Monday 23 April 2007

I'm not looking down on you dear, I'm just built that way

It made a nice change a few days ago to log onto our beta test forums and find that one of the users had started a thread on "things I like about Moviestorm", instead of the usual bug reports, problems, and suggestions. One of the things they mentioned was "the men and women are different heights".

It's one of those design decisions that gave me sleepless nights for months. I mean, it's obvious that men and women should be different heights, because that's the way people are - isn't it? But there's a hidden cost to this. Different heights means different skeletons, and different skeletons means different animations. And having two skeletons hasn't just doubled the animation load, it's quadrupled it in places. (Take two-person animations like tapping someone on the shoulder - we need separate anims for M+M, M+F, F+M and F+F.) It also means all sorts of issues with the code - if we change a character from male to female, the engine has to fire up the same animations, but for a different gender. More headaches. And, of course, the animations have to match precisely, so that your timing doesn't get thrown out of whack. And with all the added complexity, that gives the QA team a hell of a lot of extra work.

It would have been easy to take the approach made by Another Well Known Machinima Tool, and make all the characters the same height, regardless of gender. That would have freed up a lot of budget for making more costumes, more sets, and more animations, and made the developers' lives a lot easier, but, to my eyes at least, the end result just wouldn't have been so satisfying. I like the composition you get from different eye heights - it just feels wrong otherwise.

So, thanks to whoever posted that small comment on our forums, thank you. I can sleep again now.

Take a deep breath...

Passport - check.
US power adaptors - check.
Demo films - check.
Hotel reservations - err, David, you did get us somewhere to stay, didn't you?

So this is the moment of truth, where we get to find out what Moviestorm is really made of. In a few hours' time, I'm flying out to LA and New York with David B on the first leg of the Moviestorm World Tour 2007 to demo in front of our harshest critics - our users. It's been a long, hard road to get here over the last two years, but, man, it's been a great ride so far! In the spring of 2005, we were just two guys, in our spare rooms, with a mad idea. By spring 2006, we had a full-time artist, a couple of part-time staff, and a modest R&D budget. And now, we've got offices, a dozen full-time staff, freelancers, and hundreds of beta testers (sign up right here, folks) and we're on the verge of having a real, honest-to-goodness, mostly working, movie-making tool. And in the next week, we find out whether we're on the right track, or whether we've got to go back to the drawing board and do it all again.

The toughest decision we had to make (apart, obviously, from who got the one comfy office chair) was to bring on our beta testers at such an early stage. It was nerve-wracking letting people use it before it was anywhere near ready, but that's been critical to the development of Moviestorm. For the last six months, we've had users telling us, every single day, what they want out of a movie-making tool, and they've been involved in shaping Moviestorm right from the beginning. Yes, we've come in for a fair amount of "tough love", but it's been worth it. It's meant that we can be pretty damn sure that we're not just making Moviestorm into the tool that we want to see - it will cater for all sorts of users, and for all sorts of films.

Still, I can't keep hiding behind the safety of the Internet any longer. We've been hunkered down in our little bunker for ages, nurturing our little creation, and now it's time to come out of stealth mode and play. In a couple of days, we face the big wide world in person, and find out what they really think. Brickbats or Bollinger - the audience will decide!

I'm rather looking forward to it, I think ...