Author Topic: The Cursed Interview: Ransom Arceihn on his original artwork!  (Read 4305 times)

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Offline Mobius

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The Cursed Interview: Ransom Arceihn on his original artwork!
Mobius:
Ransom Arceihn is the FREDder behind the creation of three popular campaigns: Transcend, Sync and Windmills. He's a voice actor as well, and whoever played Derelict SCP surely noticed his great interpretation of Mackie. Ransom, what led you to create Transcend and Sync?


Ransom Arceihn:
Sync came out of a long-held desire of mine to see an expansive,multi-part space opera about time travel. Something that would start small and swell over the course of the story until the consequences were all but impossible to account for.

Transcend is a partial expression of that. But that actually started as a wholly separate project. Originally it was about some mysterious pilot in a nebula who discovers Something Terrible - then it was about said pilot somehow bringing about the collapse of the Terran-Vasudan alliance. While the basic components were there, it wasn't until I finished Sync that it really took shape. In structure as well as concept.

I was never satisfied with all the exposition in that campaign - jump in, listen to two minutes of dialogue, jump out. I wanted to try for something more light-handed.

I don't think I quite succeeded, considering the business with Omega, but like the awful repetitive gameplay it was a useful learning experience.


Mobius:
What served as a source of inspiration?


Ransom Arceihn:
In Sync's case I honestly couldn't say. The concept's been fermenting in my head for a long time. I like the sense of the uncontrollable that stories about time travel describe. But I think I can lay the blame for its inception as a FreeSpace campaign at the feet of Blaise Russel's Homesick. The influence is fairly obvious, I'd say.

Transcend's easier. The theme in the second-to-last mission is a pretty big clue. Silent Hill's atmosphere and minimalist storytelling style was probably the main inspiration for the project.


Mobius:
The reference to Silent Hill marks a tendence to add horror-style characteristics to Transcend, right? 


Ransom Arceihn:
The atmospheric stuff, yeah. Although funnily enough I never actually thought of the campaign as horror while I was making it.


Mobius:
You worked solo on these campaigns, and also succeeded when many campaign designers failed. The disadvantages of working solo are obvious, but what do you think the advantages are like? How did they influence the development of Transcend and Sync?


Ransom Arceihn:
I guess the main advantage is I don't have to answer to anyone. There's nobody to disagree with. Everything's more or less how I want it to be. There's also no reliance on anyone else to carry their weight.  Of course, with a functioning team a project can only benefit from having more than one mind working on it. Not to mention the more sensible workload. But like you said, the advantages are obvious.

Honestly, I think to some degree the fact they were solo projects damaged Sync and Transcend. While I was making them I basically had no idea what I was doing - certainly I didn't have anybody to tell me how terrible an idea it was to have about ten essentially identical missions in a row, as much as you might think that would be common sense.


Mobius:
I see. Had you worked on Transcend and Sync with someone else, what do you think the result would have been like?


Ransom Arceihn:
Well, again, better gameplay, more than likely. But I suppose it would depend on the person. It's hard to say.

By the same token they might have burnt out without ever seeing release because one of us lost interest or got frustrated with the other team member. And then everything would be completely different!

At the time I felt it was vital to make it all myself. I've never felt comfortable asking for staff, because everyone's already so busy in this community. I'd be taking away from some other project.


Mobius:
That said, what have you learned from your previous experience? 


Ransom Arceihn:
Well, with Sync and Transcend I more or less didn't care about gameplay. I approached it like a nuisance - nothing more than a necessary delivery system for the story. Which is obviously ridiculous.

Both campaigns were big learning experiences for me in terms of storytelling, narrative structure and characterisation, but I think that was the most important realisation I made. That I'm a terrible game designer. I'm trying to rectify that, but I suppose we'll see how that turns out.


Mobius:
What do you think about character-driven campaigns, in comparison to "conventional" story-driven ones? Transcend and Sync, as far as I know, were the first CDCs (short form of character-driven campaigns I use) to be ever made. What did you feel like when developing two notable campaigns which didn't follow the classic "jump in, do your job and then jump back to base" style?


Ransom Arceihn:
There wasn't really any decision process where I decided: this campaign's going to be character-driven. They were always that kind of story. It's the form of narrative I find most appealing, so naturally I'm going to gravitate to that.
The bigger picture campaigns that FreeSpace lends itself so well to are really interesting to me, though, because it's a form of storytelling more or less unique to games. A similar narrative in a movie or novel would be unbelievably dry. But in FreeSpace it works.

It's not really one or the other, either - campaigns like ST:R, while not character-driven, have plenty of recurring characters and give a very convincing impression of people working behind the scenes. Even the main FS2 campaign had Bosch. I think FreeSpace is at its best when there's a marriage of the two.


Mobius:
Do you see any weaknesses in character-driven campaigns and their gameplay?


Ransom Arceihn:
Haha, absolutely. The problem with characters is they talk. Often too much. It's very tempting to fill a firefight with exciting dialogue, but without voice acting that's a total drag.

And since they tend to focus on a small group of ships, often your mission design options are limited. You get a lot of escort missions. I think FreeSpace is one of the only games in history where escort missions are the norm.


Mobius:
Are you refering to much needed oddities, such as ships having their hull integrity set back to 100% for balance purposes?


Ransom Arceihn:
Oh, definitely, there's that. And constantly refilling the player's munitions even when they have nothing to dock with.

Good design can get around that, though.


Mobius:
Well, similar problems also affected the main FreeSpace 2 campaign. Karajorma showed how the number of red alert missions has been severely reduced for balance purposes. Afterall, it's not that hard to deal with it.


Ransom Arceihn:
I'm not surprised. Having a consistent hull integrity for the player's ship would make things unplayable pretty fast.


Mobius:
Now, let's talk about Windmills. The campaign is very original, although I had a similar concept (which didn't get beyond the planning phase) some 3 years ago. What led you to create it? There aren't any similar campaigns so far, and FreeSpace RTS is currently WIP.


Ransom Arceihn:
I got the idea for Windmills from a mission I was working on for Project 03. It ended up being scrapped, but at one point the player took on a bit of a voyeuristic role and watched enemy ships from afar.

I thought: man, it would be kind of interesting to have a short campaign where you just watched a battle take place and had no direct control over it. Then I thought: well, hey, I guess you could influence it by ordering ships around.

That's when the cartoon lightbulb appeared above my head.


Mobius:
lol


Ransom Arceihn:
What made me drop everything and make it immediately was actually the challenge of it. I'd never tried to FRED anything half so complicated. What drove the project was the themes I was trying to explore - I don't think I could make anything without a story to tell - but I was also excited by the idea of twisting the FSO engine into a shape it wasn't meant for.

I could almost hear it shrieking in animal rage by the end, there. That last mission was a house of cards.
All kinds of surreal bugs surfaced. At one point any friendly ship that tried to attack the enemy base would warp in, but there would be nothing there. Just deathroll explosions in the shape of a ship.

It'd never actually die, either - just explode invisibly.

Forever.

I asked Goober about it but he couldn't make heads or tails of it. Eventually I had to revert to a backup of the mission. Didn't happen again, even though I did the same things. Another time - spoilers here - the part with the transport where it flicks back and forth between the simulation and 'reality' a couple times. For no good reason I could discern, FSO would crash to desktop on the third flash or so.

Not every time, either! Just when it felt like it.

That event didn't do anything different from the others, and none of them had caused crashes, but FSO didn't care. It was like it was giving me the finger. In the end I actually had to remove the event from the mission and do without that flash.


Mobius:
Judging from the stuff you showed in Windmills, I kind of realized that even if it was short that campaign may have been a nightmare to design. I didn't know about these issues, and the fact that you came out with a polished campaign is a sign of great skills.


Ransom Arceihn:
Haha, thanks.

It was pretty frustrating at times, but I had a great time overall. The whole production was like a giant puzzle - the last mission especially. I loved that sense of problem solving. It's easily the most rewarding design experience I've had.


Mobius:
What do you think of the community's feedback on your work?


Ransom Arceihn:
The feedback on Sync was pretty much what spurred me onward. The reception was fairly mild, but it was generally positive and I don't know how I would've taken it if the thing had flopped.

The reaction to Transcend was actually a big surprise to me. The campaign was a bit of a gamble - it dealt with supernatural elements in a community mainly concerned with science fiction, the storytelling was unusual for a fan-campaign, and on the whole I didn't have any idea how the community would react.

I expected maybe a handful of people to like it. So that was a pleasant surprise. But their responses also woke me up to the obnoxious mission design I'd been favouring, among other things, so that was really valuable.

I didn't have many expectations from Windmills. Like I said in the release post, I couldn't actually tell if the campaign would be any fun to play, and I certainly wasn't sure if I'd been successful in conveying the story I'd intended to. That ended up being where most of the division was. People I'd hoped would like the story didn't, others I hadn't expected to enjoy it did.

There's something about FreeSpace that attracts a surprisingly wide variety of tastes, and that makes the feedback this community generates really wholesome. It's invaluable as a creator to have access to that kind of criticism. So I guess I find the question a little strange - I'm not sure how anyone could feel about it other than grateful.


Mobius:
Are you planning to create another campaign or even a mission based on Windmills' style?


Ransom Arceihn:
Not planning, no. There were a bunch of mission concepts I never used that would be interesting to try, and I definitely think more could be done with the idea, but I'd prefer to move forward with my other planned campaigns. Anyone else is welcome to go for it, though.


Mobius:
Before talking about your WIP project, it'd be nice to get to know your career as voice actor. As I stated at the very beginning of this interview, Mackie's voice in Blaise Russel's upgrade of Derelict was yours. What else have you done as voice actor? Was the Transcendant's voice 100% yours? I know you may soon have a role in Warzone SCP - if so, would you like to say something about it?


Ransom Arceihn:
The bulk of my other voice acting experience has been within this community, but I've had a scattering of roles outside of FreeSpace. Machinimas and flash animations and the like. I'll be playing a minor part in a radioplay for an NPR station in central Ohio, but I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to say about that.

The Transcendant was 100% me in as much as I didn't do any pitch shifting or what have you. Obviously there were effects laid in for distortion and such.

My part in Warzone is Admiral Russik, as I'm sure you know. Most of my previous roles were pilots, so doing an officer is an interesting change of pace. There's a degree of gravitas demanded by that sort of character that's still unfamiliar territory for me. He was actually my favourite part of Warzone, too, so there's a bit of extra pressure there to not screw it up. Of course, whether I succeed remains to be seen.

But the part's both fun and challenging. There's no better combination, really.


Mobius:
It's very nice to see Warzone's VA going nicely, and I'm sure your files will be a great addition to it.

Now, let's talk about the partially secret project you have been working on for a while: Project-03. We already know you're not going to reveal that much about it, but is there anything you would like to say?


Ransom Arceihn:
Not much more than what I've already mentioned elsewhere. It's heavily character-driven, it's about 36 missions long, and it's not related to my other campaigns. I've made a serious effort with the gameplay and overall structure this time - no filler, no repetitive missions. To the best of my ability, anyway. If I've failed there I'm sure the community will call me out on it.

I can tell you that it's been delayed slightly! Three extra missions were added to the lineup a couple weeks ago. So, um. That's something.

The campaign's taken so long primarily because it got two-thirds completed only to be scrapped wholesale and restarted. After finishing the second of three acts I went back to rejig the early missions where the ideas were less set in stone, but every time I looked at the next mission to 'fix' I ended up starting it again from scratch. I did this for every mission before I realised none of the original ones were left. That process was finished late last year.

It was the consequence of poor planning. But I'm kind of glad it happened that way, because for all my stumbling around like a blind man it resulted in the campaign I've got now. I wouldn't recommend that method of scriptwriting, though. I certainly won't be doing things that way again.


Mobius:
Well, I have experience with similar overhauls so I perfectly understand what you're trying to say.

Without trying to spoil secret content, can you underline the difference between Project-03 and your previous work? You already said gameplay has been taken care of, but what else can we expect? Is the experience going to be similar to that seen in Transcend and Sync? Are you making use of mods? If so, what about them?


Ransom Arceihn:
I don't want to create too many expectations. Trailers are one thing, but I'm always afraid of pulling a Molyneux and saying something that'll come back to haunt me. I'd really rather just make the damn thing and let people play it cold.

That said, the difference is focus. Sync's preoccupation was with mystery; Transcend's was atmosphere. This campaign is about people. As far as structure goes you can expect something closer to traditional FreeSpace. It's more militaristic. There's definitely some tonal similarities in that the story goes to some pretty dark places, but no, it's not the same kind of campaign.

There's a few mods in there, but mostly it's all retail. I prefer to keep to the vanilla stuff when I can. In this community we're all so familiar with things like Sobeks and Orions and whatnot that they become like the word 'said'. There's no new data to process. Your mind just skips over it and focuses on the events themselves. That's the theory, anyway.


Mobius:
As we all know, "Project-03" is only a working name. When are we going to discover the true name of this project? Do you already have it in mind, or perhaps it hasn't been defined yet?


Ransom Arceihn:
I've known the name from the start. It'll be revealed with the trailer. I have a variety of reasons for keeping the name secret, but alas, they're all secrets too! My hands are tied.


Mobius:
Can you provide a reasonable ETA? Or better, can you tell us all what's left to be done?


Ransom Arceihn:
There's twelve missions between me and the end. So the FREDing's about two-thirds done. There's still testing and various finishing touches to be done after that, but mission design's the main time sink and once that's complete release won't be far off. Any date I could give you before then would be a wild guess.


Mobius:
It won't be long, then. At least, that's what I hope.

Uhm, you mentioned the ship classes Sobek and Orion. Could you please tell us when Project-03 takes place? Before FS2, during FS2 or in the Post Capella period?


Ransom Arceihn:
It takes place in the same year as the log entries in the progress thread. 2370: three years post-Capella.


Mobius:
Why did you chose that date? Are there any reasons you'd like to divulge?


Ransom Arceihn:
The story being told here is necessarily post-Capella, so there's that. I chose the (relatively) near future because it allows for some flexibility in terms of minor technology advances, while retaining the conceit of being a fragile time. It also lets me hold on to the retail fleet.


Mobius:
Very well, Ransom! Thanks for your availability, and keep up the good work. There are so many community members looking forward to Project-03, so best of luck with your solo project!


Ransom Arceihn:
Thanks. It's been a pleasure.

 
Re: The Cursed Interview: Ransom Arceihn on his original artwork!
There's gonna be a trailer? :eek2: Must have missed that...

Good reading :yes:

 

Offline Colonol Dekker

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Re: The Cursed Interview: Ransom Arceihn on his original artwork!
Great interview, Ransom. You and Axem are my campaign heroes.

Now i didn't even know about Project 03, it gives me something to play.
As well as homesick.....which i've started  :nervous:

 

Offline Thaeris

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Re: The Cursed Interview: Ransom Arceihn on his original artwork!
I am once more in want to form the Ransom Arceihn Fanclub.  :yes:

Absolutely superb work, bar none!
"trolls are clearly social rejects and therefore should be isolated from society, or perhaps impaled."

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It's the Duke Nukem Forever of prophecies..."


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Everyone else takes normal damage.
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Offline General Battuta

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Re: The Cursed Interview: Ransom Arceihn on his original artwork!
Where's the promised original artwork?  :p

Decent interview. Didn't hit up some of the obvious points - would have liked to learn a bit more about Ransom's favorite games, novels, media, and storytelling techniques - but you can't have everything, after all.

 

Offline Snail

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Re: The Cursed Interview: Ransom Arceihn on his original artwork!
Where's the promised original artwork?  :p

Decent interview. Didn't hit up some of the obvious points - would have liked to learn a bit more about Ransom's favorite games, novels, media, and storytelling techniques - but you can't have everything, after all.
Everyone's a critic. :P

I liked it.