"I like Mondays! I don't know why everyone complains about it. By Monday, I'm super psyched to get back to work again--if I haven't been working all weekend, that is."
Bubbly, excited, passionate, and honest. That's basically Andy Schatz, the designer of Monaco, the 2010 Grand Prize IGF winner that he describes as a cross between Pac-Man and Hitman. We recently chatted over Skype to discuss a crazy experiment from last week, where he turned something on Monaco's to-do list into a crowd sourced design collaboration.
Monaco's been in development for several years now at Pocketwatch Games. In 2009, Schatz was about to give up on independent game development. His indie run started at the end of 2004, after working as a programmer and engineer at various studios. He'd experienced his fair share of ups and downs during that time. Schatz was running out of both money and patience, however, and was prepared to throw in the towel.
"Just on a whim [I] tried to work on some random stuff and it was really fun immediately," he said, "and I was like 'Oh, god, I have to just pour everything that I have left into this to see if I can make it.'"
That was the start of Monaco.
The build submitted to the IGF had been built in just 15 weeks. It took home the Seumas McNally Grand Prize and Excellence in Design, which propelled Monaco towards both attention and funding.
I'm a judge for the IGF and have fond memories of playing that early build of Monaco. The game's come a long way since then, but the foundations for the game's potential had been laid out clearly in those 15 weeks.
Since the IGF win, Schatz and his six-person team have been polishing and iterating on that foundation. At the end of this month, the plan is for offline to be feature complete. Next month, online's feature complete. That's the hope, anyway.
Schatz had four items on his to-do list on September 12, but one would quickly overwhelm his day: adding an easter egg to the hacking component of the game. You don't press buttons to interact with the environment in Monaco--just press up against something, anything usable and a countdown timer appears. If your class has an applicable skill set, that timer will count down faster, allowing you to hack a computer or unlock a door faster than if you were playing as another class.
"When you hack a computer, a long time ago, just for lulz, I made it so it actually types out little fake hacking text instead of having the timer fill up," he said. "That's the only thing in the entire world that acts differently, and it's just a visual difference."
Rather than having the text be the same lines over and over, Schatz wanted fake, joke-laden code for variety's sake. He asked for help on Monaco's Facebook page, prompting someone to float the idea of a collaborative Google document. Shcatz opened up a new document, noticed Google Docs allows documents to be publicly listed and a light bulb turned on.
He sent the link to Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. Soon, the document had been overwhelmed with curious lurkers and possible contributors, quickly hitting Google Doc's 80 collaborator maximum.
"It was freakin' awesome having 80 people all concurrently making this document of fake hacking Linux command line stuff and putting in their little jokes and reorganizing it and editing it," he said.
If you want to view the document yourself, click here.
As things unfolded in real-time, Schatz noticed three types of people who started entering the document. Well, documents, as he was forced to create multiple versions of the document so that more people could jump in and play around.
"The people that had just heard about it and were like 'What the fuck is going on' and went to go watch it," he said, "which I'd say was probably 70% of the people in the doc at a time."
Two, the staple of the Internet: griefers. There were actually two waves of griefers over the course of the day. They started by being dicks.
"The first wave just deleted the whole doc and typed 'What the fuck do you think you're doing?'" he said. "Luckily, Google Docs has revision history, so I just backed up and went to the last revision, so we [lost] 30 seconds of work or something. He deleted again, and I'd put it back again, and then he got bored and he went away. If you feed 'em, they keep coming back for more."
The second wave of griefers were...stranger. By stranger, of course, I mean loading into the document with a strict anti-pony agenda and no will for compromise. For whatever reason, the 25 or so editors who were actually interested in producing the material Schatz was looking for were dumping in pony photos. It was all in fun, but these guys would have none of it.
"The griefers came in and decided that they didn't like ponies whatsoever, so the pony images that had been put into the doc made them really, really mad," he cracked. "They started defacing the doc after that, and basically, at that point, I locked the document for a second and wrote in the doc and I said 'We give in, we will not add anymore ponies. We give into your demands. The terrorists win.' We took the ponies out and unlocked the document again and the griefers pretty much went away at that point."
Lastly, there were the actual, you know, collaborators, who were great. Schatz didn't have a grand plan for this idea; he was hoping for 30 and 60 lines of code--and ended up with way more. But he had tons of fun in the process, and besides crossing something off his to-do list, the experiment provided two tangible benefits for Schatz and Monaco.
Schatz isn't a fan of developers selling creative freedom through places like Kickstarter, ala allowing people to have characters named after them for chipping in money. The collaborators on this document won't find themselves in the credits for Monaco, but they'll all know they kicked in a something cool for a game they've been looking forward to. Schatz believes that's enough.
The more important takeaway will eventually impact Monaco itself. Schatz was light on details, but after Monaco is released, there will be an update that introduces collaborative level design to the game.
"I really can't talk about it because it's the sort of thing that it's definitely a rabbits hole and I don't know how far down we're going to end up going, so I don't want to make any promises," he said, choosing words carefully. "These are plans I've actually had for a long time before this and this was a really neat way to gain a better understanding of human behavior with regards to collaborating online. I think it gave me a lot of insights into the way you need to empower the collaborators."
Minecraft came up, and how only a sliver of people actually create cool content for Minecraft. Everyone else (myself included) simply loads up YouTube or Reddit and laughs along. Part of the issue, he argued, was in the game's technical limitations of how many people can participate.
"Imagine if you could do that on a much grander scale!" he said. "I think that's worth trying."
There's no concrete release date or even a release window for Monaco. Schatz would only say the game would not be released this year and he may show up with an updated build at PAX East, but you can bet I'll be keeping an eye on it.