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Entry #6

September 2

Valerie Tucker, Associate Producer

NCN and OmegaNet

Writing the Backstory for Amen: The Awakening

In the beginning…..

It began innocently enough, as these things often do, with a meeting. In early Spring 1998 the Amen Leads assembled with representatives of Marketing and the Web team to brainstorm a "look" for the new Amen page, which would be an offshoot of the main Cavedog web site. DMFrank led the charge with some concepts he and Max had created for the layout of the page. We filled up a white board with ideas, debated, erased them, and scribbled on the white board some more. Once we found something we could all agree upon, noting the artwork and basic categories needed, we moved on to the more difficult challenge. How could we create content that would maintain the momentum established in the first few months when we were still at least a year away from product release? We wanted to take advantage of the broad exposure we could get on the internet, and the unique ways we could present material with the web tools. Amen: The Awakening is first and foremost a futuristic story-driven game, so we focused upon that. After a few false starts, someone suggested that it would be cool to fill in some of the backstory for the Amen universe before the year 2033, the date the game actually begins. A few ideas later, we came up with the CNN news bureau template, and New Century News was born.

New Century News

Everyone was excited about New Century News. "NCN: Bringing you the news of the future today." The web team worked on creating a separate page for NCN, with a special banner and even fake ads to spice it up. It would be a hoot! But we still needed the actual news story content. Since no one else really had the time, or felt uncomfortable writing, I volunteered to take on the task. I've always enjoyed writing fiction, although I've never published anything outside of corporate training materials. And NCN would only require a couple of stories every few weeks, right? That's not so bad. How much time could it take? Heh.

Honing the Focus

The design had already developed into three areas: Feature stories, Science and Technology, and Entertainment. Perhaps we'd also have an occasional Editorial. It was an inspired format for introducing the characters and future technology of the world Greg MacMartin had created. We even had the opportunity to poke fun at some things, which was also entertaining for me as I wrote the articles. Greg gave me pretty free reign to research and embellish the sketchy list of ideas he gave me every few weeks. It was taking up more of my time than I had originally anticipated, but I was right about one thing… WAS a hoot! And even more gratifying, the discussions on the Amen Forum confirmed that the NCN site was accomplishing what we set out to do, and that people were actually reading and enjoying the information we posted.

As months passed, we discovered that we could also link the articles to each other through time. Since we were already selective about the topics, it was possible to build a chronology of events, describe what had happened to characters mentioned in previous news, and hint at things which could be important in the future. This opened up the scope of NCN, in that it gave us a vehicle to explain many of the things that won't be mentioned at all in the game.

OmegaNet and Beyond

Three months and 30 articles later, we met again with the Web team to come up with a plan for extending the web site beyond New Century News. But something different was needed. Greg decided we should move forward with the demise of NCN by writing in the occurrence of the "Awakening" at the NCN building in Seattle. (To complete the article lineup for NCN, 12 more articles were posted to get us up to Christmas 1998.) Greg also proposed that we establish FailSafe Communications, an agency which "provides voice, video and data transmissions to all corners of the globe in the event of natural or man-made disasters, civil strife, or war." Enter OmegaNet.

With the introduction of the OmegaNet bunkers, I was able to write first-person accounts of encounters with the Afflicted, and we provided an overview of Afflicted activities on the Zone Map. The posts didn't have to be as formal as articles published by a news agency, which gave me a lot more freedom in my writing. It also gave us a reason to talk about the nature of the Afflicted and reactions to the chaos of living in a war zone. We could introduce more characters from the game, and set the stage for what the player will experience within the game when the story opens in the first frame of Act One.

OmegaNet posts spawned a lot of questions and speculation from gamers on the Forum. We were only rationing out specific details that were story-relevant, but since everyone on the team is so familiar with the story, it's sometimes difficult to see things from a fresh point of view. After all, we've been living with the Afflicted for the past 2 years! The Forum provided an opportunity to get some feedback on how well we were telling the story. If the posts were perceived as unclear, or indicated interest in a particular character or zone of OmegaNet, we could inject more detail and give more exposure to popular characters in later posts. It was interesting to see that some of the OmegaNet "operators" became celebrities in their own right. These were characters I had created solely because I needed an identity for each zone operator. But they took on their own personalities, and as I had to write each new post for them, I found myself referring back to previous entries to make sure I was staying "in character." People had become attached to them and concerned for their welfare. And so it became a dynamic process between Greg, me, and the Forum posters. We built the world together, 71 posts in all for OmegaNet! That was incredibly fun for me.

What Next?

The purpose of OmegaNet was to add another perspective to the Amen universe, and to bring the storyline flush with the date of the beginning of the game in 2033. Now that we've accomplished that, it's time to move the web page to yet another level. In coming months, we'll be posting new Developer Journals, artwork, character profiles, and other surprises. Meanwhile, the Amen team will be diligently laboring to finish building the game itself, polishing and fine-tuning everything for your gaming pleasure. So stay tuned. It's just gonna keep getting better!

-- Valerie