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What’s in a name?

A post about Nova Shift from 25th March 2021

This time on the Nova Shift design diary we’re taking a look at names. Now I’m not a parent, but after having gone through this process a couple of times now I can only imagine how angst-inducing it must be to label an actual human being FOR LIFE.

Setting out in my quest for an ace name for my new space game, I found it can help to have a few specific criteria in mind:

  • Short and snappy.
  • Evocative of the theme and feel of the game itself.
  • Stand out from the crowd.
  • Absolutely no colons.

I love one-word names like Pandemic, Wingspan and Gloomhaven. Even if you’ve not played any of these, you can kind of guess what they’re going to be like. On the opposite end of the spectrum we have The Settlers of Catan, The Game and Sidereal Confluence: Trading and Negotiation in the Elysian Quadrant. I can’t even.

So, with my goals in mind I set out to apply a bit of sci-fi to the process itself by having a neural net (in the form of textgenrnn) flex its creative circuits for me. It’s sexy, it’s futuristic and it’s… pretty terrible to be honest. Here are my top 5 favourite worst suggestions:

  1. Steve First Mars
  2. Soveogu!
  3. Struggle for the Galaxy's Next Mint Sh*tter
  4. Linkology: The Urknt – Endutal – Eards omf – Artifasty
  5. Star Trek: Attack Weathroo

The point isn’t to have the computer come up with the final name, but to act as a kind of virtual partner in the creative process. Imagine being in a brainstorming session with a room full of interns who know absolutely nothing about the subject at hand, but through sheer enthusiasm, persistence of will and a desire to please might, just might, stumble on the occasional seed of a good idea. It’s a step up from monkeys with typewriters, at least.

Case in point, take a look at some of these names - all of which came straight from the computer (feel free to use any of these, by the way):

  1. Sputnika
  2. Staying Stars
  3. Rocket Worms
  4. Staff in Outer Space
  5. Sinner: The Creature War

Ultimately I didn’t end up using any specific suggestion, but scanning through hundreds of attempts definitely helped to organise my thoughts and pick out a couple of bright stars (it worked well enough that I ended up using the same process to name all of the planets and corporations in the game).

And so we come to the final name: Nova Shift.

“Nova” is explosive, like a supernova. It sounds exciting and dangerous, but also translates literally as “new”. It certainly sounds like somewhere I’d like to boldly go.

“Shift” was taken from my favourite video game franchise of all time: Half-Life. Specifically the Half-Life: Blue Shift expansion (the only known exception to the rule of no colons). It’s sciency, but also hard work. Unexpected things always happen when the shifts are changing over.

Taken together we have an incendiary turning point, a time of anticipation for a team facing down some fresh danger - together - in a far-off place where technology and intellect meet sweat and blood. Just remember to wipe down those controls when you’re done.

Next time on the Nova Shift design diary we’ll be revisiting one of my favourite topics: narrative in games. I’ll see you there!

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