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Developer Spotlight - Aaron Phillips, The Mastermind

Hello Astronauts! It’s time for another Developer spotlight and today we are going to spotlight Aaron Phillips, the Ascension VR Lead writer. Aaron constantly impresses us with his brilliance and his leadership skills.

Crystal and I first met Aaron during the project developer recruitment pitch. He approached us, heard a little about our project and asked, in the most calm and collected tone, for me to give him a film or tv comparable to the narrative of the game. After a little bit of thinking, I answered that the closest media I’ve seen was the National Geographic series, Mars. We spoke a few minutes and he asked several questions such as, how is it similar to Mars? How is it different? What other influences are on the project? I answered and he nodded in interest, left his email with us, and walked away.

Though this interaction was small, it left me with three things in my mind about Aaron:

1) He knows what kind of project he wants to work on and he knows how to find out, quickly, how he can contribute to a project.

2) He knows how to communicate to creators/directors and ascertain the vision they have in mind.

3) He knows what kind of narratives will challenge him and he is unafraid of diving in to those that do.

Starting from that first conversation, Aaron has never ceased to impress us. As lead writer, it’s his responsibility to unite the other writers and keep track of their work. He comes to every meeting and regularly posts updates to his writing team. Most importantly, he works with our lead game developer to assure that narrative is informing mechanic and vice versa. This is imperative in a game that utilizes a mechanic (speech recognition) that is not well documented in the game developer community in regards to narrative and is relatively new to virtual reality narrative-driven experiences. Aaron is breaking new ground in the interactive narrative world and is doing so with professional grace. \

Aaron with writer Carys Gooi (left) and artist Joshua Fickes (upper right) reviewing the project.

In order for the speech recognition system to feel natural and work well in the Ascension VR experience, the 4 writers on the project need to write out hundreds of dialogue options to counter hundreds of questions the player might have throughout this investigative experience. The writers have to create personalized objects for each of the four characters and write audio logs for each of the characters families, friends, and loved ones. Furthermore, all of these expository pieces have to be factually accurate and have to tie in to the narrative smoothly.

This means managing more than 5 different spreadsheets, each with about 4-5 separate pages/tabs with about 20 - 50 records per tab.

All while writing for a character, Stephen Hobb, whose mental state is deteriorating into severe paranoia and mania due to the cold isolation of space.

Aaron has one of the toughest jobs on the team and yet, leads the writers and makes executive decisions with the same cool calmness he had when he asked me those first questions. He brings an artistry and creativity to the piece that it craves and, even with all of his responsibilities, is continuously one of the most upbeat, excited members of our team whose infectiously kind personality inspires me in every meeting.

Aaron is a 3rd year Cinema and Media Studies student who writes mind-blowing scripts for film, tv, and videogames and the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. You can find out more about him at

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