Cheers, guys. I guess to some extent you have to understand the tenuous mental/emotional balance it takes for Keith and I to get much done on a new game like this. I think it's the same for all game designers, but we make it infinitely more difficult on ourselves by trying wildly new things and also inviting public feedback at an early stage. To some extent that's kind of asking for emotional turmoil. It's another big risk that we take, but it's paid off really well for us in our other projects (AI War post-1.0, but still).
When it comes to working on a massive long-term project, there's kind of a fine line you have to walk with watching the forest and the individual trees. Sometimes you need to ignore the forest for a while and just focus on some specific trees; sometimes you really need to look at the forest and make some surprising clear-cuts and re-plantings that you didn't foresee. There's always kind of a mix, but sometimes you just need to take a tree that is "done but not perfect" and ignore it for a while while you focus on other trees that aren't even planted yet. Then by the time you finish some new plantings you have a new perspective on that original tree that you weren't sure about before. Then you either prune that tree, fertilize it differently, or maybe bulldoze it and bring in something else in place of it.
That's really stretching the analogy, but it's the best I can think of at the moment. Whenever a game isn't yet done, that's the most difficult time to work on it, because there's so much in your head that isn't yet concrete. And there's uncertainty with each of those items -- a lot of the ideas that Keith and I have actually don't have a single planned implementation, but 2-3 similar implementations that we're not yet sure which will be the final one we choose. And often it's actually a fourth hidden variant that we go with, that is similar to our original idea but not something we could have thought up in advance.
That's why you wind up with something that evolves in this really odd and unpredictable way, and even we don't know where it will end up in some ways. If you had showed AI War 5.0 to me two years ago, I would have been shocked by how little it resembled what I was trying to do at the time. And yet it much more accurately captures the spirit of what I was striving to do even then.
One good example is that until the last 3 months of AI War's development there wasn't even an AI to play against -- it was all PVP! And until the last 2 months or so of its development, it was just traditional RTS AI. All that stuff with the AI Progress, and the asymmetrical battles, and so on, hadn't yet been invented. I knew from the start with the game that "I wanted to feel like Ender Wiggin," and I had a lot of specific ideas on AI tactics and structure that I wanted to implement, and I knew the general scale and such that I was going for. And the mechanics of the gameplay itself, too. But how that all came together, and what actually made the 1.0 version (let alone the 5.0 version) really didn't come until super late in the development process. Even things like the Advanced Research Stations didn't come about until the last month of alpha for AI War; before that you had access to all ships at all times, which was obviously a problem. But it didn't really become apparent HOW much of a problem it was until there were 29ish different classes of mobile ships that you had to choose from at any given second.
Everything has not yet gelled with A Valley Without Wind. That's a given. For me, it's implicit in the process we're going through, and we won't call it 1.0 until we hit that point. There's a few epiphanies that are still missing for this game, and of course it's stressful to think that they might not come, but for me they always have in the past so I just have to have faith in that and the team (and the players) and keep chipping away "everything that doesn't look like an elephant" to use the old joke. This is why it's such an emotionally troublesome time in a pre-1.0 project for us, is that we're in uncharted territory always and we never know the exact best path until we walk down a few wrong paths first. It's an unusual way to make games, but I think the reason our games turn out so unique is because we use that process. Really innovative stuff can't be thought up far in advance; at least not by me, I'm not that clever.
For me, having lots of other people involved makes this both easier and harder.
It's easier in the sense that bad ideas get flagged more quickly, and good ideas also get some degree of validation so that I can "stick a pin in them" and stop reevaluating them so frequently (anything that reduces the number of ideas swirling around in my head at any given time is a good thing for my sanity at this stage of a project). It also makes it easier in that players come up with ridiculously cool ideas that I'd never have thought of. Did you know that Free Roaming Defender mode in AI War was a player suggestion? So were about 2/3 of the other hotkeys, especially all the really cool ones that players really like (L to divide forces in half, etc). Having players there to do sanity checks, tell me what they enjoy and don't enjoy, and so on is very helpful and makes things easier.
On the other hand, it's much harder because some folks cross the line a bit, by intent or unintentionally. I'm not asking to be treated with kid gloves, but I also don't want to be criticized for anything
that's not there when the game isn't complete. That's just really not helpful, and tends to send us (or at least me) into some mild depression. When it's someone who is genuinely trying to help and who's a fan of our other stuff, that actually makes it worse because that really makes me start questioning all sorts of things that I really should be leaving alone at this point; at this stage in the process certain things need to fallow until other things are further along. It's not even that I don't want people to speak up, because I do; but the way in which people speak up can make a big difference. Suggesting a new feature, or even a replacement feature for something that exists, in a tone that doesn't suggest that we've screwed the pooch with what we have so far, really goes a long way.
We're really putting ourselves out there in a way that not many people do, and it's a very... trying thing. But this is something like the fourth time we've done it, and we continue to do it because it really does pay dividends for us and players. I can really relate to how Stephanie Meyer felt when that draft copy of one of her books got pasted around the Internet and people (including her fans) were really hyper-critical of it. She wound up not finishing that book because it was such an emotionally trying thing, as I recall. I can really
understand that. Not that anything has put me remotely near that walk-away point (not that I even can
walk away), and certainly nothing in this thread is all that bad. But it would be fair to say this thread derailed my whole afternoon.
Everything was well intentioned, and I'm not trying to play the blame game for something that is in a lot of ways a failing on my end (should be better at taking this sort of feedback), but I guess I thought I'd share what goes on on this side of the computer screen. I figure that, by saying "hey, this specific tone and style of feedback is actually a bit destructive to our ability to work effectively," we all win in the end and that's better than just bottling things up. Perhaps that's a bit more than some folks wanted to know, but in general anything prefixed with "I think that ___ is a huge problem that will/is destroying your game/my ability to ever enjoy it" is inherently a bit of an ultimatum. Tell us how you feel on this or that part of it, tell me you feel that some specific component is missing, whatever; I eat that stuff up, and we have hundreds and hundreds of that sort of thing being said on mantis all the time.
Anyway, that's how I feel. Hopefully no one takes offense or feels like they are being chastised, as that's not how I mean it. But this whole feedback thing needs to be at least a little bit of a two-way street if I'm going to still be doing this in 30 years without having a coronary first.