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Developer Journal #8

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A Day in the Life of PotBS Lead Designer, Taylor 'Augustus' Daynes

Well, it’s Friday, and we’re in the middle of a code-freeze at the end of a milestone, because we’re trying to polish a build for, so I haven’t been able to work on as many new features or as much major tuning as I like. Still, polishing phases like this get a lot of bugs cleaned up, and that does have a big impact on the game.

I surprised myself by clearing 42 of my 48 bugs off my plate. Yum! I haven’t told anyone else in the office, though, because I don’t want them to assign their bugs to me. Cuz what’s the point of fixing them if you just get more? ;)

A lot of those bugs were relatively easy fixes for things that weren’t deemed terribly important, and so were always prioritized lower than working on new features. Stuff like fixing tooltips for some of the repair items I’d recently added, or adding new tooltips that appear when you hover over the effect icon for “Coarse-Grained Gunpowder”.

I took a pass through our shopping and inventory UI, based on a couple of bugs I had about them being hard to use, and logged a couple of bugs about that should make things a lot friendlier.

So now my bug list is tiny, but the sorts of things on it are: “Come up with the list of all the town-art assets we will need in the game between now and the heat-death of the Universe”, and “NPCs on the Nav Zone need a purpose in life”. Stuff that’s not exactly a 15 minute fix.

But challenges like those are what make life fun. Or at least not boring. So I’ve been working closely with Bruce Sharp, our Art Director, and Jeff DuLong, our Environment Lead, to figure out that art asset list, and I’ve been drawing all over maps of the South American coast to try and figure out some life-goals for our NPCs. Little do they realize how brief those lives will turn out to be! But this AI work was a long time coming, because for months now we’ve been dealing with hyper-aggressive NPCs that camp right outside ports and gank you as soon as you show up in the Navigation Zone. And while this is incredibly human behavior, it’s not exactly what we are looking for. This has led to many meetings with Raymond Wood, Mission Designer and master of the Nav Zone, and Brady “Jigmasta” Houck, the man responsible for the AI in our game, where things like “Hippies are always idle”, “Hippies have no skills” and other disparaging remarks are made. From such keen observations are breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence forged.

At about that time, someone e-mailed around a link to a recent Gamasutra article entitled “WoW teaches us the wrong things”, which led to the inevitable impromptu round-table in the ContentCo corral – a lengthy and Darwinian affair. I naturally selected myself out in favor of lunch, but an hour later, the fittest were still debating whether or not, on the whole, people suck.

Immediately upon returning to my desk, Russell Williams, our CEO and Executive Producer wandered by, jaw hanging open in astonishment. “Do you want to be amazed?” he asks me and Kevin 'Isildur' Maginn. Who says no to that? So off to Rusty’s office we go, where he sits us in front of his computer with our Community Envoy, Troy 'Aether' Hewitt, to show off the latest in-game movie.

Now I have to say at this point that Rusty is not one to lavish praise on anything but his new Tassimo coffee-maker, a device founded upon the notion that robots can make cappuccinos better than human hands could ever dream possible. With exhortations like “It’s the FUTURE!” Rusty inserts his special “cappuccino” pod into the device. “Earl grey, hot!” he cries, as the contraption sputters and whirs. In a cruel twist of nerd fate, Rusty actually hates Earl Gray, and gave all those pods to our Art Director, Bruce.

So when Rusty says we will be amazed by an in-game movie that Aether and his video team have been working on, this raises some eyebrows. He turns up the volume, and with a grin, he hits the play button. The nuclear-powered jet-engine sounds of the Flying Lab logo pour out of his surround-sound system, and already we’re astonished. Then the faint strains of a piratey accordion sweep over the ocean waves. We watch, enraptured, for all of 20 seconds, at which point the screen goes black, and Rusty says “That’s it!” A preview, apparently, but it’s true – we’re amazed. It’s far better than any movie we’ve ever put together, and we’ve got the cinematic genius of our video team to thank for it.

Now it’s time for an actual, pre-scheduled meeting. This one is with Joe Ludwig (Lead Software Engineer), Kevin Maginn (Game Designer) and Raymond Wood (Mission Designer) to brainstorm ideas on in response to. Raymond and I had both explored similar ideas last October, and so we were particularly excited to explore this issue. The meeting concluded with a decision to spec the system, so that we could estimate how long it would take to develop – no commitment, but things look promising!

Once Kevin and I got back to our desks, I suggested that we might want to reconsider in light of our new economic systems. The new economy changes the way the game works in several major ways, and the are hit particularly hard. I proposed some ideas on what we might do, and it turns out Kevin had been thinking along similar lines, so I turned around and wrote a brief spec proposal.

We hired a UI designer! I’ve been in charge of the UI up to this point, and while I know the difference between a dropdown and a radio-button, I’ve never considered myself a UI expert. That we were even in the market was news to me, so imagine my joy when a new face shows up at my desk. “Hi” says he, “I’m Kevin Loza, UI artist extraordinaire, with background at Sega, Microsoft, FASA and Capcom, and I’m here for a tour of our UI.” Well ok! Bruce tells me that Kevin is working on a document detailing all of his ideas for our UI. Can you imagine? An artist that wants to write a document! We hire good people here at FLS.

In fact, hiring has become something of a hobby around the office. We’ve got interviews going on nearly every day, and I frequently overhear our IT Lackey, “Squidd”, grumbling about how if we would just buy a couple of extra computers on every trip to Fry’s, his life would be much easier. Incidentally, Squidd’s desk space lives up to his name. I’m amazed how many tentacled products there are in the world.

Next, I review an article written by about building ships for Pirates of the Burning Sea – a lengthy and detailed affair, far better than I would have put together. I can’t wait to see it up on the web!

With afternoon turning to evening, I remember Troy “Aether” Hewitt (Community Envoy/Cruel Taskmaster) asked me a week ago to write a dev-log for MMORPG.com. I seem to recall him mentioning something about flaying me if I didn’t have it to him by the end of day today. I guess I’d better get to work!

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