With our initial team formed, it was clear that our first objective was to define our vision. What did we want this game to become? What would make it special and stand out from others like it? The team had formed around a loose set of design ideas that I had already proposed, but we needed a more focused vision for what this game was to be.
Before we could begin that discussion, however, we needed to decide through what means we were going to communicate with one another. We initially tried a mailing list, but found it inefficient for our purposes. Ultimately, our forums became our primary communication medium. We also setup an IRC channel  for the occasional real-time meeting when necessary.
One of the first mistakes the team made was to hide several sections of our forums so that only members of the team could see and post to them. There were a few reasons for this secrecy:
- To develop our ideas and designs without outside interference
- To be able to share content and works in progress that we weren’t ready to reveal yet
- To avoid potentially spoiling the story for our players
It made sense to us at the time, but much later we would realize that developing a project like Allacrost behind closed doors was a big mistake. I’ll elaborate about this error in a future entry. The contents of those old private areas were made public several years ago after we realized our mistake. You can expect that I will source several of these old threads throughout this series.
With our communications decided, we were ready to begin the early design process and to expand upon the initial set of ideas that I had proposed. Many of those first ideas I had already dreamt up years ago, in 1995. I was 13 years old and had recently played through two of my favorite games of all time: Final Fantasy VI  and Chrono Trigger . As a result of experiencing these masterpieces, I became interested in pursuing a career in game development (which I later decided that I did not wish to do professionally). I dreamed of building my own RPG, with those two games as the primary source of my inspiration. I transcribed my design ideas for an RPG down in a journal, which is still in my possession to this day. The central theme to Allacrost’s story and some of its core features come directly from that journal.
Without debate, the team accepted my proposal that these two games should serve as our primary inspiration for design. I actively encouraged everyone to begin putting forth their own ideas for what Allacrost should be. I wanted the team to feel like they were owners of this project and not just contributors. I never wanted Allacrost to just be my game that others helped me to realize, but to be a truly collaborative group effort.
Naturally, we couldn’t accept every idea that was proposed as some came into conflict with one another, while others just didn’t seem that worthy of inclusion. After a period where everyone had dumped their ideas on the forums, we agreed to meet at a specific time at our IRC channel  to discuss everything that had been proposed. We chose to have this discussion in real time because the forums proved to be somewhat difficult with the large time lag between responses and interconnected nature. What happened was a rather epic three hour debate. It was at times frustrating when there were strong disagreements, but investing the time into having this talk really moved us forward in terms of defining what Allacrost was to become. It also remains one of my most enjoyable memories of this project, as it feels liberating when there is so little defined and you can move the game in any direction that you desire. We weren’t able to resolve all our differences and implementation details during the chat, so several threads were created on our forums to discuss the finer points of those ideas which were accepted , , .
Most of these ideas are now implemented. Others were later abandoned or forgotten about for various reasons. For example, we had initially approved a combination attack style similar to Chrono Trigger, where two or more characters work together to execute a maneuver. I only recalled this planned feature during the course of my studying of our history for writing this post. Some of the ideas that were cut were of my own and I was very excited and enthusiastic about them. However, I was the only one who felt this way, and it wouldn’t be fair to force my desired features into the game if everyone else disapproved of them. My features including having a third-person observer interjecting narration of the events in the story as they occurred, and having full-screen artistic stills during the game as well. I wanted the game to feel like an interactive storybook to the player, but the concept was ill received.
In hindsight, we may have spent too much time and energy on this brainstorming.
A better approach for us may have been to focus on the core gameplay and features, then save the discussion of the implementation details for when we were near ready to begin implementing them. We decided too much too soon, and many of the people who formed those early design decisions didn’t stick around the project for more than a few months.
 Allacrost IRC channel (#allacrost at irc.freenode.net)
 Final Fantasy VI (Wikipedia)
 Chrono Trigger (Wikipedia)
 Approved Game Features (Thread #1)
 Approved Game Features (Thread #2)
 Approved Game Features (Thread #3)
Coming up next:
- Investigating artistic requirements
- Early concept art and designs
- Successes and surprises with music composition