Turning Ideas Into Ages

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This is a tutorial page.
 

So you have an idea for an Age, eh? Maybe it came to you while commuting to work or school, or you had dreams of a place that has captivated you. However the idea arrived in your head, you're now looking for a way to turn it into someplace to visit in URU. But how?

Consider this a roadmap for the journey you're about to take. Just as in Uru Live, you can go at it alone or together. And in case you get lost (which has happened to many a great idea), you can always return here to find your way back.

Preparations

Up until now, you probably haven't described your idea to anyone. Before you start the process and get valuable feedback, there are some preparations to make first.

Prepare your idea

Here are some suggestions on preparing your idea for the masses.

  • Give it a name. Your Age will need some way to refer to it. It can be a working title for now, to be changed once you go into production. If you want to make a name in the D'ni language, consult the D'ni Dictionary.
  • Make it compelling. Think of this as a sales pitch: you'll need to capture the audience's attention and make them want to visit your Age. So, make your idea's description compelling: mention the things they can see and do in your Age that they won't find anywhere else. Give it a purpose, which means that you should provide a good background story. Here are some related links:
  • Follow the rules. Make sure your Age idea follows RAWA's Guidelines For Writing - especially if it refers to any of the D'ni history.
  • Make it readable. People have a tendancy to fixate on bad spelling and/or grammar instead of your idea. So, have a friend proofread it for you.
  • Keep some things secret. If your Age has any puzzles or mysteries, keep those details separate from the main idea. You can still collaborate on these items, but wait until you've established an Age team first - the general public doesn't need to know everything!
  • If English is your second language: Unless you are completely fluent, consider writing two versions of your idea - one in your native language, and one in English (use Google Translate, then ask an English friend to correct the mistakes). People from around the world read these forums, so the chances are good that someone who speaks the same language as you will provide feedback.

Prepare Yourself

You personally will need to prepare for this upcoming project. Here are some suggestions.

  • Learn to take criticism well. By placing your idea in the public eye, you will receive all kinds of responses. Hope for the best, but always brace yourself for criticism. You can look through the negative comments for something constructive which will ultimately improve your idea. Plus, others may think of something you did not, so the more eyes that review it, the better.
  • Be prepared to lead the project. You alone have the vision for your Age, and you need to be with it to its completion. If you feel that you don't have leadership skills, you might be able to find someone else to assume that role. But in any case, you must find some way to contribute to the project: writer, modeler, textures, sounds - anything. If you only provide the idea and walk away, expecting others to turn it into an Age for you, then you'll be disappointed. The Age will only come into being if you stay to the end - and only if you spend a lot of time contributing to it.
  • Learn from other's mistakes. Many people have tried to create new Ages, but for some reason or another, they never got to the end. Find out what worked and what did not, and file that information away for your project.
    • For a discussion of one failed Age project, click here.

Alternative: Keep it to yourself

Perhaps you are planning on making this Age by yourself - so why share the idea with others? That's fine. However, it would be a shame if you spend a lot of time creating your Age and sharing it with the world, only to have someone point out a fundamental flaw in the concept.

If you don't plan on working with others, then skip the next step.

Share Your Idea

You and your idea are now ready for the public. Here's how to get some feedback.

  • Post it on the Storytellers forum. This is where new ideas spring up most often. Be sure to withold any spoilers - save those for your Age team later on.
  • Engage in discussion. When people provide suggestions, ask them for more details if something is not clear - particularly if they provide vague comments like, "I don't like it."
  • If you don't get any responses: Don't expect to hear back immediately. Give it a week or so. If you still haven't heard anything, try sending a PM to people that you know for their opinion - but have them post their reply on the forums. That will bring their comments into the public eye and help generate a discussion. And be sure to thank that person for taking the time to comment.
    • Alternatively, you can post your idea on the Creativity section of the MOUL forums - that has a much wider audience, for better or for worse.
    • Many Writers prefer to work alone or in private. If you are a new member and have only an idea, it is possible no one will respond because no one wants to write your age for you. If you have concept art, music, models to show off, or some kind of a starting point to show off, you will be much more likely to get a response.

Visualize Your Idea

Sometimes, a bunch of text just doesn't do justice to an Age. People respond better to images; it makes the place seem more real. This will help spark a discussion on your Age concept like nothing else.

  • Decide what to visualize. Imagine walking through your Age and what you would encounter along the way. Choose one or more of the following that will best help convey your idea: a layout of the Age, buildings (exteriors/interiors), landscape, plants, animals, mechanisms.
  • Recruit an artist. Find an available concept sketch artist on the Age Creation Team roster. Send them a PM with a link to your idea's post, and provide them a list of the items you want to be sketched.
  • Ask a Cartogropher to make a map. Believe it or not, the Guild of Cartographers can provide maps for Ages that don't yet exist. Just post a request over on the GoC Tasking Thread. Natales (the acting Grand Master) regularly watches this thread and should respond in a few days.
  • Find photos online. Your Age may resemble something in real life. Use Google's image search to locate photos of places similar to your Age, or of items in your Age.
  • Post the images. Once you have some images, make a new post over in the Artists forum. Provide a caption for each image that relates it to something in your Age so that people know what they're seeing. That will guide the discussion that follows.

Even if you are making this Age by yourself, it is still useful to have some concept images handy in order to guide its development.

Sounds May Help, Too

While most of us are primarily visual people, we are also affected by what we hear. You could find (or even compose) music that captures the spirit of your Age. Or you could provide environmental sounds for certain areas. Post these over at the Musicians forum, linking to your original Age concept topic. You could recruit a composer or a sound effects artist to produce a sample for you - just check the Age Creation Team roster for someone available.

Obtain a FCAL

Now that your concept is fleshed out, you're ready to get approval for your idea from Cyan. This step is optional to get your Age out, and opinions disagree on whether it should be done or not. Many Writers believe that with the advent of Open Source URU that ages that follow RAWA's guidelines are allowed to be released.

Below are the steps to obtaining a fan-created art license (FCAL) for your Age.

  • Create a full write up. This can be in any electronic form: a web page, Wiki page, or a Word document. Be sure to include all concept art and any spoilers that you've been keeping secret.
  • Send the idea to Cyan. Compose an email to legal AT cyan.com that contains your concept as an attachment. The subject should be "FCAL Request For Age Concept". In the body of the message, request a fan created art license for your Age concept. NOTE: it may take a month (or two) to receive a reply. Be patient.
  • If you do not receive a response: Cyan is a small and busy company. After a month has passed, email them again to make sure your FCAL is on the to-do list.

Build Your Team

With your Age concept vetted and approved, you are ready to form an Age creation team. Visit the Age Creation Team roster and find someone in each skill column that is available. Send each person a PM asking if they'd like to join your team.

You should also set up a collaborative environment for your team to communicate. There's different means for doing this.

  • Request an Age project forum. These forums are the ideal way to communicate to the rest of your team. Send a PM to Kato requesting the creation of a dedicated forum for your Age. You can also make some portions of it private, to hide the spoilers from the public eye.
  • Make an Age Wiki page. This is great for keeping the latest information about your Age in one place: maps, sketches, progress tracking, team roster, etc. And anyone on your team can edit it. To create such a page, just edit the Ongoing Age Projects Wiki page and add a link to your yet-to-exist Age page. After editing, click on the link, and you'll get a blank page.
  • Request a journal. The project journals are better suited for solo projects because you are the only one who can create topics.

Notes About Volunteers

It should be noted that the people on your team are not being paid to create your Age. Like you, all the work is being done in their free time. Here's some advice on working with an all-volunteer team.

  • Find duplicates/replacements. Everyone on your team - including you - can suddenly disappear from the project, for a variety of reasons: real life priorities, disagreement with the team, boredom, etc. To prepare for this, find an alternate for each position on the team. Some people can serve in more than one role, so other team members can be the backup - however, their workload will double.
  • Set milestones, not deadlines. It is unrealistic to set target dates for completion because of the reasons cited above. Instead, set a series of objectives to meet: by area, by level of completion (e.g. 50% modeling finished, 50% texturing completed, etc). That way, you can get a good sense of how far you've come, and how long you have to go.
    • If people want to set their own deadlines: that's fine. You can ask them periodically how things are going and whether they want to change their date. Be gentle and understanding whenever asking about schedules. There can be a lot of emotion on these issues. Leadership is about how well you handle the issues.
  • Meet frequently. Make sure everyone checks in at least once a week. This will not only keep up the momentum, but will also serve to tell you who has disappeared.
  • Have patience. Cyan's Ages took 6-9 months to complete, and they were working on them full time. Volunteers are working on them maybe 5-10% of the work week, so it will take many times longer to finish. Age creation is not for the impatient.
  • Manage your expectations. Even if you happened to get artists on your team with the same skill set as Cyan, producing an Age in 6-9 months on a part-time schedule will not look nearly as good as one produced on a full-time schedule. Given that your team probably doesn't have Cyan-level caliber artists, you really should lower your expectations. And yet: you should be proud of whatever your team accomplishes.
    • If your first choice of a team member is not available: the experienced people are in demand and will most likely not be available for your Age. But you can ask if they could serve as an advisor, providing help to the corresponding novice member on your team.

Build Your Age

You have a team, and you're ready to start creating! What do you do first? Here's a rough outline of the building process. Note: this portion of the entire Age creation process will take up the most time.

  • Get the necessary tools. See Creating Ages for more information.
  • Obtain an Age sequence prefix. This unique number will identify your Age to URU. Click here to learn how to obtain this number from Uru Library Manager. If you don't obtain a unique number, you run the risk of crashing URU if another Age with the same number is in your URU's dat directory.
  • Finalize your layout map. If you still don't have a map for your Age, now is the time to make one. This will be the master blueprint, and your team should be in agreement of the layout before proceding to create geometry. Find an artist that specializes in maps and/or level design.
    • NOTE: Producing such a map will help a fledgling artist qualify for membership in either the Cartographers or Fine Artists Guilds.
  • Start with a "massing model". This term came from RAWA's OOC description of Phase 2 of an Age's development. It has no textures and is very simplistic, but it gives everyone a feel for the size and layout of the Age. This version can be used for preliminary testing of the game play and logic scripts.
  • Use a sandbox Age for case studies. There is at least one crucial piece of an Age (e.g. puzzle mechanisms, plant/animal life, journals) that will require more work (and time) than the rest of the Age. Rather than subjecting your team to intermediate (and buggy) versions of these items in the main Age, try creating a separate Age to test these objects. When they're ready, you can transition them to the main Age.
  • Divide and conquer. Many people, and one .blend file: how do you all work on the same Age without overwriting each other's changes? One way is to split the Age into separate pages, and give each team member a page to complete. Use a separate .blend file for each page, but make sure they all have the same "book" text object. By choosing the "Export as Age, per-page textures" option, you can export just your page's items, then test it out in the main Age. Ahra Pahts is an example that uses this approach.
  • Consider configuration management. It sure helps to have a central place to keep all the Age's various files (.blend, textures, sound files, scripts). You can use versioning control software to do this, plus you get the added benefit of storing older versions - very handy when someone screws up one of the data files. Some examples of versioning control software include Subversion and GIT.
    • When not using version control software: it is essential that you keep incremental versions of your work, e.g., by incrementing a version number in the .blend file name, or by using a new folder for each version. Do this every 2-4 hours. Even if Blender doesn't crash on you, it is possible (even probable) that a change you make breaks the entire Age, and that you can't find the error. Having a recent version tucked away means you can revert to it, losing only a little work. Having only one version means you could lose WEEKS of work.
  • Add placeholders for future expansion. During the Age creation process, you may discover areas that could be expanded - beyond what you were originally planning. Rather than pursuing each of these new ideas, and delaying the finish date of your project, just put some sort of placeholder for now: a sealed door, an impassable obstruction to a path, etc. And save these new ideas for future reference: either as a separate post in your Age's forums, or in a section on your Age's Wiki page.
    • If there's too much to do: your Age may be too big to complete in a reasonable amount of time. Or, perhaps it is taking much longer than you thought. Find a way to seal off the unfinished areas using a placeholder as described above. You can always return to that area after your Age is released. Plus, it gives people a reason to re-visit your Age, once you eventually complete that area.

"I'm Stuck!"

It is almost certain that your team will run into a problem with getting your Age to work correctly. Don't get stuck: ask for help, because it is almost certain that someone else has had the same problem.

  • Check the FAQs. We are attempting to track common issues and post solutions to them. Please read these first before going on to the next step.
  • Post for help on the forums. Depending on the problem, choose the appropriate forum:

Test your Age

The Maintainer's task.
If your team is at a point where the Age is nearly complete, then it's time to bring in the Maintainers. They'll explore your Age in different ways than your team has; consequently, they'll find more issues. Here's how to get your Age inspected.
  • Upload your Age. Currently, there are no common file servers available for Ages to be inspected. So, you'll need to find some publicly accessible server space for your Age files. If you don't have any, post a request for space on the General Discussion forums; someone should respond.
    • NOTE: Don't make your Age available via Uru Age Manager yet - it is intended for finished Ages.
  • Test Your Age: Often, there are glitches or things that don't work quite as expected when an age is "finished". You should test your age all along, but other people are essential in finding problems that you might miss! You know how your age should behave, but other people don't, so they will find problems that you won't.
    • Ask a friend: Ask a friend to test your age before you! Send them a link to your uploaded age files (you did upload them somewhere, didn't you?)
    • Add your Age to OpenUru.org. OpenUru.org maintains a bug tracking service for Ages, which is much better for tracking discovered issues than the forum. Have all members of your team register on JIRA so that they can track bugs.
  • Respond to discovered issues. You be notified of problems in your Age via one of two means: bug reports in JIRA, or postings on the forum. Once you've fixed the issue, upload a new version of your Age and let the Maintainers know this in JIRA.
    • NOTE: You and your team should be on standby to fix these issues, meaning that they should plan on being in town for the week.

Publish your Age

Congratulations! Your Age is finally ready for the general public - what an exciting moment!

Currently, the means to make your Age available for everyone is by using Uru Age Manager.

Spread the word

Now that your Age is published, you should tell the community about it. Here are some ways to generate publicity for your Age:

  • Have the Guild Of Messengers announce it. Post a short write-up of your Age on the Guild of Messengers. No forum account is necessary. A Messenger will then validate and upload the post to the user subscribed GoMe RSS feed for you. The post will also appear on the GoMe's front page. Your post may also be incorporated into either a GoMe production or an affiliate's production. For full instructions on submitting news read the tutorial How to Submit News.
  • Request a walkthrough. If your Ages have puzzles in it, then there will be people out there who will be stumped. You can post a request on the Guild of Greeters forums asking for someone to generate a walkthrough. You could try getting the Guild of Cartographers involved; the Guild does appear dormant for now, however.

Improve your Age

The dark secret of Age creation is: you are never finished! You and your Age visitors will always find things that could be changed or improved. Here are some suggestions:

  • Take advantage of new features in the plugin. The developers are always busy adding new features to the PyPRP plugin. Take some time to learn how to use these features, then find a way to incorporate it into your Age.
  • Increase the details. As graphics cards evolve, so will your Age. You can make your textures more detailed, add more polygons to some objects in your Age, add animations, and so on. But be sure to use level of detail switching or other means to gracefully degrade these improvements; otherwise, you will leave the low-end graphics card users behind.
  • Add more sounds. Typically, sounds are underutilized in fan-created Ages. Do you have atmospheric sounds for each area? Are there footstep sounds everywhere? Do some actions require sound effects? Don't forget that you can re-use the sounds that come with URU. Explore them sometime using Audacity and find one or two that might be suitable for your Age.
  • Add more items. Another shortcoming of fan created Ages is that they aren't cluttered like a real world would be. Not just human-created objects but natural objects as well: bushes, tall grass, weeds, leaves, fallen logs, etc.
  • Add new places to explore. Perhaps there's a door in your Age that currently does not lead anywhere. What if you could go beyond it? What would you find? Or maybe there's a hill that currently cannot be climbed. What lies beyond it?