Interview With Judy Tyrer Of 3 Turn Productions, Developers Of Ever, Jane
I recently had the chance to sit down with Judy Tyrer, the CEO of 3 Turn Productions, the company behind the Jane Austen-inspired Ever, Jane. The game was successfully Kickstarted in December, 2013 to the tune of $109,563. We talked about how development has gone since the Kickstarter, where the game is at now, what some of the overall goals for the game experience are, and more.
Me: How many people are currently working on Ever, Jane?
Tyrer: We have a team of ten people, but they’re not all working on it at once. That includes our composer and a couple of part-time artists. Working full-time, I have myself, Renee, Sarah, and Doug. There’s four people full-time and then Anabelle, Ike, and Jason work part-time.
Where is the game currently in terms of the Kickstarter’s list of iterations?
Well, we had to drop a lot of features. That list was based on having additional revenue come in to help back it and we don’t have that right now. So we dropped all the mini-games. The only mini-game we have right now is the balls. They haven’t been polished. Actually, the gameplay is okay, but the people are hot pink because we changed the character models. That’s coming up in the next iteration.
We call ourselves Closed Beta. We were supposed to launch in January. We’ll be launching Open Beta in January. We hope to launch the game in March.
Even though you’ve dropped all of the mini-games, are you still planning to incorporate the tiered subscription system?
Yes. Not to start with. A lot of things are going to be added post-launch. What you see right now is an introduction to all of the infrastructure. Particularly, the Sabotage quest is where we have multiple roles. Each person in the quest has a different role. They have different instructions and different things they’re supposed to do. That’s the core gameplay that we have there, and hopefully we’ll have 20 or more stories that people can jump into.
The hierarchy and all of that will come in after we’ve done open beta. We’ll start working on the subscription models and how all of that works. We still have all of the stuff for the Kickstarter to give people their rewards.
We’ve added one feature since the Kickstarter—that’s really a lot of fun—called the Dollhouse. Basically, it is the ability in your home to change the wallpaper, the floors, the ceiling treatments, and to move all of the furniture around. To treat it like a dollhouse, which is why we call it that. Everybody can change their own home. They’re not just stuck with whatever we give them.
So there’s that and the ballroom. Our first ball will be post-launch, but we will put a dance instructor in the ballroom and people can learn to do the dance and how the gameplay works for that.
Each character has a story arc. You are coming into the game as a student of either Mrs. Hatch or Mr. Button. These parts are being added as we go along, but you have to meet certain levels so that you can come out of school. Once you come out of school, and that whole story arc is through, then you get married and there’s the developing of your legacy. The legacy will be added once we’ve launched.
What will the legacy consist of?
You start in the school. To get out of school you have to join a family. You have to have mastered a certain level of the dance. Then you come out of school. It’s a three act sort of thing. So you come out of school and as a player you join your family, you start dating, you find your mate, or you may choose not to. We allow what we call “the spinster life.” If you choose to marry, then there will be children involved. We are not going to have children in the game, but there will be the assumption that as players come in, they become your children.
At the very end you set up your legacy, which is how you will inherit when you bring a new character into the world to play once that character has played out their lifetime. So basically we have reincarnation. So your legacy is to set up your reincarnation. It is only a forty year period in history that we’re covering, but my experience in playing MMOs is that time becomes so shrunk, so intense, that within six months players are going to want to have their characters married and through their whole lives and ready to move on. We won’t have moved through enough of the time period in that time. So that’s why we’re doing reincarnation.
How is the caste system going to work with all of the mini-games taken out?
The same way it did. The mini-games will come back in. There won’t be much for your servant class to do other than their own series of stories and quests, as well.
We have redefined quests as stories. We’re trying to get everybody to refer to them as stories, rather than quests, but that will take time. What will happen as we add stories is that we will begin adding those storylines. So we’ll be adding some stories for the servant class. There’s a task list. We’ll be adding daily tasks to that that will sort of help. Mini-games will be coming in slowly over time.
We’ll be launching a minimally viable product that is very minimal. I wish it were more, but we really have had to focus on getting the core game pulled together.
You said that you were depending on extra funding coming in. Does that mean that pre-order sales didn’t go well or that you didn’t end up with extra investors?
I had not yet gotten extra investors. I was looking to get some equity investors—and still am. My business plan is currently in the hands of somebody who’s professional because I got to a point where I did all I could with it, but it just didn’t have what it takes to get investors yet. So I’m working with someone who is able to work with me on how to get additional equity investors involved.
I read that families are going to be based on player score. How does player score work?
Right now, families are very loosely based. There’s a family button and, if you bring it up, it gives you eight options of what you can do with the person that’s targeted. They have to approve of it. Right now, it’s very primitive.
That part of the story will evolve. We need the families. We need people to be able to form them in order to many of the stories that we have coming out right now. The first two, Wretched Beginning and Sabotage, you don’t need to be in a family. To go through In Want of a Spouse you have to actually have parents. There’s another quest coming up where you escape to Gretna Green and it becomes a race between the parents who are trying to stop this elopement and the couple that is trying to elope.
So we set up the families very roughly. Right now, scoring is turned off. It’s only working for invitations and the stories. When we turn it back on, what will happen is that your family score will influence your personal score and vice-versa. What we want to create is: In Pride and Prejudice, there was a great deal of trauma when Lydia goes off and elopes and actually doesn’t get married and they have to get her married and they have to save the family. We want that kind of dramatic tension so that, if you have a player in your family that’s just really doing horrible things and it’s giving your family a bad reputation, that becomes a whole role-play element in and of itself.
So you said there were twenty stories that are available now?
No, right now there are four. There are twenty in the pipeline, but there are only four that are out. The next task that I’m going to take now that I’ve seen players wrestle with the system a little bit; we’re going to make some changes to make it a little bit easier for them to understand. Right now, people really aren’t understanding how it works. We have to make that a lot simpler.
For example, Sabotage is an ordered quest. You get the volumes based on who’s joined. Instead of doing that, I think it would be easier for people if I just bring up a quest and it says, “which of these roles do you want to play?” and then you click on the role and then it tells you what you have to do to qualify for the story. Right now, you’re just getting too much information and people aren’t able to sort through it.
So we need two things out of the Closed Beta. We need to get more players in the world at the same time so we can see where our bottlenecks are and we are trying to get this intro story smooth and flowing.
People are in. They’re playing a lot—at night, especially. But all they’re doing is their own roleplay. They’re not letting us help them with their roleplay, which is what we want to do. We want to throw plot bunnies at them. So you’re kind of like “well, what should we do for roleplay tonight?” “Let’s go look at the library and see what stories are available. Oh this story looks like fun. Let’s play it.”
Stories should each have multiple chapters. Right now, we only have one chapter of each one. In Sabotage, there are three people. It’s a love triangle. In the second chapter, we’re going to have a binary branch based on whether the gossip was heard first or whether there’s some romantic thing that happened before the gossip was heard and the reputation was ruined. In some ways, what we’re trying to do is have you open books and you join stories, and that sort of helps the roleplay move along.
For the mini-games, we do have one mini-game that’s finished. The design is finished. It’s sewing. I pulled mini-games out very early when I realized that we just had an enormous mountain of tasks. The mini-games will play similarly to the balls in terms of there being a separate sort of scene that you’re in that does it for you.
What exactly marked the end of alpha and the beginning of beta?
The time in the year, actually, is part of it. We’re actually late going into Closed Beta. Everything is in the game that is going in the game. There are no major features that are missing. We have all the major features done at at least a proof of concept level. A lot of them are a little bit higher. That is really what we marked it as. Once all of the features were in and we were starting to polish them, that was when we would call it a Closed Beta. We would reach a minimum level of polish.
There are bugs. There’s art bugs. There’s programming bugs. You can get stuck. One thing I put in in this patch is the ability to re-get all of your data because there are race conditions that haven’t been solved.
Basically, we really need a lot of people playing for the next six months so that we can just nail everything down. That’s what we’re working on. It’s marketing. This is the real world. We run out of money. I have a budget. It can pay for everybody and there’s a moment when we run out of money. We have to launch before that happens and make sure we get enough revenue that that moment doesn’t happen.
That’s the scary part. It’s a lot of fun but I have to make payroll. I actually feel that this is actually a good thing. We’re a new company and we have a lot of financial constraints. That’s forcing us to be creative in ways that I think are really positive. I think if I had twice the team, obviously I’d have a better game, but would it be twice better or would it be just a third better because we’re not quite ready to handle a bigger team yet?
You know, 39 Studios. I look at that as a dire warning of what can happen if you grow to fast and you don’t stay on top of things. It was really sad. Actually, our producer was there. Sarah, who we now have as our producer, was a member of that team. She said it was the best place ever to work. It was wonderful. They were all having a blissfully, incredibly great time. But it was chaos and then it was over.
So those are the constraints. We had a pretty good Kickstarter, but that money is long, long gone. That’s one thing we are going to do. We’re going to put together the pie chart that shows where all of the money went so that people can know that their Kickstarter money pretty much entirely went to the main artist. I’m hoping that will be helpful.
It’s coming. What you’re looking at is “it’s coming along.”
We have the sheep outside. And there will be chickens. We don’t have the chickens in yet. If you look at the lifestyle there, there were just animals running around everywhere. One of the exciting things about the sheep that I’m going to effervesce about a little bit is that we’re bringing in some history. One of the things that excites me the most about this game is being able to teach a bit of history.
Enclosure was started in the 1790s. That was when it just started. It’s a big political issue of “do you enclose these village greens or do you leave them public so that everyone can use them?” There are arguments on both sides, but this is really the beginning of a level of poverty that the world never saw before when common people were no longer able to have access to the forests and could no longer go hunting for whatever was out there.
I want to have that hierarchy because I want to depict that level of poverty that started. It used to be, before the Enclosure Acts, that if you needed firewood, you went into the forest and you picked wood. Then suddenly, you couldn’t.
I hope we get some interesting debates about enclosure and the value of it. We have plans for each town to vote for itself which way it goes. So the plan includes changing the texture of the ground to be less green and more dirty if you have your farmers overgrazing public lands.
The argument for getting rid of public lands is that people were overgrazing and they weren’t taking care of the land. It was destroying the land. I think that will be kind of a fun thing. The sheep quest begins to introduce that with the concept of enclosure.
So we’re doing some of those little things. It will be up to the player if they grab those little things and run with them or if it’s just my fantasy that they will. But we’re putting a lot of that kind of stuff into the world.
I think the potential is there. Now that all of the features are in the game and everything’s running and working, we’re really seeing where we have to put our design effort into player engagement. I think that’s our biggest weakness right now.
I’m working on a new scene right now for the players that don’t know anything. We had a number of players saying “I don’t know how to move around. I can’t even move around in the world.” So we have a whole scene that we’re adding that is nothing but moving forward, moving backward, strafing sideways, and clicking on things, just to get people who aren’t used to playing games used to the interface.
We’re going to change the way we bring people into the stories. Lure them in a little more. Maybe start stories without having to go to the bookshelf. Mrs. Hatch’s quest used to be started as soon as you walked into the room. We may change that back.
I know we can do it. It’s just the time it takes and it’s one of those places where coming in from the software industry is wonderful because I can do all of this brilliant coding, but my design skills I need to really work on to get that player engagement.
UI is hard. It’s a lot harder than I realized until I had to start doing it myself. It seems so intuitive to you and then somebody else comes in and it’s not even remotely intuitive to them. The highlight on the question mark isn’t big enough. People don’t understand that, as you go along, suddenly that’s going to highlight and you click on it and it will tell you what to do. I have to get them trained to always look and go “oh, it’s highlighting, it’s going to tell me what to do next,” and get them used to that interface. Then they’ll always do it and it’ll be part of the game, but starting in that habit is hard.
Then, if you get into gossip, trying to train people to gossip in a syntax that we can understand is another aspect. Our gossip UI has to train people how to gossip. So there’s a lot of clicking, but once you understand how to do it, we can take the clicking away. You can just type it in, it’ll be perfect. But right now we have to train people the order. It’s “who, what, when, where, and why.” You have to train them how to do it. Tell me who did what to whom and teaching them to do that has been a challenge.
Is the text-based gossip system in-game currently?
The whole gossip system, the sleuthing system, everything is in. For sleuthing, the player responses aren’t in, but the AI responses are in. We had to do some tweaking to the player responses.
That is also one of the things that will affect your score. If you’re being gossipped about it could ruin your status. Eventually, your score, if people keep gossipping about you and you don’t stop them, could go down. It will go down slowly—very slowly—because it’s something you have little control over and players like to have a sense of control. At some point you’re going to have to stop the gossip or it’ll destroy your reputation.
So that’s set up. There’s a little algorithm that works so you can start guessing what people said about you and, eventually, you’ll get hints that say “oh this is in the right direction. Keep asking about this.” It’s a little bit of Clue, Mastermind, and “you’re getting warmer, you’re getting colder” all rolled into one.
Ever, Jane is currently scheduled to launch in January. You can buy into the Beta on the official website for $25.