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Today you’re going to meet one of Cloud Imperium’s first employees, Community Manager Ben Lesnick! You’ve likely seen Ben on the forums or live chat and have read his articles in the Comm-Link and in Jump Point! He’ll appear on Friday’s episode of Wingman’s Hangar, so stay tuned for that interview!
How did you get started in the game industry?
You’re looking at it! I’ve been a Wing Commander fan since the first game and active online for almost as long. I’ve run the big community site, the Wing Commander Combat Information Center, with a group of friends since 1995. We stayed active after EA lost interest in the franchise, updating every day, cataloging Origin’s history and organizing fan works. I got to know Chris over the years and he brought me on in the early stages of planning Star Citizen’s campaign. I spent the first two months with another full time job, spending my nights and weekends working on Star Citizen. When the campaign was a success, I moved to Austin to help with the game full time. It has been a big change and a great adventure!
What projects have you worked on?
Star Citizen is my first full-time industry job, but I’ve helped out with a lot of Wing Commander projects over the years. As the point person for the community, I would do continuity editing for tie-in stuff (the novels, promotional material) and things like producing the extras for the GOG releases. Over the years EA would contact me whenever they wanted to relaunch the series and I ended up being involved in the planning stages for a host of projects that never worked out: several iterations of Privateer online, a Gamecube game, a television series, a browser-based Privateer, a re-release with special features on Origin and most recently (and bizarrely) a social media remake of Wing Commander II. They never understood what made Wing Commander great the way Chris Roberts does, which is one of the reasons none of those projects went anywhere while Star Citizen is thriving.
My first experience on a real development team was the Gameboy Advance port of Wing Commander Prophecy in 2002. The team acquired the rights to do the game in a sort of legal loophole and EA had no interest in providing assets… so I volunteered to take apart the original game and explain to the programmers exactly how everything worked. I went on to assist with the design of Wing Commander Arena for Xbox Live Arcade in 2007,although almost everything cool we did on that game ended up on the cutting room floor. I did finally live my fantasy on that project and did the full-length in-universe Origin-style manual for the game, Star Soldier.
I show up throughout the Wing Commander universe, too! If you have a copy of the original Wing Commander Prophecy, you can find a star system named after me (there are at least two other CIG employees on there!) and I’m a character in one of the movie tie-in novels.
What will you be doing for Cloud Imperium?
A little bit of everything! I write the daily messaging, interact with the fans, help with the marketing plan and have worked on the initial design of the game! I write most of the copy you see at the RSI and CIG websites and several articles for every Jump Point. It has been a great experience so far, learning how all this works, meeting an amazing fan community and working with a bunch of my childhood heroes. (Instead of baseball cards as a kid I had Origin’s “Playtesters Guides” that introduced the team members.)
What are you most excited to see in Star Citizen/Squadron 42?
There’s so much to the game, I don’t know where to start. The multi-crewed ships are on my mind right now, though, because they’re going to be such a revolution in space combat. When space sims “died” in the 1990s one of the criticisms was that there wasn’t anywhere to go with them… and we’re going to prove that thought very, very wrong. Running a Constellation or a Retaliator with your friends is going to be like living in Star Wars or Firefly… a total game changer for the genre.
What are you playing right now?
The hardcore game answer is that I’m very slowly playing through Bioshock: Infinite. The real answer is that I’m spending every extra minute building my house in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I still spend most of my gaming time in the Wing Commander universe, though! I just started playing through the FM Towns port of the original game again. Maybe I’ll do a little dogfighting on the livestream next week…