RG: I'll also be spending time on what you might broadly call educational initiatives. Everything from connecting to schools across the globe, here in the States through the Challenger Center, and in England through the British National Space Center. In addition to doing experiments directly at the behest of children and answering alot of the children's questions on a video blog I'll be doing from space.
And as my father took some of the first photo surveys of the surface of the Earth while on Skylab, I'm going to be repeating a bunch of those photo surveys, with help from organizations like the Nature Conservancy, who is helping to identify relevant ground targets mined out of the Skylab data bases, to show things like the recession of the glaciers, as well as river delta expansion, desertification, deforestation, and even hopefully show some positive stories, such as good forestry management techniques that have allowed reforestation in some parts of the United States.
Okay, let's talk a little more about Operation Immortality. How does this tie into the fiction in Tabula Rasa?
RG: In the game fiction for TR, in the not too distant future, the Earth is invaded by a horde we call the Bane. This is being done because Earth, which has been largely ignored through most of its history, is now finally on the precipice of being an intergalactic, space-faring society ourselves, and so therefore the Bane, who have had an eye on the Earth for many years, have decided it's time to get rid of us before we get any more advanced. How this will tie into game, since a number of people on Earth have a brief advance warning of this impending doom, we have decided to send with me into space this time capsule that will protect the history and accomplishments of the Earth from this scourge that will otherwise erase, or create a "blank slate" of, the information and history of the Earth. So in addition to taking up characters, we're going to take up things players have to say about planet Earth and other details we've yet to announce, which I'll leave aboard the ISS.
For the DNA sequences, we're running contests where we're selecting a number of our players who we will send DNA kits to, to have their individual DNA sequenced, and we will put their sequences in the time capsule so that in the future, if humanity perishes, with that information, someone will be able to rebuild the human race in the images of those stored on the drive.
So they're hoping that the drive would be safer on a space station than, say, in an underground bunker or something?
RG: Well, it depends on the nature of the invasion, of course. If you're worried about a scourge that will cover the surface of the Earth, then clearly space offers some form of protection.
And these events will coincide with a free trial of Tabula Rasa?
RG: We'll be collecting data for the drive throughout the month of August, and yes, we'll also give people a free trial access to the game. Everyone who is either already playing, or plays through the trial, their character data will be included in the time capsule going to space.
Let's talk about the game itself for a bit, which has had 9 content updates so far. Is the plan to continue adding to the game at this pace?
RG: That's correct, 9 deployments so far, as we call them. We've gotten into a pretty good rythm, you might say. I'm sure you're aware that it's one of the key aspects to the life of an online game. While it's in development, the world belongs to the developers more than the community (to the extent that there is a community). Once an online game goes live, the transition from being owned by the developers to being really owned by the community of players is completed. Now our development team's job is to support our community in the way they want their world, their reality, crafted.
It's not unlike the city council of your home town, which needs to grow in ways that their community wants it to evolve, and if they're successful the town will attract more people, and if they're unsuccessful people will either move out or elect different officials to run the city. The same thing is true for us, so one of the great opportunities and challenges for an online game is to keep a regular stream of improvements and additions coming into the world, to keep the community happy and thriving. And I think the Tabula Rasa team has done a very good job getting into a rythm of continuous deployments, and listening and reacting very well to player feedback.
So, as you also may know, for an online game the first year is a period where you settle into those kind of grooves and build the core audience, and we think the time is right now, close to one year out, to make a push. The game is well-grounded, a core fan base is playing happily, now is the time for us to reinvigorate the growth of the game and bring new blood in to grow the property itself.
It's not always easy to keep that core community happy, is it?
RG: Well, it's interesting to see how various companies deal with their communities. We're big believers in listening to the community and developing the world in ways the community is looking for, but there are other schools of thought. There are other companies that start with a more top-down approach, where they say, our vision of the game is to go left, we'll call it, and the problem with doing that is that it's very easy to walk away from your current audience, who we believe are really essential to help you grow and have continuity and find new people by word of mouth.