Ahoy ahoy, mates.
The blog post is a little different this week, partly because I was worried I was repeating myself too much, and partly because I had something that I wanted to address.
It comes up now and again, as Puzzle Pirates is a game with a very active playerbase, that people express frustration or annoyance with the forum system as the main place where new features and tweaks are suggested.
Recently somebody posted in the forums that Puzzle Pirates is a largely "player run" game, and at the risk of quoting out of context, I want to expand on that point and actually disagree to a-erm... degree.
The post made me think of a panel discussion I've seen Cleaver speak on regarding the nature of game design called Burning Man vs. Vegas.
The gist of the analogy is that you have two very populated, very different cities that thousands of people travel to each year. Vegas is a massive, multi-million dollar city that has very carefully crafted entertainments that were designed by committees and companies for tourists and consumers to come to and enjoy themselves, and spend money. At Black Rock City, thousands of people travel there and turn a bare desert into one of the most densely populated cities in the world every year, and all of its entertainments, structures, and artwork are created by the travelers for no profit.
Obviously, the two cities end up being very different in appearance and spirit, and they tend to encourage different behaviors in their populations. Vegas's entertainments are meant to be appreciated and enjoyed more passively, such as shows that you sit in theaters to watch, fountains to see, and bright lightboards to catch the eye. Black Rock City's rule is that you are not allowed to just walk around and look, and that everybody that attends must contribute and participate.
When it comes to games made by Three Rings, Cleaver has said that Puzzle Pirates leans more towards Vegas ("we even have poker!") and that our upcoming project Whirled is more in the spirit of Burning Man.
In Puzzle Pirates, most of the puzzles are coded and implemented by our programmers. The artwork for the game is largely made by the company's artists, and the game's main features are decided upon by the developers at the company.
The analogy is by no means exact, as there are significant player contributions to Puzzle Pirates. Our newest crafting puzzle Ironmongery will be a player developed creation and the result of a collaborative effort from the contributors of the Grand Crafting Puzzle Project. Our new portrait backgrounds each month are designed by a rotating panel of talented artists who are players. An increasing percentage of our islands and oceans are now player designed and created.
Most of all, while Three Rings made the sprites, buildings, and coded the interface to get people into the game, I believe it is the first pillage with other pirates that is commonly the most significant aspect of new player experience in Puzzle Pirates. The friendly and social community in this game was an oft remarked on aspect of this game and still remains one of our great strengths.
Because we have such a large number of people contributing to make the game what it is, the bottleneck is not only the relatively small amount of developer time to ideas, but the variety and scope of ideas that are brought to the table. Many of these ideas cannot coexist, or create conflicting versions or "feels" for a game.
Whirled may not have this problem as its structure is much looser than that of Puzzle Pirates (it is not set in a specific genre, for one) and there is not nearly the same shortage of developer time, but I believe that its community will find their own issues to actively discuss.
As it is, decisions on new features in Puzzle Pirates are almost always a multi-sided compromise or come out of intense discussions in which things are hammered out by multiple parties. In the week or two of blog posts I hope to give the camera a rest and to try to explain more in depth what goes on in the meeting room and creative process.