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JtRH Postmortem

This is a compilation of a questionnaire submitted to the development team for DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold. The results are presented here unedited (with a few minor exceptions for clarity purposes) and sorted in alphabetical order of first name. Matt Schikore declined to participate, so I didn't have any problems with having two team members named 'Matt'.

Your name, and what you did for JtRH (own words).

Adam Peterson.

I made some of the rooms for the official hold. I also bounced ideas off Mike and sometimes Erik about how to make game elements work (both in abstract and implementation). I helped Gerry from time to time with tweaks for the Linux port, and did beta testing as we went.

One thing you were happiest with during the development process, and why.

I like how well balanced the new elements ended up being, how simply they worked individually and how well they ended up combining and playing off each other.

One thing that didn't turn out like you wanted, and why.

I was a bit disappointed at how much scripting ended up being used for puzzle purposes. (If a behavior is useful for puzzles, I favor creating a distinct element to embody the behavior and make it recognizable.)

Is there anything about developing the game that you didn't expect?

I was a bit surprised at how easy it was sometimes to get caught up in differences of opinion over what were essentially minor decisions.

What did you learn from developing JtRH?

I think I learned a lot about how project development can work in a distributed development environment. Most of my software development work previously has been one-man projects or small teams of two or three people.

If you can think of something, an anecdote from development that was poignant, interesting, indicative or funny.

Many of the anecdotes I could think of are pretty well documented in the development threads. For example, it was interesting how much back-and-forth we went through to decide how tunnels would work and look.

Would you (help) develop a computer game again? If so, what, if anything, would you do differently?

I hope I can make some contributions to DROD 3. As for other projects, who knows? In terms of volunteer projects, it kind of depends on how much the project grabs me and whether I can contribute.

In terms of doing things differently, I think I would be more parsimonious in commenting when I think something should be done a particular way, so as not to repeat myself saying things everyone has already heard.



Your name, and what you did for JtRH (own words).

Clayton Weiss.

Although I was mainly here for emotional support, I did a fair amount of mostly nit-picky testing of the JtRH hold. Early on during testing, Mike Rimer and I matched wits as I would repeatedly kill the Slayer, and he would beef up his code. I also created the background behind the endgame credits, and wrote a single line of skippable script on the 3rd level.

One thing you were happiest with during the development process, and why.

I was admittedly very skeptical of DROD 2's potential. I remember telling Erik in an e-mail that I thought he was aiming too high, and that the game would end up either being a complete success, or an utter failure. So, of course, I was very excited to watch quietly as elements were added and removed, graphics were updated, and script was written. I got to watch the game evolve and become the masterpiece of puzzle gaming that it is. I'm glad my preconcieved notions were so very, very wrong.

One thing that didn't turn out like you wanted, and why.

I tend to feel when making my own hold that the scripting can be a little confusing sometimes, and that I often have to give up on an idea, or work around an inadequacy of the script editor. A few things that I feel need to be added would include a "wait until speech ends" command, and the ability to bracket several lines of script for "if...then" situations.

Is there anything about developing the game that you didn't expect?

When the first set of unbiased testers arrived, I was very suprised to see how quickly many of them learned the game and became as addicted as so many DROD-players are. They did an excellent job in helping the team ensure the learning curve wasn't too rough, and pointing out confusing bits in gameplay and story. Despite the forum numbers, I'm still under the impression that DROD is a small little game with a handful of people actually playing it. I often forget how quickly the community (and player count) is growing. At the start, it seemed unnecessary to have these DROD-newbies posting on our forum with bugs and impressions when we had plenty of DROD-savvy people already here, desperately eager to test. I think those early, unbiased testers showed an incredible amount of enthusiasm for the game, and I'm delighted with the input they provided.

If you can think of something, an anecdote from development that was poignant, interesting, indicative or funny.

Well, the Slayer-killing-coding tag between Mike and I was a lot of fun, and provided a few laughs (at least for me, Mike was probably shaking his fist in the air).

Would you (help) develop a computer game again? If so, what, if anything, would you do differently?

I'm definitely interested in doing more development work, for Caravel Games or otherwise. Hopefully next time around I'd like to be much more involved and less self-critical of my own work. I'd like to throw out more ideas and art, and allow myself to sound stupid if it comes to that. I commented to Erik that I really regretted stepping into the sidelines so early on in this project. I love to test games, and I think I'm pretty decent at it, but I'd like to broaden my abilities to work on future titles more actively, to feel much more satisfied with a finished project that I did for this one.



Your name, and what you did for JtRH (own words).

Erik.

Level design on the first 3 levels and few other places, most of the music, most of the graphics, story editing and continuity, some writing, dialogue recording coordination, last-month project management (Mike PM'd the rest of the project)

One thing you were happiest with during the development process, and why.

I was happiest with the fantastic results we had on our last-month crunch, when a dozen different things came together in a short amount of time. The last half of our dialogue got recorded, we figured out how to integrate with a new payment processor, order pages went up, the first version of CaravelNet went online, bugs were fixed, Windows and Linux versions were released, and Eytan's April Fool's announcement was released right on time. On 4/1, I slept the sleep of the righteous. It was really amazing to see people pull together so well.

One thing that didn't turn out like you wanted, and why.

There were two major parts of the project turned over to subcontractors, and we had problems with both. I don't want to make them feel bad or cast doubt on their professional capabilities. Both cases would take a large amount of explaining to give a fair picture of what was going on, and digging all that up isn't worthwhile.

Is there anything about developing the game that you didn't expect?

I didn't expect the "open source"-style of collaboration to work as well as it did for things that weren't source code.

The biggest example was the task of writing character dialogue. I had envisioned that we'd need to write all of the dialogue and then fit it into the game. By accident we hit on a much better approach. It was discovered by people who thankfully ignored what I said was going to happen. One day, I threw in quick descriptions of story events in Mike's one-page document describing levels. There were just one or four sentences on each level, saying things like "Beethro sees wubbas for the first time and comments on how they seem so cute and harmless." I figured these would be placeholders for when Matt Cramp and I eventually got to writing more elaborate dialogue. But nobody was going to wait around for me to do that. They just wrote their own extensive dialogue based on those summaries. And people contributed other plot events, like Crampy's "runner" joke which some people said was the funniest thing in Journey to Rooted Hold.

Then at one point, people on the team complained about continuity and consistency problems--which was inevitable. I spent a few days editing all the dialogue to fix things like that. People were egoless about having their writing "bug fixed", which very much reminds me of the open source spirit. With remarkable efficiency we wrote a large amount of dialogue using ad-hoc authoring from half a dozen different authors. The story grew quickly and painlessly.

Similar collaborative successes were had for dialogue recording, level design, and graphics. We'd have multiple people hacking away at one problem, independantly finding things that needed improvement, and changing another person's work with a certain ruthlessness that only an open source advocate can feel comfortable with.

What did you learn from developing JtRH?

Don't let any one person become a bottleneck. Including me. When giving people tasks, especially volunteers, always plan for the possibility of having someone else take over that task. Set things up so that transferring tasks doesn't carry a stigma.

If you can think of something, an anecdote from development that was poignant, interesting, indicative or funny.

I've had this conversation with my dad at least three times. He seems to forget what I say or not believe me, so he asks me again:

DAD: "So this game you're making... uh... 'DROD'?"

ERIK: "Yeah, it's called 'DROD'."

DAD: "Isn't this the same game you were working on last year?"

ERIK: "Well, sorta. You see..." (explanation of different versions released over the last 8 years)

DAD: "So you're doing this by yourself or with some other people?"

ERIK: "Other people. There's my partner, Mike Rimer. And then there's this other guy, Matt Schikore, who does..." (explanation of about 20 people's involvement)

DAD: "Whoa! Don't these people have something better to do with their time? Sounds like they need to get out more."

Would you (help) develop a computer game again? If so, what, if anything, would you do differently?

We will make another DROD game. There will be more attention paid to story and plot events on the next one. If I don't get beaten up too bad along the way, I've probably got 20 or 30 more games left in me.



Your name, and what you did for JtRH (own words).

Eytan.

I made approximately 50 rooms, and also revised some rooms made by other people. I also tested the hold, suggested ideas for ways game elements should interact with each other, and complained about stuff more than everyone else combined.

One thing you were happiest with during the development process, and why.

Oooh - this is hard. There's really a lot I was happy with, throughout - the main one would be the amazing programming work by Mike, Schik, and Adam (and Gerry, too, though that less directly influenced me). It was really great seeing how, when a bug or a gap in the logic was discovered, it was quickly resolved. That made life a whole lot easier for the non-techies like me.

One thing that didn't turn out like you wanted, and why.

I think we needed less bomb maze rooms on level 16.

Other than that - many small things, but nothing really significant.

Is there anything about developing the game that you didn't expect?

How personally involved I got. This turned out to be both good and bad - I really enjoyed it, and I am very proud of the result. I think the effort I invested shows and really contributed. But I definitely didn't make life easy for Mike (and others) at times.

What did you learn from developing JtRH?

I learnt a bit more about which battles are worth fighting and which not.

Would you (help) develop a computer game again? If so, what, if anything, would you do differently?

Sure. I'm hoping to be involved in DROD 3.0, though that depends a bit on my work schedule. The main thing I'd do differently is try to be clear in advance about A - what I'm planning to do and B - what I care about. That way, needless tension could be avoided.



Your name, and what you did for JtRH (own words).

I'm Gerry. I'm mostly responsible for the Linux port, but I did some other things as well, like the PNG image loader and most of the Deadly Browser of Death (which was supposed to be a temporary name, btw, but hey), as well as a couple of misc bugfixes here and there. I also contributed a few rooms to the JtRH hold, and critiqued Erik's graphics a bit.

One thing you were happiest with during the development process, and why.

I was very happy that the game was actually finished on time without any large compromises, specially the Linux port. Things looked grim for a little while there, but everything worked out great in the end. Hooray!

One thing that didn't turn out like you wanted, and why.

I would have liked to have spent more time on JtRH than I did. Specially the last half year of development I didn't do much at all, at least compared to the others on the team. Other things kept getting in the way, and I had to prioritize some of those over JtRH.

Is there anything about developing the game that you didn't expect?

Yeah, there's always tons of unexpected stuff popping up. That just makes things interesting, though. For my part, I didn't expect to have as little time to spend on JtRH as I did. If I had known that in advance, maybe I wouldn't have wanted to be part of the team when we started. Things did work out great in the end though, both for JtRH and me, so I'm very glad that I was a part of this after all.

What did you learn from developing JtRH?

Double-check your compile flags (see next question). Never give up. Also, everyone on the team are fantastic people.

If you can think of something, an anecdote from development that was poignant, interesting, indicative or funny.

Well, here's a little tip: When compiling a debug executable, make sure it's not using release flags. Specifically, omitting frame pointers from a debug executable will make it almost unusable. This bit me during part of the development of JtRH, because of a bug in the Linux build system that caused the release flags to be used in addition to the debug flags for debug builds. It's a wonder I got debugging to work at all while that bug was present...

Would you (help) develop a computer game again? If so, what, if anything, would you do differently?

Yeah. I've made games since I was little and I'm not about to stop now. I hope to have more time to spend on it in the future.



Your name, and what you did for JtRH (own words).

Matt C. I did stuff. Mostly story, parts of the helpfile/manual and a bit of level design.

One thing you were happiest with during the development process, and why.

I really liked how the Pit Thing on level 7, I think it was, where you first meet it, turned out - it turned out to be pretty collaborative, in the end, where I had scripts that were merely okay and Erik took them and turned them into something great. At least, I hope it was collaborative.

One thing that didn't turn out like you wanted, and why.

Simply put, I wanted to do more rooms, but I procrastinated on doing it until it was nearly too late. That and all the bomb rooms we ended up having, but I blame myself for not getting it there for that one.

Is there anything about developing the game that you didn't expect?

Well, I didn't realise how fast development can go.

What did you learn from developing JtRH?

That I can't write dialogue as well as I'd like; and that when you're writing in a collaborative project it's best not to be upset when someone toys with your writing, because they want the same thing as you do in the end - for the words to be as good as they can be. It does help if there's an agreed-upon style though, and that's where Erik came in.

If you can think of something, an anecdote from development that was poignant, interesting, indicative or funny.

The name 'Poppies', the Rooted Empire National Guard, essentially, came from a suggestion of a co-worker when I asked her if she could help me come up with a name that was red, military, and sort of goofy, that evoked an ancient empire. There were little happy accidents like that all the time from everyone that really gave the game its character.

There were elements I really wanted to keep in the game that were cut, and I ended up making a hold that tried to make a case for or against each of the new elements. I think my anti-mud room convinced Mike it had merit. The first room I built that I was really proud of was in here: it was a flow-zombie room that I had tweaked until there was no room for error, which was a most satisfying experience.

Would you help develop a computer game again? If so, what, if anything, would you do differently?

I'd be extremely surprised if I didn't, but I'm making it a rule not to put my hand up for anything where I'm not ready to put some commitment into it. I'm still disappointed how little level design I got to do, and won't nominate to do something and then procrastinate over it. (Big words, coming from me.)



Your name, and what you did for JtRH (own words).

Mike Rimer, chief dev on JtRH. Depending on how you look at it, I had all my irons in the fire or all my fingers in the pie.

One thing you were happiest with during the development process, and why.

I love playing games, but what I like even more than playing games is making them. With JtRH, we set out to make a new version of DROD that really shined. As each new, cool feature was implemented and we saw to what surprising extents it could be used, I would rub my hands together expectantly and alternately giggle and chortle. Creation brings me such joy.

Everyone on the dev team contributed in amazing ways. I value their work and ideas greatly. Our sturdy band of testers often went above and beyond the call of duty. And Erik is the best partner I could have ever hoped for. Working with great people is quite possibly the most rewarding part of this process and I'm looking forward to doing great things with these excellent friends again.

One thing that didn't turn out like you wanted, and why.

I was often frustrated with unforeseen setbacks. More than once we were seemingly on the home stretch of major parts of the process, and then some nasty surprise was sprung on us and, to our collective dismay, Erik and I would find ourselves once again at square one. Fortunately, persistence won the day.

Is there anything about developing the game that you didn't expect?

The most taxing work for me was keeping all the details straight as JtRH evolved. DROD is amazingly complex for having most game rules so elegantly simple. Whenever I corrected a problem with one aspect of the game, one of the other thousand finely-tuned strings would often go out of tune. There was at least one night when I felt like crying after someone killed the Slayer again.

Would you help develop a computer game again? If so, what, if anything, would you do differently?

I am left with a feeling of great accomplishment after working on JtRH. As anyone who has tried writing a game knows, it requires an inconceivable amount of work. Like a mountain, as we ascended, the perspective would shift and the top seemed to continually recede from us. Yet finally we reached the summit.

Of course, we spied a higher peak beyond the first. And when I'm climbing the beautiful climb, looking at gorgeous vistas, I can't wait to climb the next mountain peak. I'm enthusiastically working away on The City Beneath, and I must say it'll be great!



Your name, and what you did for JtRH (own words).

Neil. I made about a dozen rooms, including the North ones on level 15 and the farthest East ones on level 25. I also submitted my opinion on various game elements, like which ones should stay and which should go, and of course tested the entire dungeon before the beta testers got to it.

One thing you were happiest with during the development process, and why.

Mostly that I was in the development process at all.

One thing that didn't turn out like you wanted, and why.

My level of involvement with the project started out great, but after I had made a few rooms I realized that I was really getting behind in my labwork and if I ever wanted to graduate, I couldn't be making DROD rooms during the day. I was also a bit burned out on DROD at the time, and there were a bunch of personal things going on in my life that just made it hard for me to really focus on making rooms, which was what I was hired on to do in the first place. I got a bit of a revival near the end, when we decided that level 25 needed some more rooms to round it out more and bump the difficulty up, and so I was happy to get my contribution count up then.

What did you learn from developing JtRH?

I learned that if you have something that you think should be changed, bring it up as early as possible. Perhaps some of the things that couldn't go in because of time constraints at the end would have been enabled if I had spoken up.

Would you (help) develop a computer game again? If so, what, if anything, would you do differently?

I certainly would, and hopefully will be. Besides the stuff I've mentioned above, I can't really think of too much I'd do differently, especially because those cover a pretty broad range of things.

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