Monday, September 22, 2014

Pre-Kickstarter: Valiance Online with Ben Jones

Greetings friends and welcome back to The Conversation.  Today I’m performing a bit of a preemptive strike on a Kickstarter by talking to my friend and coworker Ben Jones about his work on the upcoming Valiance Online.  Thank you for joining us today Ben.  

Glad to be here James, it’s an exciting time for me personally and the team as a whole.

Lets start off with how a NASA satellite controller can end up working on a videogame like Valiance Online while still working for NASA?  That seems like an odd combination of jobs.  

Well video games are very technical from the guts out, most things that people see are the artistic side but there is a huge amount of technical expertise that goes into game creation. Being a comic book artist at heart I was able to merge the technical and artistic sides fairly seamlessly.

How I came into it was just a bit of luck. I was originally hired on as a freelance concept artist and moved up the chain as de facto Art Director.  Little luck and a little talent can go a long way it seems.

Can you tell us a bit about Valiance Online and why should folks be excited to see it?

Because we say so, isn’t that enough?

Yeah didn’t think so.

People should be excited because this is a game built for the people and by the people. While as a successor game from the now defunct City of Heroes, we are building on what they did right and innovating what they did wrong. Creating a game within this genre hasn’t been done often and even fewer times done well so its a great opportunity for Superheroes and Villains to create a home for themselves. Like many people we have sat back and said we should create something better than what’s out there, but unlike most people we are actually doing it and doing it well if i must say so myself.

What got you into drawing comics in the first place?  How is your 2D art effecting the 3D game world?  

Well I’ve always been into comics from a very early age, something I would have to blame my father for, but in highschool something sparked in my mind to attempt to draw comic book characters. Once I started getting the hang of it, it became the most addictive drug on the planet. I went from jock to artist almost overnight and its stuck with me till this day.

Well the 2d side is the foundation of most 3d art when working in a pipeline of different artist all with different backgrounds and expertise.  Im affecting the entire game with my designs and general art direction for the world of Valiance Online and It can be a bit scary to be thrust into this position with so many people relying on your creativity and talent level to deliver something special. What everyone will see in the game visually will have my fingerprints all over it, the good and the bad.

Monday, September 15, 2014

An Extrasolar Adventure

Welcome back to the Conversation!  We’ve completed the move to the other side of the planet and now I get to take you even further then I went with the Extrasolar team.  Joining me today are the team from Lazy 8 Studios to talk about this interesting exploration experience, thanks for joining us today!

Glad to join the conversation! I’m Dr. Rob Jagnow, the founder of Lazy 8 Studios in San Francisco. I wear quite a few hats for Extrasolar. I’m the producer, the main programmer for our rendering software, and also the actor who plays in-game character Robert Turing.

Extrasolar is a bit hard to classify, even though you guys are calling it a “game” having actually “played” it I’m not sure that’s entirely correct.  I think of it more of an experience, can you explain it as best you can?  

For a long time, we avoided using the word “game” because it’s so different from any other game out there that the word comes loaded with the wrong expectations. We prefer “interactive story,” but that’s such a broad term that we’ve gone back to describing Extrasolar as a game.

The story of Extrasolar plays out entirely through a Web browser -- through written messages, videos from live actors, Websites, terminal systems, and beautiful photos from the surface of an alien planet -- no two of which will ever be the same.

The premise is that a private space exploration company, XRI, has launched a mission to an alien planet with life. They’re looking for volunteers to help drive the rovers that they’ve put down on the planet’s surface. You can apply to the program, and if you get in, you use a Web interface to tell your rover where to go, what time of day you want your photo, and what direction you want your photo. Hours later, when you arrive, you get back a gorgeous cloud-rendered image from that location on the planet. On average, it takes our players 27 days to play through season 1. During that time, you’ll find yourself wrapped up in a conspiracy, searching for answers both on Earth and on the planet Epsilon Prime.

Now I discovered Extrasolar way back June when you showed up on Gamasutra and promptly shared it with my fellow NASA coworkers.  What do you think of people who actually talk to spacecraft and rovers playing your game and enjoying it?  (Note:  All pictures in this interview are from my own personal playthrough)

It’s been totally amazing having fans at NASA and SETI. We’ve tried to keep the science as accurate as possible, and so far, we haven’t had any major complaints from our players about scientific fidelity.

To allow the story to happen, there are two major places where we broke the rules of physics -- first, we have faster-than-light communications so that it doesn’t take 20 years to send a round-trip signal to our planet, which orbits the real star Epsilon Eridani. Second, we claim we used a near-light-speed propulsion system to reach our planet in just over a decade.

Beyond that, we aim to keep the science as real as possible and even hired a biologist to give realistic commentary as a character within the story.