Get to Know a GameDev: Adrian Bettridge-Wiese
Passionate amateurs play a huge role in the game dev community, particularly when it comes to modding popular games like Starcraft. This is especially true when it comes to Adrian Bettridge-Wiese, a former cellist and professional software consultant, who also created The Antioch Chronicles: Remastered, a custom campaign for Starcraft.
Even though his official job isn’t in games, Adrian has dedicated himself to game development. “I don’t really work in the industry in the sense that I get paid, but I do spend 20+ hours a week on our project.”
Thanks to a tip, we sat down with Adrian to ask about what drives him to dedicate (unpaid) time to writing mods.
What would be your unofficial title, if you were describing your role in gaming?
Hmm. My official title is Project Lead; I work on pretty much every aspect of the project. As for my role in gaming, I’m mostly a passionate amateur working in the Starcraft II modding scene. In general, I care a lot about diversity and inclusivity, with a side of telling people not to be assholes.
Have you worked in many other jobs?
I’ve done/failed at a bunch of different stuff—I got an undergrad degree in cello performance, scrubbed out of performance and into arts administration; gave that up for a human resources master’s degree; hated human resources, so went back into arts administration; scrubbed out of that and ended up in academic publishing; then transitioned into software, which is what I do now.
Absolutely! I actually joke that the mod project is just me doing my normal job for free. It’s not entirely true, but it comes close. A normal work day for me has me managing our team of engineers on several projects at once, talking to customers, writing proposals, and even putting in some coding work when I can. My Antioch project duties are quite similar. Though the Antioch team is larger than my work team, it’s less active, so I do a similar amount of management work. For Antioch, though, I do a lot more actual development—of the 30ish maps we have between the three episodes, I probably did the majority of the map programming for 25 or so.The connection does actually go both ways. I’m not a trained web developer—it’s just something I’ve taught myself, originally so I could make web sites for my RPG campaigns. When I first started working in the SC2 editor, it was all pretty simplistic stuff, but I’ve been very lucky to have super talented mapmakers on my team who taught me a ton about the editor. Since it’s just a GUI for a C-derivative language, the stuff I learned—from basic principles like creating functions for repetitive sets of actions to more advanced stuff like using records, which are basically just C structures—has carried over to the work I occasionally do in web development and helped me become a much better member community.
Alas, no. I had some technical deficiencies that ended up developing into a crippling neuromuscular condition called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. At its worst, I couldn’t even hold a pencil in my hand, let alone write with it, and had to use dictation software to type. I’ve had two major surgeries to relieve the pain, which have gotten me to the point where I can type again, but I won’t be able to play cello ever again. Sorry, that was a bit more depressing than you probably expected. I’ve accepted it and it doesn’t really get me down anymore. Just another chapter.
My current project is The Antioch Chronicles: Thoughts in Chaos. Previously, I worked on The Antioch Chronicles: Remastered. Both are Starcraft II custom campaigns.
The latter is a remake of the Antioch Chronicles, which was the first major custom campaign made for Starcraft (though intended as a trilogy, only two episodes were completed). I’ve been a member of the Antioch forum community since 1999, and we’re still going strong. On a lark, I decided to remake the Antioch Chronicles in Starcraft II in March of last year. I was joined by several members of the forum community, and the later joined by more people from SC2Mapster.
That went so well that we decided to finish the campaign with Thoughts in Chaos. At its height, we had fifteen people working on the project, though we’ve had some drop-offs over time. I don’t have a lot to pick from, but this is definitely my favorite project—my favorite part was definitely writing the script.
Was your remake the Antioch Chronicles the first mod you tried?
It was! I had literally never touched the SC2 editor before I started this project. Before that, my only experience with mapmaking was with the original Starcraft/Broodwar editor as a kid. I never made anything of any value then, and that editor is SO primitive that it didn’t really carry over.
I was lucky in this project that I was able to stand on the shoulders of the Star Craft: Mass Recall mod, who did the exhaustive work of recreating the original Starcraft/Broodwar in Starcraft II. Not only did they have a fully functional de-make for SC2, but the maps they made provided a good template to understand the basics of the editor.
From there, I just soldiered on. I’ll be honest—the early maps in Antioch Remastered are embarrassingly badly done. They work, but they’re some of the most disgusting copy pasta you’ll ever see. I’ve never been one to let perfect be the enemy of good (some might argue I don’t let it be the enemy of even “passing mediocre,” honestly), so each map I worked was an improvement from the last.
I’m still not an expert—there are things that people do with the editor, like Starcraft Universe, that blow my mind—but I’m good enough to make maps that work and are enjoyable to play.
What is the best/worst part of doing these custom Starcraft campaigns?
The easy answer is that they’re the same: the editor is incredibly powerful. You can use it do anything—some people have even used it to make third-person and first-person shooters, side-scrolling brawlers, etc. That’s great, but the versatility of the editor makes some things really difficult—just making a new ability for a unit is a massive chore.
The long answer is that the worst thing about modding Starcraft, specifically making custom campaigns, is that Blizzard’s support is basically nonexistent. In the days of SC/BW, you could at least open maps by putting them in your maps directory, but now playing custom campaigns takes some really strange steps, including opening maps in the editor, which is super unintuitive for lay people.
Blizzard’s focus is on the Arcade, which is all about singleton maps. That means that if we want to have exposure to that audience, we have to rework the maps to not rely on a central loading hub, and then count on players to go out and hunt them down one map at a time. It’s just…tiresome.
Outside the editor, the best part is the SC2 Mapster community. It’s really impressive, especially considering the challenges I just talked about. There’s a group of passionate campaign makers and campaign evangelists (shoutout to the incredible Jayborinoplays here, who does a ton of Let’s Plays of custom campaigns).
You mentioned you enjoyed script writing; what makes this part of game dev fun?
Script writing is a really interesting challenge. Not only do you need to move the plot along, develop relationships between characters, etc., but you also have the challenge of communicating the scenario—stuff like objectives, navigation, gimmicks. Preferably, the explanations are diegetic, i.e. they fit with the internal narrative.
One example of that is a stealth section in one of our maps. In that section, the player controls a set of units that she uses to distract some guards, and then orders a sneaking unit to move forward by clicking a button. That’s a lot of setup to explain in a way that fits. We ended up going with a narration from the sneaking unit, who explains through a tutorial section how everything works.
The other challenge with script writing is narrative economy. People aren’t playing these campaigns to watch long cutscenes; they want to actually play. That means that we have to be as concise as we can with the cutscenes, and then try to weave character and plot developments into the scenarios themselves. That’s actually pretty hard, because the basic game structures of Starcraft (build base, kill enemies) don’t lend themselves to much narrative. We’ve ended up doing a lot of work to break out of that Build and Destroy mode with our maps, while at the same time making sure to still offer that core gameplay experience.
I do actually enjoy the map scripting as well, the events, AI, etc. As I’ve mentioned, the editor is rather powerful, and you can accomplish a lot of fun stuff. The narrative script and the map event scripting also intersect in some fun ways. For example, I’ve had to learn a fair amount about cinematography in order to make compelling cutscenes.
Is mapping something you’re specifically interested in?
Mapping is a core part of the mod, for sure. I guess this gives me a chance to explain the project. It’s an entire custom campaign made in the vein of Blizzard’s single-player campaigns. It’s fully voiced, with a script of about 140 pages, which breaks down into fourteen maps. Players download the mod file and the maps, and then play through them.
The Mapster community is pretty great. There’s a lot of mutual support, and a ton of editor experts who are really helpful. It also has an incredible collection of free assets for use in people’s content.
Is there any advice you can offer other amateurs working on game projects of passion?
One thing that really benefitted my Antioch work from my day job was a really solid understanding of software development tools and processes. I set up a Slack team, Subversion repository, and Taiga project (though we’ve moved to Trello now) all day one to help us track everything. If I didn’t have the software development knowledge I did, we’d probably be using what most of the SC modding community is still using—Skype for team chat and Dropbox for file sharing. Given how many times Subversion has saved our asses, I think we’d be in a lot of trouble [without it].
Great tips! Finally, how do you pull off such an extensive project on ‘spare time’?
I’d like to mention the other Antioch community, Team Antioch—the folks working with me on this mod. We’ve got several members of the Antioch Forums, but we also have several people who volunteered for the project after seeing it on SC2Mapster or on YouTube. There’s an awesome sense of camaraderie in the team, which I think we can thank Slack for allowing. Team Antioch people are on Slack all the time. They’re not just talking about the project, but about stuff in the SC2 modding community, other games, movies, or their lives.
The other thing that I really love about Team Antioch is that we’ve actually been rejoined by the original creators of the Antioch Chronicles, Ruben “Auspex Turmalis” Moreno, and Eric “Zeus Legion” Dieter. I think this screenshot (left) is a good summation of how it feels to be working with the people who made such an important part of my life.
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- On October 13, 2016