ISSUE #65                              THE VALE, QUILL                              1 SEPTEMBER, 2019                              ONE BRASS

The Short Report

Hello there Seedlings! It's been another week of progress here at the metaphorical towers of Castle PixelCount. Of particular note is that we've updated the roadmap with the next batch of updates to expect from us. We'll be posting a more detailed rundown of the new roadmap bits when we share some build news soon, but here's a quick summary in a nutshell: we added the next updates, the 'optimisation/flex' type of updates are no more (instead we're making time for this stuff more as we go), we added in some branch info, and we've updated the big 'Entire Journey' section with status indications. So hop on over and check it out.

In other news, our artists continue to work their pixel whispering magic and have been churning out asset after asset. Caz has finished making the Wottyzit graphics, she also made some stellar looking Goddess tokens (more to be revealed soon), Weekes has updated our dandelion UI from vector placeholders to new pixel versions (been meaning to do this for a while!), he's also revamped the UI pop-up for when you get new items or tools, and Gary has been making multiple concept pieces for a new Fae pet called the...*checks notes*...Bumbabloopfnoop.

In fact, we're a bit unsure of which concept we like the most and could use your help in deciding! Drop by this tweet to check out the concepts and let us know which one you like. (And if Twitter ain't your thing then feel free to let us know at your nearest comment repository, such as right here!)

For other tales of development from last week, read on below for the individual updates from our team. Cheers!

What the Fae

It was a week where I got back to a bit of writing amongst the usual tasks. With the introduction of the Wottyzit and some other features, we needed some new books to place around your farm. I also took it upon myself to tweak some of the existing books and NPC dialogue. The hardcore players may notice some changes, but some are subtle.

There is more helpful text around too, such as Twig telling you the controls to focus the Darklight and so on. We are also working on a Prologue 'Redux' as we call the document. It is a Google doc we have access to where I receive feedback and alter the design according to what we feel adds benefit, and then Neal highlights the new stuff when it is in-progress, in-game, or not achievable. We add comments to it and resolve the issues as we go.

Also this week saw a flurry of new art: the incredible Jabberwock now has an idle, the Wottyzit got a new look, the Goddess Statues got new UI art being developed (hoping to squeeze it all in very soon), and some concepts for the Tir Na Nog Fae pet, the Bumbabloopfnoop. The other 3 Fae realms will also have buyable pets - cute, cool, and wtf are what I would describe them as. Which basically sums up our game. It's cute. It's cool. There's a bit of wtf.

Wtf means What the Fae, probably.

The Tide of Development

It's difficult to find a word to describe this week with its highs and lows but I think my main thought of it is with the theme of balance and aiming for a better balance than exists right now...

To keep this about the game this week, I've been working on a few different areas including the Prologue (the internal name for the first season as a kid), goddess offerings, and preparing the build towards the preview branch. Early on my balance was swung towards the Prologue refinements. Charlie has made a full doc of updates for all 13 days to work on and so after initially looking it over from a few angles it was time to get to work on it. Initially I was thinking to perhaps focus on key aspects that would uplift the overall build but decided in the end instead to take a more thorough approach in doing it day by day.

So far I've got the first 2 days updated. The benefit of this approach is that I'm going through things at a pace such that I can double check everything is working as intended. My past habits have always meant rushing in work at times or fixating on it to the detriment of other areas. Being aware of that, I've been trying to break down the actions I do and the testing that follows into smaller chunks - it's all balance! To go into the actual changes, they are all about giving the player a little more direction and understanding of the systems along with giving a bit more dialogue for the key characters. We'll also start to use the mailbox as a way to get letters from NPC's to give another place to add more immersion to the experience (still really early days on this).

Part of the Prologue doc included the setup for Goddess offerings, which although we do have design for (along with nearly all of the game features) we'd only really had a basic incomplete setup so far. It's funny how a lot of these things seem like common sense looking back at it (that if you want to make a game, implement all the features early!), but often the tide of development is such that you get pulled away from them with all that is going on. I remember back at the start how I was rushing to code in all the early designs which was a lot of the groundwork for the prototype. Now though, the team have so many ideas that my backlog has grown a little high!

Digressions aside, I have managed to further this setup to begin to cover the full scope of the feature. Having it in place helps test the intended game experience and bring a little unique touch to the experience. Caz is doing a great job on the art to make it look pretty as well soon! Similar to the Prologue, I've been taking a more balanced approach to this by spending an hour or so a day to make improvements. This slows the initial implementation but I'm finding it avoids getting lost into the details too much.

With the usual Wednesday flex day, I mostly ended up a bit more involved in discussions than code but did make a few improvements including finding a fix for one cause of why player owned dogs were getting lost in the game. I also took a look at a problem that's been bothering me a bit lately with text setup. When text is edited outside the game and into the text file it sometimes ended up including ASCII characters from Microsoft Office. These characters are different to the regular standard versions and because of that they don't render correctly as they aren't included in the minimal characters included in some of the fonts we use.

So on loading in debug it'll detect this and now try to correct it, which is handy in reducing some manual work. Maddeningly I found sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't! I still haven't figured that out exactly other than Notepad++ seems to always work whereas regular Notepad works intermittently. On reflection, now I'm almost wondering if I'm looking at the problem the wrong way round. If the fonts could draw the right characters then I'd not need the workarounds! I guess it's about my perception of the problem in some respects and often writing about it brings a balance in releasing it from the mind to be studied afresh. At any rate, I think my solution for now should be more optimal than before and so I can see how the experience is with that before rushing into further work.

Finally to mention this week is the push for the preview branch build of all the player experience refinements that have been added. Between all the goings on it hasn't had as much attention this week as I'd have liked, but we are getting ever closer. I'm hoping to have a version up a little later today without much fanfare, for any eagle eyed readers of The Post to take a look at. Tuesday is what we're targeting as the more public unveiling partly as we're wanting to refine bits a little more for that. It's all in the balance and to keep trying to get better at it!

What's in a Filename

This week a curious thing came up:

Long ago, back in the prototype days, I would name my music tracks in whatever way I felt like. This is how one of our very first tracks came to be named "Dreamy Day". I imagined the player character resting on the pier in the opening shot of the game, lazily daydreaming. Essentially that's what I based the track on.

Then as the number of tracks grew and Neal had to keep them all organized within the folders and code of the game, we decided it'd be better to name them according to where they were to be placed in the game. Fast forward to now and we're releasing some of the tracks to our Youtube as part of a 'Soundtrack Sampler' playlist. However, the funny thing was that "Dreamy Day" had since been turned into "[REGION] Willowdown Farm.mp3" as part of our new file naming structure. But pretty much the whole team still remembered it and referred to it as "Dreamy Day", even after all this time.

Basically the old title had stuck. It had ingrained itself within the team as the 'true' name of the track. So after some team deliberation, it was decided that we'd keep an internal document that listed all the tracks in the game by both the filename they'd have in the folders and code as well as the 'flavor' name they'd have anytime it was shared somewhere public facing. In this way, "Dreamy Day" would regain its original 'true' name while not sacrificing a structure for Neal to know where to assign tracks.

I'm having quite a lot of fun coming up with flavor titles for the tracks, something I had stopped doing when we decided to name them just according to where they'd be used in the game. So far I'm keeping to tracks that are already implemented in the game, but I've found I really enjoy doing this so I actually look forward to coming up with titles for all the remaining ones. It's sometimes funny where I find joy in this profession. It's not always in the obvious places.

Speaking Too Soon

As the writer/editor of most every piece of community news we put out, I often grapple with how to tell everyone that something is close to being ready but not so close to being ready that we know when it'll be ready. Inevitably, the way things can sometimes go in game development (and life in general!) is if you say something will be done in a week, it'll most assuredly take two.

Our approach to that sorta thing has always been to just shoot straight when talking to players, so at the very least you can know that if we say we don't know exactly when something will be ready it's because...well, we don't actually know when it'll be ready. Which isn't to say deadlines aren't helpful for keeping things on track and for spurring motivation in pursuit of a clearly defined goal. For bigger things, we will typically have more concrete dates to give. But the smaller week to week tasks that we often talk about here in these issues? Those tend to be more fluid. Oftentimes asking 'when' can feel like asking 'how long is a piece of string'.

So as a result, I find myself having to throw around the word 'soon' incredibly often. Though at least the games industry has come to view the word as a bit of a trope, evident by it now being very common to see people add a trademark symbol to its use. (Soon™) Interestingly, this seems to have originated in some form all the way back to 1984 (the year, not the popular George Orwell book...) in an article by Jerry Pournelle in an issue of BYTE magazine in which he used the phrase "Real Soon Now".

A snippet from the article in question, which you can actually check out in its entirety here.

Around this same time (which was all 'before my time', mind you), a network discussion system called Usenet was popular and as a joke its users would frequently add trademark or copyright symbols to just about everything. In fact, Usenet is one of the earliest forms of internet discussion and is where we get many popular words still in frequent use today, such as: "FAQ", "flame", and "spam". Then during the 90's it became popular to write it as "Real Soon Now (TM)" and then slowly the short form of "Soon (TM)" started to become the standard use. Still, this was largely a user used phrase and was very rarely ever used in official communication by companies.

This started to change a bit in the early 2000's of the games industry, as you can chart some of its use even as far back as an old post about Myth. It was also around this time that you can start to see developers sneaking it into official communication - namely by the Blizzard community team on the World of Warcraft forums and also occasionally in the Eve Online community. Though nowadays it's become a bit more common to see game developers use it - I've certainly used it frequently myself. Valve even has their own version of it: Valve Time.

Clearly I spend too much of my spare time going down Wikipedia and StackExchange rabbit holes about games industry history. And I haven't even mentioned the popular counterpart phrase "When It's Ready", but that's a different rabbit hole for a different time.

All that to say, it's with a certain self-awareness that I use the word "soon" so often when writing to the community. For us, it's a genuine reflection of how sometimes we don't know when 'when' is, so I appreciate you all being good sports with us about it. I do at least take solace in knowing that whenever I say it, I'm taking part in a longstanding tradition for development updates.

Oh, right. Development updates. *ahem* I did a buncha work this week. Production was produced. Community was communed. And roadmaps mapped roads. Specifically, the roadmap has been added to and now shows which new updates are coming...Soon©®™.

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