Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Avadon Developer Diary #5 - Getting It Done.

This will probably be the last developer diary for Avadon: The Black Fortress. We hope to release it for the Macintosh at the end of February. Then the process of porting it to Windows and the iPad shall commence. Of course, I could get the flu or be hit by a truck, which will alter the release schedule slightly.

The first preview of Avadon recently appeared on Inside Mac Games. There's a lot of good information there.

I've already written diaries about the origin of the game, the tone, the sorts of decisions that need to be made, and the character classes. For me, the longest, most grueling part of writing the game is making the scenario. Dungeons have to be designed. Dialogue needs to be written. Gold coins, clay pots, and spoons need to be placed. In other words, the game itself needs to be made.

That process finally ended last week, meaning that we're in the endgame. Time to wrap up all the odd details and kick the game out the door! This is what I generally call the OHGODOHGODITBURNSGETITOFFMEGETITOFFMEEEEEEEEE phase.

This process, during which everyone involved is pretty much running off fumes, has several parts: Odds and Ends, Endgame Balance, Bug Fixing, and Getting the Game Stable.

Odds and Ends

There are always lots of aggravating parts of the job of writing a game that I put off and put off. Now they can't be put off anymore. Every job I hate. Doing the sound effects. And writing the documentation (and hint book). And making the game icon, and the installer. Nothing can be delayed anymore.

A lot of this work is very important, as they determine a player's first impression. Things like the icon and the starting music and art are the first things a player will experience. These details require a lot of attention, so I work on them at a time when I can focus on them as much as possible.

For Avadon, I've put a lot of work into directing the art at the beginning of the game so that they help the player understand a complicated world, with a lot of intricate politics. The early moments of the game can't be wasted. I want to intrigue the player with the story at every possible moment.

Endgame Balance

Balancing the end of the game is particularly difficult. There are several reasons for that. First, there is a wide spread in power levels among players. The dedicated grinders and min-maxers have made characters that are about as powerful as the game allows. More casual players have characters who have fallen farther and farther behind. An encounter that is challenging to a hardcore player will be impossible for a casual player, and an encounter that is tough for a casual player is probably painfully easy for the serious player.

It's a very difficult target to hit, complicated by the fact that at least some of the epic battles at the end of the game should have some pushback to them. They should feel a little tough.

So I try to make the late game fights hard but not impossible for the more casual players. I also try to put in some optional endgame fights that are a real challenge for the toughest players. These two targets are actually tricky to hit precisely, and it requires a lot of feedback and rebalancing.

In Avadon, I want the player to be able to challenge Redbeard for control of the Black Fortress. I want this fight to be soul-crushing, but, with great skill, preparation, and luck, winnable. This is an extra-difficult target to hit. Making something almost impossible is hard. Still, I think I'm getting close.

Bug Fixing and Getting the Game Stable

Of course, this should happen. Now that the game is mostly done, I am getting to the point where everything has been tested and is basically playable. Now that I am trying to actually release the game, I am trying to get it to the most stable, functional point I possibly can.

It's tricky, because Avadon has a lot of player decisions that can make big changes in the ending. Fortunately, my industrious beta testers are doing a great job of trying out all the different possibilities.

This is actually a much more complicated process than it sounds. You see, whenever I make a change, even the most seemingly tiny, innocuous change, there is a chance that I just broke everything.

Games Are Like Giant Cubes of Jello

One of my favorite books on software development describes an unshipped piece of software as a ten by ten by ten foot cube of jello. When you finish it, it is wobbling and shaking. Then, slowly, the vibrations stop and it becomes stable. However, whenever you poke the jello, it starts to wobble again and it takes a long time to become still.

Avadon is a huge cube of jello that is wobbling like mad. As testers play it and don't find serious problems, it stops wobbling. When I make a change, any change at all, I poke it. When the jello is almost still, I go, "OK, I will release the game ... NOW!" and hope it isn't broken. This is how the process works at its best.

So fixing bugs now is a process of triage. When I get a bug report, I think, "Is this serious enough to risk fixing it, bearing in mind that my fix might completely mess up the game?" As we get closer and closer to the ship date, more and more minor issues get kicked off to the v1.0.1 release.

If you've ever wondered why games ship with bugs, this is part of the answer. There is no excuse for releasing a broken game. However, small flaws are always tolerated in order to avoid disaster. Perfection is for v1.0.4.

So Back To Work

If you've been reading these diaries, thank you! I hope I made Avadon sound interesting, and I hope the game is to your liking. It's been a very long road. I've put a lot of myself into this game, and it really is the sort of game I would want to play. Thus, if it turns out to be a failure, I'll have a lot of thinking to do.

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you on the flip side!


  1. You are releasing it a week before DA2? You are killing me. I was hoping to have it to bridge the time between.

  2. Well I'll do your sound effects for you if that's the thing holding the game up.

  3. This is the first time that I hear something about an iPad version. Are there more details on this?

  4. It's great to hear that you being hit by a truck would only alter the release schedule slightly. I always worry about your safety at these critical points in time. I can relax now. :D

  5. Hey Jeff I was wondering if you ever dabbled into trying to dynamically balance a boss fight. For example developing some equation that takes health, damage over time, etc to change a monsters stats.

    I would love to hear an experts opinion on what does and doesn't work. Maybe a future blog post?

  6. Hi Jeff, I would love to know, how do you plan to port your game to the ipad? Will you convert the code to a third party engine for the ipad or are you literally going to convert your engine for the ipad?

  7. Exile: Escape from the Pit was my introduction to gaming. I never was able to buy any of the original Exile games (I was only 10 when Blades was released), but I played through the demos many times over. The Avernum games were some of the first I bought with my own money, and I've racked up 4 playthroughs of Avernum 6 to date.

    It's been 15 years since I first loaded up Exile, and Spiderweb Software is still my favorite game company. I know you've got a niche market, so I'm ecstatic to see how much success you've had in it.

    You're awesome, your games are awesome, and as much as I loved Dragon Age, I know which game I'll be spending most of my time on this spring. Godspeed.

  8. There is a conspiracy afoot, and Jeff Vogel and George Martin (abetted by HBO) are the prime culprits. Someone, somewhere, is organizing the world so that every single distracting thing is scheduled for the next few months, and its all OBVIOUSLY a plot to prevent me from getting my masters thesis done by April.

    Damn you Jeff Vogel!

  9. iPad? Interesting. It will be priced like pc/mac or you'll follow the race to the bottom? ;)

  10. It's been fun reading this Diary series, thanks for that! I hope Avadon turns out to be a success story.

  11. The iPad/iPhone game price war exists because 99% of the games (even the $10 ones) are little gimmicky disposable toys, not huge, well-written RPGs.

    If you make one of those for the iPad, your potential market is much smaller, but your competition is near zero. $28 might be pushing it slightly, but $24.99 for a real game sounds nice.

  12. iPad?!! fantastic news... I hope it turns out well and you decide to re-issue some classics on iOS.

    Since you're going the iOS route... what are your thoughts on the Mac App Store? Prices seem to be somewhat stable there, even with Apple's 30% take. Will Spiderweb be offering some games through there?

  13. It's great to hear that you are porting to the iPad. There is a huge lack of good RPGs on the device.

  14. The race to the bottom in pricing on the iOS app store has nothing to do with the quality of the games, which are often excellent. It has to do with the structure of the market, the level of competition, and the relative power of publishers, consumers, and Apple itself. As long as the market remains in its present form, it is going to be very difficult to generate many new sales from new customers in the app store. However, it certainly should be possible to generate additional revenue by selling the iPad version as an additional option to Spiderweb's existing customer base. The only difficulty will be ensuring that you don't cannibalize existing PC/Mac sales with lower-priced iPad sales.

  15. If you make one of those for the iPad, your potential market is much smaller, but your competition is near zero.designer handbags $28 might be pushing it slightly, but $24.99 for a real game sounds nice. 2945abc45 0302

  16. hermes bags are considered by many to be a fashion item and many women carry them to parties and an Hermes on the town. Most women who are going to a party would select an Hermes purse that will complement their Hermes gown and not the other way around. csdjgxjsy Sensible women will take their Hermes gown to the shop from where they want to buy an hermes birkin 35 and make sure that the Hermes purse matches their Hermes gown. The black Hermes purse is taken as a safe bet by women who are not sure about the Hermes purse they think will suit their Hermes dress and if hermes birkin price they think the Hermes purse too bland may put a brooch on it.

    From making an hermes birkin 35cm to buying a designer buy hermes birkin the entire line is there. From a cheap Hermes purse to an exquisite vintage Hermes purse the field in choices of Hermes bags is wide open. Beaded hermes birkin handbags are preferred by some women and a beaded Hermes purse can be sewn in so many different designs that it can become an eye catching and talked about item. Women who like to wear a golden color Hermes gown prefer bronze Hermes purses as they match nicely with the dress hermes handbags also the bronze thread gives a golden sheen to the purse.

  17. ray ban 3186 are usually smooth. they're made having a streamlined look. one more pattern may be the wraparound Ray ban sunglasses.They are pretty well-liked amidst sports activities personalities generally because of its futuristic appeal. These wraparound ray ban 3212 typically have polycarbonate lens and sturdy grip to produce total vision security accompanied using the awesome and classy look. dfgkcxy0rtw The display is immensely common and has led towards the generation of the really personal manufacturer title ray ban 3269 , amongst other products and solutions which include a movie game.All Ray ban sunglasses lens are created of shatter evidence polycarbonate and offer 100% ultra violet protection. So, even as you have older,
    ray ban 3322 you can even now ride the street with obvious and sharp vision.Every pair of genuine Orange County Ray ban sunglasses arrives with it's personal leather-based bound case. several huge and well-liked custom homes on a regular basis roll-out their ray ban 3359 ranges that are prepared with exceptional vision gear, ideal acuity, and assortment of features.

  18. So youhare looking for the complete hottest prom dresses 2012 for 2010 or 2011 for you would definitely often nevertheless be a legislationion dollars to choose from online. You haudio-videoe seen countless styles now tons of colors like every heaudio-videoenly flower the universe hregarding offer in one flower shop probtummyly you ststyle enquire of yourself one question: how much should you pay for your prom gowns?cocktail dresses

    The most straight-forward way to contridespite the fhvact thateress this question is by looking inside of the quhasity of the gown. If something is lush couture you should expect to pay for that quhasity. Youhare ptating for volumes of luxe ftummyric the goodd mesmerizing the nevertheless bedroomarizonazlement.prom dresses 2012 If it looks worth it it probtummyly is.

  19. I have not much time to visit many websites. But today I found this site accidently. I explored much information which is useful to my life. Thanks! Cnbola.com

  20. I just read your blog and get the information which searching everywhere. Now it’s become on my top preference of reading for acquiring the updates without hassle.
    toursofwicklow |

    steveellistours |

    towpathtourist |

    studioandgardentour |

    uvirtualtravel |

    paradeeptravel |

    cleantech-calendar |

    cleantech-bootcamp |

    cleantechcalendar |

    hardwarecolombia |

  21. Τhere is definately a great deal to learn ɑbout this issue. Ι love all of the points you've madе.
    speedanycar |

    anycarzone |

    redbellfood |

    foodsteplearning |

    notchfood |

    ideafestivalfood |

    sportsmeetsfood |

    food-and-living |

    qbelfood |

    boisefoodstorage |

  22. If you would like to get a good deal from this article then you have to apply such methods to your won website.
    baselshoppingcity |

    islamicfashion |

    fashionforpeople |

    shoppingbagger |

    ccfashion |

    fashionsenseclub |

    zeefashionstore |

    thefashiontrade |

    wfashion |

    adenium-shopping |

  23. Superbly written article, if only all bloggers oered the same content as you, the internet would be a far better place..http://www.carsoncityghostwalk.net |

  24. I am very happy to find this site. I wanted to thank you for this immense read!! I absolutely enjoying every petite bit of it and I have you bookmarked to test out new substance you post. -http://www.cobaltfishfood.com |

  25. Excellent. one of the best articles I have every read. This is the information which I have been searching. Great information.http://www.autocarsupdate.org |

  26. SilverGoldBull is your reputable precious metals dealer. They will provide you with bargain, real-time pricing and they will make sure that your bullion is delivered to your door discreetly and safely.

  27. I discovered your blog site on google and check a few of your early posts. Continue to keep up the very good operate. I just additional up your RSS feed to my MSN News Reader. Seeking forward to reading more from you later on!…

    Click Here