Project commissions and the SP campaign overhaul

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Pentarctagon
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Project commissions and the SP campaign overhaul

Post by Pentarctagon »

Now that the first financial status report is available for Wesnoth, Inc in order to provide background, the next topic I want to hopefully get some opinions on is how commissions are handled, both in general and then more specifically for the SP campaign overhaul that Yumi(nemaara) has proposed.

The way I've personally been classifying the areas in terms of potential commissions is:
  • Art - portraits, unit animations, etc.
  • Music - for example, the commission made to West for the new main menu track.
  • Writing - never previously done, to my knowledge.
  • Code - sort of done, in a sense, with GSoC efforts (Google paid a stipend rather than Wesnoth, Inc itself paying anything).
For the first two, art and music, I don't think there's a huge issue with commissioning more as it makes sense - Wesnoth, Inc obviously doesn't have anywhere close to enough money to commission all the portraits, sprites, and animations Wesnoth still needs. The main risk I see with this is if the fact that commissions are a possibility ends up acting as a deterrent for people to volunteer to contribute art, especially given the high standard that has been established for mainline Wesnoth.

For the last one, coding, I think that GSoC has fairly conclusively proven that coding commissions would be a bad idea. Previous GSoC efforts like umcd (never actually used) and Whiteboard (remained buggy for a long time after the GSoC ended until regular contributors fixed it up) haven't really worked out. Based on that, it doesn't seem to make sense to provide a one time payment to implement new and-or complex functionality that will then forever need to be fixed, improved, and maintained by volunteers not involved in the original commission. Wesnoth, Inc also does not have remotely enough money to consider hiring someone, not to mention all the other complexities that having an actual employee would introduce (both legally and within the project itself). The iOS port is an exception to this, since sinda(singalen) has proven reliable and also the port itself provides a monthly revenue stream.

That then leaves writing, which I don't think there has ever been a commission for, and for good reason - paying something like $25 for something like a unit description or race description just plain doesn't make sense.

In summary: In my view, art and music commissions are types of commissions that can be considered, writing and coding commissions are not. I am interested in hearing if others agree with that view, though.

----------

The more specific topic I'd also like to get some opinions on is the commission for the SP campaign/lore overhaul that Yumi has proposed.

The contents of the proposal itself I'm not going to get into, since that's already been covered elsewhere. What I want to discuss here is whether there should be a commission for it, given both the amount of work it would be to overhaul nearly all of the mainline campaigns and that it would end up encompassing all four of the above areas - writing(lore/characters), coding(WML/lua), art(units), and music.

The intention, especially with a commission involved, would be for this to be the "end state" of mainline lore - any additional work on the campaigns making up the overhaul would be limited to tweaks, bugfixes, and quality of life improvements. Additional campaigns could still be added, but they would need to be standalone to the story that would be told by the SP overhaul (and if told in the same universe would need to be non-conflicting). There would also then be no further commissions of this type, since there wouldn't be a need for any sort of second overhaul, and the expectation would be that Yumi (being a regular contributor already) would continue to be around to address any issues brought up with the overhauled campaigns.
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Re: Project commissions and the SP campaign overhaul

Post by nemaara »

So, first and most important, I think that ruling out any kind of commission is not really fair to any party involved, and this includes coding commissions. Just like we hire professional artists and musicians to draw portraits and write tracks for us, I think it's disingenuous to suddenly rule out the work of professional programmers and writers for significant contributions that require a large amount of work. Whether or not a specific effort in said area (the aforementioned GSoC projects) is worth a commission is another story, but I think that a blanket ruling out everything in that category based on such an example is not a good idea. I think we should evaluate commissions on a case by case basis.

- As with art, I don't think a writing commission would be applicable to small things like a unit description or a race description as Pentarctagon said. In my opinion, a larger project like rewriting the dialogue for an entire campaign would merit a small fee, should someone so desire. Just for comparison, I think a single unit description would be nearly equivalent to a single sprite base frame in work.

----------------------------------------------------------------

In my proposed SP campaign rework case, the necessity of a commission is not really for the writing alone. In particular, the fee would be paying for the following:

A. Me being a pretty experienced game designer, i.e. being able to design campaigns and scenarios that are fun and varied in strategy and objectives. I'll free admit here that I have by far the most experience in making RPGs, but I have learned quite a bit about designing strategy maps via my own campaign and revamping 3 complete mainline campaigns as well as touching up many scenarios.

B. Writing all the WML/lua on my own for the campaigns. This can get pretty complicated, for examples, look at DiD or Genesis.

C. Drawing utility artwork and writing supplemental music when necessary. Usually I use default tracks (as in, I don't think there'll be a case where I would have to write music), but there are quite a few cases where I've needed to draw artwork (which I usually charge a small fee for).

D. Writing as in lore and dialogue, which I often get paid for. This needs less explanation, it's been pretty beaten to death already.

A single campaign rewrite is already a significant amount of work and an entire campaign arc is even more so. While this is a very large project, as stated elsewhere, I think it would really strengthen the game's singleplayer lore aspect (not to mention gameplay) and help promote Wesnoth in the long run.

- Note that the commission in this case refers to an arc of campaigns regarding the "HttT" era, not an entire overhaul.

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Re: Project commissions and the SP campaign overhaul

Post by Pentarctagon »

The differentiation that I think exists between code and the other categories is the maintenance needed to keep it functioning. For example, if LordBob creates a great portrait and it gets committed, then at that point there's not going to need to be any ongoing maintenance to keep the portrait "working" - it's a PNG file, and wesnoth will be able to load that PNG file indefinitely as long as the actual game still works. Coding features are not so isolated however, and can be broken by changes other people make elsewhere as well as simply by changes in the libraries wesnoth depends on (ie: the SDL related issues relatively recently), and what I want to avoid as much as possible is getting into a situation where a commissioned feature breaks and the person who implemented it won't fix it without another commission.
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Re: Project commissions and the SP campaign overhaul

Post by LordBob »

Before going on about what to commission, I would stress that making progress on the tax filing cost (see financial report + discord discussion) will help quite a bit with the how. I don't know the rates for commissionning other types of work, but the yearly fee is equivalent to portraiting a full campaign cast! In the long run Wesnoth can largely benefit from the extra resource.

Now, as for the different types of commission.

Art : has done a lot of good for the game I think, but I am obviously not a neutral party on the subject. Resources aren't infinite, so commissionned art (of any kind) should ideally support the overall development strategy and enhance player experience in areas that are being worked on on multiple fronts. For example, commission Dunefolk animations and portraits if the next release will focus on this faction and introduce their mainline campaign as well as expand the world map southwards. Commission story art to illustrate a freshly revamped HttT campaign/arc. Make the investment count, don't waste resources on p(art)s of the game that won't be under the spotlight.

Music : the above also applies for music, I would say. I am under the impression that talented compositors are even more difficult to come by than artists, so it's all the more a reason to commission their work where needed. Setting aside original creations, I imagine a good compositor would also be able to "art direct" our music and help pick good sountrack elements that are either free of rights or affordable. Worth considering as well.

Writing : in the story / lore / campaign plot & dialog sense, I find it worth commissionning. There's no question that several mainline campaigns suffer from poor writing, and sometimes poor game design as well. The game has been open to any willing contribution for over a decade, yet as far as I can tell it's still plagued with these same problems. I don't think our standards in that domain are high enough to shy potential contributors, though, so it must be that people with enough dedication, talent, and time aren't that many. Fortunately the portrait example also applies here : good writing will stay good no matter the coding language you use to make a game out of it.

Writing : in the coding sense, (i.e. translating a campaign draft into a set of scenarios with WML etc.), I am dubitative. First, it is subject to the same obsolescence as any other code-based aspect of the game, see Pentarctagon's posts. Second, either WML is really this horrible language that almost no-one can handle and then the problem isn't as much about commissioning someone to use it, as it is to improve or downright replace it (isn't this a possible benefit of Haldric btw ? Improving WML could also be a milestone on the 1.x roadmap). Or, WML is difficult and time-consuming but we have skilled contributors who can and will make good use of the written material that is passed to them, in which case I don't see why we should task a single person with the mind-blowing amount of work that is coding an entire SP (or even campaign arc) overhaul. Let it be a team effort- Small enough team that it doesn't get swamped in debate and with a clear identification of who's in charge and gets to make calls, though.



In summary : art, music, writing (story/lore) and, to an extent, level design, can be considered for commissions. Technical topics such as coding or writing the WML for a campaign probably should not.
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Re: Project commissions and the SP campaign overhaul

Post by doofus-01 »

Music and Art commissions are relatively straightforward, I don't have much to add.

I do agree writing is harder to commission, and think completely separating writing into two totally separate departments (text vs coding) could be a mistake. A great story doesn't necessarily make a great game, while a clever and bug-free string of scenarios can turn out full of plot holes that are hard to back out of. The two really need to work together. Relatedly, a commission for this sort of thing would probably require more back & forth and feedback than a music or art commission does.

Regarding writing and all coding, not just the game scripting, is there some drudge-work that no one will take on without getting paid?
  • Volunteers can be attracted to things that involve creativity or personal skill development (whether that actually happens or not depends on plenty of issues besides pay). But something like a (comprehensive and competent) copy editing push sounds less likely to draw interest.
  • Is there some festering, unsexy issue in the C++ that could be fixed? This would be distinct from adding a new feature.
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Re: Project commissions and the SP campaign overhaul

Post by Pentarctagon »

doofus-01 wrote:
July 11th, 2020, 1:09 pm
Regarding writing and all coding, not just the game scripting, is there some drudge-work that no one will take on without getting paid?
  • Volunteers can be attracted to things that involve creativity or personal skill development (whether that actually happens or not depends on plenty of issues besides pay). But something like a (comprehensive and competent) copy editing push sounds less likely to draw interest.
  • Is there some festering, unsexy issue in the C++ that could be fixed? This would be distinct from adding a new feature.
The first thing that comes to mind is Wesnoth's UI and rendering system - I don't know a whole lot about that area personally, but from what I've heard from others there have been three (all unsuccessful) attempts to move to OpenGL hardware accelerated rendering, as well as all the issues that have come up with GUI1/GUI2 over the years. A commission to have someone overhaul those areas though would fall pretty squarely into my concern about "a situation where a commissioned feature breaks and the person who implemented it won't fix it without another commission", since with something that complex there *will* be bugs and quirks that come up.
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Re: Project commissions and the SP campaign overhaul

Post by doofus-01 »

Pentarctagon wrote:
July 11th, 2020, 4:30 pm
A commission to have someone overhaul those areas though would fall pretty squarely into my concern about "a situation where a commissioned feature breaks and the person who implemented it won't fix it without another commission", since with something that complex there *will* be bugs and quirks that come up.
It could depend on how the commission is structured, I would think, though I've never structured a commission for such a thing. A thorough documentation requirement wouldn't solve everything, but should help.
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Re: Project commissions and the SP campaign overhaul

Post by GunChleoc »

Any code commission must very definitely contain a documentation requirement. There could also be some hours of paid maintenance planned for so that the commissioned person will be under some obligation to help with bug fixing.

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Re: Project commissions and the SP campaign overhaul

Post by doofus-01 »

Regarding the SP overhaul specifically:
I'm really not sure what to think about it.
- On the one hand, a coherent, unified lore could be good, as would coherent story arcs. Overhauling all these campaigns and scenarios would be a lot of work, so a commission doesn't seem outrageous. And as long as the WML/Lua doesn't get aggressively deprecated, it shouldn't be a huge maintenance burden.

- On the other hand, part of Wesnoth's UMC appeal is that there are gaps to fill in. As a UMC contributor, I'm pretty sure whatever I came up with years ago will be made even more non-canon and off-message, how important is old content (and old memories)? But old UMC aside, does this imposition of one person's vision matter for new players? Probably not, if the script is well done. But how can you know that ahead of time? Relatedly, play-testing is such an important & tedious part of any new content, how would that be worked into the commission? Just putting it in a development release and hoping it all works out seems pretty risky. Sorry if nemaara posted this somewhere already and I'm just blind (quite likely), but is there a portfolio or resume, from another project, we can look at to judge?

- On the same other hand, this overhaul will probably require significant new artwork, regardless of what's planned now.
I'm no longer a Board member, but if it were up to me to decide that commission, I would have a hard time approving. Maybe something smaller-scale than flagship HttT arc would work, just as a trial balloon?
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Re: Project commissions and the SP campaign overhaul

Post by nemaara »

In a quick sentence (elaborated on in previous threads), the reason for placing campaigns into arcs rather than as standalone campaigns is to create a sense of progression throughout them rather than have them be disjoint single stories that don't work together. There would still be plenty of room for UMC in the new canon, actually much more to work with than in the old canon.

Playtesting is counted in the commission. I playtest everything I make multiple times and I usually ask several people to provide reviews on balancing during the process. You can see the currently open (soon to be merged) UtBS rebalance PR as an example.

The most related projects are actually Wesnoth ones where I've completely reworked DiD and Liberty on master. Genesis is my campaign (you let me use your terrain art for it!) but I don't plan to make anything for mainline like it so it might be less relevant.

I don't mind us trying a small single campaign commission first, that might be more digestible for everyone.

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Re: Project commissions and the SP campaign overhaul

Post by doofus-01 »

nemaara wrote:
July 19th, 2020, 10:16 am
Playtesting is counted in the commission. I playtest everything I make multiple times and I usually ask several people to provide reviews on balancing during the process. You can see the currently open (soon to be merged) UtBS rebalance PR as an example.
I wasn't implying that you'd toss something up without testing it, it's just that this would take more than one person to do it right and it would be such an ongoing thing.

And in general, I wasn't implying you were the wrong person for this. It's the commission itself that I'm having a hard time with. If you're open to the idea of a smaller, single campaign commission, I'd be interested to see how that turns out.
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Re: Project commissions and the SP campaign overhaul

Post by Pentarctagon »

A commission for the scripts and level design and then collaborating on the actual implementation with others is a possible alternative as well.
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Re: Project commissions and the SP campaign overhaul

Post by nemaara »

doofus-01 wrote:
July 25th, 2020, 12:50 pm
I wasn't implying that you'd toss something up without testing it, it's just that this would take more than one person to do it right and it would be such an ongoing thing.

And in general, I wasn't implying you were the wrong person for this. It's the commission itself that I'm having a hard time with. If you're open to the idea of a smaller, single campaign commission, I'd be interested to see how that turns out.
Yeah one issue I have with my playtesters right now is that they almost all are expert Wesnoth players (no offense to them :roll: ) so what they think is easy is very different than what other people think is easy. Overall, I've actually been leaning toward making campaigns easier in the revisions (UtBS excepted), but what I really need is newer player feedback to get the easier difficulties to a good state. So far though, I think making them easier has been for the best.

I think the details of a commission are best left elsewhere? Like I said, a smaller single campaign commission as a trial would be fine, although that still wouldn't address the full issue of an overhaul I guess. :hmm:
Pentarctagon wrote:
July 25th, 2020, 5:11 pm
A commission for the scripts and level design and then collaborating on the actual implementation with others is a possible alternative as well.
So far it seems like the easiest way has been for me to just implement things myself. Getting others involved in a commission especially if it has a timeframe for completion is probably more complicated?

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Re: Project commissions and the SP campaign overhaul

Post by Pentarctagon »

nemaara wrote:
July 27th, 2020, 9:26 pm
Pentarctagon wrote:
July 25th, 2020, 5:11 pm
A commission for the scripts and level design and then collaborating on the actual implementation with others is a possible alternative as well.
So far it seems like the easiest way has been for me to just implement things myself. Getting others involved in a commission especially if it has a timeframe for completion is probably more complicated?
With a script and the level designs complete, the WML/lua coding implementation could likely be done more or less independently by you and whoever else would be helping with that part.
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