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Till I Reach the Highest Ground

We have just completed our first major design milestone for Pathfinder Online, and I wanted to talk a little bit about what that means, as well as the process we used to define it.

Late last year, as a part of planning for our second Kickstarter, Mark Kalmes, Lee Hammock, and Mike Hines met regularly to determine how much work would be needed to get to what we're calling a "minimum viable product." This is the smallest unit of work we feel we can release to begin Early Enrollment and still provide a viable foundation for crowdforging and for entertaining game play. That process helped the team define the number of people that we would need to hire, and the kinds of work they would need to do over the next several years. Once we successfully completed the Kickstarter, we were able to expand the team and begin implementing that plan.

The first objective that we identified was the idea of building a "playable hex." The Technology Demo had given us insights as to how much work we'd need to do to create terrain, some monsters, some character models, and to implement basic game mechanics. With that experience, we decided that we'd need about a quarter of a year to build the first playable hex. Since the Kickstarter didn't end until the middle of January, we wouldn't have the staff needed to do this work ready on New Year's Day, so we defined "the end of the first quarter" as the 15th of April. That became our target date.

Mark, Lee, and Mike then worked out the specifications list for what they intended to deliver on that day, and the team was assigned tasks as needed to reach those specifications. As we continued to add staff during the first quarter, we were able to assign more and more of these tasks, and progress began to accelerate. During the last month things have been moving at a very good speed, and lots of work began to reach a point where it could be integrated and we could begin to see the outlines of our milestone taking shape. Last Monday, the 15th, Mark felt that the work had reached or exceeded the goals we had set for ourselves, and so we have concluded our first-quarter goal successfully!

To get here, we had a number of big challenges to overcome. We switched middleware (as we announced during the Kickstarter) and were able to re-create our previous workflow with Unity. We also tested a variety of additional software that will be used in the graphic pipeline and for the programming team. We created development environments for the artists and the programmers that allow them to work without interfering with each other, and which can be consolidated into one "build" of the whole system. We created a client and server version of the software so that we can work on both without interference. The game design team mapped out a number of basic game mechanics and communicated those designs to the engineering team for implementation. The result is a pretty incredible piece of software, given the short time horizon and the fact that we were both building it and hiring the people to do the work at the same time. I'm incredibly pleased with how much progress the team has made so far!

To note the occasion, Mike has put together some pretty awesome screen shots from inside the game to share with you today. (If you're wondering why there are no female characters in the screenshots, the answer is that we're still working on the female character skeleton and setup; they're on their way soon.) I'll let the images speak for themselves—as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words!

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