Camen Design

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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 then.

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 around.

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!! angry

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 TLA. :(

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 TLA’s future.

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.


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:

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.

A plain looking installation wizard screen

And this is metaphorically speaking the same game, but with me designing it—the code is the same, and it does the same thing.

A jazzed up version of the previous wizard screen

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 :D. So let’s change from my depressing stories and ask you a few questions.

  1. 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?

  2. Are you adjusting to life without computers?

  3. And how’s the food? :D

Well, that’s all there is to say really, s’pose I should wrap this letter up now.

Until Later,

Kroc Camen.