large-booklet_01New set for the ORG boardgame, this one covering Neptune and the Long War between the dysfunctional Democratic Republic of Triton and the authoritarian upstart Protean League.

Available for purchase at The Gamecrafter, along with the other extant sets covering the rest of the solar system (other than the Kuiper Belt, which will be out next month-ish…)

Seven Sins Fallout Playthrough

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It turns out I lied about almost being done with #Fallout4.

I apparently do have one more run-through of the game. Inspired by last run-through’s accidental rise to power and glory as a drug lord, this time I am going to do my best to do what the game doesn’t really entirely support, and be a raider.

Specifically, I am going to try to do all seven sins:

  1. Lust – The game easily supports this, so other than having to temporarily sideline my beloved Dogmeat, this should be a gimmie.
  2. Gluttony – Eating vast amounts of food of every kind is par for the course, but generally I avoid radiated junk food. No more. GET IN MY BELLY. As an addendum, I will, of course, be getting the Cannibalism perk as well. Also, chems. Lots of chems.
  3. Greed – Picking up everything, no matter how minimally useful.
  4. Sloth – Sleeping 24 hours a day in regular shifts is allowed, even rewarded in the game. Should be easy to do. Especially if I can pull off sleeping in strangers’ houses.
  5. Wrath – Melee weapons. Rocket-powered sledgehammer plus the Bloody Mess perk. Raze peaceful settlements. Enough said.
  6. Envy – In my envy for other people’s peaceful lives, I will endeavor to ruin said lives.
  7. Pride – I will select a single settlement, build it up in proper junkyard Mad Max-style and outfit all of my settlers with Raider outfits. Also, there will probably be a throne. Just thinking out loud, here.

ORG Boardgame

boardgame_innerworldsSince my secret side project team is still working on the digital game, I thought you might like a quick side-side project in the form of a boardgame I put together based on the dystopian future of ORG.

ORG: The Boardgame consists of six sets ultimately, with three now available.

Depicting the struggle for influence and dominance of the solar system ranging from the 22nd century through to the end of the 24th century by powerful metanational corporations and organizations – the orgs.

Each player takes command of one of these dominant orgs, maneuvering to control the course of history for entire worlds through varied routes to power spanning commercial, cultural, military, political, and research.

Each set can be played independently or in conjunction with any of the others. All together, the gameboard stretches almost 13 feet long with 20 boards and over 30 worlds. (That may be the best part…)

boardgame_galileanconflictThe central mechanic is, each turn, the players bidding over sets of influence over areas such as Political, Military, Commercial, Cultural, and Research, with secondary events and political influence cards to throw a twist.

The thing is, the players can see all of what is available each turn, and you can see what the other players have, and as your progress down the line of worlds from Mercury on outward, each player’s supply of influence will dwindle, so there’s a great deal of bluff, diplomacy, and tactics in winning your way to dominance.

While print on demand is fairly evolved for books, games are a lot more complicated, so the pricing is a little higher than I’d like (trust me, I’m getting virtually nothing for this – this is just for you guys. Okay, and my own personal entertainment.)

Available here at The Game Crafter’s website:

The Anatomy of a Super Dreadnought

Since I did one of these for the Dreadnought class, it only seemed fair to give its big sister equal time. From my in-development side project, ORG.

Although similar in form to the smaller Dreadnought class, the Super Dreadnought actually occupies a distinct role. Where the Dreadnought can operate as a mobile command center or light carrier, the Super Dreadnought is designed to do these things over a long period of time, even to the extent of providing diplomatic support and, if necessary, ground bombardment options. Around Mars, State’s base of naval operations is not Phobos, but rather the Super Dreadnought battleship the Andrew Jackson, supported by its sister Super Dreadnoughts the Ronald Reagan and the James Monroe.

Three habitat rings allow the Super Dreadnought to maintain three different gravitational norms for the comfort of its crew, and four enormous nuclear reactors provide both a redundancy of power generation as well as the massive electrical energy necessary to support the Super Dreadnought’s unparalleled Artificial Magnetosphere Generators, or AMGs. Half again as long and over five times as massive as the Dreadnought class, the Super Dreadnought class is a monster of both defensive and offensive weaponry, claiming not only the largest bank of HED Lances of any class of ship (though, it should be noted, not by mass ratio), but an unparalleled mobile capacity for tactical nuclear launchers, as well as hangar bays capable of handling drones or fighters, or some combination of both, depending on the particular outfitting of the ship in question.

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So, to summarize:

  • The Frigate class represents the general purpose workhorse of the solar system. It’s not a freighter, though it can be used as such. It’s not a survey ship, though with the right modifications it can do that, too. It’s not a dedicated warship, but armed with a bank of HED Lances, it can certainly fill that role. When fitted for combat, it is notable for being the smallest ship designed to make interplanetary trips. Frigates also have human crews, though they are not large enough to sport their own rotational elements. They’re small, fast to build, easy to crew, expendable, and flexible. Though not common, even some of the larger polities such as the Oceanic League on Earth utilizes frigates for the bulk of their combat operations.
  • The Destroyer class has no human crew at all in favor of a set of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) units. Without human frailties to worry about, destroyers are ideally suited for extended duration picket duties, stealth missions, suicide missions, as well as frontline duty. Although Earth is fortunate to have an inexhaustible supply of human beings for crew, most of the worlds in the rest of the solar system suffer from continued labor challenges, and as such destroyers are for this reason as well as all of the above mentioned reasons very common and very popular.
  • The Dreadnought class is the smallest human crewed ship designed from the start as a military vessel, rather than simply being sometimes adapted for such duty as is the case of the frigate class. Dreadnoughts are intended to operate within the safety of a net of destroyers; four or five is typical, although necessity and opportunity may dictate more or less. The Dreadnought class is built to be able to operate as a mobile command center, a frontline combatant, and, sometimes, even a light carrier.

Super dreadnoughts are not only highly advanced but incredibly expensive vessels, both to build and to maintain, and only the shipyards orbiting Earth itself have the industrial capacity to construct the massive battleships. The orgs that contract out the construction of these are not, naturally, above contracting out and selling super dreadnoughts to other polities, and as a result a number of the navies of the solar system off Earth boast one or more super dreadnoughts.

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Like the Dreadnought, the Super Dreadnought has a profile that is noticeably longer than it is wide, although less so than the Dreadnought. As general naval tactica dictates that super dreadnoughts should be kept back and used as an operational platform, maintaining a narrow front is less critical. Also like the Dreadnought, a large proportion of the Super Dreadnought is comprised of armor and shielding systems. On the Super Dreadnought in particular, these latter, known as AMGs, are powerful enough to diffuse incoming HED Lance fire and even provide some limited added protection from kinetic damage sources.

Aside from the obvious differences such as double the number of attitude thrusters and double the number of nuclear reactors, the major operational difference of the Super Dreadnought class is that it is capable of very extended remote service. Whereas a dreadnought must rely on regular resupply, a super dreadnought carries with it extensive hydroponic capabilities. Where dreadnoughts are focused on providing an offensive forward warship, a super dreadnought is designed from the ground up as a mobile command center, and also boasts considerable troop transport capacity in the form of over a thousand cryosleep tubes.

Although all super dreadnoughts are intended to operate as mobile command centers, individual ships can be fitted to some degree of specialization, from added troop transport, extended hangar capacity for true carrier functionality, and seemingly inexhaustive tactical nuclear missile deployment capability. In practice, however, most super dreadnoughts occupy a middle path between all of these roles rather than specializing.

The triple habitat ring setup is most often geared towards the owning polity’s own gravitational requirements, but where such have mixed gravitational requirements by virtue of multiple planetary possessions this triplicate habitat ring offers logistical capabilities allowing accommodation. Some polities as well, especially those in the Outer Worlds, do not even fully crew their ships, instead choosing to use the extra habitat rings for additional hydroponics or even storage, or even refit the ship to remove any extraneous rings.

The Decidedly Unsexy Nuts and Bolts of Game Implementation

Unlike most software development, game development requires that the end product be that elusive thing called “fun”.

Because of this admittedly rather unusual requirement, it isn’t unusual for people from outside the industry to have the impression that game design is itself fundamentally a “fun” endeavor.

To be sure, the process of game design can be enjoyable, but generally in the same way that anyone who enjoys their job enjoys it.

So, what is actually involved in this kind of game design? (And, it should be noted, this is almost the exact same process I used on Star Trek Online‘s duty officer system or on many of the game modes over on Marvel Heroes.)

In ORG, ships are one of three types of a broader category called minions consisting of agents (people), facilities (things like shipyards, mines, refineries, military bases, and universities), and ships (freighters, medical ships, destroyers and other types of ship). The vast majority of tasks that a player will engage in require one or more minion to be temporarily slotted into the task, and thus unavailable for the duration of the task until it completes.

Players gain ships – and indeed, all minions – as rewards for tasks, or by purchasing them from other players, or by acquiring them from purchased packs. Behind the scenes, of course, the process is quite a but more complex:

Games like ORG can be seen as running on three basic layers – the engine, the game code, and the game data.

The engine represents the most fundamental code that handles things like drawing the user interface on the screen, interfacing the database with the rest of the code, coordinating the ability to purchase things in the game and have them show up properly in game. In terms of coding time, building the engine is almost always a far more expansive task than the game code.

The game code represents the game logic that makes a game like ORG, well ORG, and not Monopoly. The game code defines how tasks are processed, how durations are calculated, how rewards are processed, and a hundred other questions.

The game data represents the actual information for each individual task, each trait, each effect, each region, and so on. Whereas the tasks of building the engine and the game code are undergone by software engineers, the task of implementing the game data is undergone by designers. There is, even, an additional layer of distinction – design architecture (or sometimes just “design”) and design implementation. Whereas the game code is the actual programming code that tells the program how to process things, the task of design architecture is concerns itself with the basic gameplay decisions of how should the game process various actions by the player. Design implementation, on the other hand, is concerned with the replication, extension, and elaboration of the multitude of individual missions, tasks, player classes, items, and other elements that will vary depending on the type of game.

(Years ago, at the dawn of video game development, it was common for developers to wear multiple hats, and it was quite common to see software engineers, or artists, or producers also engaging in design; these days, especially on well-established and well-funded projects, these tasks are almost always fairly specialized.)

(Check out the rest of the article over here on the website for ORG…)

Anatomy of a Dreadnought of 2472 C.E.

dreadnought_01Art Diary #4 for the 25th century solar system of ORG, a side project in development for an iOS/OSX/Android/PC/Linux multiplayer persistent logistical game.

This beauty, courtesy of P Michael Norris, is the pre-textured Dreadnought Class battleship in common usage in 2472 C.E., complete with protected habitat rings, rotating attitude thrusters, and the innumerable other functional details combining to make a practical, lethal warship.

In the course of designing the ships of the 25th century of ORG, it was important to us that the ships made sense, both from a functional design perspective and for the role that they were intended to fulfill.

While the frigate class is often militarized and used for interception duties and commerce raiding, their core design is not that of a dedicated military machine. As such, they come in all sizes and shapes, some better adapted than others. Destroyers, on the other hand, are the workhorse – uncrewed and piloted by advanced Artificial Intelligence programs, destroyers are both expendable and capable of very aggressive maneuvering.

As useful as these two ship classes are, extended duty in complicated tactical theaters of operation requires – at least politically – a human mind to make the overall tactical decisions in the field. More intended as mobile command stations than as frontline battleships, this class of battleship is intended to provide a flexible, mobile, resilient element of force projection.

This is the Dreadnought class.

Unlike destroyers with their absence of a human crew, the central design consideration for the dreadnought is that it has a human crew. Dreadnoughts thus have several elements that are absent or played down in destroyers.

As with destroyers, the dreadnought’s profile is long and narrow, though by necessity it is bulkier than a destroyer since it must be robust enough to take significant damage and still be operational. The front part of the ship does have power conduits, weapons, and hangar bays, but by mass is nearly 80% armor and shielding systems, the latter of which is capable of short, maintained energy deflection similar in function to a ship-sized version of a planet’s magnetosphere.

dreadnought_anatomy

Hangar Bays can be configured for either automated drones or crewed fighters for long-range operations – often both, as crewed fighters frequently operate in functionality similar to the dreadnought itself but at a more local level, meaning a crewed fighter will operate more as a drone command ship with attendant automated drones extending the effective reach and reaction speed of the crewed fighter.

HED Lances are common short to medium range naval engagement weapons consisting of high-energy particle weaponry. Even their short range, however, is quite long, generally measured still in tens of kilometers. HED Lances are also common armaments for the smaller, A.I.-operated destroyer class; larger super-dreadnought class battleships are intended to operate at even more distant range, and as such tend to favor tactical launched warheads, although both dreadnought class ships and super-dreadnought class ships usually have both types of armaments, although their respective ratios differ significantly.

A pair of Habitat Rings are situated towards the rear of the dreadnought. Paired for redundancy and, and at the cost of energy efficiency the habitat rings are much more compact so their profile is minimized and also so they can take greater advantage of the dreadnought’s shielding systems. Able to rotate so as to provide faux gravity, there are also secondary command stations in the center of the dreadnought beneath the rings for use during major active combat operations. In addition to not generally being used during combat maneuvering, the habitat rings are also not used during primary thrust at the beginning and end of a flight plan. (In fact, as with nearly all such ships, the deceleration period involves the ship flipping around so that as it approaches a target world or station it will advance rear-first until it gets fairly close.)

Behind the habitat rings lies fuel, cryo-storage for hibernating personnel such as ground troops or auxiliary crew, and standard storage as well. Behind that sits another set of heavy shielding and secondary shielding systems to protect the crew from the powerful Nuclear Engines at the rear of the ship that provide the bulk of the vessel’s thrust.

Finally, sandwiched between the ship’s powerful nuclear reactors and the storage section sits another rotating ring, this one not for the habitat rings but for a trio of Attitude Thrusters used for rapid maneuvering. The three thruster pods rotate on a common ring such that if one or even two takes damage, the dreadnought can still be maneuvered even with just a single remaining thruster pod. The thruster pod itself has dual redundancy, and can angle 180 degree along the primary axis of the ship. Fuel supply for the attitude thrusters is resupplied from the ship’s main nuclear reactors, but stored separately, meaning that in the event of a problem with both nuclear reactors, some degree of maneuvering and thrust is still available.

The Game Design of a Constructed Language

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I waved as I approached the Damocles‘ quartermaster. “Skusatsu mo. Sele ma pasu. Hildo spreku?”

She cocked her head quizzically. “Tak.” Thank god, I thought. At last someone who speaks Hilde. “Kep kereru te?” she asked.

Last Chance boto kapitana yestu me. Iltre siotusa haba ma pasu. Yarog, te butu uno?”

She shrugged. “Probleme yeta.” She disappeared into the open airlock, pushing out a moment later with a small box she tossed with the experience of someone who had lived a very long time in low g.

“Danku.”

World building, whether for a book, a movie, or a game, is all about the feeling of immersion.

You actually don’t want to bury your audience in detail – a little goes a long way. That being said, if the snippets you do show your audience aren’t internally consistent and don’t make sense at an intuitive level, while your audience usually won’t explicitly call you out on that, they will definitely pick up on any lack of said internal consistency.

Thus, at the end of the day, the paradox of building an immersive environment is that the most straightforward way to build an immersive world is to construct all the details, and then proceed to only show maybe 10% of said details. The rest isn’t actually wasted, though, it lives in the implicit connective tissue of the world you are trying to build.

Constructed languages, sometimes called “conlags” have been put together for a number of different reasons ranging from attempts to bring humanity together linguistically like Volap√ľk or Esperanto, to supporting the construction of fictional worlds such as Star Trek‘s Klingon language or J.R.R. Tolkien‘s myriad languages of Middle-Earth.

Video games have gotten into the action as well, and true to form, often in such a way as to slip beneath the radar of the player while at the same time deeply enriching the world. Skyrim’s Dovahzul.

c53e27226eb7353788723a89af6f19d0a98a79One of my several side projects is the development of a multiplayer logistics game called ORG. Set in a late 25th century where humanity has finally recovered from an appalling population crash to colonize even the farthest reaches of our solar system, I wanted to do more than make a generic science-fiction environment but to make something recognizably unique with depth that would allow for endless permutations, philosophical exploration, and narrative opportunities.

First, I started with mapping out in detail the over thirty distinct national polities that were to serve as the bedrock of a narrative milieu. In so doing, I also had the opportunity to explore the almost endless political and economic variations humanity has or might someday choose to try out.

These included everything from what might happen if you had an entire enclosed culture and state based on the often exploitive Human Potential Movement of the 60s counterculture to a society built on clone slave labor to societies where labor unions have triumphed to religious fundamentalists building a society living in terror of the possibility of technological singularity to fascinating exercises in pure democracy to…well, you get the picture.

(I admit it, I had a lot of fun seeing how many dystopic variations I could come up with. No economic or social theory was safe from my attempt to exaggerate it until its own victories would become the seeds of its own failure.)

Second, I began to explore some of the philosophical implications of a civilization like this. For example, what are the implications of culture when the frontier is dominated by a very small percentage of the human population, but the power is overwhelming maintained at home on Earth? What are the psychological and cultural implications in a society that exists in an artificially maintained environment? (Andy Weir’s novel The Martian and The Expanse series are both great fictional explorations of this.)

Org_Polities_HildasTriangleFinally, I got to the question of linguistics. Language is a peculiarly underappreciated part of social functioning. We’ve all heard of the languages that have multiple words for love (Greek) to the differences between gendered languages like French or Italian or languages without articles like “the” or “a” (Russian) or languages with minimal or no concept of tense or time (Amondawa).

While the idea of language defining how we think is in fact sometimes exaggerated to strawman-like proportions, the fact is the way a language developed does reflect the needs and foci of the speakers.

One of the unfortunate side effects of technological communication, transportation, and modern commercialization has been a rapid reduction in the diversity of languages spoken in the world today, a concept called “language death“. As the world metaphorically gets smaller by means of improved communication, transportation, and monoculture, the isolation that causes languages to evolve vanishes taking with it the losers in the memeplectic struggle for linguistic dominance.

But what happens once we (hopefully) escape the tyranny of our gravity well in colonizing force? The distances of space are vast, even when we are just talking about the distances between the Earth and the Moon – let alone the distances from Earth to Mars, or even more staggeringly, Mars to Jupiter, or the truly mind-numbing distances between the outer solar system’s gas giants and the dwarf planets of the Kuiper Belt. What happens when you are, really, all alone with just the people around you? How does the fragility of environmental security affect the way a language develops?

It’s not just the fact of isolation: language evolves to match the needs of its environment. Urban environments versus rural environments, arid versus wet, nomadic versus settled are all examples of the various axis that can influence and guide a linguistic evolution.

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All these factors, plus the expected improvement in capabilities of translation software (which, I should note from personal experience, is definitely not quite there yet) do suggest a reversal or at least slowing of the aforementioned trend of language death today.

Add onto this the existence of long space voyages by trained specialists who live in even more isolation and environmental insecurity than even someone who lives on a relatively safe colony on Mars or Callisto (other than, of course, the contemporaneously raging Martian civil war and Gallilean conflict) and one can readily see how such a language could evolve.

So that’s what I started to do.

ORG‘s Hilde, or “Spacer’s Cant”, is a classic example of what in linguistic circles is termed a pidgin, or in the authoritative words of Wikipedia, “a simplified version of a language that develops as a means of communication between two or more groups that do not have a language in common. It is most commonly employed in situations such as trade.” (As the years go on, of course, it is starting to become a creole, or “a stable natural language that has developed from a pidgin.”)

I started with the historical background. I had decided that the natal location of my pidgin was going to be the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, specifically a polity centered around the asteroid Hilda in the fascinating Hildas Triangle.

In the milieu of ORG, the Collaborated Union of the Hildas Triangle was settled by a sort of successor state to the modern day real world European Union called Union. Unlike the European Union, however, Union grew out of Poland and Romania, with satellite states in the form of Germany and a sans-Siberia Russia.

Space Asteroid Mining sample rock

This meant the linguistic building blocks would be dominated by the phonemes (the sounds) and vocabulary of these nation’s languages. But this was going to be a pidgin, remember, so that meant I decided to make the grammar more like Esperanto – that is, incredibly flexible, very stripped down, and readily learned. There wasn’t going to be any gendering of nouns or even suffixed tenses. Word order was (almost) freeform. Years of learning French, Spanish, Japanese, and Portuguese in school came back to tell me what parts of languages made learning the language insufferably harder than it had to be.

On top of all of this, because this was intended as a trade language as much as anything, I tried to remove sounds that were hard to distinguish for speakers of the major language groups surviving in the 25th century of ORG. (This last I wasn’t quite able to pull off as much as I wanted to, but that’s why several phonemes don’t exist in Hilde, including f, v, and w. Vowels, as well, stick to a basic five with a notable absence of true diphthongs (where you mash together two vowels to create a new sound.)

Then came the vocabulary.

One of the reasons English has purportedly been as successful as it has been as a common language for aeronautical operations is that it relatively direct, short, and staccato, things that are very desirable indeed when piloting a massive 747. Spaceflight, one can logically reason, would have similar needs. Hilde, therefore, prefers short words generally framed on both ends by consonants.

The vocabulary, as well, reflects the needs of a spacer. There are a lot of words describing things like venting atmosphere (“atmosu”), docking clamps (“kleme”), velocity (“predkoso”), attitude thrusters (“aridiste”), and radiation exposure levels (“radso”).

In the end, constructed languages are not only immersive in the bold, obvious ways as they appear on a page or in a game, but also in the secondary effects where misunderstandings have narrative implications or the language’s constituent pieces indirectly implies history.

As a support to the narrative dictum “show, don’t tell” constructed language works by implication as much as it does by definition, and can be a useful pillar to pulling the reader, viewer, or gamer out of their own context and into a new one.

Breaking In

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At some point in the career of most video game developers, a very particular, very familiar question will be posed:

How do you break in to the industry?

It’s not an easy answer, because in truth the video game industry is multiple, overlapping industries, each operating with their own spin and own culture. On top of that, the pathways into a job in the industry vary depending on the job you are pursuing.

Terms like “developer” and “designer” in particular get tossed around casually, and while their meaning is a lot more specific inside the industry than most people outside the industry realize, there’s still quite a lot of slush in how they’re used in practice.

Developer is sometimes used to generically mean anyone working directly on the creation of a game – designer, engineer, producer, artist, sound engineer, etc. Just to confuse things, sometimes it is also used as a synonym for programmer.

Engineer is probably the most common title most programmers hold as far as your job letter goes, though other variants exist – architect, programmer, coder.

Designer and Producer are even slippier. In smaller companies, or especially back earlier in the history of the industry, the titles were often interchangeable, or defined differently on a project by project basis. In modern usage, “producer” usually translates to either project manager, account manager, or general manager. Contrarily, “designer” implies generation of data based on the constraints and tools provided by the project’s engineers.

(And, just to make your head spin even more, all of these have countless gradations from associate, junior, senior, director, gameplay, systems, architect, assistant – and the exact authority, pay grade, and responsibility is by no means a clearly defined matter across the industry.)

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The broad development roles are:

  • Art
  • Engineering
  • Design
  • Audio
  • Production
  • Quality Assurance
  • Marketing
  • Community Management
  • Customer Service
  • …and others I am forgetting

Within each of these lie numerous sub-disciplines. Depending on the type of video game being developed, not all of these roles will be necessary. In smaller projects, developers are more likely to wear multiple hats, whereas on larger projects the specializations can become even more discrete.

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For example:

  • Art
    • Character Modeling (modeling the heroes, villains, NPCs, etc.)
    • Rigging (giving the characters bones for the animators to animate)
    • Animation (making characters move)
    • Environment Modeling (cliffs, buildings, sidewalks, cars, tables, etc.)
    • 2D (hand drawn concept art, icons)
    • User Interface
  • Engineering
    • Gameplay
    • AI (Artificial Intelligence)
    • UI (User Interface)
    • Internal Tools
    • Server Architecture
    • Client Architecture
    • Platform
    • Database
  • Design
    • Systems
      • Combat / Moment-to-Moment / Powers Design
      • Systems Design
      • Player Investment
    • Content
      • Mission / Quest / Content Design
      • Level Design
      • Writer / Narrative Design / Story
    • Itemization (sometimes placed under Systems, sometimes Content)
    • Achievements (sometimes placed under Systems, sometimes Content)
    • User Experience
    • Technical
  • Production
    • External Relationships (dealing with licensing interactions such as Marvel, or outsourcing providers)
    • Build Management
    • Internal Process (making sure that the eighteen-jillion steps something has to go through to reach the final build happen)

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Some of these sub-disciplines are fuzzy, and don’t have dedicated people on them or have varying roles depending on the company or even project. For example, the distinction between Mission Designer and Narrative Designer can be very debatable on some teams, and a particular designer may jump between Itemization, Systems Design, and Mission Design all on the same project. On the other hand, other sub-disciplines such as Level Design are much more specialized.

Depending on the project and the role there will be more or less position available, and this, combined with skills (or claimed skills) means that some roles on a project are much easier or much harder to get onto. Dedicated writing positions are a good example of this – only the largest RPGs tend to have more than one – if even that – dedicated writer, such that on many projects if you are not a published writer your chances of landing one of these positions is vanishingly small.

For Engineering, a Computer Science degree is pretty much a must. At a junior level engineers are rarely expected to have specializations, but by the time an engineer has reached the senior level it is likely they will have specialized in one or more sub-disciplines.

For Art, school is much less important, but you categorically must have a portfolio, and an awesome one at that. As with dedicated writers in design departments, 2D art positions tends to have a lot more people applying for relatively few spots. Unless you are impassioned by 2D specifically, 3D is a much more in demand, albeit technical, career path. Photoshop and Illustrator are pretty much assumed for almost any art position, and for 3D, familiarity with and proficiency with Maya, 3D Studio Max, Zbrush are among the tool sets you should target. Fortunately, most of these can be acquired relatively easily with student or non-commercial licenses, and most are as well taught in numerous academic courses.

For Design, you can sometimes get a leg up from taking the various design programs; they weren’t around when I was starting, and have since then gone from being an awkward joke to actually being pretty good in a lot of cases. In my experience most designers coming into the industry still do not come from the various design programs, but a significant chunk do. Even so, what the hiring manager will look most closely at is not what school or program you were in, but what you did there as a project.

Other routes into Design include starting in QA or Customer Service, or, sometimes simply being that rare individual who is both a fan of the particular game they are applying to and having the ability to think abstractly and innovatively about that hard-to-pin-down thing called “fun”.

Whether you are an engineer, artist, or designer, if you at all can, find a game, or use Unreal, or Unity, or anything else that has the ability to create a game experience or mod and make something. Preferably several somethings. Release it. Iterate on it. Support it. Talk about it. Figure out what you did wrong the first time and either fix it or make it work better the next time around. Doing this well is probably the single best thing you can do to break into video game development in a professional capacity.

For Production, routes in are much like Design, but the design program part is obviously less important, and Customer Service is probably somewhat more likely a route than QA (whereas with Design, the reverse is true, though I have seen exceptions for both).

Quality Assurance or Customer Service are, in the game industry, usually entry-level positions. Both studios and publishers will usually maintain QA groups. Some studios (such as Gazillion) are also their own publishers. Getting into a studio QA group is generally better in the long-run if you want to get into Design, but you can also leverage experience in a publisher QA group (e.g., Sony, Capcom) to parlay yourself into something closer to the action – this is, in fact, exactly what I did. (Most publishers as well maintain their own studios in addition to any third party studios they work with).

Note, as well, that the video game industry uses the term “Quality Assurance” where most of the computer industry would use “Test”. What most of the computer industry refers to as “Quality Assurance” is only sporadically present as a separate entity in the video game industry in the form of “Subjective Testing” or “Design Support” teams.

AMC12 1113 Games 9692

It is also very important to recognize that the type of game matters a lot. Studios generally make games within a particular type – mobile, console, MMORPG, ARPG, exploration, FPS, etc.

As a general rule, play the kinds games you want to develop. If you don’t play MMORPGs, don’t expect to easily get a job at a studio focusing on MMORPGs.

Studios – even departments within the same studio – may weigh differently such factors as how much of a fan you are for a particular game, a particular genre, communication skills, etc. It can be a bit of a crapshoot, so keep trying. Some studios won’t even look at you unless you’re a dedicated fan of their particular game, others are more interested in your industry experience (if any), while others focus more on your paper design skills.

One concern many people have about working in the game industry is stories of substandard working condition.

Personally, I have found this varies a great deal depending on the studio in question. In general, poor working conditions seems to have been much more of a problem in the past than it is today.

It’s true, I have my own share of 20 hour a day workday stories, one particular run of which landed me in the ER with viral pneumonia. Not fun.

That being said, as the years have gone by, and exposes like the famous EA Spouse incident have arisen, and, frankly, as the average age of game developers has risen and more people have gotten married, had kids, and so on, the industry has eased up considerably as a whole. The ability to patch has also probably contributed a lot to easing the infamous pressure on the Goldmaster cut.

When I started, death marches lasting months or even more than a year were not uncommon. These days, periods of overtime are rarer, and when they do occur more often closer to a few weeks, and instead of being 20+ hours a day are more like 10-14 hours a day.

Obviously, this still varies a lot depending on the studio, the game you’re working on, and the financial straits of all involved. Abusive overwork does sometimes happen, but is much rarer.

On the plus side, game studios have some benefits that are very nice indeed, including relatively flexible hours for most disciplines, casual work environments, and probably most importantly of all, getting to work on something you can be passionate about.

As with any industry, there is definitely room for improvement, but I think the general trajectory has been positive. If you have the passion, it is definitely within the realm of reason to break into.

Destroyer Class Ship from ORG

Destroyer03The process of creating ship models involves a multi-stage process starting with the construction of the ship in a 3D modeling program, continuing on to texturing of the surfaces, and finally finishing in the posing and lighting of the model in the various scene shots.

In the universe of ORG, the destroyer class of ship is the smallest dedicated battleship – while frigates are often used in confrontations and raiding, naval combat is not their primary purpose.

The destroyer class, on the other hand, is a dedicated war machine. Even more notably, it has no human crew, instead relying on a complement of Artificial Intelligence modules ranging from one to five A.I. depending on mission parameters and availability. With no human crew, destroyers need not obey normal acceleration limitations, allowing velocity changes that would crush a human crew. Ranges and mission lengths are similarly highly extendable, with destroyers being excellent choices for long-range pickets, suicide missions, and similar missions.

Despite the lingering residue of the Great Contraction, the Inner Worlds have a vast population base to draw from to crew ships, leading to the powerful Earth polities such as the Eastern Federation and State being able to comfortably crew the mighty battleships of their own navies, allowing them to support significant numbers of dreadnoughts and super-dreadnoughts.

The much more sparsely populated Outer World polities do not have this luxury, and as a result, among these distant worlds, the A.I.-crewed destroyer is very popular even where dreadnoughts could theoretically be afforded.

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With a nuclear reactor powering engines and various systems, destroyers are typically armed with HED Lances and a minimal complement of tactical nuclear warheads intended primarily for ground assault operations.

Though this is the typical configuration, the destroyer-class has been successfully adapted for a wide array of mission parameters and local conditions, and some have even be outfitted with drone bays to allow the ship to operate as a flight deck carrier, mimicking some of the functionality of the fighter and drone bays more predominant on the larger battleship classes.

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Where feasible, destroyer-class battleships have multiple A.I. “crew”, partially for purpose of instantaneous backups in case of mechanical failure or battle damage, but also as a means of minimizing the notorious effects of A.I. glitches, an important safety feature when talking about a warship theoretically capable of glassing the population of some of the smaller worlds.

Although there are several protocols used depending on the policy of the various polities’ navies, the most common is to have three primary A.I.’s who essentially vote on every single micro-action. In the event of a three-way tie or one of the three primaries going offline, two “alternates” – backup A.I. – can step in as well. There is, even, specific protocols dictating a procedure for “offlining” an A.I. module whom the other A.I.’s have determined has glitched – the equivalent of summary execution.

Certain polities – the Alliance being the most prominent – even mandate one of the alternate backup A.I.’s to have specialized psychotherapy training, putting the other A.I.’s on the metaphorical couch every hour or so of non-combat operation to screen for erratic or rogue behavior.

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The heavy use of A.I., especially in the Outer Worlds, has created a philosophical and moral tension. Artificial Intelligence legal recognition varies, but only in the Collaborated Union of the Hildas Triangle do A.I. have full legal recognition.

In most of the Inner Worlds they have a quasi-legal status that falls somewhat short of full human-level legal rights. In the Outer Worlds which rely far more heavily on A.I. with their commensurate shortage of labor, A.I. often have no rights at all, and are subject to regular strict reinitializing procedures that do sometimes limit their ability to adapt and learn, but serve to check the obvious danger of any kind of broad-based A.I. revolt.

Some of the Outer World navies even maintain a special class of human and A.I. police sometimes called “Loyalty Corps” who are specifically responsible for checking, stemming, and heading off any A.I. discontent or revolt.

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If you’re interested in learning more about ORG, a side project of mine that is a logistical Mac/PC/iOS/Android game in development, check out the Jubal Online Games site. Have questions? There’s an FAQ that can probably help with that, and if not, feel free to drop any questions on the site and I’ll make sure their answered.