Andrew Auseon, a Producer at Sparkypants, discusses the narrative at Dropzone, a complex world that the team created for the game. Andrew wears many hats at Sparkypants but the narrative of Dropzone remains one of his favorite things to work on.
Q1: What’s the story of Dropzone?
Dropzone is a strategy game takes place in a not-too-distant future in which humans have explored and domesticated most of our Solar System. It’s a setting of constant and brutal conflict, which is great because our game is about giant fighting robots! As with any good story, Dropzone takes place just as events in the universe are getting interesting, when simmering tensions have begun to explode and the future of people from all walks of life is uncertain.
In the years before Dropzone takes place, the Solar System has been growing at an exponential rate, and most of that rapid expansion was done rather sloppily. Upstart organizations, most notably Drauger Limited, became the linchpins of a new world order, effectively neutering distant groups like Earth’s government. The discovery of Cores on Europa only widened the gulf between those living in space and those living on Earth, or Terra. For the first time in human history, the most significant resource known was located off world, and this skewed the traditional balance of power. In addition, the time it takes to travel from place to place in the Solar System meant that new settlements were much more isolated than similar communities on Terra, and as a result they developed in unique and unexpected ways. Misunderstandings and animosities were rampant.
When the Kavash overthrew the human inhabitants of Europa, and Cores suddenly became up for grabs for the first time since they were discovered, a century of tension erupted. Core hunting is just a violent manifestation of all the bitterness and competition that had been brewing since the first remote drone landed on Europa. Dropzone Commanders have a role in the next chapter of this story, in which the future of the Solar System gets written.
Q2: What’s the main focus of the Dropzone Story?
In Dropzone you’re the commander of a squad of Rig pilots and Core hunters, comprised of probably the most shady, glamorous, and interesting people in the known universe. What you do matters. Politics, economics, technology, pop culture, and various other aspects of daily life revolves around Cores, because they’re the literal power source that enables life in outer space and back on Earth. Dropzone’s story is defined by the player/commander’s actions, a tale of an unknown ship’s officer trying to make it in the cutthroat and competitive world of retrieving Cores from the ruined surface of Europa. There’s plenty of backstory and detail when it comes to the game’s universe, factions, and characters, but the real narrative is what happens when the commander selects his or her Pilots and send them into battle.
Q3: What’s the most important part of the Dropzone universe?
That’s an easy one. Without a doubt, Cores are the most important thing in the system, which is what we call the Solar System in Dropzone. Governments, cosmic and local, rely on them to function and exert influence. Corporations kill for the right to acquire, ship, and sell them. Individuals pursue them to make a name for themselves in a vast universe where it’s far too easy to get lost in the cracks. Even the Kavash, Europa's alien race, seem to protect Cores with a savagery that has made them the mutual antagonist of hundreds of warring human factions. Cores are the one common motivation that all of our groups and characters share. What they do with the Cores is what differentiates them.
Dropzone players are no different. Everything they do in the game is in the service of securing Cores and ascending the hierarchy of power.
Q4: What’s the tone of Dropzone?
From the very beginning, Dropzone was envisioned as a “realistic” science fiction adventure. To us, that meant we wanted its narrative sphere to involve the known universe, Earth’s Solar System, a place with which every player would have some familiarity. Technology would need to be advanced enough for humanity to reach and settle on known worlds, but it would insinuate very strict limitations. In the same way, the politics and culture evolved to adopt a heightened sense of realism without pushing past the boundaries of believability. The tone reflects the darkness and isolation of the circumstances with the humor that comes with the absurd. The stakes are real, the humor is organic, and the science is loosely based on developments that are occurring every day in our real world.
From the earliest days of pre production, Ted Terranova’s Rig art direction fueled much of our discussion about the game’s tone. Ted’s concepts featured a very functional, grounded style, one that no doubt comes from his background as an architecture student and illustrator. Dropzone’s machines aren’t the kind of sleek, organic or metallic craft of space fantasy, but the rusted tools of a bygone era refitted to serve a new purpose. When Core hunting first began, all Rigs were simply construction mechs and low-orbit ships modified to survive long enough for an operator to grab a Core and escape before being killed by the Kavash. Of course, there’s been plenty of innovation since then, and as the need for specialized tech grew so did the influence of Gear manufacturers. I look to the Rigs every time I think about what life might be like on the ground in the Dropzone universe.
Q5: Can you tell us a little about the VO of Dropzone?
Dropzone is an action strategy game, so dialogue isn’t necessarily the highest priority; however, it’s precisely because the in-game voiceover is one of the few vehicles for characterization that we take it very seriously. Despite all the cool and crazy pieces of Gear, the Rig Pilots are the most direct connection between players and the larger universe of Dropzone. It was important for us to treat the PIlots with the same amount of importance as we hoped players would when trying them out in Dropzone. Fury, Vise, Recon, Pandora and so on are the faces of our game, and their voices needed to be iconic.
For voice-over direction we approached Douglas Carrigan of VoiceWorks, with whom some of us had worked alongside on past projects. Douglas, Sparkypants Audio Director Chris Apple, and I spent several months listening to actors and going over dialogue lines together. As always, casting was the most difficult part of the process because some actors capture a character right in the blind audition, while other personalities proved much more elusive. For example, Kesten John as Recon, Gideon Emory as Cortex, and Melanie Minichino as Pandora were just a few who nailed their characters in the first take, adding depth none of us had even considered. Regardless of the world, it’s always a joy and an honor to work with talented voice actors, and the cast of Dropzone was no exception. They brought the Pilots to life in surprising ways, taking the written lines and imbuing them with passion, humor, and gravity.