IF Collaboration

by Mike Sousa

Okay, I'll bite, with spoilers. (Also note that I'm not speaking for Robb Sherwin or Jon Ingold, these be my thoughts only. I do think that 
both collaborations were sort of successful in that a decent game was produced -- yet both collaborations were created differently. Yes, I'll 
elaborate, but first...)

My apologies to those participating in this thread, I haven't read all the responses, skimming some and reading others -- so this may be off 
target, especially since the team consisted of two programmers, though only one of us coded, and based on how long this sentence is, you can guess that the programmer was I, uh me, um, Mike.

After the 2000 comp I realized that not everyone will like every game. However, if the game is well written and well coded, no one should hate it (and if they do, it sucks for them -- maybe they were drunk?) That's when I thought my next attempt should be a collaboration with a writer. They do all the writing -- I do all the coding. Enter "No Time To Squeal".

I had the story mapped out for NTTS, divided into the 5 scenes, a few obstacle puzzles and not much more. I created a quick TADS game that spit out each scene and there was nothing more to do than hit the space bar. This allowed Robb to get a feel for the story. So far so good.

We had agreed to use fake transcripts of game play as our 'tool'. It worked like a charm. He would send over his first cut. I would read 
the transcript and pretend to play it and add alternate attempts at a solution or examine/manipulating scenery that he described (I would try 
to be a player but knowing code, I would also anticipate problem items). For instance, he had described the bar in detail and briefly mentioned champagne glasses. I would add >X CHAMPAGNE GLASSES to the script. In the golf scene, I added >HIT DAN WITH CLUB and so on and so forth. When he got the script back, he would respond to my attempts. This continued for a couple of iterations until the script was good enough to implement (code).

The script wasn't always this clean because certain actions (like hitting Dan with the club) would cause the game to jump a couple of 
scenes. Robb would identify these jumps with markers. His system worked real well.

When the scene was completely coded, I would play through it and turn on scripting. Any response that needed tweaking or just didn't work was marked up and sent to Robb. He would then do the honors. This continued to the end game.

The entire collaboration was done in email (I live in Massachusetts -- he lives in Colorado). We only needed to talk on the phone once (mostly because it was the week of the deadline and there was no time for email lag) to iron out an issue with the chess board scene at the end.

From a personal standpoint, I got to be good friends with Robb and learned some neat things about writing. Sure I can't duplicate it, but 
I still learned! Also, let me go on record as saying that the RESTART gimmick was my idea and that J.D. Berry practically begged me to get rid of it. Rule #3 -- listen to your beta-testers!!!

For Comp 02, Jon Ingold and I teamed up. A collaboration was attractive to Jon since he knew he would have little time to code (he traveled more this summer than our Sales staff -- combined). Unlike NTTS, I did not have a complete storyboard for "Till Death...". I did have a premise and a goal but it needed work.

The story to "Till Death..." was shaped through lots of emails, going back to November of last year. (We planned on entering Adam's Spring Thing but our schedules didn't click.) Once we had the premise, Jon sent over the first transcript. Unlike NTTS, I didn't mock it up and send it back to him -- I think because we were in a hurry and decided that I code while he continues to write. It seemed to work.

Once a scene was completed, I would play it through, try a bunch of stuff, fill in what I could and send the rest to Jon. He would then 
respond accordingly. This continued to the end.

As a result of the collaboration, Jon and I have become good friends -- we even hooked up last month when he spent a week in the Mass/RI area. As with NTTS, I learned some neat things from Jon and because "Till Death..." didn't have a complete storyboard, I was able to brainstorm with him during our email exchange. Cool stuff -- he's fascinating to watch in terms of game play development.

For what it's worth, I'm working on my "Till Death..." web page and one of the links I plan on adding is our email exchange for the entire project -- unedited, um, as it relates to the game. Don't know if that's something of interest, but I had planned on doing it with NTTS but never got around to it... :(

So what do I really have to say about collaborations? They work. But, there's always a but... the team has to click. Both Robb and Jon were great to work with and extremely talented -- that combination made it that much easier to complete the project.

As for tools, transcripts were it. They allowed scenery items to be expanded (detailed), alternate solutions to puzzles to be identified and 
showed 'game play' flow.

One member did all/most of the writing (I'll admit to writing the Hint system in "Till Death..." and I'm assuming that's where all the bad grammar/typo references are coming from) and one member does all the coding. This also allowed for the team to work at the same time.

From a scheduling standpoint, it can be tricky and at times, hard to manage. For instance, I don't recommend starting September 1 for a comp entry -- collaborations take time. Life can get in the way and that needs to be accounted for in the schedule. Though, on the flip side, 
having a team can increases responsiveness.

I've been working on "At Wit's End Again", off and on, for 8 months. There's no guilt if I go a month without opening up a single .t file. In a collaboration, there was that slight "pressure" to respond to an email or code a scene because the team was depending on you. Just my observations...

I'll be happy to respond to any points or specifics regarding what I wrote, that is if you've read this far. :)


About the author: Mike Sousa's gameography includes Till Death Makes a Monk-Fish Out of Me!, Above and Beyond!, At Wit's End, and No Time to Squeal. He is the 257th listed author at Baf's.