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How Not To Make An MMOG

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the kshhhhhh-boooom dept.

Role Playing (Games) 65

garylian writes "Some of the folks here might remember a Massive game called 'Mourning' that went into development and never really went anywhere. Apparently, it went Gold, but it wasn't even close to complete. Some former fans have a riviting Q/A with one of the former programmers. Highlights from the article include the fact that one of the game backers was a internet porn-lord!" From the article:"The game was going nowhere, no one really believed in its success. We all knew it was going to fail, but we were kind of reluctant in admiting it. Those who realized this and had better opportunities, left. Those who were blinded by different reasons or had no other choices, remained till the end (or maybe had different reasons.) It's not that we didn't try to change this direction the game was heading to... We did, but no one was listening to us. " The interview is well conducted, but you should obviously take this with a grain of salt.

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OMFGWTF (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14380643)

I'd like a can of FISTY PROST, bartend!

Grain of Salt? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14380678)

The interview is well conducted, but you should obviously take this with a grain of salt

It's on Slashdot. That means we should take it with an entire salt mine, not just a grain!

Re:Grain of Salt? (2, Insightful)

MBraynard (653724) | more than 7 years ago | (#14380752)

Actually, no, it's not well conducted. It was a poorly conducted interview with a lot of repeating of the same question. Fortunately the subject (the person) being interviewed made up for it.

Re:Grain of Salt? (1)

abandonment (739466) | more than 8 years ago | (#14381984)

http://www.krelslibrary.org/bant.html [krelslibrary.org]

from what i can tell, this wasn't a serious game project to begin with - the people being interviewed were 'volunteers' - yet the slashdot posting seems to think that this game would be the same as one being developed by a sony or ncsoft.

Re:Grain of Salt? (1)

Dullin (854624) | more than 8 years ago | (#14382441)

It would be the other way around. The person doing the interview was the maintainer of the site and the one who did the interview and was the Lore writing guy.

The alledge interviewee describes himself as a programmer.

Now where is the truth in that we don't know but let's not mistake what is "written" down.

Internet porn lords (3, Interesting)

VGPowerlord (621254) | more than 7 years ago | (#14380686)

Highlights from the article include the fact that one of the game backers was a internet porn-lord!

How is that any different than Wikipedia?

Re:Internet porn lords (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14380725)

Most of us find it easier to get off with internet porn.

But, hey, if you can get off from the Wikipedia, then you are truly an uber-geek!

Re:Internet porn lords (1)

hanako (935790) | more than 8 years ago | (#14381451)

.... did I miss it or was their ENTIRE evidence for this "porn lord" thing that "Uh, he suggested we use CCBill so he must have been in porn!"

... not that I can exactly disprove that, as porn is the reason I know about ccbill as well.

Re:Internet porn lords (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14382067)

so the original name was Wikipedophile?

And? (1)

renoX (11677) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391681)

More accurately why does they talk about this?

Why does-it matter where the money come from as long as it is from a legal source?

paco? (1)

plonk420 (750939) | more than 7 years ago | (#14380697)

i hope this wasn't one of the games one of my IRC friends was working on... paco? you behind this disastor? X)

News at 11! (5, Funny)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 7 years ago | (#14380703)

Apparently, it went Gold, but it wasn't even close to complete.

Which makes it different from other MMORPGs... how?

Re:News at 11! (1)

VGPowerlord (621254) | more than 7 years ago | (#14380748)

As a person who has played a few of Sony's MMOs close to their launch, I say...

MOD PARENT UP. :P

Re:News at 11! (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 8 years ago | (#14381898)

Other MMORPGs are playable. This one continues to do things like wiping ALL player experience to find a bug in the exp system.

Re:News at 11! (1)

Ruff_ilb (769396) | more than 8 years ago | (#14397896)

You've OBVIOUSLY never played Shadowbane.

Hmm (3, Interesting)

drspliff (652992) | more than 7 years ago | (#14380720)

Is it just me, or does the whole Q/A session seem like a personal attack by either a very informed player, or by somebody who used to work at the company.

Although character assination can (some times) be a just about acceptable thing, the whole interview seems to be going a little bit too far.

I'm sure they'll work out how this guy is, and we'll have another (possibly fake) interview up on slashdot in the next couple of days saying the exact opposite.. So remember kids, if you try and screw people, their going to screw you twice as hard :D

Just my £0.02p :)

Re:Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14380984)

Is it just me, or does the whole Q/A session seem like a personal attack by either a very informed player, or by somebody who used to work at the company.

What tipped you off? Half of the questions referring to the interviewee's employment?

Re:Hmm (1)

Hast (24833) | more than 8 years ago | (#14381372)

Is it just me, or does the whole Q/A session seem like a personal attack by either a very informed player, or by somebody who used to work at the company.

You mean it seemed like he was a programmer as the link (in the Slashdot write up) is labelled a riviting Q/A with one of the former programmers. Or that in the actual Q and A the first answer (when he is asked what his relation was with the product answers: I was one of the RoT's programmers.

I wonder what intriguing insights you will have on the follow up article you forsee. ;-)

Personally I'd be more surprised if this wasn't the reason that the projet failed. Lack of direction and leadership is really bad for any project. When the people who are supposed to be leading and directing are working against the rest of the team nothing good comes out of it.

Re:Hmm (4, Informative)

nacturation (646836) | more than 8 years ago | (#14382124)

I got the same impression. Also, consider this question:

Q: OK, well let's talk about the man behind the money. Who is David Jasinski and what was his role in the development of RoT?

You'll notice this is the first mention of the names David or Jasinski in the entire interview. Either it's an extremely well-prepared interviewer, a case of two former employees interviewing each other, or one former employee interviewing himself. After this, the interviewer starts calling him "Dave" which indicates a level of familiarity.

I looked for a bit of background and it's in plain sight on the homepage:

Friday, December 9th, 2005: Spoonbender recieved an email from one of the former developers of Mourning a few months ago asking what had happened to the game. At that point the game had been taken offline and the forums were down. Spoon sent off an email detailing his experience with the developers and with the game itself, and the former developer replied with a few stories of his own. Spoon forwarded the email to Shintuk, Shintuk to Jdodger, and JD showed it to me. JD then conducted an interview with the former developer. His insights and personal stories about the behind-the-scenes events during his time working on the project constitute the best and most accurate picture we have of who was to blame for the mismanagement that Mourning suffers from. He will talk at length about Ado's 'unconventional' game designing style, Ego's tragic inability to grasp the true problems until it was too late, and even individual incidents with the development team that illustrate both the potential Mourning had and how that potential was, with almost criminal negligence, squandered.

I feel that it is nessecary that those that followed Mourning and devoted time and money to its success see where their time and money went. In short, they should know the truth.

You can read the interview and draw your own conclusions.


So that provides some background. Rebuttal from "Adonys" can be found here. [krelslibrary.org]

The whole things reminds me of Battlecruiser.
 

My Guess is (1)

forgotten_my_nick (802929) | more than 8 years ago | (#14382729)

Fenrir. Seems to toot his horn a lot.

How to fail anything. (4, Insightful)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 7 years ago | (#14380724)

Summary, we didn't have a design document and as such we could not deliver.

Any medium to large development is going to fail unless their is an underlying document which sets forth the goals. Any such project will be further compromised if those in charge are not competent to know this. Of course if they are paranoid someone will steal their ideas if they are ever written down that should be a red flag as well.

For what its worth, quite a few games get to market only to meander and fail because there is no post-launch plan or worse there are conflicting goals among the people running the show. A good game design document should lay out what happens before, during, and after. Just as with any other project if you don't know what should happen when it probably never will.

Re:How to fail anything. (4, Interesting)

rewinn (647614) | more than 7 years ago | (#14380802)

> we didn't have a design document and as such we could not deliver.

That's the biggest of many difficulties pointed out in the interview. I think it's just as important that the HR process sucked; they eliminated a qualified applicant in favor of an unqualified friend, didn't take action when the friend verbally abused the staff, etc.

It was also a bad sign that the programmers (game designers) were not allowed to talk to the customers (fanbase). While of course there has to be a limit on everything, a certain amount of customer/programmer interaction is important to developing a project that pleases the customer, rather than the designer.

It doesn't bother me that this interview got a bit personal at time. Better that than happytalk-B.S.!

Re:How to fail anything. (1)

robson (60067) | more than 7 years ago | (#14381257)

It was also a bad sign that the programmers (game designers) were not allowed to talk to the customers (fanbase).

Semi-OT, but "programmer" and "game designer" are not generally synonymous these days.

Re:How to fail anything. (1)

rewinn (647614) | more than 8 years ago | (#14382583)

> "programmer" and "game designer" are not generally synonymous

I was being perhaps a little too concise.

In the olde dayes, it was all programmers doing everything to produce software. Nowadays, the work splits among a gazillion specialties, which is reasonable enough, but does not change the essential points: (a) makers who communicate with customers make things more like what customers want, and (b) people who get between customers and makers (e.g. system analysts, designers, whatever) may do so with the best of intentions, but have to work hard to avoid playing "telephone" ... and often fail.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't have hierarchies of development, designers, systems analysts, et cetera ... but as the article points out and many projects I've worked on demonstrate, keeping the customers/gamers/end-users away from the coders/programmers/designers/makers is a common management error. Many craftsmen don't really care to interact with customers, and probably all of them need to be closely managed so they don't overpromise or otherwise get out of control - that's fair enough.

But makers who are good at communicating with customers produce work that more closely matches what the customer seeks. (Whether that is "better" or not depends on the sponsoring organization's goals.)

Re:How to fail anything. (1)

robson (60067) | more than 8 years ago | (#14384558)

...as the article points out and many projects I've worked on demonstrate, keeping the customers/gamers/end-users away from the coders/programmers/designers/makers is a common management error.

Ah, gotcha. Agreed, then! :)

People with a plan don't let programmers talk (2, Insightful)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 8 years ago | (#14382426)

It was also a bad sign that the programmers (game designers) were not allowed to talk to the customers (fanbase). While of course there has to be a limit on everything, a certain amount of customer/programmer interaction is important to developing a project that pleases the customer, rather than the designer.

As another poster has pointed out programmers are not game designers. In other words programmers implement the game designer's ideas. The game designer should do research, or have research done for him/her. Nowhere does this indicate that programmers should interact with customers. As a programmer myself I can see what a recipe for disaster that can be.

As for your theory that programmer interaction is part of the formula for success I have a counter example: World of Warcraft. How much interaction did the customers/fans have with programmers prior to BlizzCon (a year after release?)?

As the GP was pointing out success has more to do with a plan. Good plans usually have someone other than programmers interacting with customers/fans during development. As a geek it took a while to realize this but sales, maketing, and public relations people exist for a reason. Business is a Darwinian process. If PR specialists did not help companies communicate more effectively than geeks then PR specialists would not have lasted this long. If marketing specialists (not a spin person - a create an experiment to validate designer's idea, conduct focus group, etc person) did not help companies design more desirable products than geeks then marketing specialists would not have lasted this long.

Re:People with a plan encourage staff quality (4, Insightful)

rewinn (647614) | more than 8 years ago | (#14382677)

Sorry, but I agree with what you say about everyone you mention except the programmers. As a programmer (retired) myself, my experience with respect to the programmer's role has been the opposite of yours.

Certainly, the marketing and design people and all that have their job. No disagreement there; they're supposed to be the experts. And lots of coders are no good at public interactions or at least need to have their interactions with customers managed ... that's one of the things managers are supposed to do.

But building great stuff in general is more than just being a code bureaucrat in a cubicle following instructions in the Plan ... no matter how good the Plan may be. Some people work best that way, and there's plenty of need for that sort of person, but for those who go beyond that function, the ability of people in all project specialties to communicate with other people in the other specialties ... when needed, and using appropriate mechanisms ... to be extremely important. Read the aricle on "Scaling the Cabal" in November '05 issue of Game Developer [gdmag.com] . Going one step further, into customer fora would seem to be the natural step!

Naturally people who run off at the mouth need to be managed, and also naturally, a hierarchy of decision may have to be enforced ... but again, that's what management is supposed to do, and blinding the programmers to the customers is necessary only when management can't do their job. If a programmer is just not interested in the customers, well fine, then what you've got is a programmer working for just for the dough, which is different motivator than that for those others do better work when they can reach out & touch the customer base.

I had nothing to do with WoW's development, so I can't answer your questions about it. But in about 20 years of developing software, the most frequently common element in the disasters was the excessive playing of the "telephone game" [wikipedia.org] .

Re:People with a plan encourage staff quality (1)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 8 years ago | (#14382773)

But building great stuff in general is more than just being a code bureaucrat in a cubicle following instructions in the Plan ... no matter how good the Plan may be.

I did not express myself clearly. When I wrote that programmers implement the designer's ideas I did not mean to imply that they (we) should have no feedback, suggestions, or other involvement. What I was really trying to say is that they (we) should have no direct interaction with customers. I agree programmers are an important part of the internal development process, but they are generally a poor choice for spanning the boundary between the company and the public.

... blinding the programmers to the customers is necessary only when management can't do their job.

Not blinded but buffered, communicating via PR/Marketing/Designer. At least when the software being designed is for a non-technical application. If we're talking molecular modeling, sure let the programmers talk directly to the chemists.

Communicate with users (1)

DahGhostfacedFiddlah (470393) | more than 8 years ago | (#14386414)

In a game, the programmers may have very little need to talk to customers, if they're designing engine internals and the like. The game designer is the one who will be the most intense "user" of this engine. When designing UI elements, though, perhaps it's better to look at customer suggestions first, since they're the ones who will ultimately have to live with your system.

Re:People with a plan don't let programmers talk (1)

will_die (586523) | more than 8 years ago | (#14383580)

As for your theory that programmer interaction is part of the formula for success I have a counter example: World of Warcraft.
Blizzard got to play it different because it was blizzard, they already had a huge fan base that was going to purchase the game no matter its condition because it had thier name on it. In addition they did a smart thing in not having and NDA so they had all the fans advertising for it instead of having local customer relationship person doing it.
Also blizzard had a mindset that they would not have a central CR person, like you do with most other MMORPGs that act as go betweens devs and the customer base, because they did not want have that person to be widly known over other people. They even posted a message on this; this has kinda changed since release but they still have a terrible record on interacting with the player base.

Re:How to fail anything. (2, Interesting)

archeopterix (594938) | more than 8 years ago | (#14383956)

>we didn't have a design document and as such we could not deliver. That's the biggest of many difficulties pointed out in the interview.
No, the biggest of the difficulties, the root of all the other ones, was a bunch of incompetent jerks in positions of power. To succeed one needs at least competent jerks or incompetent non-jerks (quick def: folks not immune to reason, having a minimum of social skills), although without at least one competent non-jerk, the future is troublesome.

This is almost a tautology - bad decisions make projects fail. To have good decisions, you either have to make them yourself (be competent) or get them from others (be a non-jerk). Being a non-jerk also helps in getting people to implement the decisions.

Re:How to fail anything. (4, Interesting)

creimer (824291) | more than 7 years ago | (#14380861)

Summary, we didn't have a design document and as such we could not deliver.

That's not unusual in the game industry. The design document is usually a formality for the developer to present to the publisher to get the first check. When you get the alpha build from the developer, that's when it becomes obvious that the design document was no better than toliet paper. If you try to hold the developer (and sometimes the publisher's producer) accountable to the design document before issuing the next milestone payment, the rationalization, jutstifications and excuses add up pretty quickly.

When I was a lead QA tester at Atari, I was often forced to based my test documents on the game instead of the design document. The only exception was Dragonball Z: Buu's Fury for the GameBoy Advance, which had a 200-page design document that detailed everything. That was my favorite title to work on and it had a great developement team.

Re:How to fail anything. (2, Insightful)

Hast (24833) | more than 8 years ago | (#14381444)

Yes but you need something in order to set the direction for the team. That you later on find out better ways and alternative ways of doing things is quite natural.

From the interview is seems like not only did the "designer" fail to write things down, he also changed his opinion every other day and got into fights with the people who were now working on "wrong" things without being told that the design changed. From the article it seems like he's a sociopath (may seem like a strong term, but the basic "tell tale signs" indicate it).

Re:How to fail anything. (3, Interesting)

creimer (824291) | more than 8 years ago | (#14381511)

... seems like he's a sociopath ...

I had to work with a few of them. They do all the right things to make management happy while making everyone else unhappy. The only way they get fired is when they accidentally pissed off the wrong person. This is one of the reasons why I left Atari after six years since I didn't want to become one of them.

Re:How to fail anything. (1)

Hast (24833) | more than 8 years ago | (#14383842)

There why an article about sociopaths in a Swedish magazine for engineers. Basically they pointed out that people with those disorders are more common among managers than in most other situations. The reason being that their disorder typically aid them in getting promoted. The article was basically about what to do if you had such a boss. Their tip was to not pick fight with them and either let them take credit for your work (which they often do) or find anew place to work.

It should be pointed out that it is an illness though. Much like aspergers or ADD I so it's not like they can help it. (Though they could make an effort.)

Beware the classic waterfall model (2, Interesting)

PIPBoy3000 (619296) | more than 8 years ago | (#14384507)

I certainly feel your pain. Going into a QA phase with little or no guidance as to what sort of game you're testing is a pain.

The problem, of course, is that a full, formal design document can often lead to a project's downfall. It works well if there are few unknowns (e.g. the technology, genre, and gameplay is well established), but for many other project types it can be a killer. For example, if the design document calls for one thing to happen, which turns out to be programmatically difficult or impossible, developers may find themselves churning out ugly workarounds or taking far more time than they should.

Most development these days doesn't follow the classic Waterfall model (design, build, test, complete), and instead goes for more evolutionary approaches (design, build, test, repeat until done). Of course, having a general plan of where you want to go is good, otherwise you won't know when you get there.

Re:How to fail anything. (4, Insightful)

NitsujTPU (19263) | more than 7 years ago | (#14380993)

Well, sacrificing a few moderations, I'd also have to point out that having managment with no respect for their employees also dooms a project to failure. An incompetent, insulting boss absolutely dooms your team.

If your boss can't treat you with respect, it's an indicator of other issues that they have that are likley to destroy any chances you have of successful completion of any project. If you ever have the opportunity to see a company with a design team run like this side by side with one where the boss respects their employees, you can see that the difference is night and day.

Re:How to fail anything. (1)

secolactico (519805) | more than 7 years ago | (#14381066)

Well, sacrificing a few moderations, I'd also have to point out that having managment with no respect for their employees also dooms a project to failure.

If I had mod points, I'd mod you up.

If the people in charge of steering the project are not serious enough, then the project is doomed to fail.

Don't blame the disruptive guy, blame the manager who hired him and refused to let him go when all evidence of incompetence came to light.

The source of the money is irrelevant to the success/failure of the project. But it seems to me (judging by the interview, which looks a bit biased) that the financier simply gave the guy the money and told him "make me an online game". Was he overseeing? It was his money on the line, after all.

Still, this interview is the POV of one employee, who might or might not be disgruntled. I'm gonna research a bit more into the story. Never heard of that MMOG project before.

Re:How to fail anything. (2, Insightful)

NitsujTPU (19263) | more than 7 years ago | (#14381258)

Actually, to me, it sounded like a collaboration between several employees.

The answers of the "single" employee being intereviewed are interesting in that their English is significantly better in the first few answers.

Then, look at how they address a few of the questions. The questioner obviously had better contact with some of management than the interviewee. I don't care how many online forums you post in... it sounded to me like the questioner knew way too much about the situation to not have been an insider... IE, and employee at the company. I'd say that at least 3 people inside the company were involved in that interview.

As for motives... we're talking about employees who now need to find other jobs. They wouldn't want to be tied to a company that 1, bombed and 2, has a nasty scandal tied to it. I'm sure that few Enron employees are highlighting their managerial experience there. Most probably, these folks are looking for some damage control. Their story sounds fairly credible, and far from an isolated experience in this industry. I only worked as a software developer a short time (I'm doing the graduate school thing now... well, research at the moment, until I start my PhD), but I was at a contract house, so I met a lot of people.

Re:How to fail anything. (1)

Skilf (522124) | more than 8 years ago | (#14383282)

it sounded to me like the questioner knew way too much about the situation to not have been an insider... IE, and employee at the company. I'd say that at least 3 people inside the company were involved in that interview.

From what I read, the people involved in the interview where not employees but close: they were volunteers. Two of them apparently where the Lore Team for the game (they came up with lore and background) and therefore had direct contact with management/developers I guess. (and as a side note.... a lore team as volunteers? come on. A serious game should have hired people to do that)

Re:How to fail anything. (2, Funny)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 8 years ago | (#14381355)

Come on, haven't you read anything about XP? YOu don't need documents, you just need a whole bunch of tests! The developers should have written them and figures out the design from reverse engineering them.

Re:How to fail anything. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Luddite (808273) | more than 8 years ago | (#14385006)

Makes me think of a project I worked on.

It was a small job (3-4 team members, a few months work). It was also crucial that it be done correctly. Work was started on the project (and completed) before the design doc was created. Our team still did interviews with all the stakeholders, and a 40 page design doc, because the PHB knew it was important. We just didn't actually have it to work from because PHB insisted we start coding immediately. You see, PHB committed to deliverables and timeline before even assigning staff to the project...

It was a mess from the start with no real finish - remediation in perpetuity.

porn-lord? (1)

alexandreracine (859693) | more than 7 years ago | (#14380728)

Do you mean Ron Jeremy?

Interview? (1)

pkcs11 (529230) | more than 7 years ago | (#14380729)

Not sure I'd call that an interview, but rather a fishing expedition for dirt and blame.
After his first 'egomancer' question the programmer should have recognized it for what it was and either ended the session or started answering in arabic or something.

Re:Interview? (2, Insightful)

MBraynard (653724) | more than 7 years ago | (#14380767)

Not sure I'd call that an interview, but rather a fishing expedition for dirt and blame.

But that's what made it such an interesting read. It almost reads well enough to be fiction. You come away from it with a good sense of the main players (Dave, Ego, Ado) and can identify those people with others you may know. And Ado getting punched in the face.... he so had that coming.

Questions seemeed to go in circles, but it was an amusing read, especially for those with appreciation for software and especially game development.

Slashdotting them wouldn't be hard (1)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 8 years ago | (#14381393)

A: Anyway, the worst part about his bandwith needs was he was acting like whole of it was his. He was acting like the owner of our Internet connection, like he was acting as the owner of the game in the other aspects of our work. So his most frequent line was "everyone, stop your downloads". If that didn't work he was going personally to that person's desk and was repeating his demands... he wasn't accepting any "excuses". And that is not all. He went as far as disconnecting other people's LAN cables from the switch.
Unless those were huge downloads, they couldn't have had much of a pipe. Did they actually get to the stage of having offsite testers?

Re:Slashdotting them wouldn't be hard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14383955)

They maybe payed $500 a month for a 1Mbit fibre channel line - or double that for double the bandwidth. Some of the people that worked on the game might have been paid less than that (and hoped to get a name on credits and maybe some extra from sales)

Re:Slashdotting them wouldn't be hard (2, Insightful)

leshert (40509) | more than 8 years ago | (#14386267)

It's highly unlikely that the pipe at their development office was the same pipe that would have served the game at the point of offsite testing. After all, you don't need an expensive bithose to develop the game, and you probably don't want your game servers sitting in the office at deployment time--you probably want colocated boxes.

Has any devoloper ever released a full design doc? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14381916)

Movie scripts are released all the time. I'd love to see a good complete game design doc and then compare it with the completed game.

Re:Has any devoloper ever released a full design d (2, Interesting)

abandonment (739466) | more than 8 years ago | (#14381971)

look on gamedev.net's articles section - the full doom design doc is there, among many others.

the design doc is a highly overrated concept that is too often assumed to be a 5000 page bible written by a team of monkeys before the game's production.

the reality is that the design document is a living document that, while necessary, will inevitably change & morph as the project progresses.

what IS crucial to a project is a set of key design 'rules' tenets that must be used while assessing new features that are to be added to a project. the implementation details are often better left to the experts (ie the actual artists, scripters or programmers developing the game).

so many of my game design students think that they need to write 200 page design docs before they do any other work on a project. such a waste of time.

Re:Has any devoloper ever released a full design d (1)

Z0mb1eman (629653) | more than 8 years ago | (#14382089)

I find this interesting... would you care to elaborate?

I don't have any game development experience, and only a couple of years of programming experience in a business environment. I have found that projects with a solid set of documentation - be it a requirements doc, or use cases, or anything that maps out in detail what the finished product should accomplish, and which I'm assuming is roughly equivalent to a game design doc - were much more pleasant and easier to work on. It's not the existance of the documents themselves that I want - by the end they're probably 60% inaccurate anyway. It's the fact that at the very beginning of the project someone sat down and came up with a DETAILED vision of what the end product should be like, thinking through a lot of the details, anticipating possible development problems and solving them at design time. The result (given reasonable time and resources - not always a valid assumption) is a good product at design time, which gets refined during development, ending up with a very good or excellent product at release. The alternative - for projects that don't devote as much time to requirements, design doc, etc. - being a bad to mediocre product at design time due to vagueness or too many gaps, which results in a mediocre or (at best) good product after the refinements during development.

I fully agree that the design doc is a living document. I can also see the value in having good rules for adding/dropping features. Implementation details generally don't belong in this type of document. What I don't understand (and since "many of my game design students" seems to imply you have much more experience in the field than me, I hope you can elaborate on) is why you say the design doc is highly overrated, and why writing a 200 page design doc before you start working on the project is a waste of time.

Re:Has any devoloper ever released a full design d (3, Insightful)

Scorchio (177053) | more than 8 years ago | (#14384768)

Grandparent post is quite alarming. I've been developing games for many years now and a thorough design documentation is pretty much essential to completing a good quality game on time and within budget.

It's possible to get by without one if you're creating a relatively simple game with an extremely small tight-knit team, but otherwise you're going to need that documentation to at least make sure everyone is building the same game. Producing a coherent design on paper is hard work and may not be as fun as jumping in and starting to build the game, but it forces you to think about the consequences of each design element you add. It's much easier to change the design at this stage rather than lose 2 months of development time because something added on a whim breaks another gameplay mechanic or renders something redundant. Trust me, I've seen it happen.

Having a robust design at the start of the project doesn't mean that it won't change over time. Many features you just can't really tell how "fun" they're going to be until you try them. Having the documentation there as a foundation will allow you to make changes more easily with minimum impact on the rest of the game. We've found it easiest to use a design wiki, so that the documentation can be kept up to date without too much hassle.

I've refused to work at companies that don't put in the effort at design stage; one company told me that in games development you don't have time for design - they closed down about two months later. And from the other side of the table, candidates who don't show the necessary appreciation for design will not do favorably in interviews. Call me a design nazi if you like, but I've wasted too much of my life poorly planned, poorly managed and poorly thunk-out projects.

Re:Has any devoloper ever released a full design d (1)

NickFusion (456530) | more than 8 years ago | (#14385061)

Preach it, brother!

Some folks have never had a good design doc to work from, and can be excused for not appreciating them.

Others, in my opinion, are more interested in following their own pet features, and find building the game as designed too constricting.

May these folks someday run a studio full of employees just like themselves.

It's like building a bridge, where half the team is following the plan, bridging across to 10th street, and some others are of the opinion that 12th street would be a better terminus, and there's one guy who disagrees with the whole "suspension bridge" suggestion and is implementing his preferred "truss bridge" idea.

Now, if we could only convince the publishers and licensors to stop "reimagining" the bridge in the midst of construction...

Re:Has any devoloper ever released a full design d (1)

abandonment (739466) | more than 8 years ago | (#14387248)

obviously during the course of a game's development, there is a lot of essential documentation created, but my point was that alot of people seem to assume that a 'game designer' works for weeks in a closet writing the 500 page game bible and then comes in and dumps it on the team saying 'make this'

most people don't realize how much collaboration and team effort is required THROUGHOUT the development process in order for a game to be innovative and successful.

it's a fine line - having too little (or misleading, improperly updated, outdated) documentation is worse than having too much, but what I've found is that when there is hundreds and hundreds of pages of documentation, then it becomes a nightmare to maintain and update throughout the project.

then there's the eternal caveat about the design document:

- no one will read it.

you dump 500 pages of 'design' on a team and you can be guaranteed that most of them will not read it. sure they might skim through, but unless you are a master at organization and formatting (ie set it up as a well-organized intranet site or something similar) then there isn't a whole lot of chance that anyone on the team will truly read the document.

Re:Has any devoloper ever released a full design d (1)

dkf (304284) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391352)

then there's the eternal caveat about the design document:

- no one will read it.

Sure, but if you don't have a design document then it will be something else far more nebulous that everyone fails to read. By having a design document, whenever there's a possibility that there's going to be a conflict between coders, one of them (or both) will check the relevant bit of the document and figure out "Oh, I'm wrong. Shucks." and stop getting worried about their ego so much.

Design documents are a bit like mission statements: a standing joke that is better than the alternative.

Re:Has any devoloper ever released a full design d (1)

Scorchio (177053) | more than 8 years ago | (#14392339)

If no-one's reading it, you need to look at how you're writing it.

If you drop a 500 page tome in the middle of the room and expect people to start at page 1 and not stop until they've read through to the end, then yes, you're going to be disappointed.

It needs to be a source of reference, not an epic novel. I need to be able to flip to the AI section, spawning subsection and find a list of parameters that need to be definable when I'm preparing to implement that bit in the editor. If I have to trawl through up to 499 other pages before finding what I want, then it's not likely I'll be coming back to the doc for the next stage.

Re:Has any devoloper ever released a full design d (1)

Pxtl (151020) | more than 8 years ago | (#14386342)

Well, there's the extreme programming approach, the fundamental tenet of which is "the program is the design". After all, is writing "foo" with a square around it and an arrow pointing to "bar" in a box any easier than

class foo : bar {}

?

The idea of XP is that the design document should be a quick thumbnail sketch. The rest should be thrashed out in the real world of code and computers with a minimum of gold plating, with a massive set of tests set up to make sure that the process of thrashing things around doesn't break anything you already finished.

Communications gap (1)

Morgaine (4316) | more than 8 years ago | (#14382267)

I'm taking the interview with a pinch of salt, as advised.

However, there is a general principle worth noting here which the article illustrates very well regardless of the veracity of the interview. A game designer who doesn't speak the language of the developers cannot possibly control the product being developed without creating a static definition of some kind.

This definition doesn't necessarily have to be a document (for example, for defining quests it could be through a simple interactive state machine app), but it has to be something concrete and stable which the developers can chew around. The reason for this is simple. The chewing around bridges the communications gap to the tech-illiterate designer, creating another layer of definition (an interpretation) as to what is really being requested. The developers then work to this extended definition.

That the designer allegedly wanted to write nothing down and also suffered memory loss of what he requested is so totally ridiculous that it sounds like a fabrication to me. After all, people can always take notes in meetings with which to substantiate their work, and there's a great little gizmo called a dictaphone which is hard to refute. So, something doesn't smell right there.

That said, it was the role of the lead developer or team leader to create the actual dev spec for his team to implement, taking it back to the designer for approval before any system building is begun. If the designer refuses to sign it off or cooperate in refining it "because this must not be written down", fine, nothing gets done.

You can't make something if you don't know what it is you are supposed to be making.

Re:Communications gap (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 8 years ago | (#14384236)

"That the designer allegedly wanted to write nothing down and also suffered memory loss of what he requested is so totally ridiculous that it sounds like a fabrication to me"

Not only that, but even if true, this is not just a failure of the designer. This is a failure of everyone on the design team, and everyone on the dev team as well. I get verbal requests from forgetful people all the time (and often get some contradictory requests later in time). I make it my responsibility to confirm the requests, usually via email, so that any confusion can be cleared up should it arise.

These confirmation emails don't need to be explicit, they don't need to disclose proprietary information -- they just need to serve as an identifier of what was actually requested. At some point, junior management and 'line' workers need to understand that they must implement a CYA policy when faced with management of this kind. Sometimes it just protects them, sometimes it causes actual positive change in management.

No need for grain of salt, he's right (4, Informative)

Ka D'Argo (857749) | more than 8 years ago | (#14382775)

Go read some of the stuff on mmorpg.com (mainly the forums). There was like a hundred page thread where players who had been with the game since beta, explained some of the stuff this game went through...

From never recieving pre ordered copies of the game, to the game shipping on just run of the mill blank cd-r's, the game was plaqued with horrendus management.

Go try to read the official Mourning forums. Notice how they only go back to a certain date? They've deleted their forum database more than once. Not just a typical pruning but completely cleaned it cause so many of the fans, players, and even development team staff & moderators spoke out aganist it.

Imagine if one day a huge portion of say, SOE's player base (for any game, just as an example) spoke out aganist a huge list of problems, failures and broken promises. In this huge group of people is several key people in your production team, a good portion of your long time forum and community moderators, and even some of your own sponsors. Now imagine SOE just basically giving all those people a big middle finger, deleting the forums, and then rule over the "new" forums with an iron nazi fist (quite literally, meaning NO negative opinions). If you can piture all that, that is exactly what it was like for the Mourning players.

Link for ya (2, Informative)

Ka D'Argo (857749) | more than 8 years ago | (#14383264)

Found it

http://www.mmorpg.com/discussion.cfm/load/forums/l oadforum/51/loadthread/37720/setstart/1/loadclass/ 35 [mmorpg.com]

love the screen shot of the official GOLD game just being spindles after spindles of cd-rw's (note they DID ship just run of the mill burnt cd rw's in a small box with no artwork, as the official game....)

Summary of Interview (3, Insightful)

Paolomania (160098) | more than 8 years ago | (#14382994)

A bunch of guys with no industry experience got together to make a modern MMO faster, cheaper, and better than anyone else. They hired their friends who also had no industry experience to manage and lead the development. The guys mismanaged the project and the lack of experience amongst the team caused development to miss goals. They ran out of money. The End. I am not surprised that I never heard of this company nor this project.

Re:Summary of Interview (2, Informative)

kamapuaa (555446) | more than 8 years ago | (#14385126)

I heard of it, because Something awful posted a short paragraph [somethingawful.com] stating that it sounded really generic, and Mourning responded with legal threats [somethingawful.com] . Pretty cool! I wonder if Slashdot will get a C&D in the mail?

true, it seems... (1)

rwven (663186) | more than 8 years ago | (#14385359)

I've just spent the last "while" looking all over the net for stuff about this game. It seems like the interview is true. They're currently randomly charging people's pre-order accounts without giving them the game and stuff like that. Some of the pre-order people are getting a white box with an unmarked CD containing an early beta of the game. They refuse to give refunds and the servers are not up. Most people paid 30 bucks, never got the game, and if they did they wouldn't be able to play it. This is just the surface of what has gone on. It looks like an idea that went horribly wrong adn then turned into an all-out scam. Really pathetic...

Something Awful trolled these guys once (1)

Pluvius (734915) | more than 8 years ago | (#14386825)

http://www.somethingawful.com/articles.php?a=2625 [somethingawful.com]
http://www.somethingawful.com/articles.php?a=2706 [somethingawful.com]

They also put a banner or something on every page that said "Mourning sucks" or something of that nature. Basically, the people behind the game obviously had no skill at dealing with trolls, turning a snarky capsule preview into a big legal battle to decide the fate of the universe. Since I'm sure MMORPG developers have to deal with trolls on a regular basis, this couldn't have made them look good to anyone.

Rob
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