This week, I thought it might be of interest to folks to hear how the design meetings go for the game and what is involved.
In your typical weekly meeting, there is in attendance Cleaver, Sophocles, Arcturus, Cephalopod, Bungleton, Nemo, Greenbones, and me (Hypnos).
Cleaver and Sophocles are the two people most intimately connected with the business side of the game. They oversee all of the projects at Three Rings and know things such as who we are advertising with, how many players we have, and how popular past releases have been.
Arcturus, Cephalopod, and Bungleton are the programming team of Puzzle Pirates. They know the client, how java works, and how difficult or easy things are to implement and code. In addition, they are the ones that deal most directly with the reported bugs in past releases and they monitor the Ice Discussion forum.
Nemo and Greenbones are the artists of Puzzle Pirates and other Three Rings projects. They know the best how many hours it will take to complete the art requests for Puzzle Pirates, and how things like rendering and layers work in the game. They help decide aesthetics for game, along with what can be considered in the theme of the game and what is not.
Lastly, you have me. I work the most closely with the OceanMasters and in a lot of cases, the players. As a forum admin I moderate and read the forums, and I pass along the suggestions and frustrations of forum goers and OMs. As an OceanMaster I'm the one in the meeting most familiar with our support difficulties and the one who deals with the most petitions from players day to day.
Now put all of these people in a room and start off with something like Brigand King blockades.
In addition to brainstorming and hammering out this new feature, each person has his different viewpoint on the game, brings different interests to the table, and in addition has his personal hobbyhorses.
Take a game feature like the upcoming Brigand King blockades. The first meeting of that began like this: "Right then. So, what are Brigand King blockades?"
The overarching goal of the feature was to make it as fun as possible for all people involved, but who would we involve? What would be do to make it fun? Should they be relatively easy? Challenging to overthrow? Who should they attack? Should it be possible to influence who they attack? Can we keep people from being jerks about influencing who they attack? Should we?
How will we know how many ships to send out? How do we keep a fine balance between crushing the opposing pirate forces and being crushed? If we send them out a bit at a time to match the forces of the opposition, how do we keep it from being exploitable if you just send in a single sloop? How do we determine how many vessels to send in the next round?
These are a few of the questions that were thrown around in the first meeting. As the features started to be programmed in:
-We started talking about pay for the blockaders, when those of us with experience in blockades chimed in about the importance of paying buoy ships instead of creating conflict between the defending flag and their jobbers for where to steer their vessels.
-We argued about whether it would be more fun to make the ship sail back to port before divvying the booty for a feel of realism and victory when pulling into port versus immediate payoff so that people couldn't exploit things by sailing in fresh and sniping vessels that had just come out of an intense firefight.
-We debated whether bonuses should be for how quickly a vessel was sunk, what it was sunk by, whether it was sunk by a weaker ship, and then we had to hash out how to keep people from running by and stealing a kill from another vessel.
-Sophocles was interested in something that would be an exciting foe to unite the flags to drive off a common foe.
-I was interested in the social ramifications for shopkeepers to help defend their stalls and shops (I wanted to motivate them to defend their places of business for a spot of color and texture, but not be forced to) and compensation + fun for the defending flag.
-The ABCs (the programming team) told us what was and was not feasible and designed the AI and strategy of the blockades (Bungleton made the new tournament options and styles as his first project with the team.)
-Greenbones and Nemo accepted the request for all of the brigand king art and new vessels that were to come with this release, which was a larger art requirement from Puzzle Pirates than had been done for some time. Greenbones is actually a Viking and anthropology hobbyist and did the research into Arabic vessel types and names to make the new ships.
-Cleaver was interested in new vessels and in making a new brigand king for the blockade release (which in turn got me excited about the possibility of new clothing styles to match the new ships).
-Hermes and Bia jumped on board with designing the new vessels' statistics and sizes, as well as getting Sophocles' help in setting up the survey to get more opinion. And as it turns out, the compromise and release that came out of all of our discussion came out pretty well, though it actually seems kind of small when I remember all of the hours of grinding out the details that we all did.
We all debated how brigand kings would choose their targets, and whether we wanted them to be random or not. (Should we look at the economy of the island? Number of buildings? How long it's been since they were blockaded? Flags with higher fame? Flags with the highest PvP rated crews?) We argued about whether we should just pay the defending flag's ships or everybody's ships, and if we should allow people to fight in different factions.
What I am trying to illustrate here is that our developers do not spit out the code and art for the game that we ask them to. We debate on (and sometimes shout about) ideas, and when the course is agreed upon, they go and figure out how best to implement it. Cleaver and Sophocles didn't say, "Make the brigand kings pay this amount, and divvy at this time." It was something that Arcturus, Bungleton, and Cephalopod collaborated on, tested, changed, fixed, restested, and so on. They in turn didn't tell us what should and should not be implemented, or refuse to code things that were difficult or that took a lot of time. Then there were a ton of adjustments made to try to make things not only fun, but to close off possible exploits.
Many of you have probably read the discussions about double floating, in which a single person takes two large ships loaded with cargo and sails them very slowly next to one another, attacking himself whenever he is being targetted by brigand or player vessels. On the forums, there's not much to say, because we've gone through a lot of scenarios and proposed fixes that we threw out because we figured out ways to get around them or exploit them. And no, I'm not posting them here. Ha!
We also have our pet causes in the game that we don't always get done or have to be compromised. Hermes and I have a series of colonization changes that we're interested in getting implemented. Bia really wants more crafting puzzles and a foraging puzzle. Arcturus has certain bugs that he'd like put down once and for all, Sophocles has some really good ideas about texture and more world-oriented features, and Cleaver- well, Cleaver wants harems.
I think this all comes about because of our various perspectives. Sophocles was not a Puzzle Pirates player before working here, but he is familiar with the game and brings a perspective of what a casual user finds appealing and what is unclear or confusing. I am both a long time casual player of Puzzle Pirates and familiar with what our forum and very active users find frustrating, because I moderate the forums and get a lot of e-mails. Cephalopod spends a lot of time in the game and is very active in the Game Design forum so he's very good at conferring with me about smaller tweaks and fixes to UI (user interface) that affect a lot of people. Cleaver has a broader perspective because he runs the entire company and is more generally acquainted with all of its projects and, because he speaks at a lot of game conferences, the reputation of the company in the game industry. In addition, developers that longtime players may remember such as Bluebeard and Peghead still play the game as well under anonymous civilian accounts and continue to give input about the direction of the game, even though they work on other projects now.
Trying to combine the office perspective with the very important perspectives of our players, who frankly know the game a lot better than we do, and the remote OMs, who are not only players themselves but who answer the petitions, complaints, and issues that arise out of each new release and have a sharp eye for what will cause widespread confusion and support issues, and a lot of times the design discussion sounds like a fight. There are a lot of voices in here, and you have to be prepared to debate and defend your viewpoint when you put it forward.
That said, all of this discussion and debate is really interesting. The raised voices are never personal or upset but rather are a consequence of a bunch of people being passionate about what they do. It is in a lot of ways similar to the conference calls that take place every few months, with the widely differing perspectives between flags, crews, and oceans.
There was a post that made me sad, about how people feel they are beating a dead horse when an idea is neither approved or disapproved, but rather brought up, discussed, and believed to be forgotten. It's really hard to keep all of these things in the queue when there are so many voices, and there are ideas that we don't actively discuss we'd like to put in, but it has not yet been the time.
I have a hobby horse that I've been pushing since I was a beta tester in 2003, and I have no idea when it will be implemented, but I refuse to let go of it. We do our best to keep a list and to balance the very different desires of a lot of people for this kitchen-sink game, and I do my best to understand that my perspective is one of many. I hope that helps with the inevitable frustration that we feel when yet another release comes out without addressing the lack of bunny slipp-I mean, our favorite issues. Keep the faith, man. The bunnies will come.