Jennifer's blog

Updated 2/10/13

Whipped dictionary words into shape. More storyline work.  Discussed when characters should appear and when the player should be allowed to unlock Ages.  Tinkered with beta testing system.

Update 1/25/13

Discussed what resolution the game should have Modeled implements used in Caliben Decided on the plot for the endgame (at last) Had a breakthrough with some of the language problems we've been tangling with

Brief Update 1/16/2013

We've been discussing the pros and cons of mazes, which are very content-intensive because one must create 10 paths in order to confuse the player, while only three may actually be used.  Mazes aren't a very efficient use of developer resources; that said, we had at least two slated for the game.  However, as a result of the discussion we decided to test how much work they would take to create, and reduce/remove them if necessary.  The moon puzzle in Veegtara is taking shape.  This puzzle has bumped into some problems because we want to avoid forcing the player to do math beyond simple addition and counting.  Other issues we've been struggling with include alien numbers and dating systems.  A piece of advice: if you can avoid creating a game language, give strong consideration to doing without one.  It's not always possible, but they can certainly be a hassle sometimes.  The Menalhi puzzle was stalled due to Al's computer being down with a virus.  :( The Caliben walkthrough has been improved with images and a map of the Age was added for clarity.  More file organization.  Also, the games' two main characters now have their own Dropbox folders--which is an improvement on how pictures were randomly dumped in the "Global Assets" folder, amongs other locations. 

Puzzles and Storyline

Since switching to our new Drupal platform (the successor of OpenAtrium, the successor of Redmine) we've been able to do a lot of things that were previously impossible--namely, large scale storyline and game structuring.  Rather than looking at the game piece by piece, we can finally look at it as a unified whole.  The content of several Ages has been rearranged or rewritten in a more logical and tight sequence.  Meanwhile, there have been important developments in programming the new engine (I think I already mentioned that we switched to Exile-style panoramas, and added an Age editor to allow for construction of Age "slides"?) and puzzles.  A lot of holes that formerly existed in the walkthrough are finally getting filled.  I don't think I could summarize everything we've been doing lately, but that's a start.  :)  I'm going to try to update this blog more regularly from now on. 

Revamp of Game Going On

We have been pouring over the storyline and design of the Ages and building it into a better walkthrough.  The Shell Age has received new accessories and areas.  Improvements to the engine code, testing area, and website continue.  For the new website--I heartily recommend Drupal to anyone designing a videogame in a virtual team environment.  It's 10,000 times better than the other alternatives we tried, Redmine and Open Atrium.  Finally, if you're interested in helping up design puzzles, we'd welcome the assistance.

Post Mortem of Alpha Testing

  So now that our first alpha test in way too many years is over--at least, for now--I think a post mortem review of the process would be helpful for anyone undertaking a similar project for their own Age/game level.  First off, a huge thank you to everyone who joined in the test and provided feedback.  I was often impressed by the depth of your analyses, even if, yes, you couldn't solve the puzzle.  Fyi, only one person managed to solve the puzzle, and this was through luck.  (Okay, so there were those of you who hacked the game files to get the answer.    )  At any rate, we'll be fixing things to guide players towards the right answer in the next version.   Also--if you applied as a tester but got stuck at some point in the process--i.e. you sent us an e-mail, but we never responded--then please send another e-mail to and we'll guide you through the rest of the steps.  We made a number of mistakes along the way, and though we tried to make sure that we got everyone, I don't feel 100% sure.  Finally, if you played the game and haven't yet responded to the questionnaire (you can find the link in the same e-mail as the game download links), what are you waiting for?  The game isn't going to improve itself.  ;) Okay, on to the post mortem review.   When we started off the alpha testing process, we simply had a bunch of loose testing documents set up on Google docs with spreadsheets and letters.  Basically we just planned to e-mail links to whoever signed up.  But the number of people who joined the test (several dozens) combined with me moving house and losing internet connection for awhile made the manual approach fall flat on its face.  I tried sending mass e-mails, but it was difficult because everyone was at a different stage in the sign up process and I wasn't sure who had been taken care of yet; the done-by-hand lists took too much effort to maintain.  Paulo finally solved the problem by creating a bot that automatically flagged e-mails with the appropriate "Sign me up for alpha testing" title, then created links between the documents which shunted people through the sign up process automagically.  Muuuch better.  He can explain this process better than I can, so I'll let him go over it in another post.  :) Another pitfall included the language barrier (I don't speak French, though fortunately several other Ilathidians do), which prevented several unfortunate people from getting prompt replies to their requests for help.  If anyone is interested, we are looking for a French translator; excellent spelling and grammar are a must.  Then too, the download site we used for the game was not particularly "clean," leading at least one person to believe that they had to pay to get the game.  I recommend choosing a very simple, user friendly download site without any unnecessary content on the download page.   Finally, this may seem obvious, but note in the alpha testing announcement what platform the game is currently running on.  Mac, Linux, Windows--it's kind of important, y'know?  ;)   Okay, that's it for now.  On to the next bunch of fixes!