What Went Wrong
by Scott Holliday
The entire city and all the room connections (as seen in the CC2 graphic above) was assembled programmatically using some outside programs that I made and Skotos (Merry) code. At this point, it was all empty rooms and featureless directions (NESW) to move, but the builder quickly learned how to put in content and began churning out the room, object, character, and feature descriptions. Within a short time, I had added the game-specific commands to handle the interaction with the simulation aspects of the game, and the in-game role-playing rewards that players could distribute (similar to that described in SoC9 #8). By this time, our artist had put together some absolutely beautiful artwork (as the sample seen at right).
And so came our first point of failure. You'll notice that only three of the members were mentioned in the paragraph above? The remaining two weren't doing anything. Admittedly, initially they couldn't do much except jot down ideas and put together plans of how things were going to work. In the case of the Sim-Game Designer, we needed a list of objects and charts for how they would interact. Unfortunately, not even this was happening. Thinking he needed to see it ready to go, I made an offline database for his use so that he could enter information in quickly, and dump it all through Merry later. Still nothing. A month passed, and then after a pep-talk, a little data was added, but then stopped again after much complaint. Looking at what had been done, and realizing that the pieces I had wouldn't fit, I gave up and slated this part of the project later for myself.
In the meantime, the Game-Design/Writer had nothing written, but could pour out thematic ideas faster than I could say "no". Most anyone will tell you there is nothing wrong with ideas, though ideas are a dime-a-dozen. The problem is that the theme was already fairly solid. No, I didn't want crazy faeries that would fly around grabbing players and dropping them randomly somewhere else. No, I didn't want men sitting on a bench who would comment on the appearance of any female characters that walked by. No, I didn't want shape-changing vampires wandering the city at night. I wanted puzzles. I wanted riddles. I wanted challenges. I wanted things to do. This would require writing and serious thought. However, all I was getting was verbal ideas for entirely differently themed games. And when I wasn't there to listen, nothing was happening. So once again, I gave up and slated the live-game challenges for my own later development.
At this point, I should have looked for outside help. But these were close friends, and we hoped that over time they might become more interested. Likewise, I didn't want to make an appeal to the Skotos community before we at least had something worth-while to show for our efforts. So we continued. By this point, the artist had crafted enough artwork that we thought it was more than enough to handle the game's release. If the game was popular, then we could ask for more art in the future, and hopefully even pay a very, very small commission.
By this point, I had the player "heartbeats" for the simulation aspect of the game working, such that they would automatically consume food, proceed at their job, craft items that they were working on, teach students, learn, and produce and use up resources. Unfortunately, the project was beginning to wear on me. I had too many hats, especially since I was also now also helping the builder aiming for the minimum we'd be willing to show.
We asked a builder from another game to come assess one of our rooms while we looked at one of his. I forget who this was, please forgive me, but it was a real eye-opener. We realized that our level of detail was sparse to non-existent for the text environment. Apparently, in our experience in text games, we'd never honestly taken a good look at our surroundings. Rather we played the game for the game's sake. Sure, we had basic descriptions, and features, and objects... but we hadn't really considered the depth of detail necessary to give a game life. We'd never thought about all the features of features of features present in most games. Likewise, there were common objects and descriptions which we'd just left out. As one of many examples, players might want to look at the doorframes themselves and we hadn't even considered them. Regardless, it was getting to be too much for us, and we aimed to get up basic descriptions, then invite the community in "later" to help fill it out.
The city was just too big. It was beginning to look like an ever-growing Gordion knot. We had more than 100 rooms to fill, just for the city itself, and we only had basic descriptions for maybe 25. The lead builder was getting so frazzled that some of the room descriptions were coming back very strange. For instance there was the friendly neighborhood butcher shop that with descriptions somehow became what I like to call, "the cruel animal slaying pit of rotting gore and pooled blood". We had also considered the quests and adventures available outside or in the maze below, but once again slated that for "later".
In the end, realizing that it was just the two of us, we slated the whole project for "later" and tried to pick up the pieces. We had a short stab at producing a much smaller environment (shown below) with a focus on the magic system that I had mentioned in SoC9 #7. In our minds, it was to be a magic dueling society. Or, as described by others, it was professional wrestling with spells. This went well for some time, and we even had a short play-test with some of the Skotos crew. Naturally, despite our testing it over and over, during the test, the code failed such that only two people could be in the room or it just wouldn't work. Unfortunately, with just the two of us, there was no way we would have noticed that error beforehand. Regardless, although the play-test overall went well, we were starting to get depressed. Even with only 20 rooms in the school, it was just too much. We still had bunches of objects to do, and we'd already wasted most of our energy and creativity on the previous city design.
So shortly thereafter, we decided to just give it a rest. We took several months off, which later turned into more than a year. We got married somewhere in the middle of that. So, in that sense, the project was a success! In the meantime, we decided to instead just play online games for a while instead of making them. We knew that we'd failed and we needed some time to reassess what to do about it. The decision was to come back "later" and build something smaller to start off with.
I didn't intend to ramble on this long without reaching conclusions. Regardless, I'm hoping those reading can see the errors that we made, and so plan ahead to avoid them.
This time, it's a one-man project. This is an interesting arrangement, because I make the game (all by myself), while my team (my wife) writes a novel instead. That way, it's easier for both of us to avoid aiming for the sky, because we know it's all going to be our own effort. We can still sound ideas off of each other, or get a quick play-test or proof-read, but the creation is all up to one person. Obviously, this is not the way to do big projects, but as I said before, "start small".