Auto Assault: The Road Not Taken #2: Hestia and the Scavs

| 10 Sep 2007 16:06

The second entry of the "Road Not Taken" is by Human content lead Ombwah who tells the story from day zero:

Here's the first bit of trivia for TRNT this week, I wasn't technically the first Human content lead.

In fact, I came on to Auto Assault as Snipey's partner, the first mate of mutant. We worked together in the early few months working on tools and trying to nail down some semblance of pipeline. I also slung triggers (scripting in AA's visual-ish scripting system) and built zones for some early Mutant and Biomek levels. One of these levels was called 'The Canyon Run' and involved (at that point) rigging a longish canyon(ish) place to explode as a player drove through. This occurred in a random sequence that would be really difficult to "ace driver" through, but could be defused if a player took a side route. Last I heard, the spiritual successor was still in AA when it shipped. It was a neat proof of concept, and a neat proof that the limits on height would have to be re-thought if we wanted to call any part of our game a canyon. It was also during that time that I helped to "whip up" the 2003 E3 battleground -- at 3am -- the day before we all flew out for the show.

But none of this has to do with the title of my Road Not Taken for this week, not exactly. What does have to do with the title is this: During the time that I was doing all that, it was decided that there would be a military base and military enemies in the first Human region, and assets were created to that effect. Also during that time, The guy signed up to be the Human content lead left ND for far-off destiny and I was chosen as the successor.

So -- when I took up the reins I had an idea what I had to work with but no stub of a story at all. I was more than happy to start writing the Human experience, but didn't know how to set up the Big Bad as a military faction or how to define why the Humans were killing all of the leftover humans in the world instead of helping them - (remember, I was dead against writing a player faction as xenocidal, I felt that was hard to identify with.)

This led me, albeit via a circumspect route, to decide that what I really wanted to establish in the first zone was the relationship between the Ark born humans, the Zendigs, and the Scavs. I felt like, of AA's three races, the Humans had the hardest time justifying the slaughter of wasteland factions in that most of the ruin rats out there were just the generations removed children of humans that hadn't made it into the vaults. It seemed to me that Mutants would be run out of settlements that held mostly humans, the spore-cough would be treated amongst the Scavs and Zendig with whatever remedy was vogue or seemed effective, but basically? Scavs were human, Zendigs were human, and Thugz were - more or less - human too. Certainly the more extreme, like the Thugz or the Pikes would accept a greater variance in their communities - but in the end, humans, humans, all. How was I to write a faction that a player could feel heroic playing in that milieu? The Hestia humans were scientists and doctors, brilliant minds bent on healing the broken Earth. It only followed that they would want to help to cure the illnesses that caused the mutations and fix the poor scavenger, come in from the wastes - right?

I wanted to get across that the Scavs were more than just fodder to kill with prejudice, I wanted the Freelancer to feel like a wasteland Cop, a policeman on an unending beat, when they went out amongst the Scavs. This is how Scav Alley came to be. Scav Alley and the Freelancer bar Hooker's were my first bold steps toward trying to define that wasteland feel, with a barter bazaar and a seedy speakeasy. At one point, when Squentin's Gardens was under development I considered building a similar interior zone for Hooker's, but decided it would be better to let the imagination supply what went on in there, as it would outdo our asset load any day. Instead I spent the effort on Native Wayne's and made that the bridge to the Aurora Zendig storyline, another town that I wrote in the same pass.

In that same time, I wrote a story about a guy that had once been a Hestia Scientist gone native. The classic hippie anthropologist type, a stereotypical scientist that stayed too long at the site and decided not to go back. This guy lived in the ruins and had both Scav and Hestia contacts - all to illustrate that once people were outside the Ark the line was blurry about who was who and that sometimes you had to deal with the natives to get what you wanted. The old guy was a key part of the Momma arc and a convergence of the Kelly Sweet B-story - though I think it might have been different at ship.

Which brings me to the last bit of the beginning Human story that I wanted to talk a bit about, Kelly Sweet. In an effort to reinforce the overall 'Fall from Innocence' thread that I intended Human players to follow throughout their entire careers, I created a character that the players would see over and over as they leveled up. I only ever put her in the instances, though, until the highest level story zone that I could. That way, you'd see her at various points in her career as a Lieutenant while you progressed in your own career as whatever class you chose. Each of the early newbie starter instances had an encounter with Kelly Sweet, and she showed up in her first struggles with the Hestia big bosses in the Momma thread as it was originally written. An early player on that storyline would help her bypass the strict Hestia bureaucracy in order to get the materials she needed to get the mines running. It was supposed to show a player that, though the Company had good intentions, their strict procedures were more hindrance than help on the harsh frontier. Then, she would be gone in the 'finished' layer of the map and the player wouldn't encounter her again until later, when she had moved on to her next appointment -- and discovered her men were deserting (to join Justice at that!) I'd hoped that Kelly's growing disillusionment with the Company would help lead the player to examine what they had been doing themselves.

It was my ultimate hope that a Freelancer at level cap would have grown to feel that they and their clan were the ultimate authority in the Wasteland, the 'High Plains Drifters' of Auto Assault. Wary of all but their own, and grateful of a meal and a shady place to park and eat it.

Like Snipey, I'll wrap with a few chunks of 'Rake for the Grill:

1. The Zendig Native Wayne is named after a combo of my wife's cousin Wayne and this dude. My lady's cousin's wife at the time was named Brandy, and she later turned out to be quite 'Fast' indeed.

2. The Zendigs Big Laughing Jim and Calyx Stropharia (three links total there) - are named after psychedelic mushrooms.

3. The Rusty Iron mine was originally named 'Russet and the Iron Mines' and the ruined town near the mine 'Russet' shared a name with a designer that was to come onto the project later - His callsign was Mr. Squiggly

4. The Scav vendor sheltering in the tunnel between the two halves of the Hestia Back Range won't deal with a player that hasn't sufficiently proven themselves - instead she will insult the player and call them, essentially, a newb. Afterwards, though, she has potential to sell the best gear in the zone.

5. The Hestia Back Range was rebuilt from scratch, complete with mission paths, no less than three times before the Ark Bay 313 - Back Range sequence was ever drafted.

6. An artist on the team 'conscientiously objected' to working on Hooker's - assumably because of the subject matter. Interestingly, drug-crazed psychopaths that rag-doll when you run them over weren't so bad.

7. The HARP research station was written as an afterthought, and was one of the very first uses of an NPC mob - or a mob on the highway that was set to 'not hostile' and no-damage and used for theme.

8. Benno means 'Bear' in some Germanic language, it is also the nickname of an old friend of Snipey and I.

9. General Nostos is a mad scientist because I thought there was no way that hundred year old military weapons could take on energy weapons and advanced shielding.

10. Dodger Bankstone is named after the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist -- I'm pretty sure he was the first use of a Scav NPC as well.

11. Betty Bankstone was a whore.

12. An ATM that you could get a receipt from was in Suicide Town, the system was what a guy I used to work with called a 'Greedy Puzzle' -- that is, if you went for the biggest slice of pie, you got burned - while the moderate prize was the winning choice.

13. The Zendigs were not intended to be solely comprised of dark-skinned, dreadlocked people. It's just that more assets for them never got created, and a goodly portion of them spoke in the patois anyway...

14. The Hestia Assistance Daemons all had names that meant what they were, some were even 'leet speak jokes as well, but always related to their purpose. It went like this -(H)estia (A)ssitance (D)aemon [Class of Unit- L, E, C, B] and a number/letter code. Like HAD-B1Tz or HAD-C0Re.

15. Kid Gareth is named after my own son, Gareth.

That's it for now, so I'll be 10-7 'til the next time.
Over n out.

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