Help Bring the ExoTerra Universe to Life

So You Want to Help with the ExoTerra Imagination Lab?

It will take many people to bring this game to life, and there are many ways to help. Some tasks can only be done by current members of the University of Chicago community (students, staff, faculty, postdocs etc.), while many others can be done by alums and other volunteers. If you’re interested, please look over this list, then fill out the Volunteer Form to let us know which tasks you think you can do.

Individual Tasks vs. the Orchestrator Team

In general, ExoTerra orchestrator team members can help in one of two ways. One is to do individual specific tasks (such as creating graphics, moderating forums, designing individual puzzles, helping with web needs, or playing certain NPCs) which don’t require being spoiled on the overall plot. Many different specific tasks are discussed below, and having people volunteer to take these on will make a big difference to how ambitious and how smoothly-run the ExoTerra game can be. And many of these tasks can be done while also playing the game, following the story along, working to solve the mysteries, and discovering the world along with all the other players.

Separately, there are some tasks which you can’t do while playing, since they require knowing where the overall story is going, and being spoiled on the surprises. We do need a sizeable orchestrator team to create the story documents, character sheets, help brainstorm for the ongoing plot, and play ongoing Non-Player-Characters, but joining the orchestrator team means giving up on being able to play as a character and explore the world.

In the following list of ways you can volunteer, most ways are compatible with still playing a character and following the story, but a few are marked as requiring being part of the orchestrator team.

Guest Star Non-Player-Characters (great for alums & interested professionals)

We are seeking people with interest in role-playing and professional expertise in areas related to different committee projects to play one-time (or optionally recurring) guest Non-Player-Characters. In the world of ExoTerra, while humanity does not have faster-than-light travel, they do have faster-than-light communication, but it is resource-intensive and requires using relays which are limited, so all the different colonies must take turns. As a result, the colonists can make video calls to Earth, but infrequently, and only for brief periods. Some of these calls will be to leaders and key figures back on Earth, which will let the colonists learn how the home world has changed in their century of slumber—for these roles we hope to find volunteers who are familiar with science fiction and/or roleplaying. Other calls will be to talk to Earth-based experts, so committees can ask for advice about their proposals. For these we are seeking volunteers with some years of experience working in relevant areas (city planning, government, healthcare, law, astrophysics, etc.). We hope these roles will be played by a mix of faculty and professionals working outside the academic world, and we also hope volunteers will follow their video calls with a brief period of lingering to talk out of character (by text or video) with students interested in asking about their careers, experiences, and for career advice. The time commitment for this is minimal, just a couple hours on the day of your scheduled appearance, plus communicating in advance about your character (mainly us asking you what kind of character you’d like to play, then sending you character details).

Ongoing Non-Player-Characters

We will also need people to play ongoing non-player characters, such as crew members with particular duties, the A.I. intelligences in the ship computers, and important figures back on Earth. This role-play will take place by text, or a combination of text, voice, and video calls. Different roles will vary in intensity, some requiring frequent activity every week, others only occasional activity. Some of the non-player-character roles can be played without spoiling larger parts of the story beyond the part you are involved in, while others are key to the deeper mysteries and ongoing events, and require being part of the orchestrator team.

Discord Web Forum Moderators (A.I. NPCs)

The main role-playing portion of ExoTerra will take place on an online community run via the free app Discord, a group platform similar to Slack which combines a robust text discussion forum with built-in voice and video chat options. We will need many volunteers familiar with Discord to help teach new people how to use it, to moderate the forums, and to help facilitate big moments like when major votes occur.  Taking a shift as a forum moderator is a very valuable way to help the team. Moderators can, if they wish, also help play the A.I. personalities in the computer systems.

Game Document Creation

We need people to write in-game documents. Some of these will be character sheets. Others are in-world documents, such as a page of new findings when the players send a probe to investigate a moon, or an old historical record drawn from the ship’s archives. Some will need graphics, or layout to make them resemble medical charts, astronomical readouts etc., while others may take the form of newspaper stories, or even short fiction. This is a great opportunity to practice creative writing and graphic design. Some in-game documents can be written without spoiling too much of the story, but others will be keys to the ongoing plot.

Art, Graphics (Space Engine), Music, Video

We need help creating graphics, such as maps, images of planets and moons, diagrams of the solar systems and orbits, videos of planets in motion, visualizations of landing sights, logos and flags for in-world companies and political groups, etc. Volunteers can use any program or means you wish to create visuals (drawings and paintings are also welcome!), though we are working with a few software programs already to simulate the solar system, mainly Space Engine. Music would also be great, especially if we generate videos.

WordPress (Divi builder, requires CNetID)

The ExoTerra website will need to be updated frequently, with new information about the committees, decisions, and plans. We need volunteers who are part of the current U Chicago community (since university membership is needed to log in) and have experience with WordPress, ideally with Divi builder.

Minecraft Hosting

If there is sufficient interest, we want to create one or more Minecraft servers with terrain set up to simulate the landing site the colonists choose, and/or other parts of the new solar system, so players with Minecraft experience can use it in Creative Mode (simulating the abundance of materials you have access to) to create mockups of proposed designs for the capital city or other infrastructure. If this happens, we will need volunteers experienced with Minecraft to create and maintain the servers.

Technical Expertise

We need volunteers with technical expertise in areas relevant to the project, i.e. exoplanets, mapmaking, computer programming, planetary geology, spacecraft design, power systems, ecosystems, agriculture, genetics and medicine, organizing voting bodies, etc., to help with things like generating images of the terraformed planet and landing sites, creating maps and models, working out the results students get from different experiments or probes sent out into the new solar systems, advising on challenges and resources to provide to different committees, adding verisimilitude to role-played interaction with the spaceship, computers, asteroids etc., answering technical questions from student committees, and making suggestions to the brainstorming team. We also want people with a variety of technical knowledge to help us design puzzles which students will need to tap their various skills to solve (biology-based puzzles, linguistics-based puzzles, programming-based puzzles, physics-based puzzles). It is possible to do this with or without being on the orchestrator team.

Programming Skills

We need volunteers with programing experience, to help with some technical ends of things like Space Engine, Minecraft, planetary continent generators, and simulating the A.I.s.

Puzzle Design

We need people to design puzzles which the characters will solve. Some will be technical puzzles like decoding data, or breaking codes. Some will be simulations of scientific work, for example figuring out what is conveyed by readings from a probe, or trying to repair a damaged computer.  Some will be puzzle-hunt type puzzles posed by pranksterly Non-Player-Characters who want to test players with a variety of challenges. Some will ideally tap the specialist knowledge of different majors, drawing on economics, chemistry, languages, programming skills, historical knowledge, medical knowledge. Anyone can work on one or more puzzles and still participate in the story, so long as you promise not to help the other players solve your puzzle. 😉

Other Things We Haven’t Thought of?

Do you have other kinds of expertise you’d like to offer, or ideas for ways to contribute that we haven’t thought of? We’d love to hear suggestions.

How Do I Volunteer?

Please fill out the Volunteer Form, to give us a sense of the ways you want to help. If you have particular questions or ideas that don’t fit the form well, you can also contact Faculty Orchestrator Ada Palmer (adapalmer@uchicago.edu) or the main student Assistant Orchestrator Ben Indeglia (benindeglia@gmail.com; Ben tends to be less overwhelmed and thus answers email faster). We might be a little slow getting back to you at first due to a rush of getting the basics (like the announcement, and signups of classes) off the ground, so thank you in advance for your patience!