup? What, he'd just hang around outside Ponyville for weeks?

Major Morris's very existence was an attempt on my part to counter the idea that crops up a lot in fiction I've read that military people are these thuggish neanderthals who blindly follow orders without a conscience. His final backstory has him with dual masters degrees, married, and a father of two.

His working against Paul Velchiek when his ethical violations were discovered is the result of that. I can't imagine many people, military or not, being cool with remote-injecting mood altering drugs into unsuspecting volunteers. I imagine the very thought of it enraged him and made him feel physically ill.


Q&A time! And I'll start with the big one, first.

What the heck was the Black Tide?!

This goes way back, for me. A long, long time ago, I was trying to write a sci-fi story, where the Earth was being consumed by this thing called the Black Tide. Humanity was going to escape the planet using Ark ships, gigantic self-sustaining ships that went off into space and... Well, I have no idea what was going to happen then. I stopped writing it there because I had no plan and I'm no good at sci-fi.

Keep in mind, there's a chance that I may change the origin of the Black Tide. Everything you see here was the back-story for my untitled and abandoned pony-less sci-fi story I was writing in High School. I may decide later on to change it, and that will be the new 'canon' for this story.

In my original back-story for the Tide, it was basically this:

There was once an alien race, now long since extinct, that had a peculiar way of making uninhabitable planets habitable. They would drop this biomass, along with programmed biological control nodules, onto a planet, and then just leave.

The nanomachines would then go out and reform the planet, first by creating an artificial organic "computer" layer, and then forming a crust on top for the aliens to live on. Then the nanomachines would turn themselves off, keeping themselves in reserve for when the computer layer needed a repair.

The planet-wide computer would then be used by the aliens to help control the weather, share information, etc.

The problem was, the aliens died off, and left some of their computer worlds running. At one point, one of these worlds was damaged, possibly due to an asteroid strike, and a "repair nodule" went zipping off into space and crashed on Earth.

The repair nodule by itself was kind of dumb. It knew that there was supposed to be a layer of biological computer material where it was, so it instructed its tiny little nanobots to go out and make the computer out of whatever they could find. The result was the Black Tide, essentially a vast, unprogrammed, alien biological computer with no off switch, that simply devoured everything that it came into contact with.

It's not really spelled out explicitly in Project: Sunflower, but the Black Tide was slowly learning, programming itself from information around it. If it had been the aliens who had put it here, it would have been created with programming already in place, but the Tide had to learn on its own.

Unfortunately, it had no compassion for life, and simply sought to expand its own existence, as per the instructions from the repair nodule (the "twisted mass of cells" that Malachite found).

That's what happened to Malachite. The Tide found his consciousness floating within its own, and decided to integrate his information with its own. Unfortunately, that had the side effect of basically killing poor Malachite.

Questions and Answers:

Question from Celestia's Paladin: "I think the question is not what the Black Tide is, but more of where did it come from, who made it, and what is it's relation to the Fae Sprite."

Originally, there was no connection between the sprites and the Tide. The Tide, by examining Malachite's mind and his memories, discovered that the sprites could be used to possess people, wasn't limited to the space that the Tide currently was located in, and could be used to catalog all sorts of data, straight out of people's minds.

So, it simply took them. And the sprites, tired of being held back by Malachite and enticed by the much greater mental presence of the Tide, went willingly to their new master. If the Elements hadn't been used when they had been, things would have been very bad

Question from Gluestick: "In actual questions, He's def gonna be making appearances again, yessss?"

Sort of. Prince Verdant, in a way, could be considered Malachite's son. But, as Celestia considers herself his mother... Best not to suggest that around her!

Also, I'm playing with the thought of expanding on "Death is not for me", and making that a longer and more detailed stand-alone story.

Question from notMurphy: "When in the MLP timeline does Project: Sunflower start?"

Good question. After Discord, definitely. When I started writing, I had no idea about The Royal Wedding, Shining Armor and Cadence. Which is why I opted not to include them, when I first heard of them. Then I started realizing how silly that was. I'd need to get them into the story eventually!

But, "officially", this story starts several months after the wedding. I'll need to go back to earlier chapters and see if I need to do any revisions or alterations on the story to keep in line with that.

Question from Pen Brush: "why is machite a green alicorn why not a different color"

In his original life, he was born a green pony. His family, who had a mineral-theme going on with their names, named him Malachite. When he created his new body, he stuck with the green, because that was his original color.

Questions from Dogman15:

"what are Queen Chrysalis and her Changelings doing right now, since they have to exist somewhere?"

Plotting. Planning. Paying very close attention to this whole new non-magical world, and mildly frustrated at the thought that their changeling magic may not work there.

Please, nobody mention the magic-storing torcs to Chrysalis. That would not end well.

"Will you re-submit this story to Equestria Daily?"

Absolutely. I've got a re-write of the first four chapters that I'm working on, to smooth out some of the complaints from the EqD pre-readers. Then I want to comb through the comments and make sure I took care of any grammar errors or typos that had been pointed out. Once I'm satisfied that I've got that reasonably cleaned up, I'll send it off for another try.

Question from Serifina: "Just how thorough can the Ascent transformations be? Can it change anything in the mind?"

Currently, Ascent works down to a cellular level. Can they alter things in the mind? Potentially, but they need to be very careful, or it could go very wrong.

If you're asking if this can be used to alter or recreate memories, the answer is also 'potentially'. But the scientists would need to know exactly how to create those memories in the brain in order to do so. If they just tried to make memories, they'd likely end up with just a horrific mish-mash of nonsense. It would be easier to copy memories from someone else's brain.

Questions from Gluestick: "Was I correct when I first came across Malachite and got a glimpse of his powers to assume that he was going to be required to save them all?
Or, better put, was he always intended to redeem himself, even when everyone thought he wasn't to be trusted?"

When I first met Malachite, I knew that he was a very intelligent, very driven individual. He had his honor, but he would sometimes lose track of his ethics in pursuit of his goals.

He never intended to sacrifice himself. If given a choice between the entire Earth and himself, he would have chosen himself. He was always too afraid of death to even consider making that kind of sacrifice intentionally.

However, he knew there was a risk, and still took it. He believed he could handle it, but he still deliberately put himself in danger. More to regain Celestia's good will than anything, else, but still, it was a brave thing to do. He loved her, because she was beautiful, wise and noble and because she treated him with respect and compassion, but he also loved her because she never aged and wouldn't die; everything Malachite wanted for himself.

My intention was always to have him redeem himself this way. His sacrifice, though unintentional, saved lives and made him a very legitimate hero in the eyes of humanity. Prince Verdant is his legacy. We'll see how Malachite's "son" grows up, without the fear of death.

"A few other questions are How much insanity will Earth be thrown into from all this? What do you figure the social and political ramifications of this whole thing will be? How many crazy people anti pony cults are there going to be?
Griffons?
How much of that will be touched in the future installments?"

The side stories, and the later sequel, will touch on a lot of the craziness to come. There will be a LOT of adjustments to be made. As always, there will be intolerance and bigotry on both sides of the portal. But that will be overshadowed by the extreme gratitude that most of humanity feels for the Equestrian's work in saving our world, which will in turn make most Equestrians feel very appreciated and welcomed by humanity. For the most part, good will will abound. But not always.

As for cults... both pro and anti pony cults and organizations seem likely, as well as pro and anti human cults and organizations on the other side of the gate.

Griffons, you say? Hmm. I believe I can do something with that!

Questions by Shire Folk:
"Will Doctor Velchiek be criminally tried and convicted for his crimes against Erin?

Will Erin/Sunflower return to Ponyville and work at Fet Ex while she goes about getting her own place, or will Erin/Sunflower just return to Ponyville and have her own place provided for her thanks to the Princesses pulling strings for her...again? I understand favours here and there, but the girl would probably like to do something like getting her own place via her own power.

Will Meadowlark and Erin/Sunflower be able to patch things up while Erin/Sunflower studies pony magic in Ponyville? Related question, will Erin/Sunflower be able to foalsit Marigold again?

Will Erin/Sunflower go on a date with Lucky? :twilightsmile: I mean, the threat's gone; daily life can resume and Erin could, theoretically, fall for a pony even after she told her dad what she told him. Heck, if she becomes a real and true Equestrian pony this time it's distinctly possible that she could just go fully native."

These are all great questions, but I can't answer most of these, because of spoilers. These issues will be explored in Side Projects, I promise. Erin will definitely be heading back to Ponyville, though. That's where all of her friends live!

I'm planning on having a couple of "movie night" side stories, too. Indiana Jones? Absolutely.

Question from Yeoman: "My question is what happened to... Andrew I think from back at the beginning? You introduced him as a possible love interest then never mentioned him again."

This is another one that will be addressed in Side Projects, so I can't answer this one here without spoilers.

To wrap up:

This has been a fantastic experience for me. This is, by far, the longest story I've ever written, and I think I've learned a lot as a writer.

I want to thank you, once again, from the bottom of my heart. That people would take the time to read my story is very humbling, and it means the world to me.

Most sincerely, and with eternal gratitude,

~Hoopy McGee