Kelsey, our awesome writer, is visiting us in Los Angeles. To celebrate working with her, in the flesh for a change, here is a short interview:
Kelsey: The hardest thing was getting their tone right. It wasn’t too difficult to come up with them as an alien race, and it was fun building their society. Really the hardest thing with them was trying to find that balance between the scientific intellectuals they’re supposed to be and writing fun content so you’re not just like, “Oh god these nerds, when will they shut up?”
Loan: Do you remember the process that led us to create the unique structure for the Nomai writing?
Kelsey: I distinctly remember you guys [Alex & Loan, the game designers] telling me to “do whatever.” You said we were free to do what we wanted and it didn’t have to read like a script, so it seemed like a natural choice to play around with 3D space, hence the translator tool. The structure we use in the game was one of the options that was interesting and fun to read that still tied back to the idea that the Nomai are very scientific, curious, and analytical. They want to analyze every part of a conversation, and they get distracted by new ideas easily, so of course they’re going to go off on all these tangents and branches. The goal there was designing a system that fits with their philosophy.
I did a lot on paper before I started writing their text, and I would think, “How can I reasonably convey information that doesn’t look like I’m just taking linear notes?” I normally do a lot of arrows, especially when brainstorming. I also have a lot of offshoots in my notes - things that connect to one idea but not another idea, or an idea that loops back around and reinforces an earlier point.
Honestly, the system is what a language would look like if my notebook were written by multiple people instead of just me. Which, in retrospect, is a little bit conceited [laughs].
Loan: I know you took great care defining the personalities of every single Nomai you actually get to read in the game. As a result, some of it was quite difficult for you since, not to reveal anything, it doesn’t necessarily end well for all of them.
Kelsey: Well, I can tell you right now that we’ve effectively killed a lot of the Nomai through rewrites. Remember, we originally had not only bigger conversations but also a lot more characters speaking in each one. The problem was that it got bogged down to the point where you couldn’t remember who was who, because each Nomai only had one or two lines per conversation. So I had to cut a lot of characters that I’d already fleshed out and really enjoyed, and just went with the ones that were the most memorable. Which, in all honesty, made it a lot stronger. There are so many characters in the back of my head that still exist somewhere in the Nomai society whose voices you’ll never actually read in-game. Which is a bit weird, but there you have it.
As for all of their fates... It was kind of weird to create a society that was continually being disappointed and not reaching its goals. I think they have enough little victories. And honestly, if the Nomai knew how the game “ends,” I feel like they would be very pleased with everything they were able to do. That’s very satisfying to me.