Following more than a year of Auto Assault, WarCry is taking a look back at the creative team who was behind the wheel of Auto Assault. And what’s better than asking Lead Content Designer Adam “Snipehunter” Maxwell, who pioneered in Auto Assault taking upon the Mutant faction and it’s complex story of persecution and survival:
Questions by Max “Sigoya” Taha
WarCry: Auto Assault has survived more than a year in an online gaming scene that’s brutal and unforgiving, which ironically fits the theme of the game itself. This unique project was born and raised in the hands of NetDevil in which you designed and developed the Mutant faction. Will you tell us about your involvement in this project and what lured you to join the AA team?
Snipehunter: I guess I’ll start with what drew me to NetDevil and AA, since that really is the beginning. Another designer I worked with at the time (who we all know and love as Ombwah/Homie [Christopher Holtorf, Human Lead] in the AA community) and I were avid Jumpgate fans, but we weren’t incredibly happy with the amount of content the game had. Events were rare and often scheduled at times that my job made difficult to attend. Well, the two of us figured we could do content for Jumpgate, and we wrote up a pitch package selling our services as a content team to NetDevil. To our surprise, they got back to us, but not about JG, instead they wanted to talk about this new project of theirs… a post apocalyptic MMO featuring cars armed to the teeth. They said some other stuff, but I got a little woozy and had to check to see if this was a dream. It gets fuzzy after that, but I think I said, “You had me apocalyptic.” One of my pet peeves about the MMO scene is how fantasy driven it is. I love me my sci-fi and my most favorite sub-genre of all is definitely Post Apocalyptic fiction, so when Scorch (Scott Brown, Project Lead) was telling us what he wanted to talk to us about, I knew that I was going to be involved, if they’d let me.
We interviewed at ND and they hired us on. I was to be the lead content designer (LCD) of one of the three factions, and they asked me to pick which one. I immediately said “Mutant!” – I saw a lot of potential in the faction and I knew I would have a lot of room to tell stories that you might not find in your typical, fantasy MMO. As the LCD for the mutants, I wrote their lore and back-story and about 50%-60% of their missions as well as the initial design for all the maps and locations on the mutant side of the content and most of the enemy factions in the game. As one of the first designers on the project, I also spent a good deal of time in the background helping to define some of the core features, gameplay, our internal tools for making quests and implementing interactivity in the levels. Throughout the project I was also sort of the flag bearer for lore and secondary gameplay other than crafting, but that wasn’t in any official capacity or anything.
WarCry: What was the inspiration for the colors, design, vehicles and the lore of the Mutant faction? How did you come up with the multiple Tribes concept?
Snipehunter: Gosh, I really wish I could say I had some brilliant flash or insight here, but really it all sprang out of what we were given to work with at the beginning, by Scorch and Piza (Peter Grundy, Art Director). Basically I started with this:
1. Contamination is glowing green goo
2. Mutants are the result of the contamination
3. There are 4 players classes of mutants, separated into tribes for ease of naming and recognition
4. Mutants are religious zealots
The core of the concept was already there, which actually presented me and the other content leads with a host of challenging questions to answer, almost all of them starting with “why?” As in “Why are they zealots? Why are they the result of contamination? Why aren’t they wasteland/fallout style mutants?”
You see, we were committed to ensuring that the lore of our world both made sense (was consistent with internal logic) and served to give the players reasons for the fight. We couldn’t just take those 4 points and run with them as if they would be accepted by players as the premise for RvR that they are – we knew that to build a world we had to have answers to those questions and a million more.
So the first “why?” that we answered was the big one, “Why do the factions hate each other?” – That was the beginning of the tale of woe for the mutants. The content leads from each faction, myself included, locked ourselves into a conference room every day for days until we had hammered out exactly what happened to put the world in its current state. We called what we were doing “building in the hate” and ultimately from that process sprang up most of the big ideas of the overarching world lore – the alien presence, INC, how the three factions came to be who they are, how the world ended the first time, all of it.
Once we had that, I spent a lot of time focusing on a why specific to the mutants, “Why would they believe that what happened was somehow religious?” I approached the religion of the mutants not from a “what do they believe” standpoint but rather, “how did they come to believe” one with the hopes that by doing so their beliefs would make more sense. [Shrug] It’s hard to say if I succeeded, but I’m damned proud of the resulting story, none the less. 😉
Anyway, to put an end to the incredibly long answer here: I spent so much time researching how people react in refugee camps and what they come to believe, that it actually changed what I wanted to do with the mutants. They went from being holy paladins on crusade to becoming oppressed people fighting for the recognition they believe they deserve. I took a little inspiration from the Native Americans and a lot of inspiration from the various cultures involved in the Middle East, such as the Palestinians, Druze, Jordanians and Israelis and their various struggles. I wasn’t looking for terrorists or anything; I was looking for rebels – freedom fighters.
In my research I came to realize that the best story I could tell was a story about how our actions create their own consequences. How, in the end, despite being the ones unjustly persecuted, the Mutants were no better than either the unfeeling Biomeks or the treacherous humans. How, to get the safety and security — the peace — that they so longed for, they had to take on aspects of their enemies – sacrificing the very things they were fighting for without ever actually realizing it was happening.
It’s why the Scavs in the territory of the Tribes tend to be more serious than the Scavs (stress tend =P) you see elsewhere – we (Zirp [Christopher Zirpoli, Content Lead] and I) were often using them as the voice of conscience in the face of the sense of righteous conviction we were trying to get through in the missions from the leadership of the Tribes.
Wow, that didn’t shorten the damned answer at all… sorry about that; I really enjoyed working on the mutants. 😉
WarCry: As a Faction Lead Designer what were your duties and what aspects of the creative development did you direct? Was your involvement restricted to just the Mutant faction?
Snipehunter: As the faction lead, everything mutant content related was my responsibility at the end of the day. However, abilities (other than how they would be represented and how they worked in lore), combat formulae, non-quest drop rates and the XP curve were not aspects I had control over, or did much work on, sadly. With a few exceptions, such as the combat formulae, though – we designers were a unit, a team. We worked together and we often bounced our ideas off of each other. We were still 3 separate units, but they were units in close contact with each other. In fact, we’d rotate which designers were working with which faction from time to time to make sure we were all exposed to as much of the content from across the game as possible.
So, for example, even though it wasn’t part of my duties as the faction lead, I was included in the initial design discussions for everything from weapons to skills to crafting. Really, we all had feedback on everything – but we could only really directly change the stuff that was part of the faction we were working on. (This, for me, was mutant all the time, except when I lent a hand to the other factions to do a quick map, or quest line to help lighten the load. We all did a lot of that cross-faction content work in our spare time.)
As for what aspects of the creative development did I direct? All of the mutant zone designs, quest designs, enemy designs, Landmark design, lore, NPCs and quest items. Also, if it was in text and mutant specific, I was directing it.
This is true only up until the point I left ND, however – at which point Zirp was cool enough to step up and take my place. Mutants must love Zirp. That’s not a statement; it’s more like a commandment. 😉 That guy did so much for mutant lore, it’s not even funny. He was hired to be the mutant specific writer, to work for me to do the writing for the second half of the game so I could focus on directing the new redesign we were launching, but from the moment he started, he and I were working as partners. He and I go way back, pre-ND and I was stoked that he came aboard to help out. I wouldn’t have had the focus needed to pull off our goals for the Bloodfarm, and that’s just one gem he dropped while working “for” me. I could not have asked for a better replacement when I left.
WarCry: We know the three main factions were developed by independent Lead Designers including yourself; what level of interaction did you have, and which sections of the game did you work together on? Did you encounter any storyline conflicts while weaving them together?
Snipehunter: You know, funny story about that. MaRaider (Harold Hanlin, Biomek Lead) and I were working independently on stories for the first zone (Western Front for me) when I had this idea to do a “battlefield tour” that would tell the story of how the Biomeks tried to invade Tocado. Of course, they had to lose… I mean, this was a mutant story after all! So, I got really nervous about it. I didn’t want MaRaider to get angry and I wasn’t even sure if what I was going to write was consistent with how he was writing his Biomeks. In other words, I was worried that there would be a conflict that would make it impossible to weave the story together. However, MaRaider and I talked it out and between us came up with this historic battle that is one of my favorite stories from that region. From that point on, we worked together to make sure our stories were consistent, often. Not always, but often. Every time paid off in spades, though.
Most people don’t realize, but there were actually 4 teams, not 3 – Everyone forgets Squiggly (Daniel Russett, Map Designer) and the Ground Zero team (though in some ways the GZ team was the all-star writer team, every writer except the leads wrote for GZ, including Zirp). The idea was that we (the leads) wouldn’t work on each others’ maps, so that we could focus on our content, but the reality was sorta different. MaRaider did maps for me, I did maps, event scripting and a few missions for both MaRaider and Homie, Homie did missions for me (hell, he gave Tocado its name) and maps for MaRaider. Zirp did a little bit of writing for all three factions (I think, maybe only Human and Mutant, though) and Squigs did maps for all three factions. Basically, we spent every waking moment we could working on the game, and we didn’t care whose content it was as long as we could contribute.
As for conflicts in the story… there are a few. The thing is, some of those are deliberate…
WarCry: A major part of the game involves the INC Corporation and OCD; can you give us a background look at these two entities and how they developed ties to the three main factions? Is INC secretly controlled by the Xenos?
Snipehunter: INC? Controlled by Xenos?! Hahahahaha! Everyone knows that’s the mut— err, never mind, what was the question? Yes, I truly do believe that Global Warming is an issue we need to take serious action on, right now. Thank you. Next question.
WarCry: We’ve read in the game guide about a mysterious faction called “The Syndicate” or “The Syndic”; can you tell us about their story, supposed involvement with the main factions and why are they not featured in the game?
Snipehunter: Ah, the Syndic. Writing their missions was some of the most fun, I had doing human missions. What? You don’t remember working for the Syndic? That was actually the point. 😀 The Syndic is a shadow faction, working in the background. They represent organized crime, which in the current geopolitical climate basically means they’ll be shot on sight rather than tried and jailed, since they waste precious time and resources the factions could use for the ongoing war.
There are missions in the game where you’re working for the Syndic, but I doubt there will ever be a big reveal of that fact or anything – they are a pretty petty faction, when you get right down to it. I had secretly hoped to have justice subsume them and use them as its intelligence arm, but I never found the time to write the missions and I never told anyone I had hoped to do it. 🙁
WarCry: Lets get back to the Mutants and explore their turbulent history. The Mutants suffered oppression and exclusion in the early years then a full blown extermination plan by the Humans and BioMeks before the Apocalypse; beyond the persecution complex, did you struggle to give the Mutants a dark side for a balanced storyline? Did you intend for the Mutants to be the underdogs?
Snipehunter: I always wanted them to feel like the underdog, but I had secret hopes that they would be nothing of the sort. The problem with that, of course, is that the story appeals to the underdog and it is, in some ways, demanding of you to want to be involved – to want to both be the underdog and fight anyway. The reality is that when you jump into the game, you have to bring a lot of passion with you to want to feel like you work harder than the others, etc. etc.
As for struggling to find a dark side for the mutants, Zirp and I often struggled with exactly the opposite issue, strangely enough. Because the story we wanted to write was themed around actions and consequences, we often had to consciously work to not reveal the darkness of your actions, until the time was right.
That being said, at the beginning – before the lore had really gelled into a single gestalt – there was period where I struggled a great deal not to just paint the mutants as the good guys (because, in case you haven’t realized, they are! =P). I was specifically struggling with how to instill a sense of righteousness in the mutants that wasn’t blind religious fervor (the last thing we wanted to do was paint any religion, real or not, with a brush that would make you think we questioned all religions) while at the same time making them plausible enemies for the other factions. In an earlier answer I mention that the result of that struggle is the transformation of mutants from crusading zealots to oppressed freedom fighters – I think that resolving that struggle that way is why I am so attached to the mutants, even now that I’m not there. Zirp and I were able to build a sense of identity in the faction that I’m proud to point to. Sure, it’s a little pastiche, but so is Star Wars – it’s still f’n awesome. 😉
WarCry: Did you model the Mutant locations on real world areas? If so, can you draw us an approximation of the game zones and their corresponding location on the map? (Western Front, Fetid Bayou, Grand Junction)
Snipehunter: Yes. No. 😉 I’ll drop some hints though: Grand Junction is Austin. The space between maps, despite being seamless visually, is actually great. We seamed them up to make transitions between zones more comfortable, but there are a lot of miles between the exit to fetid on western front and the entrance on the other side. Also, Fetid was not a swamp before the Night that was Day. Good Luck and Happy Hunting! 😉
Sorry that’s all I can give you, but to make for it, I’ll tell you something about how we made the world map into America. We took a map of the nation (I won’t tell you the scale) and a map of the game world and then lined up certain landmarks on the game world map with key points in America. We then allocated the space in the game world such that the regions occupied by each faction are consistent with their history and what happened to the world, changing the game world map as we went.
WarCry: There have been interesting comparisons between the two different concepts of Spirit and Contamination on the Mutant side. Can you explain to us the differences and how they tie in with the storyline? And why some skill & damages depict a Spirit damage type instead of Contamination? Was it something that was changed during development?
Snipehunter: Contamination? What is this “Contamination” that you speak of? The Changed know only the Blood and the Spirit. 😉 Contamination is the non-mutant term for anything related to the Xeno infestation of the planet. The Changed used the terms Blood and Spirit to refer to two specific forms of contamination, the liquid glowing goo is the Blood and the Spirit refers to gaseous contamination.
For the purposes of easier identification for players, part way through the beta all in-item and ability references to the mutant specific terms were to be changed to one uniform cross-factional descriptor (“contamination”). Though, I have to admit that I hadn’t noticed if this was done uniformly or not; that particular aspect of the items and abilities (the non-“flavor” text that the system puts there automatically based on the stats of the items and abilities) was handled by the systems guys.
I personally liked the idea of faction specific descriptions, but I like to keep everything in the world in-character so that players trying to experience the world get as few distractions from immersion, as possible.
WarCry: Tell us about Ground Zero and Outposts stationed around the crater. Who built the Outposts and Rest Station, and for what purposes? Which rogue faction keeps flipping the Outposts?
Snipehunter: What purposes, indeed? INC claimed to have discovered them out there, but INC is this huge corporation and one of the few forces with air power… why’d it take them so long to “find” them? For that matter, why are they around the alien ship? They were obviously built after the ship crashed…
There’s a story there, for sure. However, it’s not my story to tell – Ground Zero was another content team. So, I won’t say anything more, I’m sorry to say.
WarCry: The infamous Xenos appear across several zones in the game and mainly in Ground Zero. Can you expand on the motives and goals of the Xeno as a faction? Did they crash accidentally or purposefully?
Snipehunter: Snape kills Dumbledore! (Sorry about that, any HP fans out there)
Oh alright, I’ll add one more thing: The planet is changing, the Xenos are doing it… but have you ever actually seen a Xeno? Maybe it’s something like the phrase Einstein used to describe quantum entanglement.
WarCry: The most memorable mission line in Grand Junction is the one involving the two Scavs Max & Holt. How did you come up with this couple and their witty lines? Will they survive the trip?
Snipehunter: You can’t see my grin, but it’s there. They’re some of my favorites, too. I gotta be honest, this isn’t my gem – it’s Zirp’s – and written after Homie and I left. I dunno if I should spill the beans, all things considered… *
WarCry: Can you tell us about the easter eggs littered in the game, like the Parking Meters in Grand Junction? Any funny stories from the years of development?
Snipehunter: Tons! There was this one time, when a hooker came up to one of our artis– OH! You meant stories about the game! Right. Actually there are a million easter eggs in the game, but most of them are harmless in-jokes no one would get. Walker Wind, for example, is a friend of mine from high school. Most of the mutant mission titles are puns relating to song titles and lyrics. The VW albums in the Fetid Bayou are real albums from a band named “Virtual Whiteboy.” There is a large demonic piece of toast carved into the landscape (it used to also say “EAT MORE TOAST”) where players can’t see it. Things like that.
I think my favorite one though, is the Zendigs and their burgers. I came to Colorado from California originally, where we have the In-N-Out, the best hamburger on Earth. I spent my entire time in Colorado trying to find a burger as tasty as the In-N-Out double double, but alas… there is no such thing. So, every lunch break, I’d grab Homie, a fellow Burger Connoisseur, by saying, “Hey dude, let’s go grab a burger.” One of our designers at the time noticed that I said this like literally, every day and one day when we came back from lunch, there was a little toy burger on my desk. After that it became a joke between Homie, me and RunicPagan (Daniel Kendrick, Map Designer) (who left fairly early in the game’s development). Burger related stuff started showing up all over our desks. So, when it came time to put in consumable buffs, we all came up with what we wanted – among the piles of tech manuals, tattered sci-fi novels, targeting arrays and lidar was a small pile of burgers… each one a different “style” (different buff). The style thing is a nod to In-N-Out, where – even though it’s not on the menu anywhere – you can order your burger in certain styles if you know the lingo (e.g. “Animal style”). Each burger style is the preferred style of In-N-Out Double Double for one of the designers on the team, but referring to Zendig towns instead of In-N-Out’s shadow menu. I kind of like Sanctuary style, with some grilled onions, myself…
Huh, actually, Crossroads and Waylan’s Cave are pretty funny, too. I’d decided to build the CB’er town in the center of the map, where the two freeways meet. Naturally, I called it crossroads. It was one of those “the name is what the thing is” names that I’m so found of, so it was a perfect fit. Then I get into the WoW beta, and I realize they have a crossroads there, too. I brushed it off, and then I played EQ2… and I realized they have a crossroads, too! *sigh* Stupid “the name is what the thing is” names. Anyway, at that point I decided to make a joke of it and I designed a second location, a bar called Waylan’s Cave. You see, both WoW and EQ2 have a Wailing Cave (or name variant thereof)…
Well, it was funny to me, anyway. 😉
WarCry: If you had the chance to go back and do it again, what one element of the story would you like to remove, and which one would you made clearer?
Snipehunter: That’s a tough one, there are more tales untold than told, so finding the piece to be teased out and removed, is hard. Maybe the Riders… They really weren’t all that important, but they were so fun to make that that’s hard for me to admit (and a tip of the hat to the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch). As for clarification, I wish we had done more with Justice. His involvement with the mutants was meant to run deep and I wish I had spent more time revealing that. There’s the bit with the rocks you keep finding, for example – that’s very much about Justice doing something, but we never really had the chance to explain the why and as I mentioned earlier, the “why” questions are the most important ones…
WarCry: Looking back at all the sweat and blood put into this unique project, how do you feel about it now? Would you do it all over again? Any recommendations for a better Auto Assault?
Snipehunter: I would most definitely do it all over again. Good things happened during that project that I wouldn’t give up for anything. I’m damned proud of Auto Assault and the work that went into it. I joke sometimes that bits of my soul are floating around in that game… but the truth is I only joke because I know how much of a dork I sound like, when I say it. I really do feel that way. I love that world. I love my mutants and the stories Zirp and I were able to tell with them. I wish we could have done more, to be honest.
I don’t have recommendations for Auto Assault that matter, though. I watch those forums and the community have said everything that matters, already. Sometimes, I wish it was more positive in there and I wish I saw more people talking about the lore (=P), but it’s a good community and I’m glad to see it. I guess that’s the one recommendation I could make that would still matter: Get more involved with the community, ND. The path to a better AA lies down the road the community paves, however rocky it might be.
WarCry: Thanks for giving us the opportunity to talk and answer Auto Assault fans’ questions.
Concluding our first part of Behind The Wheel retrospect, we promise to bring you more soon!
*P.S.: If you want to figure out the Max & Holt mystery, head towards our Forums ;D