This post attempts to share the issues with potential game contributors (mainly infrastructure) and couple of sites which could do with a revamp of the same.
For those who are interested, they could read the older posts in the series 1 and 2 .
While FOSS as a doctrine, a philosophy giving impetus to software as well as creative arts, literature development alike has been there since the 90’s, FOSS game development has had somewhat a checkered history. A modern GUI-based point and click games have made some impressive moves in the last couple of years or so. One of the interesting patterns I have been trying to see in this regard is the crowd-sourced development/contribution to projects. This is in part to a guardian article I read few years ago. The main argument therein is that the “creator to consumer” ratio is at just 0.5% . While the article is a bit dated I do think it still holds true, although I also see there are many many ways in which that ratio could be made far far better.
One of the games which has excited me in the recent past has been Dawn. I have posted about it sometime back. As can be seen Dawn is hosted on sourceforge.net . Its a good project hosting site but there are few things it lacks. Lemme give first some of the good things they have done in the past.
a. Have the possibility of using federated single sign-on by using open id.
b. Having mediawiki to provide news and documentation for software projects.
While both these are big big positives for the site, the main grouse from a potential contributor is lacking of good UI for project management/Roadmap and bug-tracking. A pretty good project management/roadmap and bug-tracking tool I have been impressed with has been trac . One can see both the roadmap as well as tickets (which are nothing but bugs) to see how easy is it for both the developers and potential contributors/regular joe’s to have a bird’s eye view on the development. I also like the granularity that it has so one can give even weight-age (high,low,normal) alongwith the release when a fix/feature can be expected. The only feature which has remained to be tackled therein has been section edits which has a plugin and hopefully be ready by 0.13. The only other thing which would remain is somebody putting up the hosting infrastructure for FOSS projects. As an aside, for somebody looking to do project hosting this comparative analysis of the various hosting services could be beneficial.
To further the point about bug-tracking and project maintainance look at how dawn tries to do all. It has a bug-reporting mailing list as well as other mailing lists which is not really accessible for many people. The possibility of good features or important bugs which could not be resolved now can be lost as and when the project gets more traffic/conversations.
Having a good roadmap laid out is crucial to get more people in especially when the project is in its infancy. While lead project managers and developers may have a clear idea and the time they might be willing to donate to a project (if people are open to it) till its not clear to potential contributors/users they might not come as well. Having the above features improves the chances of a project. Of course lot of it depends on how the lead developers take initiative to talk to people and share about the project.
To make my point, lemme again take dawn. There are quite a few ideas which I have about which would make the game better for the players.
a. The possibility of having the hero male/female and changing skin colors and/or clothes. At this point while I don’t know for sure, the possibility might be that the characteristics of hero might be hard-coded.
b. Make sure that the website address is prominent on the Game menu.
c. Maybe have a link to know/see if there is a new version. (Talking about Windows and Mac here ). Something like what is there on Mozilla Firefox > Help > Check for Updates.
d. Have a big overview/roadmap with some sort of deadlines or something which is refreshed every 6 months or so on the wiki. That should be showed or linked prominently on the homepage.
e. Have a nice map viewing and zooming thing. Something similar to how its at Google Earth.
While some of the ideas might be easily achievable for the developers, some of the ideas might float or sink depending on whether the developers think and what’s possible/urgent now or to see/keep for the future when the game is a bit more mature or just for later. As of now, all these would be on a mail which doesn’t tell people/newbies if what they hope/want in a game has been asked before or not. The sourceforge bug tracker has become okish (UI wise) but needs to get lot more better before more people start using it.
Another big site/resource which I have used in my gaming forays has been a dated site called happypenguin.org. The site could do with a big revamp. I have used the site since I started my journey with GNU/Linux. While it used to be a premium site some time ago, now it has started showing its age with not having good screenshots. Just to take an e.g. let’s look at a random game . As can be seen the screenshot is very small and nobody knows what actually is happening there. If I were to take a similar screenshot in an another project showcase site . Just click on the picture to have an enlarged view of the same. The other thing I have found is that the comments layout is many a times confusing. The last but not the least I find the forums the most dis-used. I found a very interesting idea for a game there but see that nobody has responded. All in all a very sad state of affairs.
I have been stressing about gaming the last few weeks as it has potential for careers, while also being a good stress-buster for the average joe. Also it can be used as an educational tool. Non-profits haven’t really used this tool as it can be used especially on the GNU/Linux platform. Look for Serious games. One can check out Food Force2 to know what I mean.
Hoping some people are able to use some of the pointers given.
Update 13/07/2010 :- A classic case of forgetfulness. I knew sometime back Sourceforge.net started also using trac as an alternative bug tracker and wiki as they saw issues with their existing setup. One can checkout the trac wiki of sourceforge.net.