I’m happy to present to you a short interview with Laura Martz, Starmourn’s lead builder for the last 16 months or so. Although almost everyone who works for Iron Realms started out as a player of our games, we reached out to the wider MUD community when hiring a lead builder, and although we had some great candidates apply, Laura got the position and is killing it!
Let’s let her tell you about herself and her building activities in her words:
Matt: So, Laura, tell us about your background in MUDs.
Laura: I first stumbled onto MUDs in 2005, when I logged onto Armageddon. As I’m an avid reader, writer, gamer, and roleplayer it was love at first permanent death. I started staffing and building there not long after I started playing, and did that with semi-regularity until last year, when I was hired by Iron Realms Entertainment. I adore maneuvering through code challenges mixed with the descriptive nature of a world that relies more on imagination than something as limited as rendered images. Creating a place that players can enjoy has always been a deeply fulfilling hobby…and now, occupation. I’m really fortunate! Writing for Iron Realms is really the best job ever. And, until graphics cards catch up to my awesome brain, I doubt I’ll ever leave text-based gaming as a primary source of entertainment in my life.
Matt: What was your favorite part about building for Armageddon?
Laura: Finding new ways to challenge myself to make areas interesting was (and still is) one of my favorite parts of building. I like making areas feel lush and alive and surprising. So… secret hideaways, easter eggs, scripts to handle npc behavior, interesting maps. In Armageddon, when I started building, most of the world was well established, and so areas were much smaller and more detailed. My goal was always to evoke an experience for the player, tell a story they’d want to fill in the gaps of – whether that is with a crumbling shanty or a noble’s estate. I’m bringing all of that to Starmourn, and having a great time.
Matt: How are you finding building on Starmourn to be?
Laura: Completely awesome. There’s a lot of amazing features for builders, from custom exits to elevations to instances to hacking to props to datashards to the quest system to progging… the sheer amount of creative tools we have at our disposal to make areas multi-layered and immersive is fantastic. They’re all fun to play with and fit together in different ways. I love IRE’s graphical mapping system, which was a new experience for me – and I could not live without it, now.
Matt: What’s your favorite part of building?
Laura: Honestly? Spreadsheets. I love producing a lot of stuff at once, and I couldn’t do it without google sheets helping me plan out a hundred npcs at once (for example) or a bunch of prop tables for environments. As for actual inside-the-game building…ugh, really tough to say. The fact that there’s so many different things I like to do keeps me hopping, though. Once I churn out a bunch of rooms, writing npcs starts to seem really appealing, and when that’s done, I’m all excited about progging, or quests, or some other aspect.
Matt: Can you describe the rough mental process you go through when designing an area?
Laura: I think of it like getting a seed of an idea that I nurture into growth step by step. It might be as simple as a couple of key words (for instance ‘abandoned spacestation’), which I then need to flesh out. I’ll look at images and inspirational artwork, read our extensive wiki, ponder where in space it’s located and what the spacestation’s original purpose was and what it may have looked like when it wasn’t abandoned, ruminate over key locations in the area (a medbay, crew quarters, a charging station for bots), consider what sort of NPCs I’ll need to create (roaming, glitchy, old security bots, motionless laser turrets). I also think a lot about what players will actually be able to do in the area as far as quests and such go. I’ll jot all this stuff down as notes in a file, work out a map on graph paper (I have a lot of graph paper maps in my house right now!) and when it comes time to actually coding and building things out, the process is really easy and fast.
Matt: What’s your favorite area that you’ve designed and built so far on Starmourn?
Laura: This is the toughest question that there is. I have built a lot of areas in Starmourn, and I love something about all of them. Benu Wen, the W’hoorn homeworld, has one of my favorite monsters in the game (a three-legged poisonous tripod-like dinosaur called a tridactyl), and I love how the lower gravity makes all the trees spindly and tall. There’s an area on the surface of the planet Song I designed that is devastated by nuclear destruction and filled with mutants. I love nuclear devastation AND mutants! Oldtown, in Scatterhome, is a creepy, half-flooded labyrinth of ruins deep in the asteroid, filled with roaming Bushraki gangs. I love ruins, labyrinths, and gangs! Gunurash III, the Krona homeworld, is near and dear to my heart, as it was the first area I worked on and I love its giant bug monsters and rocky, arid harshness. This is a really hard question, Matt. 😛
Matt: What kinds of things do you like doing when you’re not working on Starmourn? Do any of them influence your building work?
Laura: I’m an avid reader, and I love digging into new sci fi to help keep my inspirational synapses firing. So yeah, my hobbies actively influence my work on Starmourn. My favorite (sci fi) authors include Neal Stephenson, Kage Baker, William Gibson, James S.A. Corey, Rosemary Kirstein (finish the Steerswoman series, lady!!), Vernor Vinge, Kurt Vonnegut, Liu Cixin, Becky Chambers, Scott Westerfeld, Marissa Meyers, Ian McDonald and…well, many more!! I absolutely love fantasy as well, but my tastes have run more towards science fiction for several years now. As previously mentioned, I’m a big gamer as well, with an embarassing amount of hours invested into Minecraft and Terraria.
Matt: What do you think players are going to like best about the areas in Starmourn?
Laura: The sheer variety. We have every conceivable sort of environment anyone could possibly want to visit/do battle in with their character. Want a lava planet? We have it. Want a water planet? We have it. Want forests? Yes. Frozen forests? Yes. Frozen oceans? Yes. Deserts? Yes. Mountains, beaches, lush valleys, airless moons, yes. Sailing ships, spaceships, shipyards, space stations, shuttles, budding colonies, established towns, peaceful farms, factories, populated asteroids, unpopulated asteroids, corrupt megalopolises, ruins, shining spires…we have it all. You’re going to love it. You’ll never want to leave.
Matt: Thanks Laura! And thanks for reading, folks. I hope you feel a tiny bit more connected to our hard-working team than you did before! In a couple weeks, I’ll do an interview with Justin, our producer, as well.
Although we recently released some details on the basics of the starship system in Starmourn, maybe you’re wondering what ‘space’ looks like in a MUD?
I’ve just put up a page with a lot of info about the basics of starships. You will definitely want to check this out, as it’s by far the largest information release on starships we’ve done so far.
More info on them is coming, including shots of space and ships flying around!
Let’s talk about death!
Why do we have death in a game? Why not just make you immortal?
Two main reasons:
1) Many games (certainly including Starmourn) have elements of roleplaying and simulation to one degree or another. Death is a pretty big part of life insofar as it happens to everyone, and it’s a helpful ‘failure point’ for you as a player. How do you know when you lost the fight? You’re dead, that’s how. Of course, we could go with the more G-rated options like having you ‘knocked out’ or even something more abstract like ‘You have lost’ without specifying what lost means in-fiction. In our case, we have no reason to go G-rated, as Starmourn is a game aimed at adults, so death it is!
2) It’s a useful fiction for the loss of something to create a cost for hitting the ‘failure point.’ Typically that cost is expressed as a loss of specific in-game resources (like xp or gold) and/or a loss of time. If you’ve played our other games, think of the death sequences.
So how is death going to work in Starmourn?
Well, all of you have an internal neural replicator (INR) that is continuously updating itself with a full model of your current brain activity.
You’ll all also have a sample of your DNA at a cloning facility, which are all run by the Atarsids, who turned to cloning to replenish their devastated species after the Third Cleax War, and are the foremost experts in cloning now. You’ll select a particular cloning facility to be your default one, and can change it whenever you wish.
When you die, you’ll be resurrected at a cloning facility, minus some xp. If you feel like that xp is worth it, and you died in a way that saw your INR survive, you could go back to where you died, retrieve your INR, and get a good portion of that xp back.
However, anyone can retrieve your INR, and if they choose to use it on themselves, they’ll get a portion of that xp for themselves, though less than you’d get back if you used it yourself. Or, they could choose to sell it back to you, or to someone else. That’s a nasty thing to do, of course, but Starmourn’s full of space villains (some of them are probably reading this now).
And that’s how death will work in Starmourn!
Ready to sign up for the newsletter?
Get concept art, news before anyone else, and access to beta signups when it's time!