Hey all. I decided to interview IronBeer about his Ridiculous campaign. After running this by Stormkeeper, I have been given permission to post the interview up on this board for you all to enjoy! Please note this was conducted via PM and not IRC or real-time communication, so there's less back-and-forth than you'd be used to!
PLEASE NOTE: The interview contains SPOILERS regarding Ridiculous. If you haven't played it, some elements of plot or characters may be spoiled for you.
First things first. Tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you known about FreeSpace? How long have you been on HLP? What’s your favourite community developed mod (apart from Ridiculous, haha) and why?
I’ve been a fan of FreeSpace for a very long time, ever since I was about 8 years old. My family and I were living in Indonesia at the time, and my dad had picked up a Logitech Wingman joystick in a Singapore computer store. Several games came with the joystick- I hardly even remember what the first two were, but the last one, which I had kinda passed up for a while, was Descent: FreeSpace- The Great War. The day I started up FreeSpace for the first time was a real watershed moment- God, I remember it so well, sitting through the intro movie, that opening dirge just sending chills up my young spine, my dad, turning to me after the luckless Lt. Ash bites it, a mischievous gleam in his eyes “Looks pretty intense, huh?”. Indeed. FreeSpace was one of the truly defining games of my childhood, and though I’d take breaks, I’d never really let it go. Aw, I could bore you for hours with stories, but I’ll spare you.
I’ve been on Hard Light for just over 2 years now- some probing into acquiring FreeSpace 2 eventually led me here, and when I finally realized what the community was up to here, it’s entirely possible I briefly died from excitement. Prior to Hard Light, I’d occasionally scrape up a half-decent mission off of Volition Watch, but my GTA pilot career went on hiatus for a bit when Volition Watch finally went down. A couple years after that, I began looking into getting FreeSpace 2; at first, I got a download from Home of the Underdogs. I discovered Hard Light a bit later, and, well, there you go.
Hm, I don’t really like naming an absolute favorite since just about every community project I’ve played has something truly unique or entertaining about it- Wings of Dawn is one of the most original things I think I’ve yet seen, Vassago’s Dirge spoke like a work of art (have at you, Roger Ebert!), JAD and DEM were massively funny, fun, and entertaining, Derelict was just plain epic on several levels, anything of Ransom’s left me honestly and truly haunted for a good while, and Blue Planet was just made of win. That said, I guess if you put a gun to my head and demanded I pick just one, I’d probably snap to Blue Planet: AoA- everything just meshes together so well, and it was the first time I actually cared for my character and those around him, the level of general asskickery (combat and action sequences) was done so well, and the twist at the end left me feeling kinda dirty. Age of Aquarius was also a very, very ambitious project, and I feel that its dramatic success has emboldened the community to try experimental and otherwise out-there projects.
Obviously the focus of this interview is your Ridiculous campaign. It was released completely out of the blue, with no demos or previews to speak of. Was this intentional, and if so, what was your motivation behind keeping Ridiculous more or less a secret?
Yeah, the surprise release of Ridiculous was 100% intentional; probably my biggest motivation was to avoid the whole “done when it’s ready” syndrome. Perhaps I’m simply being over-sensitive to the matter, but I feel more comfortable taking long breaks from a project (such breaks are kinda necessary given my IRL situation, I’ll elaborate later) knowing that there isn’t a cadre of people wondering if work is proceeding on something. TL;DR version- senseless neurotic anxiety, combined with a desire not to prime my audience with any sort of preconceptions.
Where did the idea for Ridiculous come from? Was it a sort of “cartoon lightbulb flicking on in midair” moment of sudden clarity, or did you have to sit down and plan it out over a period of time?
Probably the first moment that really got me started on the mental seed that would eventually become Ridiculous was a rather old less-than-serious thread that presented the following scenario: Imagine you and your wing in brutal combat with the enemy forces, the fight is going badly, and at the worst possible moment, an enemy destroyer appears on the scene. Just when all hope seems lost, your flagship heroically arrives and blasts the baddies out of space… set to the original Power Rangers theme song. The thread went on to speculate on a campaign focused on badass music and over-the-top action. The song that came to my mind when reading that thread was Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and the Flames”- Ridiculous pretty much germinated from that, but slowly.
How long did the development process for Ridiculous take? Were there any pitfalls or periods of downtime along the way? Can you tell us of any interesting stories or moments that occurred during development?
Including brainstorming and back-burner mulling, Ridiculous took me about a year and a half to put together, from first organized ideas, to last finagling of the FREDding. The biggest downtimes were, well, my academic semesters. When school is going, I don’t generally have a lot of time or braincells to spend on something constructive, so work mostly ground to a halt during the Spring 2010 semester. FREDding began in January of 2010- I was staying at my grandparents’ house in Missouri, in the middle of a record coldsnap. I hadn’t much else to do, and I had already committed my mission ideas and plot threads to paper, so I pulled those out and got to work. That may have been the most productive I’ve ever been with FRED- had all the assets lined up, and had early drafts of “Fire and Flames”, “Showdown”, and “Revisionist History”, already playable within a week, working from my netbook. The FREDding was mostly by the seat of my pants- I had specific ideas about what needed to happen in a mission, but I didn’t plan out the details until I was looking at the Event Editor. There really aren’t many interesting stories I can tell, nothing even approaching, say, General Battatua’s epic, sanity-eroding bughunt for WiH. For the most part, development was slow, steady, methodical, and uneventful… when I was committing time to it.
The campaign is voice acted. Tell us about that. What prompted you to make the decision to have Ridiculous VA’d? How did you find your voice actors and how did you manage the whole process? Did voice acting the campaign prove to be a significant delay?
Ok, I need to pick my words very carefully for this part of my answer… (calming breath) I chose to have Ridiculous voice acted because a project of mine simply doesn’t feel finished unless I can hear my wingmates in battle, my CO in briefing, and such. Before I get inundated with angry comments from novice and not-so-novice modders about non-VA’d campaigns being “incomplete”, please understand that my standard is exactly that, mine. I don’t hold other devs to my standard- I simply prefer to release my projects with all the bells and whistles, without having to make anybody wait for voicing.
There were only 4 flesh-and-blood voice actors on the project: myself, and three of my good friends from IRL. Management was very basic and straightforward: once the semester had ended and we all suddenly had free time, I’d simply snag one of my buddies while he was chilling at my place, have him throw the headset on, and say the bloody lines. Once we decided that the lines worked well, we saved them to disk, and I cleaned them up later. Ironically, one of the voice actors is my present housemate, and he was the last person I got lines from, and I live with him! Since I covered all the spoken lines that weren’t from Alpha wing, I still had a lot to do once my friends’ lines were in-game. Ugh, my throat feels raw just remembering being James Novafield… On the whole, the voice acting stalled me for the summer- my third actor (now housemate) was not around during the summer, and neither of us really had the will or desire to try doing voices remotely, so I just spent the summer polishing and waiting. It then took a few more weeks for our schedules to sync up, but once free times clicked, it was done. Blargh, voice acting and all the associated work was easily almost as much work as the rest of the freaking project. Good thing Ridiculous was a fairly small campaign.
One of the main reasons that campaign or projects never get finished is a lack of motivation or time. What kept you motivated to finish the campaign? What advice would you give to new FREDders (like me) who are working on projects of their own?
Probably my strongest motivation came from the fact that I had a really clear vision for what I wanted to share. Plus, I knew that the missions I did have finished were a pretty good time (and when I demoed the missions to friends, everybody got a kick out of them). I kinda subconsciously felt that I had something good in the works, and I really wanted it to see the light of day.
Advice, you say? You’ll need to be a bit more specific- if you’ve got trouble with motivation, you need to find a personal reason to keep plugging away at it. I’ll be really honest here- doing something from scratch to completion, even sans voice acting, is a. Lot. Of. Work. So, with that in mind, probably the best piece of info I can give is to not overextend yourself. Make your first campaign short and to the point, but be as thorough and fastidious as you can be.
The community’s reaction to Ridiculous was generally quite positive, judging from the release thread. I certainly enjoyed it. Did you have any worries regarding the community’s reception of the campaign?
I honestly didn’t really know what to expect when I threw Ridiculous into the gaping void of the interwebs. Seeing the very positive response my project has generated is … very “fuzzies”-inducing. I felt proud and flattered when the download tally snaked past 500 shortly into 2011. Perhaps my biggest fear was of failure- that somehow, Ridiculous would fall flat and everybody would hate it. Irrational, to be sure, and not pondered frequently, but that certainly was a fear. I think, however, that the most honest appraisal of my expectations was that Ridiculous might get a little buzz, then fade into obscurity in a hurry. That certainly doesn't seem to be happening, near as I can tell...
You’ve stated in the release thread that you’re intending to do a sequel if you come up with enough ideas. Can you give us a few tantalizing details about it? Will you be doing the sequel entirely on your own or are you considering branching out and involving other HLP members (or people outside of HLP)?
Ridiculous 2 will take place a little while after Ridiculous finishes up, probably a few months. I’ve got a very strong framework in mind, an overarching parody of sorts, so I’m going to be constrained a bit. I’m also planning multiple endings, but regardless of which ending the player achieves, it will be the end of the Ridiculous storyline. I just don’t think I can squeeze another campaign from the original premise, so I intend to end on a good note.
I would consider branching out to HLP or wherever on one major point: voice acting. There are plenty of guys I could talk to who would be willing to pretend to be pilots or officers in a computer spaceships game, but I fear it may be more difficult to find some ladies who would be willing to do the same. (/feels embarrassed merely admitting that) I blame my studies- engineering doesn’t give me much time to meet women, and there aren’t many ladies in my classes… There may be some resources I could tap, though, so, HLP, don’t hold your breath on getting to voice Ridiculous 2.
You’ve also stated that you’d like to try “other projects” before starting work on Ridiculous 2. What are these projects? Are they currently underway? Are these your own projects or will you be getting involved in existing HLP work?
The first things I’d really like to try my hand at are asset-side: I really want to learn how to make ship and weapon models. I’ve got a handful of concepts that would really put a nice flourish on my upcoming campaigns. Obviously, with modeling goes texturing and converting, and PCS2 proficiency. My end-level goal is the ability to come up with a ship or weapon concept in my head, tweak it on paper, and finally fabricate it personally for a project.
If you will indulge me, I’m going to be intentionally vague when discussing future campaigns- I want to minimize the creation of preconceived notions. That said: the next project that will see the light of day I originally referred to internally as “Project BFG”. The design goals have changed somewhat and I have a much clearer picture of what I want to do- my current project is operating under the title “Flatline”, and I think the title will stay there. I’ve got the broad story pretty fleshed out already, and I just need to really sit down, organize all my ideas, and draw some missions out from the aether of Plot. Details: Flatline is going to be set in the Post-Capellan period, feature an established Player-Character as Alpha 1, a lot of new weapons, new (hopefully first-appearance) ships, and a few mechanical tweaks.
There is one last project rattling around in my brain, but it will almost certainly require a team. For “Project SteamSpace”, I can’t divulge many details because I haven’t thought of many details beyond: “An alternate-history steampunk take on the FreeSpace universe, with emphasis on intra-human conflicts, and improbably reduced-technology ships and weapons”. I do, however, have a partial concept sketch of a battleship on file, should there be interest.
Anything about your RL self that you’d like to reveal to the community? Interests, hobbies, that sort of thing?
In the Real World, I’m a 20-year-old Chemical Engineering student at Texas A&M University. Explains the development downtimes, eh? Obviously, I’m something of a gamer- while FreeSpace has been an ongoing love for a long time, I’ll play just about anything, but am partial to strategy and simulator games. I like to say that while I’m a competent fighter on the ground, I can wreak the most pixilated havoc while commanding an army or a mighty metal beast of some weal. I also enjoy the occasional good book, one of my friends recently got me into the Wheel of Time series, I devour scientific literature, and have a fascination with the Lovecraftian mythos. ‘Course, I don’t really read for pleasure during the semester- too busy reading textbooks to kick back with some good literature. Miami, Florida was my birthplace, and I’ve been a two-time expatriate over the course of my life- first to Portugal, from about ’90 to ’92, then Indonesia from 1996 to the closing days of 2001. In February of ’09, my parents returned to Indonesia, so I’m racking up frequent flyer miles once more.
Thanks for your time. Any parting words, or advice to give?
(Looks at previous walls of text already on-page) Hm, not sure I really have profound bits of advice, or witty one-liners, so I’ll close with this: I did not, in any way, see this interview coming- I feel frankly flattered and astounded that my nutty little project would warrant this sort of attention. It means a lot to me to hear people’s feedback, and the nice things said by internet people whom I’ll probably never meet. /cheeky wink.