Manehattan One Year Retrospective: Of Pipbucks & Game Design

By Novel Idea

Well, here we are. Can you believe it’s already been one year since the initial reveal of Gardens of Equestria? We came out swinging with our Teaser Trailer, the website and the very first version of the Fallout: Equestria (The Manehattan Edition) audiobook.

Back then, it was just "Gardens of Equestria" and we were "Stable-Tec: The Manehattan Project."

I will always be very proud of the initial reactions:

0megaRidley: "Whoever made this should join The Overmare Studios. c:" (I didn't realize at the time he was part of Overmare!)

"Holy f***ing shit, that trailer was slick and came out of nowhere. I am excited."

"What kind of music will be played on DJ Pon3's station? Are you going for traditional fallout style period music, or are you accepting other styles?" (My first interaction with Corvus)

But the best part was that people liked what they saw. That encouragement drove us forward to new heights, drew the attention of many amazingly talented individuals and created a team that will bring us to create a one-of-a-kind story-driven experience for Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 4.

However, more than changed my life forever.

As some of you know, in January of 2015, I sustained a concussion directly to the left temple at work, banging my head against the hard aluminum top of an 27” iMac. I was simply stunned for a bit and thought I shook it off. I worked for the next hour and a half and drove home. It wasn’t until I knelt down to give my daughter a hug goodnight and promptly fell over that I realized there was a problem.

Eventually, I got to the point where I could function somewhat, but I was left on half-days at work to recover. I found I could use the computer lightly and decided to play around with the idea of making my own mod. I’d always been interested in game design and always wanted a career in the video game industry.

But it wasn’t until I pitched the idea to a few of my friends who immediately signed up that I realized I had something special on my hands. It was this concept that ended up drawing a lot of attention from people all over. Corvus, our Music & Audio Director, became the first applicant to the Manehattan Project (and totally spoiled me for all future applicants because he was so freaking awesome. Jerk.) and now he’s a close friend. Redkat, our original Technical Director and now our QA Lead, taught me an enormous amount about the GECK. She’s snarky and brilliant, a lethal combination. Blue Nova, who I’ve come to appreciate even more for his experience in development even more than his epic artwork.

We’ve had a lot of people join the team. Some didn’t work out. Some stayed for a short time. And some became incredibly valuable members of the team and close friends. One in particular, who I won’t mention by name because he requested it, was a vital aspect of our project before real life became more pressing. Others, such as the insanely talented Blue Nova, have helped me tremendously by organizing, planning and even better, bringing new talent to the team.

As of today, we have 13 members on the Development Team, including our new Cinematics Lead, Scarlet Moon, our new Script Engineer, Mercer & our new QA Tester, Sunshine. This includes our Creative Team, Technical Team, Sound Team and QA Team. This doesn’t even include our astounding Vocal cast!

I never expected that this creative vision would inspire so many to join forces to help make this thing a reality. I’m one of those people who will go “Someone should do this! *Looks around* Okay, then, I’ll do it!” If people like it, all the better.

But it hasn’t all been fun and games. The announcement at last year’s E3 about the release of Fallout 4 in November threw a lot of our plans into chaos. Originally, This Coming Storm was going to be twice as large as what is now. We had to cut back a huge amount of content, including one of my favorite sequences in the game. My original goal of getting “This Coming Storm” out before the launch of Fallout 4 never happened either. 

While our preview mod, “Smuggler’s Run” was a smash hit, currently with 371 endorsements 2,840 unique downloads and nearly 50,000 views, it did kick off what I have come to call “The Weekend of the Troll.” I’d never really contributed anything to the MLP community before, save for time, money and owning/wearing way too many pony shirts. So when we actually hit NexusMod’s Hot Files, it was a miracle...but it brought down the wrath of the trolls upon us.

I’m sure many of you are used to the bile and vitriol people can throw at the MLP fandom, but I wasn’t ready for it. It almost knocked me out entirely, until I reached out for help. I don’t know what possessed me, but I actually reached out to the one and only Kkat. I thought Kkat of all people would know how to deal with this sort of thing.

Kkat’s words inspired me and buoyed me against the hate (that and the ability to moderate our own forums on Nexus so we could delete idiots...and three people getting permanently banned for their behavior there). I’d like to share Kkat’s words with you today.

Yes, sadly, I know exactly what you are experiencing.  I have to remind myself that those comments do not matter.  

Usually, these people aren't your target audience.  And their hateful attitudes make them unworthy of your consideration.  But that's not enough... you cannot let your self-defense from these people be emotionally negative.  Take solace and shelter in your friends.  Focus on those who love and appreciate your work.  Find happiness in what you have managed to create, and that what you have created is being enjoyed by others.  That's what makes it all worth it.  

You were never going to create something the entire world enjoys, and the modern internet is rife with people who gleefully tear down anything they can find excuse not to like, so the negative was to be expected... not because what you have done deserves the negative, but because sadly that's just how our world works.  What is important -- what actually matters -- is that you created something good that has brought joy to others.  The world needs more of that, and you have improved the world through your work.

I hope every creator out there can take these words to heart. They are a wonderful reminder from someone with a level of maturity and wisdom that I can only hope to aspire to someday.

Ironically, our success also brought about something else: access to the exclusive Nexus Mod Author forums. For those of you who don’t know, only creators whose mods have been downloaded over a thousand unique times can even see this forum. This is where the best of the best hang out...and somehow I got in. These were the professionals. They didn’t care what the mod was about. They cared about the modding itself. Through them, I have learned a tremendous amount on everything from creating worldspaces to LODs to scripting. And never once was I judged or mocked for GoE. Amazing.

We’ve had a lot of ups and downs. We’ve had Directors come and go. Real life issues become too pressing. I’ve made a lot of mistakes here and there.

But in the end, I’m happy where we are and where we’re going. While the road may be long, I know I’m not alone. I have fantastic people by my side, as passionate and driven as I am to make GoE a reality. While this may be taking much longer than originally anticipated, I know without a doubt this would be utterly impossible without them. So today, I want to celebrate the people who are going to be so critical to making GoE happen.

  • Corvus - Corvus, you’ve been there from nearly the beginning. You and I have a special connection that somehow you can whip up amazing music with just this tentative random idea I threw out...and do it fast. But more than that, you’ve been supportive through all the ups and downs. That has meant the world to me.
  • RedKat - You helped me see what was possible while keeping my feet on the ground (more or less) at the beginning of all of this. While you did have to leave the Director position, you never stopped being a friend and was always there to bounce ideas off of. I’m thrilled that you’re back as QA Lead.
  • Polyphonic - Though you’ve stepped down from the Vocal Director position, you were the original voice of Stable-Tec and you’re the voice of Velvet and so much more. You breathed life into these characters with the same passion and drive I’ve seen you take to just about everything in your life. I’m proud that you have made your mark on GoE and people will be hearing you when they’re being berated about drug addiction from Velvet. 🙂
  • Blue Nova/Droakir - Since you joined the team, you have become an integral part of how I manage and organize the Manehattan Project. Your expertise with development is utterly invaluable. You’ve got an incredible range of talents and I still have trouble believing that you’re actually doing something like this! Thank you for lending us your artistic talent and management wisdom.
  • Quantum State - You came into the team when we needed you so desperately. While you didn’t know the GECK, you were more than willing to learn. Having someone who can take charge of the technical aspects of the game while I wrangle the level design is a huge weight off my chest.
  • Trench Broom - Just like Jon, you came in when we needed you badly. You’re always willing to learn, always willing to push the boundaries and are so easy going I occasionally get suspicious. ^^
  • FancyCat - You were our first artist to join the team. It helped that you know FO:E even better than I did! Someone with a ton of experience in the community and a ton of talent in making textures that are unique but still very much Fallout. Seriously, Sugar Apple Bombs is epic and I can’t wait to see it fully in the game.
  • Clanky4 - I remember when I first saw your mod on Nexus. I immediately went “I want this guy.” The magic you can whip up in a matter of moments for modeling astounds me. Even better, you were insanely patient with my incessant requests for the Rock Farm’s signage. Don’t worry, I promise I’m done with them. REALLY!
  • Scarlet Moon, Orion, Sunshine & Mercer - While you folks are all new additions to the team, I’ve already seen your passion and commitment. The simple fact that you weren’t scared away by my Offer Letter tells me volumes about your professionalism and attitude. I look forward to getting to know each of you better as we build GoE together.

There are dozens more who deserve thanks. 2woToned and 0megaRidley from the FO:E Reddit, you’ve both been incredibly supportive of this project (and I also love the Gardens flair. ^^). DevouredOne, the only person to regularly post supportive comments on this blog itself. And of course, Kkat, without whom, all of this would have never happened.

In Fallout: Equestria, Littlepip is nearly killed by Calamity through a case of mistaken identity. It was a happenstance and an accident, but it formed the foundation of a relationship that would change both of their lives forever. There are many times in life where things take a sudden and often painful turn. But sometimes, these defining moments can be the catalyst for something much greater. It can open new doors and lead down paths never before imagined.

So here’s to the unexpected and the chaos of life itself. Without it, we wouldn’t be here.

And now, once more unto the breach. Don’t worry folks, while we’ve taken some time to look behind us, now it’s time to look forward. The Manehattan Project has a bright future and while I know you’ve all been waiting a very long time...what we have in store for you will be worth the wait.

Especially in the coming weeks. ^^

Until next time, this has been Novel Idea, Executive Producer, Lead Designer and Creative Director of the Manehattan Project. Have fun and stay safe out there!