Lee Hammock Talks Post-Apocalyptic Storytelling in Fallen Earth

Fallen EarthAwhile back, Steve had the opportunity to sit down with Lee Hammock, Lead Designer on Fallen Earth, who describes his work on the game as “Trying to find the mathematical equation for fun.”

In their half-hour long conversation the two discussed a wide range of issues, from storytelling in MMOs, to The Postman, to cannibalism.

Read on for the transcript.

The MMO Gamer: I was wondering if you would be averse to talking about storytelling in this interview.

And storytelling in the post-apocalyptic genre, in particular.

Lee Hammock: No, not at all. I would be all about that. Most people haven’t asked much about that before.

The MMO Gamer: I should warn you, this is a very big fetish I have, storytelling in MMOs.

And I am a bitter, bitter man, because I don’t think anybody is really putting any serious focus on it [Disclaimer for TOR fans: This interview was conducted before E3. Please do not send me angry emails].

A number of people I talk to claim they do. But then their games come out, and it’s the same old “Go kill fifteen rats” stuff.

So now, my strategy every time I do an interview is kind of like that old saying, “The beatings will continue until morale improves!”

If I just keep harping on people about it, maybe, eventually, somebody will actually do something about it just to shut people like me up.

Lee Hammock: Well, I think for us it’s been something of a learning process. When we first started up, we were looking at the games that were out there like WoW, stuff like that, and saying, “What works in WoW?”

And looking at them, pretty much most games these days, they have the same basic mission setup of “Go kill fifteen of these, go bring me ten of these…”

And there are times where those can be done well… okay, the kill one is hard to do. But, you know, collecting items, if worked into a story, that can actually be kind of cool depending on what you are collecting.

But, we’ve basically really developed as we’ve gone along.

One of the big things we’re working on going forward is we don’t want to have go kill ten guy missions anymore, just because that’s really lame.

We’d rather say okay, go kill one dude who is in the middle of a camp or a cave who you might have to kill a whole bunch of dudes to get to but you know, hey, deal with that however you want.

It adds a lot more variety to what the player can do, so if they want to try and sneak in or do whatever, they can try it.

The MMO Gamer: Do you have offer up any motivation for the player to go kill that one guy in the middle of all of those dudes, or is it just the NPC telling you to?

Because that’s a major part of storytelling right there: characterization.

Building the guy up, giving him history. Making him into this huge asshole you’re running into a dozen times before you finally get to put the nail in his coffin.

Lee Hammock: But you can’t do that with everybody. If we only had the player kill ten people over the course of the game, which we could do, than we could build anybody up to that thing, but people want to go in and fight stuff.

They want to go in and get fighting and do action-oriented stuff like that.

There’s a tradeoff between okay, how much can you build this one dude up, and how much time will people invest before they go, “I’ve been hearing about this dude for a month and I haven’t been able to fight him. I’m done.”

The MMO Gamer: So then, could you give any examples of a character you’ve built up, without building him up too much?

Lee Hammock: In the first sector of the game, we have this guy called Casta Gaunt, who is pretty much the boss dude for the first ten levels of content. And you hear stuff about him a lot throughout the first levels of the game.

The plot line that involves him is really great because his whole thing is he is trying to find out… as you know, all of the players in the game are clones, and he’s not. He’s just a dude. But he wants to be a clone. He wants to be immortal. And so he’s stolen all this technology and he’s trying to get himself put into the cloning database, and this huge plot line comes out of that.

He’s taken over this prison, and you have to go in and stop him. All these really cool boss battles based on fighting clones and you know, different versions of them, stuff like that.

But the story is really interesting because you end of meeting all of these people who are working against him; you basically meet you know, other clones of him who have decided not to help him. And it’s a long build up before you actually fight him.

So we have that story aspect of, “Okay here’s this really cool dude, who you work up through all this stuff to fight him.” We have that story there.

But there are also towns where it’s like, “Hey, this group of raiders is killing our town. They’re going to come right now…”

We have an event in one of the towns where basically all of these raiders come and spawn and attack the town, and you have to kill them.

So, one of those is based on a story of hey, here’s this dude, he’s got this great story, he’s really interesting, he’s got all this history, and you fight him and kill him. And the other one is more of a, hey, you wanna go do something right now? Go do this thing.

The MMO Gamer: So is ten levels about the average lifespan for a big-ticket antagonist? Are there any that would follow a player through the entire game?

Lee Hammock: The problem is, a lot of times, people will approach video games from the point of movies. For example, a good western.

When someone is going to get killed, it’s built up a lot. And you spend like an hour and a half finding out why this person has done wrong or why this person deserves to die.

Like in Unforgiven, no one really gets killed until like the end of that movie. If I remember correctly.

I mean, these people get the crap beat out of them, sure, but not killed until the end of the movie. And it’s pretty much a buildup until that one shootout in the bar.

But with a video game, if you make everything like that, people get bored. Cause it’s like, okay, not everybody needs to be this huge dude I learn all this stuff about. At least not in an MMO.

If you’re doing a single player RPG, where it can be paced a little more controlled, where you have a lot more control over what the player is doing, when they are doing it, when they are seeing it, then you can do stuff like that.

But with an MMO, if you have everything, everybody you are going to kill be this huge lead-up, you are going to get into a fight once every two hours and people just really aren’t looking for that.

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  1. Lee Hammock Talks Post-Apocalyptic Storytelling in Fallen Earth http://bit.ly/iuH7O #mmo #mmorpg

  2. RT @TheMMOGamer: Lee Hammock Talks Post-Apocalyptic Storytelling in Fallen Earth http://bit.ly/iuH7O #mmo #mmorpg

  3. DanglingParticiple says:

    Good interview! I like how Lee Hammock has his priorities arranged. I'm not sure that starvation couldnt be fun… it could have been a good mechanic to get even the most ADD-handicapped quest text skipping xbox live reject to participate in certain activities. Fallout 3's unstarving protagonist is part of why the game felt like a bad shooter and that's it, to me. All these guys around you supposedly on the edge of death, and here you are Superman with none of their problems all thanks to deus ex machina.


    • It's going to be interesting to try this game out first hand. I know some features which sound good on paper, end up just being frustrating speaking from my own experiences with hunger and thirst from my MUDing days.

  4. Stormdancer says:

    Oh, man! I -loved- "Six String Samurai"! Crazy, surreal, rambly, awesome.

    I have to say, Fallen Earth has started restoring my faith in the MMO genre as a viable storytelling medium. I'm really enjoying *gasp* READING the mission text, and even the random 'flavor' text from conversers and NPCs.

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