The story of New Worlds Project: #1 – 2001, a Space Odyssey

New worlds project

Written by Kim Smouter, Co-Founder of New Worlds Project.

From successful launch, to project failure, to reboot – my journey as a co-founder

In 2001, the world was a very different place, the idea that a mixed-race man would become the next President of the United States was a dream we all thought would only become a reality in a century, and I was still years away from graduating from school. The term ‘social media’ to represent weirdly named sites like Facebook or Twitter did not exist in the English language. Tablets and smartphones weren’t yet the craze that they were today – and I’m not even sure they were on the radar. If we look at the technology available to webmasters in 2001 and the ones we have available now, it’s amazing to see how quickly technology has evolved and how well we have learned to embrace change.

The war has begun2001 was an interesting time for role-playing games too, especially the Trek Community. AOL chat-room based games were just starting to wane, whilst games using IRC and website chat rooms were becoming extremely popular, the stars of the time. Play-by-Post as a genre was just starting to be discovered by a growing number of free-form role-players. It was an exciting time to be a role-player.

2001 is a very special year to me because it is when my journey with New Worlds Project began, a journey that has shaped my personal and professional career and continues to do so nearly 12 years later. I was very excited to have an opportunity to share this story with the Ongoing Worlds community because the stories published so far seemed so alike my own that I too wanted to share with you the experience of running an original science-fiction play-by-post role-playing community.

The war has begunThis is the story of New Worlds Project. But it’s also a story which I hope can help aspiring community leaders to learn from the mistakes and the successes that we experienced as a community… and thereby increase the chances that the communities you create survive the test of time and become projects that you are proud to share with our family, friends, and the world beyond them. And most of all, it’s a story which I think is an incredible testament of what we role-players can achieve.

What I’m hoping to go through in this series is how we began, for those who are just getting started. I’ll go through what made our launch such a success the first time around. I’ll then go through the challenge of keeping the project going, until you reach that point where you can’t give it anymore and you have to let it go. And then, go through the unexpected… that point where you re-discover an old love and try to rekindle that special feeling. Yes, this isn’t a story about a community which didn’t have hiccups along the way, it’s a community which earned prized community awards, hundred members, and even Wikipedia’s golden seal of approval – only to collapse on the weight of itself – and I think those stories are also the important ones to tell, because it’s from mistakes that we learn most.

The war has begunI return to 2001, because this is when the story begins, and is perhaps the first learning point that one can take away from New Worlds Project. I had the luck of being able to share the journey with a co-founder, my significant other in the project, Alex. Without him, the project would never have taken off, but most importantly, the basic building blocks we established would never have become the inspirational blocks which spawned more stories than we could ever imagine. It’s so important to surround yourself with a muse who is able to support you in that starting creative process. You need someone to bounce ideas off of, and to keep you motivated or to take over for you when you have writing blocks or burnouts.

Alex and I were both active role-players contributing to a Star Trek role-playing community that was loosely based on Star Trek but in a future set after TNG and DS9. The details aren’t all that important, save to say that it was through role-playing with others that we discovered each other and kindled in our conversations the seeds of wanting to see a community that wasn’t based on something else.

The war has begunThe community we had been a part of really shaped our starting thoughts about a new community set in a science-fiction setting but that would knowingly cast its anchors away from Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5, indeed anything which Hollywood had produced to that point. We wanted the freedom of a setting that would be completely original but anyone going down the all-original approach really has to bear in mind that users need to be able to access the setting rather quickly. So yes, we need to go original, but we also needed to make sure what we came up with wasn’t so off the wall that people would be turned off by how difficult it was to understand the meta story. We’re still struggling with striking the right balance between accessibility, detail, originality and simplicity. This is the quandary any developer going down this route will have to face. We, more than any other type of role-playing community, have to really always think about our users first.

Going down the all-original route is fraught with difficulties, for one thing, everything has to be built from the grounds up – you have to come up with all kinds of details that are ‘for granted’ in a based-on setting. From the most mundane – where do people buy their food, do they earn a living, do they use toilets, to much bigger things like how many ships actually exist in the setting, how many factions will it have, will they like each other? What kind of ambiance are we going for?

The war has begunWhilst the seeds of our idea had been sown in 2001, it was only in 2003 that we actually opened the community up to the players! It simply took us that long to get to a stage where we felt we had gone through enough detail about each of the faction’s back story, the Known Galaxy’s own story, and all the different facets of the setting to be comfortable enough that role-players were equipped with enough material to write stories that could actually be consistent regardless of who wrote them. Did we take too long? I don’t think so, and in fact, it’s important you go at a pace that feels right and not feel rushed to open the community before the ideas are in place – taking time to consider, plan, and retest ideas is a critical part of the launching process.

In the next chapter of this series, I will go through in greater detail what we came up with, needless to say, even in 2013 we continue to review that setting and to test whether the framework we established in 2001 still works to this day. They say sometimes the first idea is the best one, and strangely enough I can easily say 80% of what we came up with 10 years ago, still remains inspiration today.

I look forward to telling you more about how New Worlds came to be and our plans to reboot this story on autumn 2013.

Interested in finding out more about New Worlds Project past, present, and future check out New Worlds Project at rpg.nwproject.org or follow us on Facebook.