Wes Platt - Fallen Earth Interview

Going From an OtherSpace to a Fallen Earth

An Interview with Wes Platt, writer/content developer for Icarus Studios

By Cody “Micajah” Bye

May 7, 2007

Currently in the midst of a deep development cycle, the MMO Fallen Earth is beginning to take shape. Although the game has yet to enter beta testing, the staff at Icarus Studios is slowly leaking more and more information onto the internet; from videos of the apocalyptic world to screenshots and wallpapers. Although there’s been a large media surge by Icarus Studios, there was quite a bit of information available about the game previously, mostly in the form of written stories, backgrounds, timelines, and character factions.

Wes Platt

Wes Platt

One of the individuals behind that lore is Wes Platt, writer/content developer for Icarus Studios. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this veritable font of story arcs and roleplaying scenarios, Wes first hit the roleplaying scene in 1994 when he began writing columns for Top MUD Sites, The MUD Connector, and Online Gaming Resource. He also created OtherSpace, a space-opera MUD where hopeful player characters submitted written biographies to administrators to become a part of the game world. Story-telling was the focal point of the game, and the setting ran from 1998-2004.

Besides developing text-based games, he spent about 12 years working as a reporter and editor at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida (he graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in mass communications).  In 2005, Wes devoted himself to the text-based MUD Necromundus, which is now in beta testing at nm.jointhesaga.com. As he was contributing to Necromundus, Wes became engaged in the World of Warcraft Earthen Ring RP server community, where his Tauren, Stamp, has become something of a celebrity.

Eyeing his constant work in the MUD and RP community, Icarus Studios snatched Wes up in 2006 to work on the content behind Fallen Earth. Since then, Wes has been churning out content for the yet-to-be-released MMO and laying flesh to the apocalyptic bones of that world.

Micajah: In the eyes of many, Icarus Studios made a great decision when they enlisted your aid in the production of Fallen Earth. Your work in the greater roleplaying realm has spanned nearly a decade, and your strong foundation in journalism can’t hurt your writing proficiency. How did Icarus Studios first contact you regarding a position with their company?

Fallen Earth Logo

The Fallen Earth Logo

Wes: I had packed up my dog, Huck, and gone from Florida on a sort of wild sabbatical to the Pacific Northwest in November 2005. Spending the winter in the wilds of Washington's Columbia River Gorge meant a lot of time indoors while the snow piled up. During my time on the Earthen Ring server, particularly once I'd focused on Stamp, Horde-side, I'd gotten to know Michael Rollins, an excellent roleplayer in his own right. He got work as a writer at Icarus. I was understandably envious. And then, one day, he dropped me a message, saying it was too bad I'd moved out west, because Icarus had openings for more writers. I told him I wasn't THAT committed to living in the wilderness and promptly got in touch with Lee Hammock. Icarus flew me to North Carolina for an interview and I soon had my dream job.

Micajah: How do you think your work in the other roleplaying venues helped you to get noticed?

Wes: I've been active in the online roleplaying community since 1994, writing columns about the topic for Top MUD Sites, The MUD Connector, and Online Gaming Resource.  I wrote a lot of stories about Stamp on the Earthen Ring server of WoW and they became very popular. Dan Clayton, a friend of mine who helps run the games at jointhesaga.com, went so far as to make a fan site about Stamp, where we stored the chronicled adventures. I still write them, on occasion. I'm not sure Michael and I ever would have crossed paths without WoW, and that connection was invaluable to my getting noticed. But my background in the prose-based games certainly added to what I could bring to the table.

Micajah: There must be a few things that took you by surprise in the development of a 3D MMO. What have you learned since joining Icarus Studios? What things are different?

Wes: Oh, many things are different, besides the obvious focus on visuals instead of words. From a development standpoint, it's a good sort of different. With the prose-based games, the storylines are driven by a give-and-take between the players and the staffers (effectively game masters/dungeon masters in tabletop games). It's real-time storytelling. That's a lot of work, flying by the seat of your pants. With an MMO, you can still have storytelling, but we can actually plan for specific outcomes and write with those outcomes in mind. It's not quite as on-the-fly and improvisational as the prose-based games.

Micajah: This is a new venue for you…is it nice to see your characters come to “life” in 3D?

Wes: Yes and no. I find I'm more excited by the towns we build in tandem with the art department coming to life, along with the storylines that bind the characters together. I certainly miss leaving some things to the imagination, but we've got a lot of opportunities to go places and do things in Fallen Earth that just aren't possible (or, if they're possible, they're not really practical) in a prose-based environment.

Gotta Keep Warm in the Grand Canyon

The writers and artists collaborate on the look of their NPCs. 

Micajah: How much of writer’s work is translated to the game in textures and sprites?

Wes: When we're developing towns and missions, we plot it out fairly carefully and think out everything from how the NPCs in towns will look, talk, and think about things. We'll give the artists our write-ups, and then it's a collaborative process as their vision evolves along with ours. Some ideas we propose just aren't workable. When that happens, we take another tack.

Micajah: Speaking of Fallen Earth, how does the post-apocalyptic world stack up to any of the other ‘verses you’ve worked with in the past?

Wes: It's the first time I'm really working in-depth on a game universe that isn't my baby, from start to finish. I've adopted bits and pieces of this one, so I definitely feel responsibility for it and a desire to see it flourish. But when I walked in the door, a lot of the general lore already had been established. So, it's been a fantastic challenge looking for ways to put my own fingerprints on a world that was someone else's creation.

Micajah: Tell us a little bit about the story you’re formulating for Fallen Earth. It’s a post apocalyptic world where people are trying to rebuild, obviously. Are there any “main” characters? What kind of civilization do these people currently have? What sort of world is this, besides “post-apocalyptic”?

Wes: We do tend to have main characters among the NPCs, from town leaders to prominent members of the six factions, which the players will get to know during the course of their adventures in the Grand Canyon Province.

The civilization is one you might expect to find in such circumstances: Different groups of people with competing agendas, settling in and rebuilding amidst the ruins of the world that fell, struggling just to get enough resources to survive. Times are grim; people are desperate. But the game wouldn't be much fun to play if it was just dark and gloomy all the time. It has moments of light-hearted fun and humor. It also offers a good bit of hope, here and there.

Micajah: What about the factions? There are a good number of them and they’re described in brief on the main site…how will they function in game? What other details can you give us on these guys and gals?

Wes: We've got six factions with different worldviews. The CHOTA are real screw-the-rules-ANARCHY-NOW!-types. The Lightbearers want to save humanity from itself. The Techs want to build shiny gadgets and restore the world to the way it used to be before the Fall. The Vistas want to stop the abuse of nature and certainly don't want to see a return to the old ways. The Enforcers want to bring order to the post-apocalyptic chaos. And the Travelers – this is the faction I have the privilege of working on – mostly want to make money and thrive off the ongoing struggles between the other factions.

In the first sector, the factions just provide flavor and story hooks for missions. You can do a mission for the CHOTA in one town and then do one for the Enforcers in another town without suffering any negative (or positive) consequences with either faction. It gives us a chance to introduce the factions and their views of the world without requiring players to pick sides. In later sectors, however, faction-specific missions will make you friendlier with some factions and put you in dutch with others, and the factions will compete against each other to control towns and resources.

Micajah: How much content will be used in-game, and how much out-of-game (on the internet, manuals, etc.)?  

Wes: Well, we've got a lot of content going into the game, to be sure. I wouldn't be surprised to see more lore-related content on the website down the road, but we're hoping to let players get as much of the story as possible from within the game itself.

That Guy Isn't Pretty

That guy isn't pretty.

Micajah: Will there eventually be a book based on the Fallen Earth lore? I know you constructed a Canterbury Tales-type novel for NaNoWriMo based on your OtherSpace work. Can fans expect something like this in the future?

Wes: That hasn't been discussed, honestly. I'd love to do something like that, but all our attention is focused on getting the game rocking and rolling. And I'm not the only novelist on the content team. I'd love to see some Fallen Earth books, though, whether I write one or not.

Micajah: How much of your previous “story” experience will be visible in Fallen Earth? I’m guessing the story for the game will be grand, epic, and will blow my mind…but what can you tell those people that aren’t familiar with you?

Wes: I'm working with more than a dozen other people to bring the stories of Fallen Earth to life. I can in no way take credit for how grand or epic it'll end up being. Everybody on the writing team brings skills to the project and we're having a good time weaving elements to and fro between our storylines. Lee Hammock, our Lead Game Designer,  has really encouraged us to focus on telling good stories (and not just making bland missions for players to kill time), so we're all trying to do that within the framework of the game engine.

What I can say about the long-term storylines we've envisioned is that they will build up to some amazing stuff.

Micajah: What about other current MMOs? Do you think their overall story is lacking, or is it purely up to the players in those worlds to make their play-area smaller and write their own adventures? I know you did some of this on the WoW RP server, but I wasn’t sure if you thought the games in general had decent storylines or not.

Wes: Some games are just grinding to level. Some are definitely trying to put story into their worlds. I think WoW has done a pretty good job of telling stories through their quest lines, if only more people would take the time to read them. There's also plenty of lore to build from in games like Lord of the Rings Online and Age of Conan.

From a player-character standpoint, I think that, regardless of the game, whether it's a graphical MMO or a prose-based MUD, the role-playing you do relies almost entirely on you and the immediate circle of people you play with. Play your character in the game. Write stories about them in the forums. If the MMO server has a dedicated Wiki for role-players (such as http://earthenring.wikia.com/ ), get a character page there! You're the stone, dropping in the pond. Hopefully, it ripples outward and generates enthusiasm for others to build characters.

For more information, visit www.fallenearth.com.  Thanks for giving us the chance to talk with Ten Ton Hammer readers.

Micajah: It was our pleasure!

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