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Developer Diary 05: Why Does Web Development Take Forever

Well, there seems to have been some major miscommunication between the people working on the web site and the people paying for said work. I wasn’t part of any of those conversations, so I’m not sure where the disconnect comes from, but it resulted in one side wanting it ASAP and another side only working on it 10 hours a week. 


So, we’ll see what happens. Actually, I’m setting a firm date of no later than Monday, October 24th. Which is to say that, even if the site for the umbrella group isn’t ready, we’re going to launch our Kickstarter for our project on our own. Yep. We are. 

Work continues though. I’m the one left slightly spinning my wheels, but since I’m not drawing salary yet, at least money isn’t being wasted (just time). Jonathan has made it so you can move pieces around a board and their rate varies based on terrain. I made a simple map for them to move around on based on the Battle of Bosworth Field. It’s not a pretty thing, to be sure, but I used GIMP’s “Clothify” filter to class it up a little bit.

Austin put together a rough cut of our launch video, and it’s kind of rough. Well, Jonathan and I are both less than thrilled with our performances. He was all on his own and in a a pretty ad hoc set-up, so he’s got an excuse. I think I overplayed it in the beginning of the shooting day, and only started really clicking by the end of the day. Fortunately, you’ll never see those rough parts. Austin (whose parts all came out good) is editing it down a lot plus inserting screen shots and art and stuff.

Some of that concept art didn’t quite come together the way we hoped on the first pass, but we talked it through and, I know this may sound weird, but took one piece and broke elements of it out into a whole new piece and now they both look cool. Austin’s really great about taking feedback and working with it, something all of us can learn from. 

This week, more video, virtual dudes start killing each other, and launch plans are (finally?) finalized. That’s what it says on my Google Calendar anyway.


Developer Diary 04: The Launch That is Still to Come

Here’s a totally context-free picture, related in some way I won’t tell you to our project. I know I said the time for secrets was over, but I was wrong.

Today was, according to Our Big Plan, the day we were going to launch the site and the company and the bigger initiative and the campaign. Some sub-set of those things is not ready. I’ll give you a hint, it rhymes with Web Site. Can something rhyme with itself? Probably not.

So, yeah, the web site is not done or ready. The problem is, we took too long picking a developer to build it and they (like everyone, always when it comes to this kind of thing) dramatically overestimated how fast they could get it done. And so it’s not done.

It is more than just a site for our new company and project(s). Our stuff is just a part of a larger site, which even in this first version has a number of features that aren’t quite off the shelf. Actually, a fair amount of the technical back end functions are in place, but the thing looks like a hot mess, since no designer has touched it for a single moment. Launching with that would be an ugly distraction, not something you’d want to share with your friends because it’s so cool and exciting. 

And so we wait. Probably two weeks. 


But we’re putting those two weeks to good use. First of all, it mean Austin didn’t have to kill himself over the weekend editing the launch video. It also means we can pick up a few more shots for said video, as well as have more art in it. And more juggling. There is supposed to be juggling, but right now there isn’t. 

Last week, Austin was working on what we’re calling Cover Art pieces, even though there won’t be a box to put a cover on. They’re looking pretty sweet. We finalized some character designs as well. I contributed a lot, I think, by saying that the one dude shouldn’t have a hat because his hair is so awesome. I think you’ll agree. Jonathan got the animation system up and working and made a simple chessboard where you could select squares. He also did some complicated math so that we can have different angles for our isometric view, if needed. I had many long meeting on Google+ and wrote a bunch of content to go up on the web site that isn’t ready yet. I also made decisions about hats. 

This week, Jonathan’s going to get those pieces moving around the board, Austin’s going to rough-cut the video and draw more pics, and I’m going to figure out how to cram in as much extra functionality into those two new weeks, mostly to do with a simple AI system. 


Developer Diary 03: Making Movies about Making Games

If all goes according to plan, this will be the last one of these where I talk in vague allusions and avoid specifics. Next week (hopefully this very time next week) we’ll be announcing our project to the world. I say hopefully, because several key components of that proposed launch are not ready right now. The Web site is languishing in some unknown state within the servers and files of the company making it. The super-cool video that will explain it all in just two or three minutes isn’t edited. Indeed, it doesn’t even have all the video and images it needs yet. But I’m assured by all involved on all fronts that it will come together on schedule. I think it will. I think?

Last week was more getting our ducks in a row and then doing things that weren’t game development at all, like shooting videos. Austin and I went around to six or seven different places in Sarasota to shoot our parts of the launch video. The first day was full of minor blunders. I hadn’t charged either camera fully. Austin hadn’t checked to make sure one of our locations was actually open. One of our backup locations filled up with people who we couldn’t ask to be quiet since they were doing us a favor letting us be there in the first place. We had to go back a second day, which went much smoother. Jonathan is on his own out there in Seattle, so he gets extra credit for his solo effort. 

The video is all part of our Kickstarter campaign, and it will explain what we’re doing and why it’s the best idea ever for you to support us. Austin is an artist, but he’s also a film maker and freelance videographer, so he’s got plenty of editing chops. He also needs to do a lot of concept art to be featured in the video. What I’m saying is, Austin’s having a very busy couple of weeks. Jonathan meanwhile is plugging away at getting his Glop libraries set up for Go and implementing our sprite animation system. That’s supposed to be done in the next few days, and then he’ll start making the game map software, so we can put units on it and move them around. Soon enough, they’ll be killing one another for our pleasure. 

I did have some great inspiration last week. My pal Jason Scott launched a new Kickstarter campaign to fund his next three documentary film projects. He’d told me about his wild plans to raise $100,000 a while back, and it seemed like a lot at the time. Well, just a week or so into his 60 day fundraising cycle, and he’s already pulled in $51,000 in pledges (including from me). That’s pretty amazing. I love his first two movies (about BBSs and Text Adventure Games), and look forward to these next three.

Check out his Kickstarter page here:


Developer Diary 02: We Worked All Week

One week down! Many, many more to go. Still nothing I can show you from the actual project, so here's a pic of a baby and an octopus.

And it was a good and productive week, or at least it seemed that way to me. Among the various things we’re doing that people have warned us against, we’re going with a distributed team. That is, everyone works at home. As someone who has worked from home much more than he’s worked in an office, I know it can be done. Granted, I’ve never done it on a prolonged, co-operative project like this, but there are a number of successful companies who have. Since we plan to keep the team relatively small for this project (and hopefully forever), I’m confident we can pull it off.

This past week was easy, since everyone was for the most part doing their own things. Jonathan was readying software libraries and laying groundwork. Austin was doing concept art. I was writing promotional and web site material. We did all come together mid-week to work up guidelines for our sprite animation system. Jonathan laid down the system and then I made up the flowcharts. Austin made a little stick-figure soldier that can run and fight and die in an endless loop. That all came together really nicely. The flowchart software we used, the yEd Graph Editor from yWorks is a breeze to use and I had a lot of fun learning to use it. I think (and hope) we’re going to use it for AI Scripting too. That would make my life easier, anyway.

One of the nice things about working with others, especially those with different skill sets than you, is that they see things in different ways. I’ve found this to be true with artists especially. When I wrote comic book scripts, nine times out of ten the artist’s version of my art directions ended up much cooler than what I’d envisioned in my head. Austin did that this week with some concept art for a building that features prominently in one of our game concepts. I’d pictured the sort of classic, cliched version of this iconic kind of structure, but Austin came up with something wilder and more interesting looking that also fits what we’re doing with the game much better than the classic cliche would. Soon I’ll be able to share this stuff with you, I promise!

This week, more of the same. I’m finalizing pitches for the three games and working out many, many business details. Austin’s arting it up. Jonathan is ensconced in Seattle and coding away. We’re all shooting videos. OK, the video thing is new. But that’s a surprise for another day....


Developer Diary 01: Everything's Still a Secret

Welcome to the Still-Secret-Name Developer Diary. I’m going to host this here on first because our real site doesn’t go live for some weeks to come. Hell, we haven’t even announced our name yet (although we do know what it is). So right now I’ll just keep that tiny fraction of the world that’s interested up to date through my own site. I've put up a picture of Mt. Ranier in Washington because I like it and since I'm not actually free to tell secrets or show images from the project, I figured I'd share this pretty picture I took.

Yes, we started our first official week of work on Labor Day. This is what happens when three people used to working from home and setting their own schedules agree on a date: we forget about larger calendrical happenings and focus on what works for us.

So, we’re off and running. Actually, all three of us have been jogging towards the start line for weeks or even months now. Jonathan’s been doing the basic research to see what needs to be done and set his schedule. Austin’s been working on logos and character sketches. I’ve been maintaining documents, writing new documents, pondering old documents, and scheduling new documents to come. But now things begin in earnest.

Jonathan’s first two weeks are going to be spent porting GLOP to Go. Wrap your head around that. It ain’t sexy, but it’s necessary. The product of his labors will be CC-licensed and otherwise open-sourced, so others can benefit from his efforts. We’re probably not the first video game made with Google’s Go programming language, but as far as we know right now, we’re the first serious, for profit company trying to make one using it.

Austin this week is finishing up our logo and diving into character design. It’s an odd thing, having to design characters for three totally different games at once even though we’re only going to make one of them over the next year. Since we eventually want to make all three of them, I don’t feel any of it is wasted effort, but only about a third of it will be directly useful to whatever game we spend most of the next year working on. Why are we designing for three games at once, you ask? That part is still kind of a secret.

Having written up the very basic design/pitch documents for the three games months ago, my first priority now is getting all the web site content written and ready for our official launch. Yesterday that meant finalizing the cool premiums we’re giving out to our supporters and writing up descriptions of them for our Web site and future fundraising pages. Sponsors? Fund raising? Also still kind of a secret.

Yesterday (Labor Day) we had our first on-the-clock meeting via Google+ Hangouts. We’ve used this group video chat throughout the organization process, both for Mob Rules and for Open Game Labs. I like it a lot so far, although it has some minor issues from time to time. Pro-tip: don’t try to drag and drop a pic into the chat. It crashes the whole thing, as Jonathan found out. I did it myself a couple weeks ago. It seems so natural, and yet is not at all what Google expects you to do. 

The meeting was mostly be procedural stuff about getting paid and setting schedules and that sort of thing. Austin needs to make some stick figure sprites for testing. Jonathan needs to send a Austin a flow chart for animation, that sort of thing. During this eight week R&D period we have a chance to experiment with different work-flow and management processes and find out what suits us best. In general the plan is to talk at least once every day. 

This weekend Jonathan is moving from New York to Seattle. Did I forget to mention that? My dreams of an all EST team, smashed. So who knows what time we’ll be having our daily meetings. Jonathan said he’s been having late night recently because he stays up to play League of Legends online with friends. Since they’re all on the West coast already, his gaming time should shift forward three hours. And hey, the other Open Game Labs founders are all out on the West Coast already, so I already feel like I’m operating on PST half the time anyway. Except I still get up before 7:00 AM most mornings.

I’ll be doing at least one of these Dev Diaries a week here, and even more stuff (including content from the other two guys) once the official site is up and running. So check back for that!

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