Next Island is a sci-fi MMO that incorporates different genres and ideas, setting it apart from a lot of games on the 'net. Curious about the developers, I came across this lovely lady:
GG: Next Island just recently entered my radar and I was delighted to find a woman behind the scenes developing the missions. What do you think makes a mission satisfying to players?
MS: An ideal game scenario has an engaging story and the right difficulty level. Without a solid character or interesting motivation, it’s very hard to feel motivated and engaged by the story. And with an objective that’s too easy, we don’t feel challenged and sometimes even feel like the game is condescending to us. We don’t feel very heroic dressed in our best armor to run a simple delivery mission, for example. If the objective is too hard, it’s easy to feel frustrated by the game as a whole, and not just come back to that particular questgiver or scenario later on.
I also like to make things as open ended as possible. When I play RPGs, I like to feel like I have choices and that my choices affect my game experience, so I try to give that feeling to my players.
GG: Your love for gaming started with simple, text-based adventure games. They sure have come a long way since then! How and when did you enter the world of game development?
MS: Working on games has been a dream for a long time, but like most, I’d assumed the industry was much too competitive to really make a living making games. I started writing game reviews and gaming commentary in 2006, which led me into some QA testing and a bit of content writing, so when the opening at Next Island came up, I was ready to go.
I think I’d like to write an interactive fiction game someday. Even with all the mechanics and graphics we have access to now, there’s something really enjoyable about a simple interactive storyline.
GG: There’s a lot of science fiction in the Next World universe and the team strives for authenticity; the historically-accurate Parthenon, for example. What kind of research do you conduct for your missions? Are there particular authors, movies or stories that inspire you?
MS: Because I’m designing scenarios in a world created by my boss, Next Island’s CEO David Post, I need to check in with him to make sure my work matches his back story and his overall vision. And Next Island is part of the Entropia Universe, so I play on the other planets to make sure that my content incorporates elements players enjoy, without being too close to what already exists. So my research would be maintaining a familiarity with David’s vision and with the space Next Island occupies in the Entropia Universe.
Working in the Ancient Greece realm is particularly fun for me. I majored in classics in college, so for me, working on a game set in ancient Athens has more to do staying calm and remembering that not every one expects total historical accuracy on every item, than trying to come up with inspiration!
In November, we released a mission I wrote about Arachne, and I have plans to introduce more mythological content in the future. The Metamorphoses is a really great source for myth and magical themes. Ovid might be surprised to be an inspiration for a videogame.
GG: If someone steps into an elevator with you and you have just a minute or so to explain what Next Island is, what would you say?
MS: I’d describe it as a free-to-play massively multi-player online game for the PC, built on the Entropia Universe platform, in which players take on the role of scientific explorers in an alternate universe.
Of course, in a real elevator, I’d probably just mumble, hand my card over, and run off… I can get a little shy sometimes.
GG: What is it about Next Island that makes it stand out from the MMO crowd?
MS: You’re so right, MMOs and especially free-to-play, downloadable MMOs are a really crowded space! There are new games coming out every day, and existing games are reinventing themselves to move with market trends.
For me personally, the most appealing part is the the time-travel aspect, which blends my interests in science-fiction and ancient history.
Entropia Universe uses a real-cash economy. Players can purchase in-game items, like weapons and armor, using a credit card. The difference between Entropia and other microtransaction games is that a player can cash out their loot or crafted items as real cash. I was surprised by what a draw this is to players.
GG: Aside from Next Island, of course, what games do you like to play?
MS: Osmos, from Hemisphere Games, is a really beautiful ambient puzzle for the PC. I think there’s a mobile version coming out soon too. School 26 from Silicon Sisters is a great casual iOs game, based on choosing emotional responses and developing relationships with characters. And I can never get bored of Sims 3 or Civ 5! I’m noticing that these are wildly different from Next Island, but I guess that’s why I chose these games for relaxation.
I also really enjoy looking at new indie titles, I think there’s a lot of creativity in story and in mechanics coming out of small studios right now.
GG: There is a common misconception that there are only a few things you can do to get involved in the video game industry. (“I can’t draw” or “I’m not good at math,” etc.) You get to use your storytelling and planning skills to create new adventures. What kind of advice would you give a girl who wants to develop video games?
MS: You’ve struck a nerve with me here! So many smart girls and women write themselves off as “no good at math.” I find this very frustrating, especially since there are so many outside sources telling women in technology that we can’t be as good as men in our field! Sure, we’re can’t all be brilliant mathematicians, and not every career path requires advanced, but I’d discourage any girls from feeling intimidated by working with numbers, and giving up. Even in in my work, which is mostly language and story, there is a very mathematical side of balancing difficulty.
But, yes, there are a lot of different pathways into the games industry.
For any career in games, I’d suggest thinking critically about games. Force yourself to question what you enjoy and don’t enjoy playing, think about what could be improved, think about why the developer or publisher might have made those choices, think about what could be added to make it better, think about what features you never bothered with. Develop a nuanced opinion about games — more than “best game ever!” or “worst game ever!” — and try to defend it. Write posts and essays to organize these thoughts, even if you don’t plan to be a game writer.
I’d encourage girls and young women to get involved in making games in any way that suits your interests, whether it’s programming, PR, translation and localization, sound design, project management… and I look forward to working with you in the future.
MMO, Meg Stivison, Next Island, Women in Gaming, content designer, interview, missions