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OtherI'm Arnie Niekamp, host of the improv comedy fantasy podcast Hello from the Magic Tavern. AMA! The rest of the cast will answer too!

Mar 31st 2017 by misterarnie • 11 Questions • 548 Points

I’m Rusel DeMaria. I’m a writer, game designer, and narrative lead for Starfighter Inc. Come join me and I’ll tell you why narrative is so important in games and why our approach is like nothing you’ve ever seen in a team-based combat game. I’ll tell you how we’re going to get you involved in our world. We’ll surprise you. We’ll let you in on the secrets of The System. Ask me anything.

PROOF: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10154534265299211&set=a.10150987060309211.428120.595984210&type=3&theater

CURRENT PROJECT: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/impellerstudios/starfighter-inc-0/comments

http://starfighterinc.gamepedia.com/Starfighter_Inc_Wiki

https://impellerstudios.com/

Q:

How much preparation goes into the development of an episode and how much of it is actually improv? Do you guys have an outline you try to stick to or do you just go with whatever flows naturally? Love the show, thanks for doing this!

A:

I remember in "Tie Fighter" some optional goals that helped develop some sort of "Sith special agent story" happening in game. Will we have this kind of stuff ? In a more general way, will there be briefing sessions separated from flight sessions ? Will there be some roleplaying elements (like interactive dialogs), and dramatic background with developed characters (I thought that people like Paladin, Maniac, Angel was what made the Wing Commander series really shine to me) ?


Q:

It is really almost entirely improv. We have loose (sometimes changing ideas) of where we're going on a larger scale for the series, but it's rare for the individual episodes to have any kind of outline. I email with the guests a little beforehand asking them to pitch three character ideas, just a sentence to get a broad sense of the concept, and I pick one or give thougths on massaging one slightly to work better. This is mostly to make sure we don't do something we've done before and hopefully have a variety of types of characters episode to episode. Some guests prepare a lot of details about their character, some prepare nothing (I usually ask them to at least have a name so we can just easily introduce them). Sometimes Matt and Adal know what the guest character will be beforehand, sometimes not. We just chat and improvise, during the "break" we usually stop for a minute or two, I ask if there's a particular direction the guest or anyone wants to definitely go in, usually everyone says no, I check on how long the first segment was, we improvise again until the "flourish" then we do emails then it's done. Then we record the next one. We definitely talk about things in the story and the characters when we're not recording, but during actual episodes we think we get a better result from mostly letting things happen in the moment. If you're trying too hard to push towards specific beats you can feel the heavy hand on the wheel. But occasionally we do have epsidoes where we know we want something to happen at the end, like Usidore accidentally saying the Dark Lord's name, but we try to keep it pretty open as to how it happens, and it usually just sort of happens out of the blue. Even an episode as complex as the Dr. Ward episode had a little disucssion beforehand and we knew the ending would involve some sort of revelation that it was an illusion but everythign else was just pure improv.

A:

We fully plan on creating secondary goals and splinter off side stories. In our stretch goals, we have the ability even to spin off single-player bonus missions, but that's pretty far away right now. As for cut-scene types of action, that's again something that requires more funding, it's not currently in the play, but we do plan on including at least one graphic novel and lots of fiction related the game as it goes forward through our website. Some players who do really well, might find themselves as part of those stories. Character development is trickier in a game like ours, but through our ancillary fiction, we hope to fully flesh out the fiction.


Q:

Most of the reason for this is that Tim lives out of the country. Due to the time difference, there's always a certain amount of delay in getting things to and from him, so Craig handles the parts of the show that we think might change last minute. That way we can drop in a plug or something. Also, let's face it, Tim's true passion is making fun of Matt and Adal every week.

A:

Hi Rusel! Excited to hear more about Starfighter Inc. How exactly will you be telling the story to the player in an open world combat game? Will it be linear or will it play out different for each player? Cutscenes? Or lots of terminal reading??


Q:

It's also worth mentioning that Craig is just great, and so it's nice to have them both in there. Originally he was introduced, honestly, because the credits usually have to be recorded last minute, you can't really bank a bunch, and ther'es always the risk of illness or scheduling conflicts... it just doens't make sense not to have a back-up. But Craig is a really fun character and we really do hope to do more stuff exploring that world this season.

A:

Lollsmalls: I answered some of your question in the previous reply. As for the story being linear, my goal, and this also will depend on stretch goals at this time, is to have several simultaneous areas of conflict at once. These areas of conflict would involve different organizations fighting over different issues. So it will be a multi-threaded narrative, and sometimes the different threats might converge. I think of this as I would if I were writing a novel or series for TV. But not in episodes. It is a 24/7/365 game, and stories will evolve at different rates. Given our gameplay format, we aren't going to have exploration or an open world setting. At its core, this is a combat game, and as a mercenary, your first concern is survival, followed by credits earned, which in turn allow you to purchase new ships, upgrade existing ones, and many more options for how to use your credits. As for terminal reading, there will be some, but some of it is optional and for added entertainment value and further immersion in the storylines and events in the game. The primary reason to read the terminal will be to seek out good contracts for your next battle.


Q:

[shake, shake, shake] Future uncertain.

A:

Here's a super-nerdy one: the world of Starfighter Inc (off of the Earth's surface in particular) is controlled by corporations. What do they use as currency, and what is it backed by? Is there a 'two tier' system, with day-to-day currency being fractured into regional utility and large transactions in some common intermediary (clearinghouse style)?

Fiat currency might not work to well for inter-corporation trading (being essentially Company Scrip). Backing by precious metals is less effective when heavy metal asteroid finds could 'crash the market' by eliminating rarity (why the "trillion dollar asteroid" headlines make little sense in practice). Backing based on useful commodities (e.g. purified water, useful buffer/propellant gasses, light metals) has volatility issues and transport issues, on top of all the normal issues of backing with commodities being very close to a barter economy. If hydrocarbons for plastics and composites are still valuable that might work as an interesting replacement for precious metals (you can either mine them on the Earth and truck them out of the gravity well, or synthesise them elsewhere at an energy expense) but still have the issue of them being a functional commodity rather than valuable in and of themselves.


Q:

I love that Matt really pushes himself to find different takes on Usidore, to go through little arcs of him being different, or just dealing with something. I think he's also, more than us other two, better about not letting those things overstay their welcome.

A:

redmercuryvendor: That has been debated by the team, but there isn’t a set answer yet, due to many of the issues you’ve discussed. Between all the worlds of the solar system, few materials are all that rare, or could not potentially be mined extensively if a great enough demand existed. In the inner solar system, you can find fissionables and abundant metals; in the asteroid belt, you can find more abundant heavy metals; in the outer solar system, you have almost ubiquitous ices and hydrocarbons. Improved manufacturing technology only makes this more difficult because it allows creation of substances that could possibly be rare otherwise - in a world where bulk diamond is usable as a structural material (and current technology is only closing the gap between the industrial stones and the jewels), how useful would it be as a precious gem?

One of the main options our team most agrees with is using a form of digital currency, like bit-coin. That data can be beamed out facilitates use for an interplanetary economy, and though there is still lightspeed lag to deal with during distant transactions, it’s much easier than transporting the material between locations. Also, it probably comes as close as anything artificial gets to being limited by its design; this might actually pose a problem in a rapidly expanding economy (as the narrative suggests) when it must be divided into smaller and smaller units. This doesn’t mean it isn’t without major issues that have held us back from adopting it - for one, it’s still potentially hackable (if with enormous difficulty), and makes you dependent to some extent on whoever owns the network of servers keeping track of it. Granted, given that our story presumes corporations control everything, having stuff in the hands of one or two banks might not be undesirable.


Q:

I don't regret it at all. I think regardless of any choice we make there will be people who don't agree. We knew there was a great joke there (that's played for a bit of time) where Arnie thinks Chunt is just a badger, but I thought it would be way more interesting if it was true and every once in a blue moon we got to 'see' it. I think it's also a slippery slope to make my character an outright liar.

A:

How do you plan to allow the players personal experience to affect the narrative when dealing with a online multiplayer game?


Q:

I also thought that was a really funny idea. I wouldn't say I regret it, but at the time I was definitely into that idea/possibility/interpretation.

A:

MrGraddo: The whole concept of narrative in a multiplayer game like SFI is one that we've approached in a variety of ways. First, of course, is the fact that for some major events the outcome of the story is determined by which side in the conflict wins (in a statistical sense over many battles). But there's a lot more. First, we have a very rich world in the background of the game, full of corporations, anti-corporate organizations, criminals, fanatics, and shadowing figures with influence in high places. It's a rich story evolving on its own, and it evolves through the game and through the players' actions. But it also has the ability to engage players directly through loyalties to one side or another, or becoming part of larger campaigns. The idea for the narrative is that it will evolve, that it will become more and more clear over time, and that it will contain many surprises. So there's a story, and as a mercenary you are not one of the movers and shakers, but you are someone with the autonomy to choose your sides and to become engaged and identifies with the emotions of winning and losing on top of the obvious perks of loot, reputation, and the ability to upgrade your ships, weapons, and systems. Reputation also functions as a way to gain extra perks from organizations that you fight for, so there is added incentive to choose a side, although you might like one side better than another for personal reasons. Like some of them are a-holes.


Q:

Hey guys, love the podcast! It seems like Foon is a very sex positive and gender positive place. Is that a conscious effort on your part or did it just happen naturally? Or was it a consequence of Adal putting casual bestiality on the table in the first episode?

Also, Siblings Peculiar and The Probe are seriously both top notch, I love them both a ton

A:

Are you the Willie Wonka of Star Wars gaming?


Q:

I think it's a number of things. One I think it's just in the culture and something we care about generally. I think also you're probably right that Adal's character's identity being very wrapped up in sex, and us trying to have a positive spin on something that could be very oogy or dark pushed things in that direction. Also, I believe strongly that the podcast should be a place you want to spend time in, so there's a weird challenge of being in a world that in truth could probably be quite terrible and bleak. I think we weren't interested in creating a world that was even worse for women and minorities, etc, so we decided to frame it as a place that is very open and progressive (but also sometimes awful, I mean, torture seems pretty widely okay). So, we try. But I hesitate to pat ourselves on the back because we're far from perfect. But that stuff does matter to us.

A:

I was a temporary Wonka when I was commissioned to write a novella of each of the first two Star Wars games and continued those fictions in the strategy guides. I invented the characters Keyan Farlander and Maarek Stele. I guess that's the extent of my wonkishness with Stat Wars though. :0


Q:

Hi Arnie. I really like your podcast.

What would you say are the best entry point episodes for HFTMT? Starting from the beginning is a good choice I suppose, but are there any stand out episodes in your head that don't rely as heavily on previously established lore?

A:

"Come with me and we'll see a world of true imagination..."


Q:

We try to make every episode fairly jump-in-able... which is why I spend so much time shoe-horning in quick explanations of things when possible. And there are only a few really really weird ones that are probably bad ideas to listen to without context. But I for new guests who may have never listened and just want a good stand-alone episode to get a feel for the show I almost always recommend the episode "Skeleton" because it's really fun and we mostly focus in on the guest, a skeleton who hangs out in the beginning of dungeons so adventurers can get warmed up and defeat him easily, and really explore what his life is like. Also the skeleton is played by the great TJ Jagodowski, and amazing Chicago improviser, part of the great show TJ and Dave, and, I guess you're most likely to know him as one of the Sonic commercial guys. But that's a good jumping in point, I think.

A:

You have no idea what my imagination already sees.


Q:

I have been really impressed by the evolution of the mysterious man. I think his story is really surprising and smart. How much of the mysterious man's story was planned from the beginning vs. improvised and discovered along the way? What were the goals/reasons for the role when you started the podcast, and have they changed at all as you've gone?

A:

Sir, thank you for doing this. I have alwayd been fascinated by how the story line of a lot of games are essentially non-linear. In the sense that the story can change based on a player's choice. Do you write it in a linear form at first and just go back to that time line when something needs to change? Like for instance player had chosen option f-1 does that sink back up with game stage b-1 on the story line? Maybe I'm not asking this right.


Q:

As we were first thinking about the structure of the show, I was thinkign about how we wanted to have credits, so, you know, you could know who the cast is and they could plug stuff, but that I also wanted to maintain the reality of the show. I didn't want to have somene break character to plug their twitter handle or something. But I also wanted to solve the problem through story. So I had the idea to have a narrator of some kind that very clearly had their own agenda. I thought it was funny to have a character that was actually telling the truth about the show but was so adamant about it that maybe the fiction would be more real. And hopefully it's own story would slowly build. Originally I thought about it a lot in relation to Lemony Snicket and how the sad backstory of that narrator slowly seeped into the story. So, yeah, a man in space very determined to read the credits in a way that seemed a little too eager to cover things up. That idea was there from the beginning. And with those first episodes I honestly thought that was really apparent. I thought it was clear that something was up with the Mysterious Man and that he shouldn't be taken at face value. But I don't think anyone else got that, really. So we did Homesick, giving him his own episode. And stuff slowly (some might say too slowly) evolved from there.

A:

Chrisandfriends: As you can guess I love narrative, too, and the challenge of creating a narrative system for a multiplayer team-based game was too much to pass up. We are creating behind the scenes a sort of Game of Thrones cast of organizations and characters, each with its own backstory and particular personality traits. Over time, we'll be introducing them through the missions we create. The player doesn't directly affect the outcome except in certain specific battles that we call Nexus Events. After many replays of this battle by our players, we determine the winner statistically and the story then changes based on the outcome. This can be a major change to both sides. In one scenario we've developed, the CEO of one of the most powerful megacorporations discovers that some long-lost proof of a terrible crime he committed has shown up in a crashed ship on an obscure asteroid that his company is currently beginning to mine. He needs to get this proof and squash it. But there's another organization, a shadowy one that has a direct connection to the events of his past, and they want to get hold of it. If they succeed, he could be ousted from his company or worse. If he gets it, he may enact revenge upon the other group. (Of course, if he loses, this probably won't be the last we hear of the CEO.)


Q:

I wish Usidore nothing but good health!

A:

Thank you so much for your response. One more if you don't mind. So, are you just taking standard writing and narrative techniques and manipulating them to work for games or have you kinda created your own weird systems?


Q:

We've had the idea that whenever Usdiroe was finally ready to leave on his quest, the Dark Lord would just step into the tavern and lock shit down... for at least a year or so. Probably more. Just the agreement that, "Well, whenever we get to that, it seems like a good idea to transition to this." And we have other floating things like that as well for further down the road, possible big story shifts that we're exctied to get to, but also open to letting the story take us somewhere else.

A:

I would say that it's a combination. I've been working a lot with our technical wizard, Zach, who is also a fine writer, and together we have been creating a whole game in itself. I think of it as a real-time strategy game taking place behind-the-scenes and directly affecting the game play in terms of the missions that are offered. Along with that is, of course, the creativity and deviousness of being both a writer and a game designer. I was fortunate enough to study writing for a while with the great Theodore Sturgeon, and I think his influence lives on inside my head.


Q:

You got brought in to Comedy Bang Bang at one point, any chance to have Scotty Auks as a guest character?

A:

As a gamer, I'm getting pretty sick of every genre having some form of RPG/stat based leveling system, be it character side or equipment.

Are you planning on attenuating this and putting the focus on player skill instead of who has the best gear and perks?


Q:

We'd love to. There are so many great Earwolf hosts and regulars we'd love to have on. And many that have expressed interest in doing it. It mostly comes down to the fact we're in Chicago and they mostly don't come through here, and when they do it's on a very tight schedule. But next time we're in LA, like last time, we hope to record a bunch of episodes out there. We just need to find the time (or excuse) to make the trip. Same goes for New York (we have a lot of awesome friends there). As for Aukerman specifically, I"d love to have him on, I know he does do characters a lot, I wonder if he'd do it. We'll definitely ask.

A:

Cephlopodia: We're strictly avoiding the RPG-like player stats approach. The upgrade path is through your ships, weapons, and systems, plus cosmetic customizations, and through your skill. We think of this as a skill-based game, and you earn every upgrade. There's no magic. No plus 1 to your player flying skills. Nothing like that. That would be a different game altogether. Hope that answers your question.


Q:

Do you guys have plans to add any new tour and con visits to celebrate Season 2? Maaaaybe some places down south? (coughcough Dragoncon)

A:

Time to back it I think. Thanks!


Q:

We really want to travel more and do more live shows. The challenge is that most of us also have full time jobs, and ironically the show is about a guy who abandoned his family, but in truth it's hard for me to spend too much time away from my family so we really try to consider how to get the most out of what limited time we have to travel. But we're actively trying to be more thoughtful about where we go and how we do it, partly to make it best for our fans, but also, of course, to figure out what way can make it most profitable for us. We have a few cool things potentially in the works, for this year, but nothing I can talk about right now. And so far nothng in the south, but we shoudl certainly rectify that.

A:

This AMA is supposed to be closed, but since it seems to be running still, feel free to post questions. I'll answer them when I can.


Q:

Question for each of you: how do you feel about cosplayers' interpretations of your characters, especially the cross-players? Any favorites?

Side note: I can no longer listen to this podcast while at work because my laughter cannot be contained :) thanks for the great times!

A:

Hi Rusel, I was wondering what game story wise has had the biggest impact. I personally loved 'Heavy Rain' the drama/action adventure thriller and Last of Us. We're both atmospheric because you got to know the characters in their everyday lives as the tension cranked up. What game has had the biggest impact on you, and where is the industry going with regards to story telling?


Q:

I lover all the cosplay and all the fan art. If people don't know, boy that stuff means so much to us. And regardless of the subject, isn't cross-play almost always the best cosplay?

A:

That's really a hard question to answer. Sum of US. Hard Rain. Very story oriented. Telltale Games has focused on stories a lot. I have enjoyed the BioWare games for stories, and the Witcher series. I especially loved the first Witcher because it made me laugh with its cynical dialogue. I have enjoyed many games in which the story was minimal and bordering on nonexistent, but when there's a good story that can surprise me or intrigue me with mystery or clever misdirection, I appreciate it a lot. I've been playing video games literally for nearly 50 years now, and as I get older, it gets harder for me to remember all my favorites, especially those with great narrative. As for the direction of the industry, I pin my hopes on indie developers who are free to innovate and aren't bound buy large boards of directors and stockholders who hold developers to a standard of success that often translates into endless sequels and little innovation.


Q:

Hey guys! Fairly new/old listener. Still in process of catching up, on episode 44. Just curious though, how long do you guys intend to keep this masterpiece going?

A:

I think we'd love to do it for a very very long time. And as much as the idea that our first season was 100 episodes long kind of seems like a joke (and Tim Sniffen, the voice of the Mysterious Man emailed me and said, "Seriously, you should make season 2 five episodes long and then do season 3") I think it's also a clue that this show can be viewed as a very long story with different eras. That said, as much as I think we all would love to do it for years and years and years, it is also an awful lot of work, and it becomes more work over time. It keeps earning more money but also, no one really makes anywhere close to what they deserve for the time they put in. So, there are times when things get especially busy, that I can see that it's not 100% a given that we wouldn't decide a year or two from now that it was time to wrap it up.