From the Vault of Game Design

I’m getting ready for a possible move. How possible? It’s incredibly likely at this point, unless something magical happens within the next week or two.

That move and where I land (wherever that might be) are topics for another discussion. The great part about getting ready for a move is running across things you thought you’d lost long ago.

I ran across a few very cool things. Very cool.

First, I ran across some old mission and campaign plans for Descent: FreeSpace, the first game of my career.

Here’s a glimpse of a branching campaign outline, along with a sketch of a “bait and switch” style mission:


This is a star map that I created to help contextualize the mission and campaign framework:


And here… here is the paper where I outlined the mission goals for VOutpost1.


VOutpost1 was a mission that, unfortunately, didn’t make it into the final change, as it was one of the missions that was lost during a major engine update.

By that, I mean that an update to the game’s core technology invalidated all mission files created prior to the update. I’m still not sure exactly how or why that happened.

Anyhow, it’s a shame, because the team considered that mission one of my best. Due to time constraints, Brad, the other mission designer, and I were unable to recreate everything that we lost. As Adam Pletcher, the lead artist and visionary for FreeSpace, said, “Welcome to game development. Don’t worry. You’ll get used to losing 90% of your work.”

Also of note: I found my notes for Vasudan, the constructed language that I created for FreeSpace:


And… last but not least… I found a full copy of my old TubeRacer script. TubeRacer, my second project, was cancelled during its development.

TubeRacer was set in a 1930s-1940s B-movie version of the future. The art had a Buck Rogers vibe to it. The “hero,” Dirk Squarejaw, is a complete ass. Think of Zapp Brannigan without the Shatner-esque charm. His girlfriend, Janet, is a scientist. She works with Dr. Bohr, who is Dirk’s mentor.

Janet and Dr. Bohr created a new fuel, RX-12, which promises to solve the all energy crises forever. Either that, or it’ll destroy the world. Honestly, either way, Earth’s energy crises will be solved.

The opening scene was in a desert, with Dirk getting ready to strap into a rocket car in order to test the potential of RX-12. Some nameless generals were nearby, evaluating the test.


Dirk: Gentlemen… and Janet… this is a day of destiny! With a full tank of RX-12 in my rocket car, I should be able to attain unheard-of land speeds!

Janet: Actually, Dirk, if you read my paper, you know you should really keep the initial run within the following limits…

Dirk: Tut-tut-tut! Don’t you worry your pretty scientist’s head, my darling Janet. I’m sure that you and Dr. Bohr have done everything necessary to ensure my success in this heroic endeavor!

Dr. Bohr: (Parody of a German accent throughout) Ja, Dirk. This is, after all, science. Nothing unexpected ever happens inside or outside the laboratory. Janet, you always were a bit of a worrywart.

Janet: Seriously, there are defined limits that…

Dirk: See? Dr. Bohr thinks everything will be just fine. And he’s a doctor!

Janet: Uh… I have my Ph.D. as well, Dirk, and I really think….

Dirk: So there’s nothing to worry about! After all, I know what I’m doing is right, and when you’re right, you’re invincible! Besides, RX-12 stands to change the road-weary face of transportation…

Nameless Generals: … and warfare…

Dirk: …and democracy forever! It is my duty as a citizen and an American hero to perform this test at its most extreme, from which I will arise like the mighty phoenix!

Janet: Phoenixes arise from their flames, Dirk, which is exactly what…

Dirk: (jumping into rocket car) Onward! To destiny! (he starts racing down the desert test track)

Dr. Bohr: Dirk! You seem to be reaching excessive speeds! How is the rocket car holding up?

Dirk: (grunting) Not… to… worry, Doctor! I’m… still… in… control… (The RX-12 provides an unexpected burst of energy. Shortly after, a space-time vortex opens in front of the car.) What in the name of Honest Abe Lincoln is that? (Dirk goes through the vortex and seemingly blinks out of existence.)

Janet and Dr. Bohr: Oh no!

Nameless Generals: Well, we certainly can’t allocate funding for this.

<End scene; cut to Track01>

Now, I’m not saying it was comedy gold or anything, but it was a heck of a lot of fun to work on a project like that as a writer. I’ve actually be thinking about creating an animatic for that first scene.

In fact, I might even re-create good ol’ VOutpost1. And, if there’s any interest, I’ll create a Guide to the Vasudan Language.

Anyhow, I thought I’d share. It’s always fun to rediscover old projects.

One thought on “From the Vault of Game Design

  1. Absolutely fascinating seeing the design docs and rough sketches for some of this stuff. It’s amazing some of the stuff that piles up over time when you’re constantly designing new things 😀


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