Abstract: A look into two friends embarking on a trek to create a universe that others could expand through message boards role-playing.
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All it took was a meeting of minds, in the summer of 2001, for a project of grand magnitude to begin to take form. Me and my friend, Alex (who would soon become my right hand man in the development of this project) had been discussing matters totally unrelated to New Worlds. Who would have known that on that fateful day, our ICQ conversation would take us towards the debut of this project. New Worlds, we hoped, would be the largest challenge in our bid to become ever more creative, and ever more unique.
It was in the summer of 2001 that Alex and I, inspired both by Star Trek: Independence (a play by message boards game that featured a very unique style of game play) and by Generation 2498 (a Star Trek-based sim that was set over 130 years after Deep Space Nine), that we decided we wanted to take it one step further. It wasn't long before we realized what we wanted to do: we wanted to create a play-by-message boards role-playing game that was so unique it couldn't be linked to Star Trek, or Babylon 5, or Aliens, or any of that... It'd be unique, totally unique.
Our first step was ensuring that our inspirations would be along for the ride to back us up. Alex and I had influential positions in both organizations and we were very quickly beginning the New Worlds Project with two sponsors. But what would this project be? What would we be trying to do with New Worlds? What would we need as well? We were certain of one thing: we had seen mistakes made in Star Trek: Independence and Generation 2498 that we didn't want to make again. We were also certain about another thing that had become our focal aim: we wanted it to be perfect, and we would give ourselves plenty of time to ensure it was.
We quickly determined that New Worlds would feature a universe that was in turmoil. After experiencing a brief refuge from the turmoils of war thanks to the Interstellar Organization for Peace (O.I.P.), the organization's collapse due to internal tensions, led to a resumption of war. Hatreds that had been culminating within the five major powers of the O.I.P. exploaded, leaving behind only cinders of an organization that had made the impossible possible. The destruction of the O.I.P. only heralded the beginning of a war that would be long, painful, and costly in every sense of the word.
We had an opening story, a reason why... and we thought it was perfect. It didn't point the blame on any of the five major powers we would soon create, and it gave us plenty of themes to build on. That was another thing we wanted to create with New Worlds, we hoped it would be a platform for creative writing. We wanted to create a universe that helped writers get to the heart of their purpose: delivering messages hidden inside beautifully written pieces of creative writing that we hope would become synonymous with New Worlds.
Creating the Basics
We had a preliminary background story: The O.I.P. and it's rise and fall was a fine background story, but New Worlds was going to be much more than that. We had the complicated task of creating entire alien species, that had worked with one another before, and somehow had taken a wrong turn which led them straight to the path of war. The alien species also had to be different, different in ways that couldn't make them immediately traceable to aspects of humanity, and yet they all had to be appealing. There couldn't be one major power that was the good guys, and one that was the bad guys.
We also had to create basic bibles that would frame all other documents that we would be writing for New Worlds. With the expertise of Generation 2498, we knew we had to create bibles on all of the species that featured information about their biology, their society, their politics, their military, and anything else that was pertinent to them. We had to determine numbers (whether that be for dimensions, or people, etc.), we had to determine the evolution of technology, we also had to create new technological theories that was linked to what science-fiction was normally about. We couldn't allow ourself, for example, to use the Star Trek warp or the Babylon 5 hyperspace.
As the Summer months waned on, the entire project was beginning to breath life and take dimensions of its own. We had determined that there would be no shields for our ships, that explosions would be contained by special airtight doors designed to take the impact. That missiles, torpedoes, and laser turrets would be the weapons that led our ships, that there'd be no solve-all transporter beams or replicators. The five species idea was retained, now the Terran Democratic Republic, the Rosebourg Monarchy, the Gohorn Directorate, the Luna Minoris Confederacy, and the Natashan Nation would be the governments fighting for survival and galactic domination.
We laid down an alliance system whereby the Terrans and the Rosebourgs were allied in their fight against the Gohorns and the Natashans. The Luna Minoris were sitting on the fence, waiting for the right time to join in the war and shift the balance of power in their favor. Until then, they'd be raking in the cash that came with being a neutral power in the middle of the war - everyone wanted something from them. We decided that the Gohorns would be the ones initiating the war against the Terrans, but that their reasons would be justified as the Terrans had for years used diplomacy to manipulate the O.I.P, forcing the Gohorns to slowly lose their border territories. We also decided the Rosebourgs would join the war on the Terrans' side both for economic reasons, but also for reasons of royal pride... and the Natashans would be guided by religious devotion to help the Gohorns into what they considered to be a holy war.
When the bibles to each of the species came off the printing press (we had by then, recruited a few more writers to help us develop very unique species), we knew that we were heading the right way. Within these major powers, were intra-species conflicts, ethnic conflicts, socio-economic, and political problems that ensured even within a major power one could have a lot of fun exploring the negative and positive aspects of the society. A utopian future? Forget it! We ensured poverty, prostitution, cruelty, and intolerance were still alive causing tensions within our main roster of major species - and it is because of this that we believe the New Worlds role-playing game will be much more interesting to write for than any old Star Trek role-playing game.
A dilemma of humongous proportions
Everything was going well, we had determined that in order to give the roleplayers plenty of choice when choosing their ship, that we'd give them 15 starship classes within each of the major species. From dreadnoughts to light destroyers to heavy cruisers and hospital ships, all of them had been considered and all of them had been included. But there was one thing we hadn't counted on, it was very naive of us, but our resident graphics designer quickly woke us up from our dream.
150... that was the number given as the number of graphics we'd need (and this probably was a low estimate). We wanted graphics for alien cities, for alien species, for over 75 starships, support crafts (both for the ground troops and the starships) had to be considered as well. We were faced with a dilemma, and our graphics designer told us that we wanted to realistically get twenty volunteer graphics designers. The number gave us a headache for weeks! Yet even here, we were quite lucky.
The search for graphics designers began. We wrote job descriptions for graphics designers that would ideally be skilled in everything from alien landscapes, to city-scenes, to starship designs. We scrounged the web in search of graphics designers' websites, and hang-out scenes so that we could ask for credible help. We produced an 8-page graphics designer guide within which we wrote up our vision of each of the major species. It took us most of the latter half of the summer to get the document out, but when we did, and when we were able to gather some of our first graphics designers, the result was remarkable.
Logging on impatiently, cursing America Online anytime it was too slow. Loading up my e-mail box and receiving an e-mail from Kenny or Alan as their latest graphics success reached my e-mail box for my approval. I never once received a graphic design from them which didn't make me gasp. New Worlds had been very fortunate, fortunate that the humongous dilemma we had would over time become nothing more than a memory. The development of new graphics allowed us a moment to cheer, it was also a sign that all the theoretical documents we had written were indeed creating a creative explosion.
Unique? Absolutely! We could show it off with the graphics that were going to be displayed on the site. The image galleries were going to be sprawling with graphics designers' work that had been produced out of the goodness of these designers' heart, but also out of the skills that these designers had. But New Worlds wasn't designed to be visual, as much as it was designed to be textual, and here too New Worlds didn't fail to create some astonishing results.
Novels, Novellas, Short Stories, and More
Before the role-playing began, we decided that we wanted to write creative works that would give more an over-arching feeling of the universe we had written out in the bibles. It was fine to say that the Terrans had evolved, but how did they behave?!? How did a crew interact with one another? We needed to give a guide for our future role-players. How does the New World universe click?
We believed that the only way to really answer these fundamental questions was in effect, to just write it down. I had been wanting to write a novel of publishable quality. And Alex too wanted to try his hand at longer writing, and so we set about writing novels and novellas. Alex's "Pre-Emptive Strike" was finished before the summer was even over, and with it came the first piece of writing attributed solely to New Worlds.
The Gohorns had a leader, a face for which they could call. Meanwhile, I had scrapped the novel that would show how humans had evolved, in the hope that I'd gather more time to rewrite it (I also had acquired a supervisor for the text that was equally demanding). Instead, I centered on writing a novella of my own that would focus on the Rosebourg (and in particular their elite Royal Guard). In both, particular attention was being placed on trying to deliver a message - we didn't want to write stories with no message to them!
It was the creation of a writing tradition, and as the novellas get completed, we are certain that we have put the notch up for writing quality. With these novels and novellas we know that we are aiming high. We were saying that we were going for the highest quality of writing that could be found out of role-players, and we were inciting them to join into this highly innovative game to try out their creative juices to dwelve deeper into their creativity than they ever had before.
From first-person narratives, to personal stories, to the more generic, several co-writers have been busy getting these stories down in writing. As the stories get written down, the universe gains more of an identify of its own - and one which isn't so bright. Gone are the days when ships would heroically put themselves in the middle of a conflict, and gone are the days when diplomacy would actually work. In this universe, the hard truth is that while we've moved technologically forward, much hasn't changed.
The Challenge: Producing the Base for High Quality Role-Playing
Our challenge has from the beginning of the project to create a base for high-quality role-playing. We believe that by leading through example, we have already given our future members something to look forward to and something to aim for. We believe that through the sharing acquired skills and writing styles, we can make the role-playing more refined, more smooth, and more interesting to both the role-players themselves as well as to site visitors who will no doubt stop by to see us in action.
Yet, this is not enough, and we were quick to take a cue from our sponsors: Star Trek Independence and Generation 2498 that rules needed to be established, that the role-players needed something to aim for in order to gather up their skills and to remain as active role-players of the game. There are still unanswered questions as to how to create the best base for high quality role-playing, but we believe that we have found some easy, and commonly used practices.
Although our role-players will be "commanding" a starship or a ground troop battalion the moment they join, these starships will be weak... But there is hope, as they remain longer in the group, we agreed that after a certain time inside the group, and after a certain number of posts, the member would become eligible for promotion. With this promotion would come a bigger ship, and more options as well for that vessel. Yet the promotion would be subject to approval from the Administration based both on merit, as well as skills. We wanted role-players to learn as they progressed, and we believe that this system will form a central base to high quality role-playing... and we cross our fingers that the promotion system will work.
There will also be rules, a necessary evil which will be implemented the moment the role-playing game starts. We hope to instill from Day 1, a general sense of respect from our future members, we hope that they will appreciate each other's company and will appreciate that it doesn't matter what type of ship they have or how much time they devote to the project... that really what New Worlds is looking for is to create stories which are interesting to read and interesting to write and discuss. We believe that New Worlds cannot be a role-playing game oblivious to the fact that it is providing a hypothesis on an alternate future that is very much the product of our own mind.
If we can transmit this message, we know that the success of the role-playing game is assured, and we know that we will have made the perfect synthesis of the game playing style that is inherent to Star Trek: Independence, but also the quality and attention to detail that is inherent to Generation 2498.
The New Worlds Debut
We do not know what the future will bring for New Worlds... We are aiming for a June 2002 launch date, but this launch date is quite flexible, it is being made flexible to ensure that our perfectionist drive remains more important than time. We believe that the New Worlds Project will be a great addition to the play-by-message boards role-playing tradition that now exists on the Internet.
New Worlds can argue well for itself, that it is a unique venture that has combined the skills of a vast diversity of role-players, writers, and graphics designers. Although it is a jigsaw puzzle right now even to the core Creation Team that is in charge of ensuring the success of the Project, we can already see that the different pieces are beautiful and will combine to make an interesting environment.
We believe New Worlds will succeed in becoming a home to a new sort of role-player willing to have the courage to learn a new universe, to appreciate that universe, and to add his or her own creativity to it. New Worlds is... in many respect, an unwritten Star Trek or Babylon 5, except... this time around, all of the actions will be dictated by the role-players, the writers, and the graphics designers as well.
In the end, however, our hope will rely on the brave role-player who will choose to stop by rpgnewworlds.org, and will choose to fill out the application form. We hope he takes up arms, and leads his troops down a plain filled with blood, or lead his starship through a complicated series of evasive maneuvers to escape death. Whatever the action, New Worlds will be the place for these aspiring authors... And it will be a place, which will be innovative every step of the way.
Kim Leonard Smouter
Acting Executive Director
New Worlds Project
Find out more @ http://nwproject.org
Or contact me by phone: (+32)-4-85-86-53-97