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Entry #1

Aug. 27

Greg MacMartin, Lead Designer

The origins of "Amen: The Awakening"

It all began in October 1996.

All that existed of Amen: The Awakening was a simple story premise: "What if one day, two billion people around the world were to suddenly go inexplicably and murderously insane?" Next, we started putting our thoughts down on paper and creating a design document. We focused only on the story, creating the main characters, deciding the key events and defining how a game might be made.

Jon Mavor, Amen's lead programmer, was working on Total Annihilation, and he shared our vision. We knew that we wanted to create a truly massive and ambitious 3D action game that would excel in all areas …and do some things with the genre that have never been seen before. There were many elements from other genres that we wanted to bring into Amen. We wanted to create an action game that would appeal not only to the hard-core shooter crowd, but also to those who thrive on something much deeper: depth of plot, intriguing characters, realistic interactivity and a powerful and highly configurable interface.

Our design philosophy

We decided to lay down the design of the entire game before a single line of code was written. This included a description of every aspect of the game, including the storyline, the effect of every mouse click in the interface and a list of all the equipment that the player can acquire.

Jon could then look at this completed design and know exactly what the "Amengine" must do, and begin building it from the ground up. For instance, the design called for the construction of an entire aircraft carrier BUILT TO SCALE, including the ocean and the ocean floor, all in the same map. No small feat, but knowing the scope of the project before the engine was complete allowed us to be successful. We found this method of approaching the game's design to be VERY efficient. If we had allowed the engine design to dictate the game design, we wouldn't be anywhere nearly as far along as we are now.

Since the entire story was written over a year ago, we have known what our 12 Acts would be like for some time. This has allowed us to adopt a "pass" system for building the game, allowing us to make multiple redefining and playability passes. Now we can:

Build a complete conceptual design for every location in each act.

Create Act design documents similar to classic Dungeons & Dragons modules.

Build Acts to "first pass status" with our editing tools.

This system has MANY strengths. We'll talk about Acts and how they are fundamentally different from a 3D shooter in later posts of this design journal.

The Future

We're constantly refining and experimenting with new approaches to crank out content at a good pace. However, our overall goal never wavers, and our vision for the game is as clear as ever. A recent article in the "Edge" magazine (Next Generation's sister publication in the UK) stated, "Amen's team is on a mission to fundamentally evolve 3D games."

Damn right we are.