ISSUE #83                              THE VALE, QUILL                              9 SEPTEMBER, 2020                              ONE BRASS

The Short Report

Well hello again and welcome back! There's been some interesting developments since last we talked.

Regarding game developments, Charlie has been busy doing another pass over the Evergreen and Woemarsh regions. He's also been working on some new Reputation systems that'll determine how the player accrues Rep for not just their shops but also their family. As usual, check out the individual updates below for the details.

Regarding other developments, we're rather excited to report that we've recently begun looking to add another coder to our team! Doing so will no doubt have sweeping benefits to the game's progress and we're both happy and humbled to have reached a place where we can expand our small team. So read on below and we'll tell you all about it!

Generation Reputation Preparation

(Lead Designer)

It's been a bit of a full-on time since our last posts. As Neal will go into detail about, we set about trying to recruit a coder and conducting some interviews. It was really interesting, though sometimes a challenge for me to understand what on Earth they were talking about with all their coder jargon.

What is clear is that there are many really talented people out there and I am jealous of their skillz. I was part of the meetings as a 'gauge of character' and to see if they would fit into the team as a whole. We have a very close team with great camaraderie and that does need to be considered as well as coding prowess and a bit of flair.

Aside from that I have been finishing up a pass of Evergreen, starting Woemarsh, and finally trying to sort out the Reputation system. It was a challenge as we don't want to force the player down certain paths. In summary, we have two Rep systems: one per shop and then one for all shops, friendships, and deeds (called your Family Rep). The former will unlock Perks that help your shop and the latter unlocks benefits beyond just shops. Both Reps come with tiers of renown, from Unknown to Legendary. The UI for this then needed mocking up in Visio, which was slow going. I find I always forget one thing here and there.

Got potentially exciting times ahead and hoping we can get the coder onboard and get more features out. We appreciate your patience with this game. There is lots to do, but lots of good stuff, and you will only benefit from more updates. Stay safe everyone!

Role for Initiative


Another month zips by with a slower pace still as we start on the process of hiring an additional coder. It's a decision we've been thinking on for a few years now where we actually came very close to getting somebody prior to Early Access but timing just didn't work out. Though in connection with recent business developments, it has become a possibility again and so we opened up applications and were pleasantly surprised to see such a large response compared to our expectations!

There's also been a bunch of feedback requests from candidates which I've been trying to go through one by one to give specific advice to each person's submissions. That said, it feels like maybe there are some common threads I could mention here on the off chance anyone is reading and interested. (A small disclaimer that this is my first time recruiting a coder so my experience is limited to what we are specifically looking for, but hopefully there is something of use still!)

Note from the Editor: For any non-coders who want to follow along, I've added explanatory links for some of the terms used below.

The first important bit is about presentation and minimising the time it takes to get to the good parts. While most applicants did include portfolio or itchio links, there were quite a few that relied on links to web games to play rather than any video reel or brief articles describing the work they did. Chances are that people hiring aren't able to play most of these web games because of time constraints; the more applicants the less practical it becomes and the more you'll lose the chance to impress quickly. It's similar to advertising a game I guess in that sense. You need a sizzle reel of a minute or two that gets to the point quickly and some screenshots that helps gauge the quality. In a related sense, linking the presentation to the role being applied for is helpful too for showing relevant skills. For example, many people who applied have a background in Unity which is fine for roles using that but presents a challenge in our situation where our code uses the MonoGame framework. The clearer it was from the covering mail or website that their experience ran deeper on having worked on their own engine, used XNA/MonoGame in the past, released commercial games, demonstrated more advanced Unity usage (maybe developing their own plugin/editor), the better. Such applicants moved towards the top of the pile, as it demonstrated existing experience that would suggest they could do well in the role and that they understood the role they were applying for.

Second is seeing source code and github usage, which gives me a good sense of how a person has worked on prior projects. Lots of bonus points to ones where there is a project with a bunch of commits for the project. A surprising amount of applicants I found included repos where there was an initial commit and that was it (the only repo updated was the website portfolio one). Personally I found this a bit disconcerting as it just leaves a big project to scour through with no true sense of how it was worked on (including the sceptical wondering of knowing if it was one person's sole work). It also links in with #1 that scouring through means it is taking a lot of time to try and find the good parts. First impressions are really important cause you just don't know the circumstance of when it'll be seen and how much or little time might be spent looking at it.

Third is about quality of the portfolio. Once you've caught my eye enough to look through video/screenshots (and maybe play if time permits), the next thing I'm looking for is how polished/solid/creative/innovative each presented bit is. A lot of 'professional' game development is about spending the time on those details. Perhaps some examples might help illustrate some common features of projects that don't catch the eye:

  • A character jumps in a platformer and looks weightless.
  • Standing on a slope and feeling like it has no effect (again, from a weightless point of view where you'd perhaps expect sliding, friction, different animation, etc.).
  • The camera being fixed on the center of the player the whole time.
  • Power-ups collected that just disappear without any visual/audio cue.
  • Menus/levels/UI being really static and not guiding the eye at all.
  • Clones of things like Tetris/Snake/Asteroids where there's no difference to the originals. (Funnily enough, part of my application to Lionhead was from a Tetris clone but I had included an extra twist of bomb pieces and adding falling blocks to the menu screen to liven it up which managed to do the job some 17 years ago!)

Hopefully the list above gives a few ideas of the ways of making the difference in quality that helps show understanding of what it takes to finish a game. If we were in the first year or two of development maybe we wouldn't be quite as picky on this front, but this role is all about helping us finish the game. Basically, every little bit helps in terms of showing attention to detail and persistence in effort. So to be efficient on a portfolio it can be about choosing the right parts to concentrate on, as obviously completing every piece to commercial quality would take too long (and you might as well be looking to sell the game at that point!). I find making a short video or GIF of something I work on, then reviewing just that video or GIF, often helps a lot on that front as it creates that distance of perspective where you can look at the game without being immersed in the controls.

As other advice on this point, I'd recommend checking out the best games that are the same genre to what you are making for ideas of the little touches. Seeking out tutorials on YouTube or various game dev sites can also help with the implementation details and providing pre-packaged research. (Game Maker's Toolkit on YouTube is particularly useful for this I think.) The challenge in just following the lead of others though is it shows a level of competency but there is a lack of flair/innovation to make your own mark. So it is also important to consider how you can show your own originality in combination with polish as it will help stand out and reach the top of the pile.

I think those three points probably cover the basics to go over so I'll leave it there for now! It's been really humbling/inspiring seeing all the applicants and having the chance to interview some as well. For now we're still in the final stages of the hiring process and handling the business developments but hopefully we'll soon have more to announce on all that!

To wrap up quickly on actual game development progress (as time permitted amongst the coder hiring process): since the update in the middle of August I've been working mostly on items and recipe setup along with some bug fixes. I've also started work on the player children setup, which is exciting. (To set expectations, this is early days stuff so will take a few months to reach a public build.) Apart from that, work is continuing on all the polish/improvements for the relationship update which is now starting to see long-standing in-progress items ticked off but there's still plenty to do which I better get back to. 'Til next time, wishing everyone all the best!

A Positive Outlook (Inbox)

(Production Manager)

As my cohorts mentioned above, the lion's share of our time in these recent weeks has been spent on looking for another coder to add to the team. As is often the case, focusing on the business side of this project always tends to require a fair amount of our available time and focus, thereby causing game development to take more of a back seat than we'd like. (If it were possible I imagine we'd prefer to never stop working on the game, living in some sort of perpetual business-free utopia.) Yet this time we don't terribly mind it cause the business at hand is to find someone whose sole job is to help code.

This is incredibly exciting for us, because up 'til now we've been chiefly running as a skeleton crew. As such, most of us share multiple roles on the team which forces us to divide our time and focus between the various (and often large) workloads of each role. For example, Neal has been not just our one and only programmer but he also manages much of the business and finances. (Taxes, payroll, expense management, and so on.) So adding another person to assist purely with code will have a huge impact for a small team like ours. Ultimately, it'll help improve the quality of the game and the efficiency with which we make it.

Originally, my plan for this Post was to collate some interesting community stats for you all to check out (sourced from overall community analytics as well as our recent player survey.) Though as often happens with best laid plans, my focus got diverted elsewhere due to us recently starting this hiring process. Hiring some help for the code has always been something we've considered since before Early Access, but as a small team just starting out we often didn't have the resources to make it happen. Yet it always stayed on our minds as a "maybe one day" type of goal.

Thus, it seems that day has arrived. So once we decided we were finally at a good place to expand our little team, we wanted to move on it rather quickly. The first order of business was that I needed to create a new jobs page on our website along with posting the position itself. We wanted to not only explain the job adequately but also show a bit of our personality as a studio. Making sure we hire someone who "got" our vibe and culture as a developer was super important to us. (Here's how that page turned out, for anyone interested.)

In addition to this, I helped set up a sort of pipeline for our application process. Namely this just meant setting emails up to funnel applicants to some designated areas of our master inbox on Outlook and to help provide Neal with any support or assistance he might need (because as a coder, he's ultimately the one who'd need to be replying to and organizing coder candidates).

From there, we then shared the job post in a few spots around the community as well as other social channels. We didn't really know what sort of response to expect, but I do know we were keeping our expectations pretty conservative. Yet the quantity (and even quality) of responses received were well above anything we had anticipated, which was encouraging and humbling. Of course, the more responses there were the more initial work this represented as it meant there were more candidates to go through, reply to, and interview. (We were also very keen on not being a sort of cold silent company during this process and so it was important to us that we took the time to not just view every candidate's response but to also give an individual followup reply to each regardless of our decision.)

I found that during this process my mind was very much put into the mode of thinking about how our game and company might seem to a new-hire joining for the first time. What internal processes might possibly need polishing or updating? Is all our project's internal file sharing still up to snuff, for example? What other such areas might need attention? In addition to this, working on the new jobs page of our site got me thinking about how some of our website was in dire need of updating, both on the front end and back. Similarly, adding yet another email address to our server's already long list (addresses for team members, bug reports, community accounts, job applicants most recently, and so on) reminded me of our myriad of server-side email forwarders I have set up and how our master Outlook inbox could probably stand to get somewhat reorganized.

This then sent me on a bit of a twisting path in which I assessed such areas and found there were many things I felt needed updating. That said, I've rattled on a fair bit already for one update, so I'll graciously save you all from enduring a detailed explanation of all these individual updates I got into. Perhaps I'll touch lightly on it in the next issue for anyone particularly interested. Long story short, I've had my hands unexpectedly full with such work these past number of weeks.

Still, the time we're spending on these business things now will yield rewards for the game later. Once we finish the final remaining steps of this hiring process, we'll finally have some extra hands helping out on the code - something which will no doubt have a significant positive impact on the game. It's a most interesting time for our team to be sure and I look forward to offering more updates on these things in our next issue of The Post. Until then, much love to you all!

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