Meet Charlie Dean, Community Engineer

We caught up with dot big bang Community Engineer Charlie Dean to find out how the Hub World fishing mechanic came together, what choices were made, what challenges it presented – and what makes designing games fun.

One of the main activities in dot big bang’s recently launched Hub World social area is fishing. When a player approaches a red-marked fishing deck, they get a hat and rod, and can cast towards the fish lurking and flitting below the surface. Each fishing spot has different species, with different behaviour. The top anglers are featured on a leaderboard, and players can sell their catch at stalls dotted around the area. It’s been an instant hit with players.

What was the goal of adding a fishing game to Hub World?
Our previous Social Alpha had been somewhat popular with players, and some folks spent a lot of time in it. We wanted to give them more to do.

We want to create an expansive shared playground with various activities to do without breaking the sense of being in a “place” with other players. We also wanted to give players a way to earn some in-game currency with which to buy customizations, like pets.

Fishing is the first of numerous fun activities to come.

How did you and the team come up with the idea?
Fishing is a “multiplayer” activity which players can perform asynchronously, with or without each other, and with no restriction upon each other. This makes it well-suited to a “public square” sort of environment, where people may be just passing through, or may want to spend time together. It’s also a peaceful minigame which fits the vibe of the hub world while still being engaging.

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What was the biggest challenge in making it come together, and how did you overcome it?
Honestly, a lot of the difficulty was in over-engineering at the beginning. A blank canvas can be paradoxically stultifying sometimes. I had never made anything of this sort, and I don’t play many fishing games. Worrying about the game being too simple led to planning and debate, most of which would ultimately be a sunk cost in time and creativity. Having said that, a useful creative strategy is to indulge in periods of wild and expansive production of ideas followed by longer periods of pruning and cultivation of what you produced.

In developing any game, things progress much faster once you have a “core loop” of gameplay in place that you can iterate on. Having some kind of feedback loop, even if you’re the only player much of the time, is essential. Once you’ve started actually making the product, it becomes much clearer which of your assumptions are valid and which ones aren’t, and it is a lot easier to measure against a real game than it is to work on ideas only.

I guess my opinion is: the best way to design something is to start working on it, and the problems will reveal themselves to you. For example: Early on, there was a suggestion for diegetic fish swimming around and interacting with the fishing rod. I thought this would be much harder than implementing a complex 2D rhythm game to catch the fish. But, once I actually gave designing swimming fish a try, it was surprisingly straightforward to make something usable, and Jon (aka Voxeleus, dot big bang’s artist – Ed) was all too prepared to make us some beautiful, segmented, voxelicious fish.

What did you look to for inspiration?
We looked at fishing minigames across a number of different publishers and platforms, and looked at games entirely about fishing as well. It was important to make it easy to pick up, without being overly simplistic. We wanted our fishing mechanics to land somewhere along the spectrum of what you see in other games, albeit a bit closer to the simple end.

We also looked at games like “Meep City” on Roblox, which is a community-driven game with lots of fun, light activities such as fishing or roleplaying food service. In the present climate, people have been restricted from spending as much time together in person as they otherwise would, and relaxed multiplayer experiences can help alleviate loneliness for some of those people.

Were there other ideas you looked into?
Yes, we debated several possibilities and discussed fishing mini-games from numerous existing titles, trying to find a good balance between features and ease of entry. We considered having different lures or baits, but currently, simply having different fish available in different locations feels sufficient to support the level of gameplay we are encouraging. We also have unused functionality, such as having fish that spawn only at certain times of day, or under other conditions. In the future, it’s possible we may introduce some of these abandoned features.

We also had complex plans, involving simulations and spreadsheets, for balancing the fishing economy, which so far has not been done diligently. We will get more serious about it if it proves to be necessary, in practice.

What is it about programming that you enjoy?
This is difficult to answer concisely, for me. The simplest answer is probably “agency.” It is gratifying to delegate and coordinate other processes to accomplish a goal in the aggregate.

Programming, or more broadly, game dev on the whole, is a marriage of things I like. It’s mostly linguistic, to my brain at least, but frequently detours into fun mathematics. It has nigh-infinite breadth and depth, with fun and interesting problems throughout, as well as different sorts of tasks to manage.

I enjoy organizing and cleaning, delineating, classifying, things like that. The most fun I have in development is when I find that I can replace a complex or circuitous path with a simpler, straighter one. I like to bring order to things, and to watch them come together under my stewardship.

Programming is ordering your sock drawer, collecting cool rocks on a field trip, writing a novella, climbing a mountaintop, scouring a stubborn bit of dry macaroni stuck to your favorite dinner plate. Everything we do is a process, and finding the right process is half the fun, and half of the work of solving any problem.

Follow Charlie on Twitter here.
Play Hub World here.

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