Saturday, 29 January 2011

Back to the Future

Release date now set for March the, um, fifth I think.

Oh solv! You told us September!
Indeed! However, nobody told us that, if you get the CE award, your game undergoes extra rigorous testing, and all those people who have been lurking as cc's on the email threads suddenly rise like affable Banshees from a chocolately marsh and congratulate you and offer you gifts and incentives and everything is different. And another name is added to the cc's and you discover that he's like a back-up Producer and is there in case your Producer falls ill or has babies during those last crucial weeks. And Mr Big Fish himself, Paul Thelen, passes on his excitement and pride at the working partnership, and I'm not so cynical as to believe that he might really be a bit excited and proud, but that could be self-delusion, which is my good friend.
Also, we fell behind a bit.

So our Producer, of whom I have become curiously fond (I've never been suspended in leathers from the ceiling of a dungeon and whipped before, but maybe I should try it?), has just played through the entire game. For the first time.
That's strange solvey: we would have thought that somebody would have done that already before awarding the CE? You telling us that they hand out CE's without actually playing the game?
Yes. There's a little morsel of my heart that pines. But that's not a very professional and worldly morsel of heart.

Customers download the opening hour - the free demo - from the BF portal. They play it and decide whether to purchase the full version.
Ergo, every drop of energy is injected into that opening hour, to make it shine like that gold toe on that statue, or that astronomer's brass nose. (Unpublished writers take note!)

Now an unscrupulous dev could quite clearly take advantage of this approach. For sure, I've read forum comments along the lines of: I bought X because it was really exciting and had loads of interesting puzzles, but then after the first hour, it's just Hidden Object Scenes, and then the ending is really awful! I feel cheated!
To be fair, the CE bonus material is also treated with enormous respect, and Big Fish are very protective of their CE roster!
(We've just been asked to add another ten minutes of gameplay into our CE act. By next Thursday, when the game goes into the final round of very earnest testing. When I got home from the office yesterday, I noted that I looked somewhat like Professor Emmett Brown from Back to the Future.)
Well, we were all pleased (as in relieved) when our Producer emailed with a tiny list of amendments, all very doable. But for me, I shall always remember that she began the email confessing that she was almost in tears at the end of both the SE and the CE games.
You'll all know me well enough by now: the money doesn't interest me one jot, because nothing compares to the feeling you get after a really good writing session, or when people tell you that they've been touched by your work. It's the stuff you remember and, if you're really really really good, it's the stuff that is remembered. (Nope, I'm not that delusional :o)
And I'd guess that you'll all know what I mean when I describe hope and self-belief as a door in a windy passage, constantly opening and closing. Certainly, the writerly folk amongst us will have experienced the binary flipping between Man, this manuscript is unbelievably good! and What the heck was I thinking?!

Not big on post mortems. They strike me as a rather trite endeavour. Given the amount of stuff we're constantly reassessing, it simply seems moot to lump together a lengthy expanse of time and examine it from that one, flawed perspective.
For anyone who has every watched Masterchef and seen an evictee lamenting I'm gutted! But I know now not to add onion sauce to haddock! (I tried this last week. It doesn't work. Ugh.) you'll understand what I mean. They all do it - every last one of them. Today's onion sauce is tomorrow's venison gravy, ad nauseam.
I also figure that there are people who look to the past (they're the ones with loads of photos and like to reminisce about some cool stuff they did twenty years ago), and people who look to the future (like Professor Emmett Brown, wondering what'll happen if they poke plutonium into a flux capacitor.).
N.B. Remind me to undertake a punctuation refresher very soon: what happens to full-stops when the end of a sentence corresponds with a bracket? And I keep forgetting which colons lead onto capitals and which don't. Sheesh, I bet I knew four years ago! :o)

It was Tycho Brahe! Turns out he lost the end of his nose in a duel, and showed that comets are not atmospheric phenomena, and kept a dwarf named Jepp.

But the experience of beta testing is very much worth noting here! Jesse Schell refers to it as sending out an invitation that reads: You are cordially invited to tell me why my game sucks.
I did get through a fair number of tissues with all that brow mopping. But it's brilliant! Imagine having hundreds of people at your disposal! You'd be naive to think that a designer can knock up a design document of War and Peace dimensions which would require no amount of redesigning. (For that matter, I'd guess that War and Peace underwent an amount of revision. I've read somewhere that James [or maybe Frank] Herbert is regarded as an extraordinary figure in the literary world because of his unique ability to write from start to finish without losing his way, and then to require no amount of editing afterwards.)
In the gaming world, this is called the Rule of the Loop. You cobble together some stuff and test it and then make any necessary changes, and then do this over and over until the only changes required are trivial.
So the task of sifting through countless survey comments was an important one for me, and required a great amount of discipline. One of my pet hates is ego. It will always damage a creative project. It will prevent a person from genuinely seeing through the veneer of comments into the reality behind. I trust there are no egos here on the farm.
It's important to avoid knee-jerk reactions. On reading a few negative comments about the animal spirits' voices, our sound guy prepared to re-record them. However, I was able to find an equal amount of praise for the voices. Furthermore, for those who were enjoying the experience, it was feasible that the experience itself was resultant, in some part, from the carefully chosen voices. I ran this by our Producer and she agreed: she likes the voices.
This decision could in no way be swayed by my own opinion*. Derren Brown likes to remind us that human beings are always on the look out for anything that might corroborate their beliefs, and turn their backs on anything, no matter how compelling, that might erode their beliefs. When analysing survey data, there is no room for this at all. Remember: the player is queen of the universe!
*Occasionally, the data isn't clear cut and I've had to make judgement calls. I've had some interesting back-and-forths with our Producer and with Keeley, the Head Writer at Big Fish.

So circle that date on your virtual calendar! March the something! (I'll dig out the precise date next week.)
Everything so far suggests that we're onto a winner, and that I'm going to achieve my life-long ambition of making millions of women weep.
But things rarely go the way you expect and there's a high probability that I will be ousted as a delusional buffoon...


esruel said...

First, you must decide whether the brackets are necessary. Usually, they aren't - sparing use is paramount - they will drive the reader nuts!
Second, if the text is a stand-alone sentence, requiring punctuation after it, no punctuation is required after the bracket.
Third, you must decide whether the brackets are necessary... LOL
Looks like Margrave's decision to appoint you was an exceptional one!
I might be forgiven for thinking my latest work is a certainty to be published with you as one of my readers! Note to myself: the quality of the work must match the quality of the critique. Then I'll have a chance!

solv said...

Man, I seriously need a refresher. It's quite worrying all that stuff we forget. Thanks for the prompt.
I'd argue that use of brackets, or anything, comes down to a stylistic choice. I'd ask myself what function brackets perform, and then what effect they might have on the reader, and then experiment with that effect, trying it out against other effects, and then make a judgement call. The most parenthetical author I can think of off the top of my head is Kafka. However, I can think of plenty of authors who create a parenthetical effect without employing brackets. :o)