Any history written of the Gryphens would be remiss not to include some discussion of Rampant. Released in the summer of 2013 to critical acclaim, yet ultimately a commercial failure, the video game known as Rampant nevertheless had a staggering impact on the world due to the role it played in the early days of the Orbital Defense Corps.

The concepts behind Rampant found their beginnings in the mind of Kara Dunn during her days as a graduate student in physics and computer science, long before she received her military commission. Always passionate about the exploration of humankind’s final frontier, she envisioned a day when humans would operate a true society in the vacuum of space.
did you know? Although Kara Dunn never finished or defended her doctoral dissertation, she has been granted honorary degrees from numerous prestigious universities across the United States.
Much of her doctoral work therefore dealt with the theoretical development of spacecraft for personal use, small craft that would prove as robust, safe, and economical as today’s automobiles.

Dunn began seeking funding in 2010 to perform early experimentation on her designs, but although she found interest, economic conditions at that time were not conducive to investment in such speculative research. Following several disappointments, Dunn was approached from an unexpected direction and presented with a question: What about packaging her ideas as a video game, and then capturing valuable data from those who purchased and played the game?

By 2011, Dunn had taken a hiatus from school to work fulltime with Dr. Jamie Miles, founder of the small game development firm DactiSoft, and Rampant was born. Both academics at heart, Dunn and Miles had a strong commitment to using the game as a platform for teaching. Although players, primarily youth,
photo: Rampant game and gearcaption: The original edition of Rampant, as released in Summer 2013. Pictured here with some higher-end VR gear.
would purchase the game for the entertainment value of its space-based combat, the Rampant team seized the opportunity to teach basic concepts of physics, thus fighting decades of misconceptions perpetuated by outrageously inaccurate science fiction films and games.

Rampant was released two years later to rave reviews, garnering a number of awards from the gaming industry on the strength of its physics engine, immersive story, distinctive musical score, and general educational value. Of particular note to critics was its groundbreaking user interface, which relied heavily upon virtual reality technology. VR goggles gave players a more accurate three-dimensional picture of other ships and objects floating in space around them, and linked VR gloves allowed for control of cockpit functions via a virtual yoke and control board that proved more useable when disconnected from the physical world (for more information, see the Technology section). The game’s cockpit customization options were cited by numerous tech writers as truly inspired.

Unfortunately, the game did not perform well in the marketplace. According to some, Rampant was a little too groundbreaking, as its recommended use of VR devices brought the
did you know? Copies of the original Rampant title can still be purchased from many online retailers, often at deep discount.
effective price tag of the game to over $100. According to others, the game’s simplified graphics signaled a step back for the industry, rather than a leap forward. Whatever the reason, DactiSoft entered a period of financial difficulty in the months after their ambitious release of the title. Kara Dunn and Jamie Miles found themselves more and more often at odds with one another as the days went by, and before long, Dunn had severed ties to return to her long ignored dissertation. She did, however, take with her the usage data and statistics she had fought so hard to attain and had finally acquired thanks to the game.

Unbeknownst to anyone—Dunn, Miles, the Rampant team, or the video game industry as a whole—the U.S. Government had years earlier acquired intelligence that cast the value of Rampant in a whole new light. Almost from the beginning of the game’s development,
photo: Cameron Griffin, Kara Dunn, Chris Harris, and Mark Lawsoncaption: Four members of the Rampant team at a 2010 Christmas party: (l to r) Griffin, Dunn, Harris, and Lawson. Lawson left the project just one month later.
elements of the U.S. Air Force top brass had been quietly looking over the designers’ shoulders through a combination of surveillance devices, electronic wire taps, and carefully-placed informants. By the end of that first year of development—2011—the Air Force had in its possession a full-size prototype of Rampant’s most iconic spacecraft, what would later become known as the V-series Destrier Space Superiority Fighter. A lethal weapon that could be used either for defense or for attack.

In early 2014, as the threat to national security grew more imminent, Kara Dunn was finally approached by government agents. Declassified documents allude to many heated discussions among decision makers about bringing Dunn into the loop, largely disagreement over whether the academic could truly add anything to the expertise of the Air Force’s real-life Destrier development team. All objections were stifled in January of that year when three other leading members of the Rampant team—Chris Harris, Cameron Griffin, and Bryson Ghee —disappeared under suspicious circumstances. A fourth, Mark Lawson, disappeared one month later. Conspiracy theories abound, but no one doubts that it was the four men’s unique knowledge of space combat that led someone—perhaps four someones—to snatch them up, much as it led the Air Force to ultimately recruit Kara Dunn.

The rest is history, as they say. After formation of the Orbital Defense Corps in December 2014 by executive order, several heavily modified versions of Rampant were used
photo: Nathan James Williamscaption: Nate Williams in 2014, speaking at Axmatik's annual shareholder meeting.
by ODC recruiters and trainers alike; the game proved especially integral to the Gryphens’ training regimen, considering the prohibitive expense of training new recruits in orbit. On the international stage, copies of the game’s source code have been acquired by dozens of governments, including Great Britain, Canada, Brazil, China, and the European Union, to be used in their own preparations against this threat.

Rampant has become so much more than a game since its humble beginnings at DactiSoft in 2010, and yet in recent years it has generated far more interest in the gaming community than it did when first released in Summer 2013. Of course, all rights and royalties now belong to software giant Axmatik Ltd., which acquired a struggling DactiSoft the year after the game’s release. Credible reports suggest that Nathan James Williams, Axmatik’s enigmatic chairman, has taken a personal interest in the game and is pushing for a revival of the franchise. Whether or not the next installment will feature a continuation of Rampant’s award-winning story—or perhaps, instead, something a little bit closer to current events—remains to be seen.

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the game
updated March 2015