Kroc Camen Writes: #2
This is one of a series of personal letters written to / from
Tanner Helland during 2003–2005. These letters cover—in immense
detail—events in my life during that period, including many unfinished and aspiring designs and creations. As a
person however, I have changed from the inexperienced, often immature person I was and my skills in programming and
web-design have changed just as radically.
These letters have been republished to give deep insight into the way I tick, and to show a lot of background work
that lead up to the concepts and skills needed to produce this website, which ultimately I failed to do so back
About the Letter
My over-emotional behaviour shows through here. I over reacted, grand-standed and was a general arse, hell-bent on
having things my way. That said, it was a valid fact that changing from top-down to iso
three years into the project was hardly a sign of nearing completion. The biggest hurdle to progress in the project
was democratisation of everything and I tried to change that (badly) but it was already too late to turn the ship
The second half of the letter I am trying to plead a case for ‘design’. I had come to feel that nobody was
listening to me and my long, tiring and heavily bigoted arguments did not help. I didn’t have any perspective to
draw from so all I had was this belief that only I could do things right, and everybody else was wrong.
Kroc Camen Writes
Damn bad luck. This is the third letter I’m now writing, having lost the first one in a crash,
the second one arriving a day after you flew out to Canada and now I hope this damn third one gets there!!
There’s a copy of my previous letter included, plus a
photo graphic print¹ I didn’t get to
include the first time I sent the second letter and of course, this the third attempt at reaching you. Well just
in-between letter two and three so much bad stuff has happened that I don’t know if I’m going to be able to fit
it all on this letter.
For starters there’s some really bad news, bad news at a bad time. Having only just left for Canada and your two
year trip it saddens me greatly to tell you that I’m no longer a member of
The story is a long one, but here goes:
As you know we’ve pretty much started from scratch since the changing to TLA
and it came up the decision to use 2D or isometric. Flat level isometric got the winning vote for the game. But it
wasn’t until a little after that, that things started going downhill. Now you know that so far my main input is
the map editor—MapApp. I posted an order of operations laying down a new constructive phase for the team. Each
member was going to work on an In House Tool and keep in communication with other members for making decisions as we
meet them. I had to build MapApp, Asuka the game engine, Vegeta the Character Editor, Clint—tilesets and
experimental artwork and finally DragonFyre—experimental music and demos.
Now that I had laid the new order down I realised that converting MapApp to iso was going to be a true pain in the
arse, and that’s just the start of the problems. Y’see you may know that MapApp has been re-programmed from
complete scratch 5 times to reach it’s latest incarnation. Originally it was RPGMaker, and there were two versions
of that, then after that came two versions of MapMaker and then finally MapApp. The reason it’s been re-written so
many times is that each time the code has become so messy the program eventually fell totally apart. So after
HoTMeaL, I started MapApp, the ultimate Map Editor written with ultra clean code. Having re-written the editor so
many times and having written many, many more editors in the past I feel safe to say that I know exactly how long
it’ll take to change any part of the program. I know it inside out. In fact it would be exactly the same if I
suggested, for example—Add a batch wizard to photodemon². You’d know exactly how long that would take and how
much work it would be, but I wouldn’t have a clue.
So in exactly the same way you can understand that despite people’s claims that “you only need to convert it to
iso”—it’s actually a bit more work than that—in fact it is a complete re-write from scratch amount of work.
That might sound over the top, but just like you know Photodemon, I know MapApp and I could quote you down to the
minute how long it would take to do any changes on it. So I wasn’t too happy with changing MapApp to iso, but
that’s only the start…
For starters I was not happy with this “back to square one” choice of iso. It meant
that I had to dump a perfectly good editor leaving the team nothing to show for themselves at all. And I wasn’t
prepared to spend a month re-writing MapApp into iso. Problem 2 is so, so grand, so macroscopic, so long-term
important that goes beyond saying that problem 2 will either make, or break
Problem 2 is Fundamental Isometric Design. There exist a few good games done in isometric, it has its place in the
annals of game history but when it comes to classic map walking RPG’s (And not fighting RPG’s like Diablo) then
isometric really isn’t ideal. Multi level isometric is a trade off, since it allows you to have ramps, hills and
stuff like that to liven the game up and re-create most of which is possible in 2D design. But the team decided on
Flat level isometric is a curse. In flat level, programming effort is spared by having all tiles either flat or a
wall. Therefore in flat level iso it is not possible to have stairs, ramps, or hills or anything remotely
interesting. Now if reprogramming MapApp wasn’t enough trouble, I then have to deal with trying to make maps using
a completely boring system, can you imagine an RPG that hasn’t a single flight of stairs? The team are not
designers, I am. But my pleas for them to not use iso and go with 2D were not heard, because the programmers thought
iso was easy and there was no reason. They of course were thinking on a programmatical level and not considering at
all the need to have fun, engaging and interactive game maps that people can enjoy.
To cut weeks worth of arguments down, it goes like this:
- Kroc posts an overriding decision to use in game 2D for the good of the project, because nobody was
listening to reason before hand
- Replies read along the lines of “Fuck you, you ain’t my boss”
- Kroc begs for team to go 2D because great map design is key to a great game
- More off topic replies from the programmers, thinking strictly programmatically again
- Kroc begs more and states that he’ll have to leave if the team sticks with iso because he’s unprepared
to re-do the whole of MapApp and is not motivated towards iso
- More off topic replies relating to how “easy” it is to program iso, and completely ignoring the far more
important fact of game design
- Kroc leaves and nobody bats an eye-lid. They are sorry to see me leave but would rather stick with a
decision that they could change then keep me
Leaving may seem drastic, but I had plenty of careful thought, I’m not motivated or driven towards iso. Flat iso
maps are boring and lame and I don’t want to make a boring game, ’nuff said. The
team have decided and stuck with it, I don’t want to go a direction that I’m not happy with. So after a year of
service it’s good bye, but it’s sad to say that the project has had it’s doom sealed.
Tanner, I’m on this team to give what I can. That special gift I have is design, it’s a beautiful gift that I
can give to the team to improve the project and now that I’m no longer there I can’t give that and the team is
honestly doomed to mediocrity.
In the industry, teams always have a lead designer, and it’s the role of the programmers to realise the designs of
the team designer, programmers do not design games because you would end up with naff games like
soul of sphere³.
This lack of respect for my position as one of the most important positions in the team has lead to the team losing
the only person on the team who is capable of making this project a “commercial quality” game, since
‘design’ is the bringing together of media and programming to create something special.
Even with naff graphics a game can be great—it’s all down to its design. And a website might not be an ideal
example, but I’m as good with game / map design as I am with web-sites.
SoulOfSphere is sure, a technical achievement for it’s programmers but there’s not a single decent designer on
the team and as such, the game is a b’zillion miles away from ever being called “Commercial Quality”.
I’m going to show you something that is going to make this concept clear as day, the following is a program a
friend is writing, it’s a wizard. Metaphorically let’s say this represents the game that the team makes.
And this is metaphorically speaking the same game, but with me designing it—the code is the same, and it does the
And that’s what the team is missing out on without me. Unfortunately they don’t realise that and perhaps it
would’ve been different had you been there.
Well anyway, despite my pleas and my begging for the team to change their mind to 2D, it hasn’t happened so I
won’t be staying with the team, ish.
There’s nobody on the team, or this planet for that matter, that’s gonna be able to be the team’s webmaster.
So I am staying on as the webmaster but I don’t have access to the forums (other than the web / updates forum).
It’s a big shame that I won’t be able to lend my talents to the team, and worse is that the team will be without
me, and the game won’t be as great as it can be (certainly not commercial quality).
Tragic as it is, I must move on. I have Badly Drawn Adventure (ProjectY) and I intend to complete this to show to
the team, and to the world, that I’m capable of creating a great game, one that wins over bad graphics with style
and design. To put it frank, a big “up yours” to anybody who never trusted me or believed me
On the note of MSP5⁴, I did get around to posting it but was locked out of
the forums the day after so I never got to see if there were any replies
. I asked Clint if he could e-mail the
replies so I could forward them to you, but he said that he was also thinking of writing to you and would send them
your way himself.
Less About Me:
And as is with tradition, at least 90% of all my mail is usually all about me
. So let’s change from my
depressing stories and ask you a few questions.
How has your schedule been so far? I heard you were very busy and short on time; now you’re at
Canada has there been any changes?
Are you adjusting to life without computers?
And how’s the food?
Well, that’s all there is to say really, s’pose I should wrap this letter up now.