4 Hugues Ross Writes a Devlog: Capstone - A Postmortem for Dungeon Restocker
Hugues Ross

12/1/15

Capstone - A Postmortem for Dungeon Restocker

It has been 2 weeks since my last update post, and the verdict is in: Dungeon Restocker isn't going forward to next semester. This is being posted later than expected, because it has taken a long time to write and consider. To be perfectly honest, I'm a bit relieved. Despite the sunny disposition of most of my posts, this project has been fraught with issues, and I'm not sure I could take a second semester of this.

The Project

I think I'm going to kick things off with our meeting schedule. I've always been a supporter of short, infrequent meetings that serve to make sure that the team is still on track. Sadly, this was not the case here.
Our meeting schedule consisted of in-person meetings on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays every week. Each individual meeting lasted between 1 1/2 and 2 hours, resulting in the team spending about 6 hours a week on meetings. Note that while we did meet on Wednesdays in class, this was not the Official Wednesday Meeting. That one was about 5 hours later. By the way, I live about 15-45 minutes from campus, so I spent an additional 3 hours a week in transit because of these meetings, tallying up to a personal total of 9 hours a week spent on these things (although, only 6 were logged).
On the day that our team was cut, we spent almost 2 hours in an online meeting, in which we made the decision to have a meeting the next day in order to make the actual decisions we wanted to. This meeting lasted 3 1/2 hours. That's right, we spent 5 1/2 hours over the course of 2 days making decisions that didn't actually matter. I think this little anecdote best describes our team's decision-making process.

Next I should probably address the game itself. Dungeon Restocker's design underwent numerous changes as we worked on it, and I don't think all of them were good. I think the main problem with the design can be summed up simply: There are two games in this concept that oppose each other. My view of how the game ought to function differed from the rest of the team, and I had difficulty seeing the value in their concept. To some degree, this is my own problem, but I'll try to address each evenhandedly so that you can decide for yourself which direction is more engaging.

Concept 1

The team's concept is that of a slow, methodical game. The player acts as a sort of hidden caretaker for the Hero, taking time to prepare the 'perfect experience', and then watching and waiting as the hero goes through it. An infinite number of heroes pass through the dungeon, but there's a long break between the exit of one and the arrival of the next. To end the stage, the player must complete certain objectives, usually making the heroes do a cumulative X of Y (e.g. loot 20 chests, kill 10 monsters, etc). Hero emotion is treated more vaguely, instead relaying various needs to the player (This hero wants loot! This hero wants to fight things!). Making heroes happy is a secondary objective, which rewards the player with resources.

Concept 2

My concept is a fast-paced, frantic juggling act. The player must constantly sneak around behind the hero's back, resetting traps, closing doors, and refilling chests without being noticed. A limited number of heroes enter the dungeon at timed intervals, such that in a perfect game the previous hero exits just as the next enters. To be successful, the player must prepare while a hero is exploring, while making sure that the current hero doesn't start messing with the old preparations. Hero emotions are given freely, along with the addition of a suspicion/confusion meter that fills if things are out of place. Screw up a hero too much, and they'll start moving and acting more erratically, trashing your dungeon, and ultimately leaving. On the way out, they'll confuse the new arrivals, resulting in a entertaining spiral of destruction where a loss is its' own reward (This is admittedly inspired by the classic Dwarf Fortess tantrum spiral). Making the heroes happy is a secondary objective, but is necessary to keep the show running smoothly.

Who's right? Beats me, but our current concept (closer to 1) was unable to properly convey the hero's needs and emotions, which is what ultimately resulted in our failure.
As a gamer, I find concepts like #2 to be more fun and engaging (Hence the chaos that was Sports Game), but it's entirely possible that the rest of my team was correct here. The main thing that bothers me is that I felt like I was left out of the decision-making process. I could speak, but since the rest of my team had all silently agreed on #1, my input would never be used or even acknowledged.

The Team

 I'm just going to go down the list when talking about my team. Note that I refuse to name any  names here--My teachers will know them already, and I see no reason to call anyone out publicly for anything they did or didn't do.

I should also stress that while I may come off as being rather negative, I really do like these people. Many of them had to deal with external issues, which affected their work, and I don't think they were able to give their all as a result.

Producer

My producer is the easiest to criticize here. On a 4-person team with 504 hours logged, he has logged 50, and never reached the weekly minimum hours on even a single week. He was absent from the majority of our meetings, and pretty much never did anything apart from the occasional piece of documentation. I understand that he was having issues with other classes and his job, but logging 10% of a 4-person team's hours is rather unacceptable.
I think a team can live or die by it's producer, and this one certainly made things difficult for us.

Programmer

If I had to pick phrase to describe my counterpart on this project, it would have to be "too little, too late". He did good work, but it was always a couple of days later than I expected to see it, and less complete than I'd hoped. If that was all, I wouldn't mind, but he did a rather poor job of communicating in general.
He was prone to disappearing for days at a time, without any warning, and failing to respond to any communications. One time he lost his phone, and inexplicably wouldn't just check the team Slack on his computer like I did for the entire semester. Another time, he was having family issues right before the day of a major presentation, and failed to even send a text (he had his phone this time) informing us of his absence. Instead, we were forced to present with him effectively MIA, only to find out where he'd been that evening.

Designer

 I'm somewhat torn about our designer, because most of the issues I've had with him relate more to the way he acts, and it's hard for me to tell if what he's doing is intentional or just a simple miscommunication. If we had a more active producer, they probably would have had plenty of opportunities to mediate and 'translate' for us, but as it stands I've just put up with his behavior and tried to ignore anything that feels odd or out of place.
Another reading of his actions, the one that I've been considering more lately, is that he simply takes input and criticism poorly. Every time I try to suggest something or point out a potential stumbling block, he immediately gets to work ripping apart what I just said or otherwise attacking my proposals. I initially figured it might have to do with my point above about there being 2 opposing designs, but then I realized that he'd been doing this since long before we decided to go with Dungeon Restocker in the first place. I might even be as bold as to suggest that he's been doing this from the very beginning.
I don't think it's appropriate to discuss any specific instances of this, given that this is such a personal thing and I'm not even sure if he was doing this on purpose, but I'm prepared to give specific examples if asked.

The other issue, which I will go into more detail with, pertains to this old post, or at least the aftermath of it. After superseding me as the team's de facto artist, he proceeded to achieve...nothing. No assets, no concepts, and no documentation. Over the course of almost a month, he modeled and rigged the character base. He finished it a day or two before our final presentation (with no animation), and it never made it into the game. I would be more understanding, but the last time I checked he'd put in close to 50 hours on it. Those 50 hours could've been much better spent, given the state of our game, not to mention that I found out later that he'd never done this before. What this means is that, having made fully rigged and animated humanoid models before, I would've been a significantly better choice for team artist, at least in this instance. I'm over it at this point, but I wasn't happy finding that out at the time. Worse yet, he also proceeded to completely ignore the standards that I set in our art bible when designing our proper level, but also failed to alter any of our art documentation in the process. Rather than talk to the team and make changes to the art direction, he simply chose to ignore it.
At the time this all bothered me quite a bit, given how abruptly and confidently he took on the position.

Me

I'm certainly far from blameless. For instance, most of the issues that I've had with our designer and other programmer are caused by my own perception, and it's quite possible that the others disagree. I also held on to my beliefs about what was best for the game, despite the fact that my team felt otherwise. All of these factors made it difficult for me to get excited about the project. I put in exactly the amount of effort I needed for a decent grade, and no more, because I any passion I had was suppressed by the situation I was in.

Even now, I feel like I'm betraying my team by writing this, but I need to get these feelings off of my chest once and for all. I can only hope that the others felt the same, because I'm not sure I could face them if they read this.

Conclusion

After reading this post over, I really don't know what to think. This is certainly the worst, most negative and venom-filled postmortem that I've ever written, and I don't know if it should be. A few times this semester, I considered the possibility that I might be the problem with this team. Either way, I hope this little insight into a failed project is useful; I think I've learned quite a bit from this myself. Hopefully, next semester will be better. I've found a team that wants me on board, and with any luck that'll work out nicely.
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