Wikinews interviews 0 A.D. game development team

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

0 A.D. is a historical, open source, strategy game, published by Wildfire Games. It focuses on the period between 500BC and 500AD. The game will be released in two parts: the first covering the pre-AD period, and the second running to 500AD. With development well underway, Wikinews interviewed the development team.

Video clip of 0 A.D.
Image: Wildfire Games.

Aviv Sharon, a 24-year-old Israeli student responsible for the project's PR, compiled the below Q&A, which the full team approved prior to publication.


((Baptiste Domps)) Could you introduce the development team of 0 A.D. ?

((Aviv Sharon)) We are Wildfire Games, a group of approximately 15-20 people from around the world developing 0 A.D., a free, open-source game of ancient warfare. Cumulatively, about 100 different people have contributed to 0 A.D. over time. Our ages have ranged from 15 to >65 and our locations range from North America and Europe to India and New Zealand. The contributions to 0 A.D. are coordinated by a team of department heads led by a lead producer, Erik Johansson (feneur), who is 25 years old from Sweden.

((BD)) Who are the participants ? Salarieds or benevolents ?

((AS)) All contributions to 0 A.D. so far have been on a voluntary basis only. To speed up development, however, we have decided to raise enough money to support 160 hours of paid development of the 0 A.D. codebase. We have tentatively selected the team member who will receive this compensation, Philip Taylor (Ykkrosh), but decided to hold off for a few months until we start using these funds to wait until he has more time to dedicate to 0 A.D. development. Otherwise, 0 A.D. development will continue to be voluntary, and all funds donated to 0 A.D. will be used for team expenses only, such as website hosting costs.

A sample fight scene.
Image: Robert Schultz de Plainsboro.

((BD)) Why did you want to make games?

((AS)) There are several different reasons. Originally, 0 A.D. was born out of a desire to innovate within the RTS genre. We felt, and still feel, that this genre has a lot of potential for innovation and we wish to explore that with some different rules. 0 A.D. started out as a total conversion mod for Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, until team members at that time ran into the limitations of changing a closed-source game. Hence, as a wish to break free from the limitations of other games' engines, the standalone version of 0 A.D. was conceived and its development continues to this day.

Some other reasons include a deep appreciation of ancient history; the wish to improve our skills and be recognized for our talents; and a determination to prove that a group of volunteers collaborating over the internet can make a game that rivals the commercial, proprietary AAA titles.

((BD)) Why did you choose a free license?

((AS)) People are spending more money, time and attention on playing computer games than ever before, and games are constantly evolving into a more nuanced medium of expression and a greater part of our culture. Just observe how much people play on Facebook and their mobile devices. We think this culture should allow gamers to learn how their games work, change them, share them and redistribute their works. This freedom to tinker is what Free, Open-Source Software (FOSS) is all about and so we hope a lot of people tinker with 0 A.D.

A city, as shown within the game.
Image: Robert Schultz de Plainsboro.

((BD)) How do you coordinate ? What technical and financial resources has 0 A.D.?

((AS)) We mostly coordinate over a forum system we have, as well as a Trac system for task management and technical documentation. We also conduct discussions over IRC (#0ad and #0ad-dev on QuakeNet), that get more concentrated on the weekend, and Saturday afternoon in particular, when we have our weekly meeting.

((BD)) Which type of participants do you need? 'Amateurs' can they participate?

((AS)) Amateurs can definitely help with tasks like documentation and spreading the word about 0 A.D. For other tasks, we do require some prior knowledge in fields such as software development, 3d animation etc. Our main personnel needs are in three fields: Programmers, artists and sound people. We have many applicants for sound contributors but need a manager to oversee them. For programming we need capable gameplay, AI, sound and graphics programmers, proficient in C++ and/or JavaScript. Finally, in the art department, we could use some more texture artists, 3D artists, animators, and illustrators to draw 2d icons for the game's user interface.

((BD)) It's been 10 years since 0 A.D. is developing, what obstacles have arisen and how have you resolved?

((AS)) The biggest obstacle we have run into is underestimating the scale and complexity of an RTS game. When embarking upon this journey in 2001, nobody thought that completing this endeavor would take this long. Evidently, making an RTS game requires a great deal of programming features, art assets and more. And, as we discovered the hard way, the first draft of anything is seldom good enough. For example, one of the most important engine components, named "Simulation", was simply planned wrong the first time around. Simulation is in charge of changing the state of each entity in the "world" represented in the game, like handling harvesting resources, doing damage to stuff and handling death. Sadly, over time it got implemented in such a haphazard way it devolved into an unstable, unpredictable ball of mud. Debugging became difficult and attracting new programmers from joining the development effort became impossible. Over time, fewer and fewer developers stayed on with 0 A.D. and it seemed as if the project was in grave danger of ending, the way many initiatives on the internet spontaneously do.

An island, with water rendering developed by Matei Zaharia for a school project.
Image: Pais.

Thankfully, one of our programmers, Philip Taylor (Ykkrosh) from the UK, fixed this situation almost singlehandedly over the course of a few months in 2009-2010. Ever since simulation was fixed, it's been smoother sailing and the pace of development picked up considerably. We have recruited several programmers and are constantly adding new features, most recently a prototype opponent AI, which is a big milestone for us.

((BD)) What are you proudest of about your game?

We are proud of the way our fans go "wow" over screenshots, in-game videos and their direct experiences with the game. We get comments like, "It's like Empire Earth, Age of Empires, and Rise of Nations had a baby and it came out free!" and "This can't be open source. It rocks too much!". We're proud we've built a community of enthusiasts on our forums, Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere, and continuously generated some buzz around 0 A.D. We hope to justify this hype and lead the project to completion.

Does this look like a game you would be interested in playing?

((BD)) What is the schedule for 2011?

((AS)) One big upcoming feature is random map scripting, which allows for much more variety in gameplay without having to manually draw new maps all the time. Our prototype opponent AI is set to get even smarter at all aspects of gameplay, and, with time, will be able to execute any of a variety of strategies to win the game. However, generally speaking, we don't make long-term plans because they never seem to work out. So far, since August 2010 we have released an alpha version every 70 days on average, and we intend to keep releasing more alpha versions until the game is feature-complete. Then we will enter a beta phase, playtest and fix bugs until a point when we decide the game is done, hopefully sometime in 2012.


This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.

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