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Interview with Mike Morrison on Prominence
Developer:Digital Media Workshop
Release Date:Late 2011
Article Posted:August 2011

Prominence is an upcoming science-fiction adventure game from Digital Media Workshop. The game invites players to explore a space colony that belongs to an advanced civilization known as the Letarri. After years of drifting across space without a home, the Letarri discover a habitable planet. An advance ship is sent to the planet to begin the colonization process. However, something goes wrong with the mission. It will be up to the players to find out what happened to the colony. As Prominence nears completion, we caught up with Mike Morrison from Digital Media Workshop to find out more about the adventure.

[Adventure Lantern]: How would you describe Prominence?

[Mike Morrison]: Prominence is a first-person, point-and-click PC adventure game set in a science-fiction world where the player is cast as a crew member on a colonization mission. The mission teeters on the brink of disaster and the future of the colony and its people are in the hands of the player.


[AL]: What can you tell us about the storyline?

[MM]: Itís about the fate of a race of people called the Letarri. Theyíve been refugees for hundreds of years and now theyíve finally discovered a remote inhabitable world. The player is part of a small vanguard crew, and their mission is to go to this far-off planet and build the first base on the surface for the incoming colonists.

There are just over 30 members in the vanguard crew, but their vessel is designed to travel to the planet and then become an orbital factory, using nanotechnology to fabricate structures and components that are shuttled down to the surface and assembled by the small crew with help from a variety of vehicles, robots, and machines.

Unfortunately, the mission has gone awry and bad things have happened. The player has to unravel the clues, determine what went wrong, and then decide what they want to do about it.

Meanwhile, millions of Letarri are slowly making their way to what they believe will be their new home. Their fate rests in the hands of the player.

[AL]: What kind of a setting did you create for the game?

[MM]: Well, itís a science-fiction game, but we wanted it to be based - at least somewhat - on reality.

A few years ago, I was working on a team in a visual effects guild. We had a client who needed 3d visualizations to support a proposal for the long-term colonization of Mars. It was a fun project and gave me the opportunity to learn about the real-world challenges and necessities of real interstellar colonization.

Of course, we donít have the technology level that the Letarri have. I think when you say, 'science-fiction', people expect a certain amount of 'future' in what they experience. So we worked hard to try to give real meaning to most of what you see in the game, even if it's much more advanced technology than what we might have here on Earth. Whenever possible, every object - whether itís a room, prop, machine, computer system, or other object - was designed for a purpose. It has a role or meaning to the mission.

[AL]: How will the players interact with the environment?

[MM]: Each environment in the game has been fully built in 3D, and as players move through each area theyíll experience it via animated transitions, which really give a sense of scale and dimension to each area. Rather than just clicking to move forward and jumping to a new location, theyíll get to see what itís like as they move from one location to the next. So right away we're really trying to put the player into the world.

Then we have various times in the game where the player changes the environment through their in-game actions. They might restore power, make some repairs, activate some machinery, blow something up, etc. which may change one or more environments - sometimes quite drastically.


[AL]: What kind of challenges can we expect to encounter?

[MM]: Prominence includes a tasty mixture of puzzles. There are the classic use-inventory-object-on-environment type puzzles in a myriad of flavors plus some variants that may require construction or deconstruction of items. Sometimes inventory items are used in conjunction with some other type of environmental interaction. And then there are a couple of 'gotcha' puzzles where that classic adventure gamer tactic - running around picking up everything that's not bolted down - can come back to bite you. Kevin will get mad at me if I say much more about that...

We also have many GUI puzzles. How could a science-fiction adventure not have some cool touch-screens and interfaces and other goodies to play with, right? Computer systems, both graphical and text-based, appear in Prominence and the player will get to use them to do all kinds of neat stuff to help them on their adventure. Many are unique, some are used a few times with varying levels of difficulty as the game progresses, and there's a really cool holographic system where you get to go into a ... hmm, I better not ruin the fun.

As the game progresses, the player also gets some additional tools/abilities that they can use to help them solve puzzles and unravel the mystery of what happened (and what they can do about it).

Thinking about it now, I'm realizing that we rarely use only one mechanic in a given puzzle. We have lots of hybrid cases where a puzzle uses both inventory and GUI steps on the way to being resolved. I think the reasons for that are, first, the game world was built around the sense of realism that I mentioned earlier, so the systems and interactions required are understandable because they're rooted in reality. Second, they're based on the events of the story - not based on arbitrary puzzle counts or obscure mechanics. By following the story, you'll generally have a good idea of what needs to be done and usually a basic idea of how it might be possible.

[AL]: The Prominence Web site indicates that the adventure will have multiple endings. Could you elaborate on this?

[MM]: At a key moment in the adventure, the player will make a critical choice that will take them down one of two possible routes. Each of those routes is separate and has different content, puzzles, and gameplay, and also contains multiple outcomes. So there are several ways that the story can 'end'.

[AL]: Can you tell us a little about the development team?

[MM]: The core team since development first began has been Kevin [McGrath] and me. Kevin handles the programming. Iím responsible for all the art, along with the business, PR, and other operational duties for the studio. Story and design are shared between us.

About once per week, Tom [Griffith] and I get together in the studio to work together on the audio. We're longtime collaborators on a variety of audio projects.

We've had other help over the years at various times from freelance and volunteer supporters, and we are currently assembling a crack team of beta testers for the final push toward completion.


[AL]: How long have you been working on the project?

[MM]: About five years, including pre-production. It mostly came down to the old rule: fast, good, or cheap - pick two. We didn't want fast and cheap because it wouldn't be good, and we couldn't afford fast and good, because it wouldn't be cheap. So we chose good and cheap and it wasn't fast.

[AL]: What were some of the challenges you faced while designing the game?

[MM]: Budget and scope were two of the biggest challenges. Because weíre such a small team, we had to come up with creative ways to approach various hurdles in development. Finding balance in every detail of the game became a very important part of the development process.

[AL]: When can we expect the game to be released?

[MM]: Prominence is scheduled for release on Windows PCs (XP/Vista/Win7) later this year.

Adventure Lantern thanks Mike Morrison for taking the time to answer our questions. Judging from Mr. Morrison's responses and the initial screenshots, Prominence is shaping up to be a very compelling science-fiction adventure. Exploring the colony and working on the multi-layered puzzles Mr. Morrison described sounds exciting. If you like sci-fi themes, Prominence is most definitely worth putting on your radar. To find out more about the upcoming adventure, visit the official Prominence Web site.