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How not to develop a game aka The After

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Hey all, My name is Chris Olson, and I am a former developer for The After. I thought you should know what the true current status of the game is, and how certain issues can lead to the downfall of a game. The majority of the programmers and certain other developers have left the team due to a constant state of lying and the inability of the team do perform any work. First, a bit about myself. I am a professional windows developer with almost five years of professional experience in the industry. I have worked on a couple games in the past, although nothing that was officially published. I originally joined The After team 9 or 10 months ago. After a month or two, the project had not moved anywhere so I decided to leave since I was looking for a sincere project. A few months ago, I decided to rejoin hoping that perhaps things had changed. In the beginning, it did seem that The After was going somewhere. There was a lot of talk in the chat rooms, and a lot of promises were made. However, it turned out that most of these were not true. There are quite a few problems with The After, those of which I will outline below. 1) The majority of the team is under the age of 18, and probably 90% of them have no real world experience in the fields that they are working. Numerous times the programming department asked the art department to give them models based on specific requirements, only to be responded to with comments such as "We don't want to read the manual, we just want to make models". You cannot ask a team with absolutely no experience to go out and develop a MMORPG. The time and scale of the project is massive, and is just not possible with team of not only inexperienced game developers, but inexperienced developers in whole. 2) The fact that the majority of the team is under 18 meant that the times that most people were on varied. Also, the fact that the team is comprised of people from all over the world did not help. Not that international teams cannot work, but you need to have some centralized time to meet. Half the team did not know the other half. 3) The constant switching of engines. It seemed that every week the higher-up's were telling this person or that person or this internet site or that one that we had a different engine. One week it was the Torque engine, the next it was the LithTech engine. Quite a few times the programmers would visit a site to learn that once again the management had changed the engine, without any coordination with the programmers. In fact, I noticed in your article they state that they will be using the Big World Games engine. This has once again changed. I have no idea what their reasoning is behind switching engines every week, perhaps to make the project seem more realistic, who knows. 4) The lack of organization. This was one of the key problems with this team, and is the reason that there is a very high turnover rate. In just the few months I was there, there was 3 different lead programmers, and I can't tell you how many artists, managers, etc... came and went. The problem is that the majority of the people on the team "just wanted to make a game", but didn't have the heart, desire, knowledge, or fortitude to actually put the time into it. The most common reason I heard when people left was that "No one is doing anything, and no one is telling anyone to do anything." 5) The lying to employees. This will kill any company. It's an understandable fact that people will hype up consumers to make them want the product. But when you try to perform these same tactics on your own employees, you're bound to fail. We were lied to about everything from people's skills, ages, and experience to proposed publishing deals. Small events would happen, and management would juice them up to the employees making it seem that things were more true than they really were. 6) The unwillingness to actually do any work. NetEmp, the company that is developing The After, was just formed last week. For months now we had told management that the company had to be officially formed, but every week there was another excuse to why it wasn't done. The managements presented NetEmp as a real company to both investors, consumers, and potential employees, and it was a bold faced lie. The company was formed 2 days before E3, and it's almost a slap in the face to the people that have actually done work. The business plan that is currently being used by NetEmp was written by one of the developers that had left. He was one of the most dedicated to the project, and also had done the most work, but in the end, even he could not take all the deception anymore. In the end, both the lead programmer, the lead client programmer, and the database programmer/COO decided to leave. This has also spilled over into other areas of The After team, and so far two other members have already left to join us. There is a movie currently up on The After website that supposedly shows character creation and GUI shots. The part that they don't let you know is that this is just a concept movie. That character creation is simply done in a movie creator, and the GUI shots are still shots of the Torque Engine with Photoshopped items layed over it. If you look closely, you will notice that all of the Torque engine shots are still shots done with a non-modified engine (in fact, they are not even animated shots, just a still shot being zoomed in and out of). You and I could download the engine right now and do the exact same thing, no work has been done to it what so ever. In fact, the team is so disorganized and in miscommunication that half the team thinks that those shots are from modified engine code. The After is a great idea. I will not argue that. The design concepts are good. But anyone can write a design document, it takes true work to actually make it come to life. No one at NetEmp is willing to do that though. Ocasionally there were momentary spurts of work, followed by long weeks of silence. At this point The After is another Dawn, it is nothing more than vaporware. I've heard arguments back that "We're still in the design phase". This is fine, but when you tell your employees, your consumers, and your investors that it is more than in the design phase, you are lying to both yourself and what could be the heart and soul of your game. This game is vaporware, which is because of the fact that is can never move past design phase. Working on this project has taught me that you have to double check everything that is told to you, since people can easily persuade you into thinking something that is not true. The developers and programmers that have left The After are re-grouping and we are going to attempt to put out a good project that will live up to the expectations that we originally were trying to live up to. Considering that there is now basically no programming department, and the fact that the actual technical design documents were written by the people who left, I hope that the managent at The After will rehaul their current process and actually try to get a good, solid, experienced team together. If the current work process' that are in place for The After stay in place, I am sad to say that there will be no After. Sincerely, Chris Olson Former Lead Client for The After (www.netemp.net/after if you would like to see how easily it is to fool people ) [edited by - Colson33 on May 29, 2002 4:00:24 PM]

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It''s been a while since I''ve heard someone mention Dawn . Someone from NetEmp emailed my a couple monthes ago. While it''s never good to see a project flop, I''m glad my intuition wasn''t completely off.

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quote:
Original post by Null and Void
It''s been a while since I''ve heard someone mention Dawn . Someone from NetEmp emailed my a couple monthes ago. While it''s never good to see a project flop, I''m glad my intuition wasn''t completely off.



Same thing for me.

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From your description the whole things sounds like a hobby project. Has anyone ever heard of such a big project that was completed?

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I don''t know what Dawn is and how it was formed. I''m amazed with the website. The game appears to be really successful. It has reached E3, and according to the News, they will probably get a publisher.

However, according to Colson33, it''s not as good as it looks. And yes, he''s right, it''s very persuading. From the website, the game appears to be 50% done, but where''s the screenshot of the gameplay? Why I only see terrains, concept arts, and music?
I have my own motto in developing games which is very contradictive to The After. I will never publish something that''s undone: showing off unfinished concept arts, screenshots that can be taken from anywhere (is it taken from the game or the 3d modeler program?). Anyway, I''m happy I''m not involved.

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The game is WAY far from 50% done. That''s exactly what I am talking about, the website does a fantastic job of making the game look like work has been done. You don''t see any gameplay shots because NOT A SINGLE LINE OF CODE has been written. Just some stuff on the sound and music engine from a while back.

The game did not reach E3. The guy, William Phelps, who came up with The After, simply just went to E3 with that inexplainable CG movie that you see on the website. It''s not like they had a booth or anything. In fact, there were turned down for funding by investors that normally show interest in anyone with a half decent project. Those terrains you see? That''s just someone that loaded up the Torque engine (that any of us can do, and if you own Tribes 2, you can do the same thing), and pressing the Print Screen button. It''s nothing more than that.

That is what I stated in my original post, the whole process is another Dawn (another project that received a lot of hype only to be turned into vaporware) in the making. It shows the power of what a good website can do.

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Before Chris goes on his usual rant, which included slandar in our own forums, let''s point some facts out that he failed to mentioned.

First off, programming did not get complete at all besides database and the sound/music engine. This was Chris''s department and he had originally agreed to throw all the work for the movie to the art team. Originally we had intended this to be in the game engine showing combat and such, but Chris, our lead programmer Sean, and Brian all shut that down because they felt the mock art movie would be better and that the movie would be too much work. So by saying no work is being completely, they discredit themselves because it was their department and not once did they attempt to finish anything.

Art and music, as well as lore, has been keeping up on schedule at a good pace, but programming has slipped behind. Again, programming department and all three programmers that left because the "project" was stalling left because they weren''t doing work.

There are currently no developers under 18 in The After''s development team. We do have one or two people doing freelance work under 18 but this is only temporary and if they can do the work, and do it well, we don''t see the point of locking out minors that can do superb art or music or coding. And as for experience, none of the three programmers that left had any game design experience so slandering the rest of the team doesn''t help their position any. We took people on that showed talent over experience but that has changed since this event happened and we now have well over twenty people that are prepared to join the team with many year''s experience.

As for the engine rotating, we were still looking for a good engine. Brian was involved with the engine changing many times and yet Chris failed to mention this when he said three programmers, and our COO, left. And as for organization, as COO, that was Brian''s job as well as mine, and things were shaping up. If Chris and the others had stayed after E3 when I returned, the project would have moved forward very rapidly in the next few months.

The art team was doing work. The music team was doing work. Lore was doing work. Programming team wasn''t. Again, the unwillingness to do work was between the three that left, though there are the programmers that have stayed that have accomplished work towards coding of The After. I fail to see the unwillingness.

Lying or motivation? Nothing was lies. It was goals we were aiming for. The After is a game that''s way ahead of it''s time, and accomplishing it is going to be a tough ordeal. Not once was there lies that were being told to employees. We said we had leads for publishing (which Brian was part of since he did a lot of contacting publishers, investors, and others) but not once did we say we had full fledged funding. Where is the lies there? Ages and skills? If you want to start saying we lied about peoples'' skills and ages, you could always start with yourself because you failed to show that you had any skill in programming considering you completed none of it. Nobody in the team is perfect but they are suited for their departments and are accomplishing their work, besides the programming team and those that left.

You fail to mention that one of the people that left with you was part of the management and caused a lot of these problems and yet you support him. And Brian did not do all the work business side. I did a lot of it, so saying he did the business work is bold faced lies.

And we have never said the game is 50% complete once. FAQ and many areas say the game still has two years of work left, so there was no lies there. It''s still in early alpha and it''s a very large project to accomplish, and needs the support of everyone to do it, fans and developers. Instead of trying to fix the problems in the company, even if it meant an overhaul of management and myself stepping down, which I''m prepared to do if The After gets completed, they instead decided to quit and make a PR problem. This is what keeps development going slow. Instead of proposing solutions and telling people problems, someone instead quits and provides all the problems for the public. Yes we have problems, just like every development team since PC development has begun, especially since we are a new independent team, and we are learning and getting better. But this was the wrong direction to go by Chris, especially when he didn''t put any work into the project besides a multitude of arguments and complaints.

We aren''t turning into another Glitchless though. I''m not going to shut this project down because of these problems. People like the ideas of the game, even Chris, and we are going to continue developing it and making it a reality to everyone that likes the game. We just wish that people would be a bit more supportive, especially developers, and would talk to people in the team rather than allowing problems to boil and then burst in the end with certain developers leaving and causing a larger mess than what really is on the plate.



-William Phelps
Lead Developer of The After
http://www.netemp.net/after

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Guest Anonymous Poster
*shrugs* Im still following The After. I think the lead dev can get a good team together, I know the guy...hes not some lieing jerk.

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To respond

Programming was my deparment (the client side which he fails to mention, I was not lead programmer). I did not agree to throw all the work to the art team, they had stated they wanted a modified engine in 3 weeks, and I had responded with "That's impossible with a global team". We did not think it would be much too work, for some reason they though in 3 weeks we could take an engine brand new to us and put in combat, and enough work to have a playable move. As most of you programmers out there can attest, if you only have an hour or two to work on a project a day, that's not nearly enough time to give you 3 weeks. In the end, instead of them being patient, THEY decided to give it to the art team.

Secondly, we did attempt to get the models into the game. We on numerous occasions (as I mentioned), asked the art team for models, and they would give us models that did not fit the engine requirements (whatever that engine would be at that time...lol). We are not artists, and we cannot force models into an engine when they are larger than the specifications that the engine requires.

He is lying about no developers being under 18. If you visit the After chat rooms in irc.stratics (#netemp and #theafter), you will see that those rooms are dead until about 2:40 in the afternoon. This is because this is the time that all of the developers get home from high school

His mention of freelance work is comical, considering that no one is getting paid for any of the work they are doing, so it is all freelance .

I have game development experience, I am not sure the exact skill sets of those that had left, but once again I'm not quite sure what he's talking about there. In fact, I'm one of the few that even has real world working experience in any part of the field they're working in.

When he says they took on people with talent over experience, that basically means they took on anyone with interest. Every week we would find out we had new people working with us, yet we never interviewed them at all. How would people that were not even programmers know if a programmer was talented? There is quite a riddle in that

Everyone was involved with the engine changing, that was the problem. The programming team should have given them a list of engines (which we did), and based on proposed funding an engine should have been chosen. INstead, we would visit website to find William spouting yet another engine to another site that we were using.

William constantly complains that his programming teams aren't doing any work. For almost a year now, he has blamed all his problems on his programming teams. It seems to me that perhaps they should take a better and closer look at themselves, since if the programmers are always leaving, there is probably a reason. There are no coders currently doing work for the After, and considering I still talk with people that work on the team, I know this for a fact.

The After is not a game that is way ahead of it's time, it is another MMORPG. William thinks he is going to change the world with his game, and he has set his goals too high with his inexperience and lack of knowledge.

If you doubt my programming skill, I will give you my resume again, and give you 10 references that will show my skill. I will also point you to various popular programming web sites that display my work. Your attempts to discredit me William will not get you very far unfortunately.

If you for a second think that the COO was causing these problems, than I am glad that I left when I did. He was one of the few that brought organization to the team, and was the man who wrote YOUR business plan and got YOUR company incorporated. The fact that you now blame him for these problems shows how poor of a business person you are.

Of course no one would say the game is 50% complete, it's not even 5% complete. I find it funny that here you say the game has two years to complete, yet you tell people in your chat rooms that they will have a beta this summer. You do not even understand the process of software developement, since this project is NOT in Alpha. Or Beta, Or Zeta. You have a lot to read and learn before you can seriously consider yourself a game developer.

We tried to fix the problems in the company, it was you who denied they even existed. That is why everyone always leaves William, because you deny everything. We proposed solutions, we tried to hold meetings (in the 3 months I was there, I tried 4 times to hold a meeting, one of which went through, and only 4 people showed up ).

I put work into this project, if you were ever on when most of us programmers were on you would know this. I worked with people on the DB, and I worked on research on the engines.

No one expects you to shut this down William, you have kept the lies up for 2 years almost now and chances are you will keep them up for another 2 and there will be another developer stating how this project is dead. I like the idea of the game, but I like the idea of a million games. And I'm sure you'll continue to develop it, and I'm sure very little actual work will really be done.

William, the fact that you have this problem constantly shows that you really need to re-evalute the route you are taking with The After. Just today, more developers have left The After after hearing what William has had to say and realizing that there really are a lot of problems with The After. It's not that they don't want to make the game happen, they just don't want to be working with someone that will hinder that process, and we all feel that way towards William. In total now, six developers have left The After since our departure, and more are sure to be on their way.

As I conclude, William, it's really sad that you have a lot of growing up to do, and you need to realize that for some people this is a business and not just a hobby. I wish you the best of luck.

Sincerely,

Chris Olson

P.S. Stop with the slander comments. It's how you try to make your argument seem valid. I don't call the things you say about me slander. You have your point of view, I have mine. It is obvious by your actions who is being more truthful here

[edited by - Colson33 on May 30, 2002 3:49:44 PM]

[edited by - Colson33 on May 30, 2002 3:53:45 PM]

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Ok above post is me again but i didnt see Servivus''s post before i posted that. Cant edit it without a password. Well anyway...moving on..

Im still following The After, ive seen evidence of work from all the departments servivus mentioned. Art, music, lore...ect ect.
Also like he said....wouldnt the lack of programming be the programmars fault?

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