While the process is far from complete, we have achieved a rather stunning milestone with the Grand Crafting Puzzle Project. The early stages of the GCPP were quite nebulous but have coalesced into a handful of puzzle designs that are now being reviewed by the Developers to decide on which will become the next crafting puzzle.
The story is far from over, and there are some exciting changes in store which should make the enterprise more accessible, much of what happened to get the GCPP running has been unknown to the players. So, an explanation of the development of one of the most unique aspects of Puzzle Pirates:
I believe the first time I heard a suggestion that the future crafting puzzles be designed by players was in the latter part of 2005 or early in 2006. If memory serves, Cleaver was the first to mention this, but it could have been another developer. There were some very early stage plans drawn up and we even received some suggestions from players. These plans all had one striking similarity. They were contests.
Within the game and community, we have an extremely strong and well developed competition atmosphere. Innovative ideas are somewhat commonplace and the amount of company-sponsored events, especially those utilising outside-the-game skills such as writing poetry or making movies, continues to surprise me to this day. It is somewhat natural that as we looked to getting this rolling we would consider to work in more of the same style.
When I began to work on developing the GCPP in earnest, I saw two significant problems with the contest angle. The first is that there is a strong imbalance in designing puzzles. While a successful puzzle game has a core of a strong design, a playable puzzle requires engineering skill. This is especially true since we wanted the playtest versions to exist on Game Gardens, which is a valuable resource, but geared towards those who understand Java and programming already.
Any contest which answers this imbalance would either require that entrants were able to devise the design and program it, or they would have to build a team which could cover those aspects. There would also be the matter of artwork.
The second problem is related to the nature of contests in general. With a contest, there is a prize at the end which becomes the goal for the entrants. While in most cases this is perfectly fine, in the situation of the crafting puzzles, focusing on the prize could mean ignoring the point of the contest, which is to get the best game possible added as the next crafting puzzle.
Instead of a contest, I envisioned an open project with the players working together to achieve the ultimate goal. In some ways, this would be similar to the island designers group, but there would be no membership requirements. Conversely, the final criteria are much more strict.
With the basic idea in hand, I began to work on how to organise such a project. Ultimately, I decided to go with a "less is more" strategy, which is why, if you look at my initial posts regarding the GCPP, much of the plan for the project is vague. I deliberately wanted to have the players involved with developing the project from the ground up.
Since the GCPP began in public, I have often found my role is less of a project manager than I anticipated. It has been a learning experience, as the GCPP is far different from anything I have worked on as an Ocean Master in the past. I would hope that the wonderful players who have taken the project to heart feel the same.