Note to self about deadlines

Woke up real early today (baby boy), like 4:00 am. Day two of what I now refer to as the hands-on-PR-tour.

First contact with the enemy yesterday after a little warm-up exercise at a Fragomatic  during the weekend.  Surprisingly or rather, reassuringly, the feedback we received from a journalist yesterday corresponded exactly with the feedback we gathered at the LAN party …

You expect me to say it was good.

It was.

But not without a lot of pointed and detailed criticism.

Here’s a snapshot from the tasklist that was synthesized from the feedback we received, you don’t necessarily have to read it, it’s technical and I’ll summarize it in the next paragraph ;)

  • Need additional control scheme; Camera pans over the level instead of moving in and out, the scroll wheel zooms in and out (does pretty much what the forward and backward button are doing now). Middle mouse button still rotates the camera, when middle mouse button is pressed the free cam controls on the WASD and arrow keys are active.
  • Integrate player’s faction colors into the control scheme of that player
  • Get tooltips and text for all the units working
  • Need bars next to the player names indicating how well they are doing, maybe it’s the total HP of their units. It should give an indication of what team is winning and what player is ahead of the rest. The longer the bar the better they are doing.
  • The team players that are participating in a battle of a country they aren’t involved in shoud start with a recon unit, a trooper or a fighter or something.
  • Need blood splashes on the screen from the direction that the dragon is being shot
  • Need the screen to get redder with every hit the dragon takes
  • Need a health regen on the dragon, it regenerates slowly  when the dragon is not being hit anymore
  • Need a swift cam shot of the unit that killed the dragon when he dies. This is a very fast camera travel towards that unit disregarding physics, mountains or walls. When the shot is over the free cam activates on the location that the player died.
  • Need to increase the dragon HP so the testers don’t die instantly
  • Need indication of what units skills can target and what units they can’t target. At the moment it’s not clear when targets are in range or if the active skill is even meant for them
  • Need crosshair revamp to make targets that are in range a lot clearer than they are now

The gist of the above list is, there’s not enough feedback on what’s happening to the player in Dragon Commander (as in, you die but you don’t necessarily know why) – please fix it.

It’s the type of list you can have long arguments over in the office, but once you hear features like this requested from the mouths of plenty of players (and you observe the need), you know that not including them equals committing a developer crime. It’s one of the main reasons developers do tests like this, and for any studio hoping to bring out something non-trivial, it really should be part of their routine.

The list was compiled over the weekend so it was ready before my first presentation and lo and behold, what did the journalist tell me after playing … “I liked it, the only dark spot was that I didn’t know what was killing my dragon and why I died – you really need to do something about that”.

I was happy with the “I liked it” part and let lose an inward sigh of relief, thinking of how much we had changed the game over the last months and even the days before making this build – from a development director point of view all these changes were pretty much insane and we took really big risks, but at least in this presentation, it looked like those risks paid off.

Furthermore, since the list compiled from FOM was already there and it was actually already being implemented, I proudly dragged the journalist to the desk of a developer asking said developer to show exactly what he was busy with.  The journalist nodded and the little PR-manager in me glowed , seeing that at least on this count we were doing something right. This was going to be a good day.

After scoring this PR point, we then started the Divinity: Original Sin presentation, filled with confidence. Contrary to Dragon Commander (which has a lot of old ideas blended together into a new idea such that it requires getting used to,) Divinity: Original Sin is a game that immediately feels familiar to anybody who likes turn-based role playing games and it is has the advantage that it’s also quite good so it in general doesn’t take a lot of effort to convince somebody of its potential.

Of course (of course!), having had some success with the Dragon Commander presentation, things needed to balance themselves out, so the Divinity: Original Sin presentation turned out to be the worst we’d ever given (I say we because it was shown in multiplayer) We started out strong, even if we had one crash, but then ran into a situation I certainly didn’t expect us to have at this stage in our collective careers.

To make a long story short (and because I’m thinking of grabbing some more sleep as baby boy seems to have relaxed a bit), this particular version of the build had a problem that ruined most of the scripting in the game, which for a RPG that wants to promote itself as being very interactive and reactive is a pretty much a no-no. On top of that, our cheat-presentation-gear wasn’t present in the game because we had taken the wrong build (or some other advanced version control branching excuse) meaning that we were dying continuously as we were trying to reach a higher-level area where we were hoping the script logic was working. And when we did eventually make it there, a blocker bug prevented us from even reaching the area because some piece of  area-linking logic was missing from the game, so we should actually even have bothered getting there.

In short, it was a catastrophe.

To my relief, this particular journalist had some experience and so he told me I didn’t have to worry too much because what he had seen had convinced him already, but I can only imagine what his impression would have been had he seen all the stuff he was meant to see. He would have become a convert (or at least, there would’ve been some hope of that happening)

The fault of course is mine because I’ve been pushing and pushing the team for putting this in and that in, so I guess this could serve as a lesson in last minute changes, except that it probably won’t, because it paid off with Dragon Commander (which I’m sure wouldn’t have happened if certain things hadn’t been put in)

What I will remember from this (again) however is that I need to make sure that if I’m going to be giving a presentation with a new build, I need to play through it completely at least once the day before. That was all it would’ve taken to prevent this particular disaster, because worst comes to worst, I could always have taken an older build of the game which I know works.

The thing that frustrated me the most in this I guess is that I know this and that I’m usually the one reminding producers and designers who help in pitching that they have to rehearse, even if that’s the last thing they want to hear after spending so much time on getting their builds ready.

That we didn’t this time was mainly due to the reason that I was really tired & so all I could think of on that particular evening where I was supposed to finally test the build was getting home and sleep. I hindsight I should call that a moment of personal failure, because it rendered void all the effort that had gone in preparing this build. What use is there in having members of your team spending long days on getting a game as good as you can get it for a presentation if the one presenting it is not going to see it through to the finish?

So I was really at fault here and I was lucky I had one of the good journalists in front of me, or it really would’ve been a disaster.

Therefore, a note to my (really tired) self : Like it or not, deadlines are part of your business and even if you can say that development is a marathon and not a sprint, and that you can only finish a marathon if you dose yourself, you still have to accelerate from time to time if you want to win the bloody marathon, and you still need to be able to run after that acceleration.

Or, you can settle for less. But that really shouldn’t be an option.

  • Arne

    Yet another story for the Developer’s journal. Please keep this post in mind for that one release date (when you’re shipping DOS). Anyway, congratulations! I can see that feedback on DC convinced even this tired indie he’s walking the right way. Just keep it up!

  • WotanAnubis

    “Contrary to Dragon Commander (which has a lot of old ideas blended together into a new idea such that it requires getting used to,) Divinity: Original Sin is a game that immediately feels familiar to anybody who likes turn-based role playing games and it is has the advantage that it’s actually quite good”

    Now there’s an unfortunate bit of phrasing. Unless you really do mean to imply that, contrary to Original Sin, Dragon Commander has the disadvantage of not actually being good. Which I’m pretty sure you’re not. ;)

    Still… nice to see Dragon Commander is still shaping up nicely. Any chance of Fragomatic videos or something being released?

  • Tiediiee

    WotanAnubis

    Here’s an interview (in dutch though) with some footage:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=oaFSineHJZg

    More movies to be followed, keep an eye on http://www.fom.be ;)

  • meh

    Good read.

    Please, no blood stains or red screen in DC. It is a bad idea. Just put an arrow or something like everyone did 5,6 years ago.

    • Silverwing

      Just don’t make too much of that. Showing an arrow or coloring only screen border would be much better than filling entire screen with color. And certainly it is enough to get information about the attack direction and/or getting too much damage.

      • AlexF

        I agree. That thing with blood splashes on the screen has been overdone in action and fps games. I understand its appeal for some games but it doesn’t fit everywhere. It could work if you could find an elegant way to do it so people get the information they need (the dragon is being hurt and the direction of the attack) without it being distracting from everything else that is going on.

  • Illusive Man

    Swen Vincke, June 2012 : “They had been practicing this thing for days, and in hindsight that was really important.”
    So you’re the “Do what I say, don’t do what I do” kind of Boss, uh ? :D

    You seem to be on a rush with all this PR. Any announcement soon, like some precise release / public beta date ?
    ( anything NOT involving the Q letter with a digit from 1 to 4 )

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      That’s why I said:

      >>The thing that frustrated me the most in this I guess is that I know this and that I’m usually the one reminding<<

      I try to avoid not practicing what I preach, but I am human and the flesh is weak ;) Worst of it, today showing Original Sin to both PC Gamer & Jeux Video, and we still didn't find the time to prepare the presentation, so we're really doing the fato profugus thing.

      As to your other question – June is what we're hoping for.

  • Heliosphan

    Yeah Swen, I guess you are just getting too old to handle deadlines properly ;) :p

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      That’ll teach me to write blog posts when I’m too tired – in the end it turned out it wasn’t that bad because I quote from the journalist’s twitter feed: : @canardpcredac : “Purée ! On vient de rendre visite à Larian et si tout se passe bien Original Sin va être tout simplement le meilleur RPG de tous les temps.” which translates “Wow! We just visited Larian & if everything works out well, Original Sin will simply become the best RPG ever made”