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The Broken Hourglass Dev Diary #1

by Turner "Dhruin" Brian, 2007-04-20

The Broken Hourglass is an indie CRPG in development at Planewalker Games.  Using original mechanics, the game is set entirely in the declining city of Mal Nassrin in the Tolmiran Empire and will offer classic party-based gameplay and strong character interactions.  Producer Jason Compton kindly offered to write a regular diary for RPGWatch as the development continues.

 

The Dangers Of "What You Asked For."

Jason Compton, Producer, Planewalker Games

I have always considered myself to be a "good asker." As a student, I was never shy about raising my hand (or not) and asking questions during class. As an adult, I am not ashamed to admit I need help and not afraid to impose upon others to get it. Being a good asker, overall, has served me well as an independent RPG producer, a role in which I frequently have to ask for things to be done faster, better, and for less money than the providers would otherwise be inclined to deliver them.

However, I have also discovered some terrible aspects to this process of asking and receiving—so dark and foreboding that "What You Asked For" is now a capitalized threat within PWG parlance.

As in:

"I will make the change you requested, but sooner or later, this will become What You Asked For."

Or

"Wait, this isn't what I expected to happen. Oh no. Is this because of something I Asked For?"

It turns out that an independent RPG producer may find himself in a position where he is asking for something without truly understanding what it is he needs in the first place. We ran into this issue early on with recolorable character sprites—the types of characters and creatures you can change from having red hair to having blonde hair, or from green clothes to blue clothes, with a single click of the mouse or tiny XML attribute change. In WeiNGINE, the code that powers The Broken Hourglass, there are four major ways the engine can identify where a recolorable "region" begins and ends—in other words, how to differentiate between "this is hair" and "this is skin", plus about a zillion different things the engine can do with that information once the regions are obtained.

Just knowing how to identify the regions was one thing. Knowing which would be the best to instruct the artists to use—and ensuring that they knew how to do it correctly—was another matter. More than once we had to blow up the sprites we were using and ask the artists start over. Not because the animations were unsatisfactory, but because the approach to recoloration I had asked for, which sounded correct on paper, ended up looking weak or unmanageable in-game. From their standpoint, of course, they felt that they had simply delivered What I Asked For. But What I Asked For was, in fact, the wrong thing to ask for.

An independent RPG producer may also ask for something without fully comprehending the implications of what he will get in return. I have (regrettably on more than one occasion) asked for a significant change to the engine and then basically immediately had to ask for it to be changed back simply because I didn't understand the full impact of What I Asked For. The conversation usually goes like this:

Q: "Hey! Why has framerate dropped/all of the creatures stopped behaving correctly/memory consumption skyrocketed?"

A: "That was because of What You Asked For."

Oops.

Then, of course, there are the designers who know What I Am Asking For, but believe I am in fact asking for something Bad.

Just the other day in a status meeting, a writer took one of my writing guidelines to task. The issue was one of style—over the degree of omniscience afforded to the implied narrator who provides textual descriptions ("action text") in dialogues which do not directly involve the player character. She felt that too much omniscience would be a bad thing indeed.

"What it reminds me of is... have you ever read fanfic written by 13-year olds?" she said to me.

At this point I know I am in serious trouble because, with all credit and benefit of doubt offered to any 13-year old readers, I realize this is not meant as a flattering comparison. So I have to explain that, well, obviously What I Asked For is not inferior writing, just enough insight into the characters' actions to correctly convey the mood of the scene. Writing is full of subtleties, and this will just have to be one that the two of us hammer out during the editing process. But it's yet another reminder of the dangers of What You Asked For.

All I asked for was to be able to make a game! But it turns out that we must be very, very careful what we ask for in life.

Box Art

Information about

The Broken Hourglass

Developer: Planewalker Games

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: RPG
Combat: Pausable Real-time
Play-time: Unknown
Voice-acting: Unknown

Regions & platforms
Internet
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Canceled
· Publisher: Planewalker Games

More information