Q's anger management thread (chock-full of spoilers!)

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
One of the "problems" with the story was of course that it was worked on the whole time, but after a certain point during the ten years of development you just couldn't go back and change stuff because too much was already based on it. That's one of the risks when working on such a huge project over a long time. Change something and you have to change it everywhere so it still looks like one piece. Standoff had it a bit easier there, with the episodic release.
Hehe, quite the opposite - Standoff had it harder than Saga in this regard :). See, each piece of the story we released, we had to live with. At the very end of the project, we actually did revisit Episode 1 & 2, add a couple of FMV cutscenes, and remove a couple of emails in exchange - but we did not change a single line or movie that had already been recorded. Not only did we not like the idea of revising existing work, but it's also more troublesome to patch an existing episode with a new one than it is to simply revise things before release.

Saga, on the other hand, could have re-written and re-recorded the dialogues for any character in the game a month before release. For some of the non-FMV characters, even a week before release would have been enough. It's not as hard as it may sound. I've been on projects where I had to rewrite all the game dialogues within two days, and I've been on projects where we had to beg the voiceover studio to call in the actors on an emergency schedule and get the voiceovers back to us within four-five days. And that's dealing with professional companies, where you need to settle on a price, get accounting to accept it and make a transfer, and where they need to schedule your project between other projects that they have. Dealing with an individual actor is much easier - you shoot him an email telling him you had to rewrite a bunch of lines, and asking if he would, pretty please, re-record them for you quickly. If he can't, you've always got the originals to fall back on, so it's not a big risk.

On top of that, Saga is not as big a project as it may feel, in this regard. Most roles are tiny ones that bother nobody. The big damage is inflicted by probably less than ten speaking roles, each with probably no more than five hundred lines (at the most). A rewrite is much faster than writing from scratch, and if you keep the filenames unchanged, you don't need to even touch the missions (except where cutting dialogues).

So, Saga's story could have been fixed even right before release. Two weeks would have been enough. But the real problem is not time, is it? :) The real problem is that until you release something to the public, all you have is your own impressions to go by. If you wrote something and you thought it was good, years may pass and you'll still think it's good, until you're confronted with public reaction that tells you otherwise. From what you guys tell me, it seems even so, there was a lot of internal debate about writing in Saga, and I'm guessing that the team did rewrite parts of the game a few months prior to release, and everyone were probably convinced that it's all looking good. That's pretty normal, and that's the real challenge developers have to deal with :).
 

Wedge009

Rogue Leader
I can't say this with any level of certainty, of course - maybe if we did a poll or something, it would turn out that most people here actually like Saga's characters, I don't know.
I can honestly say I didn't mind Saga's characters - I even appreciated some of them, else I wouldn't have been interested in the epilogue describing several of the surviving characters' futures. But I think I can see your point-of-view here. The ones who seemed to have the most exposure (and, therefore, the most memorable) seem to be the abusive or clown type - ones like Greywolf, Psychopath, Avatarr, Ninja, Assassin. Still, I do remember and like some of the 'side' characters too - the squadron commanders and Commander Sweeney were a bit more sensible in contrast the the goofing around of the aforementioned characters, plus there were other wingmates like Honeybear and Twilight. And perhaps the sheer number of characters meant that there was less time for character development for each of them than for the 'core' group. (Which also relates to another problem (spoiler!) - almost anyone with significant 'screen time' survives, there were a few scripted deaths towards the end that was a bit predictable because the pilot concerned was relatively unfamiliar - Problem Child and one other pilot whose callsign I can't even remember! I'm glad so many survived, but this is in stark contrast to deep, personal losses like Bossman in WC1 and Spirit in WC2.)

...heroes of the day don't necessarily have to be knights in shining armour, but can be just a-holes like you and me.
Speak for yourself, Baron! :p
 

Dondragmer

Rear Admiral
I don't think so. From my recollection, that was the Hermes group's mission in Loki system and it was for the Behemoth, not the Temblor. They were in Caliban attempting to flee to Confederation space after investigating the fate of the Kinney, which was carrying out the same mission as the Hermes in another system.

Quite correct. I should have said "Behemoth", not "Temblor Bomb". The question still is, in their search for planets to destroy, will the Jim Bowie crew have any compunctions about bioweapons?

Well, wait a minute. Maybe I didn't get something either, but wasn't it a Kilrathi cargo that the Challenger captured? There was even an implied connection between this cargo and the Locanda bioweapons attack - I'd assumed that this was basically the same weapon, except here it got captured in transit. If that's the case, then it's a Kilrathi weapon designed against humans. What this would mean is that whether or not it affects the Kilrathi, it's certainly not news to them. If it does affect them, they would at least probably have antidotes which allow them to render a planet safe again afterwards. Otherwise, why use slow-killing bioweapons instead of just wiping out Locanda with strontium-90?

In the conversation between the Challenger, the Jim Bowie and the Sandman, everyone assumes that the weapon will affect the Kilrathi. That's the part that doesn't make sense. You could rewrite the dialog to make it clear that the Kilrathi could safely recapture the weapon and have the mission mechanics play out as before.

Testing without voiceovers is always a huge pain. Countless times in the past, in my professional work, I've had to deal with people who should know better, whining about not knowing what to do at a given moment in the game. The same people would also complain about boring dialogues sometimes, for the exact same reason.

I was working on a simple little English teaching project recently. To make it clear how the design worked before we recorded the audio, I generated every sound clip with a speech synthesiser. On Mac OS, this is a simple command line call, so it took about 10 minutes to write a script which read my data files and generated corresponding audio files. Windows doesn't make this quite so easy, but it can be done. While synthesised speech is clunky and awkward, I strongly recommend it as a starting point for all fan projects. Listen to your synthesised dialog and fix the unbearable bits before asking your friends to record it.

There's a neat mod for Portal called Portal: Prelude. Most - possibly all - of the speech in the final release is synthesised. It's not perfect, but it gets the job done.

Even better is to record "scratch dialog" yourself. While it's done in animated movies because you don't want to hire your superstar voice actors for a minute longer than necessary, I suspect it also helps the writers fine-tune their work.

A rewrite is much faster than writing from scratch, and if you keep the filenames unchanged, you don't need to even touch the missions (except where cutting dialogues).

I haven't worked with FS2 myself, but from "cheating" by adjusting time compression, it feels as though the mission file has to specify the duration of each sound clip, and play the next line in a conversation when the previous line finishes. If so, changing even a single sound file may mean changing the timing of the following conversation and any events that happen during that conversation. On the other hand, isn't that what we'd like to see - not just distilling the conversations, but distilling the non-interactive events so we get to the interactivity sooner?
 

Tolwyn

Vice Admiral
Saga, on the other hand, could have re-written and re-recorded the dialogues for any character in the game a month before release. For some of the non-FMV characters, even a week before release would have been enough. It's not as hard as it may sound. I've been on projects where I had to rewrite all the game dialogues within two days, and I've been on projects where we had to beg the voiceover studio to call in the actors on an emergency schedule and get the voiceovers back to us within four-five days. And that's dealing with professional companies, where you need to settle on a price, get accounting to accept it and make a transfer, and where they need to schedule your project between other projects that they have. Dealing with an individual actor is much easier - you shoot him an email telling him you had to rewrite a bunch of lines, and asking if he would, pretty please, re-record them for you quickly. If he can't, you've always got the originals to fall back on, so it's not a big risk.

On top of that, Saga is not as big a project as it may feel, in this regard. Most roles are tiny ones that bother nobody. The big damage is inflicted by probably less than ten speaking roles, each with probably no more than five hundred lines (at the most). A rewrite is much faster than writing from scratch, and if you keep the filenames unchanged, you don't need to even touch the missions (except where cutting dialogues).

I am not going to go into details about our production production pipeline or QA process - implying that you can rewrite big chunks of story, check it for consistency, record VO, do post processing, implement voice lines and fix timing, run QA on at least two builds prior to the master build, etc within a few weeks is simply wrong though. We do have hands on professional development experience and we have also seen games being changed at the eleventh hour - the results were less than satisfactory and I am thankful we did not have to ressort to that. Once you make a decision on a project of this magnitude, you stick with it, it is as simple as that.

Aside from that - in hindsight we might have changed a thing or two in Saga - everybody makes mistakes and the important part is that you do learn from them for future projects. That does not mean that the end result ended up not being fun to 99% of players and that is the audience we had to please.
 

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
Well, I certainly won't argue with you about that, Tolwyn. You wouldn't take that risk, that's understandable - no matter how likely it is to succeed, it is still a big risk, after all. I have, in the past, been in situations where I was forced to take that risk (sometimes happy about it, sometimes really angry), and depending on how experienced the team is, the risk pays off very well, but it certainly could be a very frustrating expeirence at times. Be that as it may, it could be done, and I'm pretty sure that with ten years of experience, the Saga team would be able to do this with much less stress than you might think.
 

Tolwyn

Vice Admiral
Not within the timeframe or the manpower available. It can be done if you have a large team standing by and willing to put in ridiculous amount of hours as you make that final push towards the gold master. That is not how games should be made, but it happens, especially if you overpromise content and bite off more than you can chew. The worst thing though is when you keep redoing your work over and over again (and we did that twice - the development of the final Darkest Dawn iteration started in mid 2007).

Personally I am happy with the way the story and the characters turned out. It should be noted, that one thing that we did wrong in Saga is that quite often the gameplay is in service of the story and not the other way around. Combine that with lack of checkpoints, inability to skip dialogue and the fact that we start the dialogue very early into the action and I can understand that the game might be a frustraiting experience if you fail a mission one time too often. Then again, it is not so different to the Demon/Dark Souls series - both games are extremely punishing and you are forced to play through the same section over and over again. At the same time, these games offer a highly rewarding experience that you won't find all that often in modern games (which feel highly derivative, by the way).

Edit: Also, here is another take at the "last minute changes" - two missions were changed at the very last minute, the Kinney mission and the Armageddon mission. Based on beta testers feedback we made both missions more challenging and the majority of the negative feedback is centered around these two missions.
 

LeHah

212 Squadron - "The Old Man's Eyes And Ears"
Can't speak for the Navy/Airforce/Spaceforce (or anything above enlisted personnel in general), but i wouldn't consider a depiction of a military consisting mainly of dicks insulting each other very far from reality.
In fact, i liked that Saga deviated from the cheesyness of other "military" simulations, showing that heroes of the day don't necessarily have to be knights in shining armour, but can be just a-holes like you and me.
Which may be unrealistic in our time, but i think during war Confed has considerably lower requirements regarding moral integrity of its pilots than we do.

Its whats called the elevator question. Would you want to be stuck in an elevator with these people? Probably not - so why would one want to play a very long game with these characters in it? Perhaps you want your characters to be antagonistic - some great material has been based around that concept - but the thing is the antagonism has to serve a point to the story. For example, Alex DeLarge is a horrible human being and is to be detested, but he also serves the greater point of the plot and the point that the author is making. It exists to push the plot and point along, not just to be "cool" or "twisted" or whatever.

I really did not see that here at all, what little I played of Saga. If you like that, fine - but the problem is the tone is entirely unjustifiable, almost to the point of farce.
 

Aginor

Vice Admiral
Concerning the bioweapons and whether they are dangerous to Kilrathi as well:
They are. The bioweapons released on that cruiser are the same type that the Kilrathi used on Locanda. And in the Heart of the Tiger novel (I wasn't sure so I read it again, it is on page 3) the Emperor says he might use the weapon against other Kilrathi clans as well.
 

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
Getting back to our regularly scheduled programme of Q's whining...

I just finished the first Torgo mission. A fairly uncomplicated mission, so not too much to comment.

First up, I loved the setting. Wing Commander has always been about the front lines, so we hardly ever got to see any kind of naval bases. Your vision of Torgo may not be quite up there with the Pegasus Station from the WC movie, but it's still a heck of a lot of ships, and one huge base in the middle of it. Looks great.

On the subject of Torgo Station... this is only the second or third time that a ship in Saga has not had a wireframe displayed on the VDU - instead, it's got that generic image from WCP. I'm curious, is there some technical reason preventing the display of Torgo's wireframe?

Moving on to the mission itself. I didn't mind Avatarr this time round - in a behind-the-lines context, his attitude seems much more at home. The gameplay, on the other hand, left something to be desired. Let me just describe the mission, and you may see what I'm getting at. I arrive at Nav 1. It's safe, but a group of Kilrathi jump in. I arrive at Nav 2. It's safe, but a group of Kilrathi jump in. I arrive at Nav 3. It's safe, but a group of Kilrathi jump in. The big surprise is Nav 4 - it's safe and nothing jumps in. Now, I know, each of those encounters is different - but the overall pattern is exactly identical each time. How could anyone have thought this is a good idea? Apart from repetition, this also makes the whole thing feel like a game: in this universe, things apparently only happen when the player's around. Certainly no Kilrathi would dream of jumping into a navpoint until the player is there to intercept him... :)

That said, the combat still was pretty exciting. I'm still seeing tons of Dralthi and Darkets out there, but my Vaktoth tally is starting to rise quickly as well. Before, as I had mentioned, Dralthi and Darkets represented two thirds of all ships killed. This number has fallen a bit now, to just over 60%. That may not seem like a big drop, but you know, it's happened over just a couple of missions, so I'm pretty happy about it. Incidentally, I damn near got killed on this "milk run". No idea how it happened, but my torpedo missed, and I had to destroy the destroyer the hard way. Took a missile hit, a few collisions and a lot of turret fire, and next thing you know, I'm down to 20%. But at least I got the destroyer.

Which reminds me. I could swear that the last hit on the destroyer was in fact my wingman's torpedo. But I got the kill. I've also had in the past situations where I could have sworn I killed something... but I didn't get the kill. Does FS2 have a more complex kill attribution system than WC games usually do? Like, does whoever dealt the most damage get the kill regardless of who delivered the final shot?
 

Kyle Maverick

Rear Admiral
Which reminds me. I could swear that the last hit on the destroyer was in fact my wingman's torpedo. But I got the kill. I've also had in the past situations where I could have sworn I killed something... but I didn't get the kill. Does FS2 have a more complex kill attribution system than WC games usually do? Like, does whoever dealt the most damage get the kill regardless of who delivered the final shot?
IIRC, it's if you get 60% or more of the damage inflicted on a target in FS & FS2, then the kill is yours, so kill stealing is kinda hard in Saga
 

Wedge009

Rogue Leader
First up, I loved the setting. Wing Commander has always been about the front lines, so we hardly ever got to see any kind of naval bases. Your vision of Torgo may not be quite up there with the Pegasus Station from the WC movie, but it's still a heck of a lot of ships, and one huge base in the middle of it. Looks great.
I remember thinking something similar: it was a very impressive arrangement of ships around the suitably massive sector headquarters. The naval base completely dwarfs the presentation of Ella we see in WC4 and even Secret Ops - obviously the engine is much more adept at handling larger-scale capital ships and bases.

On the subject of Torgo Station... this is only the second or third time that a ship in Saga has not had a wireframe displayed on the VDU - instead, it's got that generic image from WCP. I'm curious, is there some technical reason preventing the display of Torgo's wireframe?
Too complex a model even for wireframes? That's just my guess.

Let me just describe the mission, and you may see what I'm getting at. I arrive at Nav 1. It's safe, but a group of Kilrathi jump in. I arrive at Nav 2. It's safe, but a group of Kilrathi jump in. I arrive at Nav 3. It's safe, but a group of Kilrathi jump in. The big surprise is Nav 4 - it's safe and nothing jumps in.
I remember thinking to myself, by the time I got to the third jump point, that it was awfully convenient for Sandman and Avatarr to be present just in time to blast some cats into dust. From a game point-of-view, I didn't mind: after all, it meant less waiting around doing nothing. But of course, it makes no sense in an in-universe perspective, or at least it was an incredible set of coincidences. For variation, perhaps it would be a better idea to have at least one case where - while you're still engaged with Kilrathi at one jump-point - Kilrathi jump in at another jump-point and you receive a call for reinforcements from the picket ships, or something like that. Not a big deal, but would help give a bit of variety and also give the impression that the Kilrathi can time their invasion with simultaneous jumps.

Which reminds me. I could swear that the last hit on the destroyer was in fact my wingman's torpedo. But I got the kill. I've also had in the past situations where I could have sworn I killed something... but I didn't get the kill. Does FS2 have a more complex kill attribution system than WC games usually do? Like, does whoever dealt the most damage get the kill regardless of who delivered the final shot?
Going by what I saw in the Events log, it seems to be based on highest damage. What puzzles me, though, is that sometimes I will have a capital ship kill attributed to Sandman in the Events log, but when I get to the debriefing statistics, I see that I no longer have that kill registering in my permanent record. A bit of a bummer when that kill is something substantial, like a Bhantkara heavy carrier...

I wonder how the assists are calculated. Is there a minimum damage you need to accumulate before you're credited with an assist?
 

Aginor

Vice Admiral
It is possible to adjust the amount of damage needed so a kill is yours IIRC (it is some table value).

I don't know what happens to kills sometimes. I also could swear I have killed some capships (and had the kills in the debriefing) but they somehow vanished. No clue why. The same happened with one of my awards (the very first one I got for finishing the flight training I think, at the beginning of the prologue.)

Concerning the mission: While I also thought that a few of the missions felt a bit gauntlet-like and repetitive (we talked about that earlier) I think it is an overall problem of games (except maybe in the simulation genre) that almost everything just happens when the player is there. But that's normal, because the player normally wants to see what happens. People always find it lame when something happens off-screen that could be cool to see, and fleets jumping in is a cool thing to look at.

One day I'll do a patrol mission where nothing happens I think, just to see how people react. :D
 

Wedge009

Rogue Leader
If I recall correctly, there was a Standoff escort mission where (almost) nothing happens. I think the only thing of note was stealth Salthi causing Bradshaw and friends to go on a wild goose chase, but ultimately, that mission had no kills (I think). That's about as close to a non-event of a mission that I can think of.

But yeah, I realise in a realistic situation, there'd be lots of uneventful patrols. I remember reading someone (in fiction) describing war as long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Of course, in a game context, this wouldn't translate to a very fun experience.
 

Aginor

Vice Admiral
That's totally true. I'm a fan of flight simulations and I read a lot about the real thing as well, and just like in real life a mission in a flight simulator (like DCS:A10 for example) means:
checklists, checklists, checklists, taxiing, takeoff (yeah fun!), flight, flight, flight, flight, Target! (one minute of action and fun, at least if you do not get shot down. If you are hit you are instantly dead in most cases and have to start again.) and then you fly home, flight, flight, flight, ILS-stuff and landing (Yeah fun! For some people at least). taxiing, shutdown checklists.
That's it. The difference between real life and the simulator is that in real life there is no retry and there is no time warp that makes the mission shorter.
So nobody wants a game that is too realistic. It's not a game anymore and it isn't fun (except when you are simulation fan like I am. Then you actually can have fun navigating with radio beacons and doing endless checklists). :D

But Wing Commander is an action game. It's about shooting stuff. That's why there are some people that complain about Saga having too much story, they want more action because that's what they are used to.
 

Deathsnake

Rear Admiral
I remember that mission in Standoff and I have make a mission for LLoD where you just escort a pair of shuttles. No enemy, no shooting...just watch that nothing happend. Thats missions too. Not everytime go to a fight. As a pilot you have more work then just hit the button!
 

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
If I recall correctly, there was a Standoff escort mission where (almost) nothing happens. I think the only thing of note was stealth Salthi causing Bradshaw and friends to go on a wild goose chase, but ultimately, that mission had no kills (I think). That's about as close to a non-event of a mission that I can think of.
I'm not sure if that mission didn't have some combat earlier on - but it might have been like you describe.

Apart from that, there was also a losing path mission in Episode 5, where you watched over the transfer of several supply shuttles to a malfunctioning destroyer. You watch, and watch, and keep waiting for the Kilrathi to show up - and they never do. It's one of my favourite missions in the game, though obviously it has zero replay value. But it's great (in my not-so-humble opinion :) ) because it's genuinely tense and surprising - late in the game, nobody expects to suddenly encounter, for the first time ever, a mission with no hostiles. It just comes totally out of the blue, and right until the end of the mission, you are simply certain that the Kilrathi are right around the corner.

But of course, have a couple of different missions like this, and players will start getting bored. Circling around a bunch of shuttles, watching them land, and listening to dialogues is interesting once. One of the things I would very much love to do, if I ever were to do another WC mod, is to add some new gameplay mechanics to allow me to have a couple of different non-combat missions that feel interesting.

But yeah, I realise in a realistic situation, there'd be lots of uneventful patrols. I remember reading someone (in fiction) describing war as long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Of course, in a game context, this wouldn't translate to a very fun experience.
Yep. Although WC2 actually does imply that between the missions we fly in the game, there is at least a few uneventful patrols that Blair flies, but which aren't shown directly. Similarly, it is implied that there are some big gaps between various missions, like when Blair kisses Angel, and... "two weeks later".

(and of course, WC2 itself spans over two years, with only 20-something missions during this time; but I'm not sure if the 2667 date for the end of WC2 wasn't something that was established post-fact, in the KSaga calendar - it may not have been the original intention)
 

Wedge009

Rogue Leader
Yes, I had Blair's time on Gwynedd in mind as well. Of course, nothing really happens in the decade or so that he's flying endless patrols and keeping up-to-date on paperwork, but as soon as the player enters his story - wow, Sartha and Drakhri suddenly pop up. Just think, if the player didn't meddle in their affairs, Shadow could have made it to her retirement, after all! (I know, I'm being silly here.)
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
(and of course, WC2 itself spans over two years, with only 20-something missions during this time; but I'm not sure if the 2667 date for the end of WC2 wasn't something that was established post-fact, in the KSaga calendar - it may not have been the original intention)

We had a big chat on IRC about this a few weeks back: for all it has been repeated, the 2667 end for Wing Commander II *is* clearly a typo. You can see where it happens if you look through the bible: the person giving dates to the missions thinks Wing Commander II starts in 2666 and not 2665. We experimented with the timeline and found that all of the references to time in the novels make a LOT more sense if WC2 ends in 2666.
 

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
We had a big chat on IRC about this a few weeks back: for all it has been repeated, the 2667 end for Wing Commander II *is* clearly a typo. You can see where it happens if you look through the bible: the person giving dates to the missions thinks Wing Commander II starts in 2666 and not 2665. We experimented with the timeline and found that all of the references to time in the novels make a LOT more sense if WC2 ends in 2666.
Interesting. Yeah, that would definitely make sense, since otherwise the timeline gets way too cramped in 2667-2669.
 

Dundradal

Frog Blast the Vent Core!
Interesting. Yeah, that would definitely make sense, since otherwise the timeline gets way too cramped in 2667-2669.

Yeah, when we moved the year, everything fell into place a lot nicer. I think we've got the first parts of ER, up to Kilrah, dated properly now.
 
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