Mason Development Plan for October

by Bryce Harrington

Thanks everyone for the good feedback on the initial Mason development doc. It sounds like we're ready to proceed with some of the initial steps, and get this show on the road!

I'm very excited about starting this because it feels like the thing we've been shooting for over so many years. We finally have enough of the various required components in place that we can start talking seriously about putting it into practice. We've developed the clients, servers, protocols, art, music, rules, and a variety of libraries. We have explored a number of development and organizational principles and know what the "right ways" are to work together as a team to achieve something like this. Many of our teammates now have extensive game development experience, and this project is going to bring these folks together towards achievement of a common goal.

Mason is a wonderful goal. Now, true, it's not a traditional RPG, like we have envisioned with Belchfire. There's a lot that we're going to have to keep out. But it is going to be a very unique kind of game. There are very few games out there that provide the same combination of strategy, building, and interaction with other players. I think this game has a great deal of potential, and when it's done, every Linux provider is going to want a copy in their distro. Plus, due to its mechanical simulation nature, I have a feeling it might find applications well outside the realm of games alone! I expect Mason will sprout into dozens of different interesting directions, and I'm sure all of you are as excited as me about being able to leave your touch on it.

First, right now what we need is a rough plan. The teams we outlined the other day are great for main development, but some of them can't really start until some groundwork is completed. As I see it, there are three different endeavors we need to address first:

Mason Rules Review - Zzorn has done an amazing job of getting the Mason rules worked out and elaborating on a number of aspects of the game. We need to have at least a few people look through and learn what is there, and figure out where our "starting points" are. We also need to be attentive to things that are too far beyond our technical capabilities for us to tackle on our first shot. The objective of this group would be to read through the Mason docs and come up with a "hit list" of tasks that will need to be tackled in the near term.

Acorn Debrief - To date, WorldForge has had one notable success at producing a finished game. Putting out a playable game is a non-trivial task - most open source game projects fail to do so. So we owe it to ourselves to pick the brains of the folks who developed Acorn, learn the secrets of their success, and listen to their suggestions for areas where they think improvements could have been made. I would also like us to investigate how far we can extend the Acorn solutions - the more we can reuse from them for the initial iterations, the sooner we'll have something we can put up for testing. Let's not reinvent wheels until we can see that their treads are worn out.

Assemble Dev Sourcebook - One thing that will be vital to Mason's success is being able to bring fresh blood into the project as we go, so that we can maintain and encourage forward progress. One of the best things we can do is to have a set of Required Reading that we can give the newbies and that they can use to quickly come up to speed and understand some of the key issues and ideas. So this effort would be tasked with gathering together as much useful info - everything from art tutorials to coding standard docs to lessons learned docs from doing Acorn. I don't think we need to generate new docs - just thumb through our archives and pull out ones that already exist that are relevant. Note that we don't want to get every doc we've got, just a distilled digest of docs that will get newbies up to speed fastest. Certainly every media document and every stage document is helpful, but maybe we can find one or two from each that explain the most important generalities.

I normally don't declare deadlines or due dates, but in this case I will, because I don't want us to end up spending way too much time on the above. The due date is October 31st. We'll finish as much as we can by that date, wrap whatever we got up with a bow, and then dive into the next phase. The more we can achieve in the next two weeks on this, the faster and easier it will be when we're in main development. If we get nothing done, well then the deadline let's us cut our losses. But I sure hope that doesn't happen.

I think these three efforts will not be too difficult, and in completing them we'll lay down a good foundation - well maybe a truckload of gravel - that will assist us greatly as we go forth.

Mason is going to be a great game, guys, perhaps better than we expect; it's mechanical simulation system has applications outside of games, so who knows what all it might get used for? And it's unique enough from typical games that we stand strong to gain a tight following of players and providing a great deal of entertainment to many folks. I imagine that as soon as we can get an even rudimentary game out there for people to play with, they're going to be drooling to get involved in development of it, too!