Following the success of last year’s ‘DevCon’ at TankFest 2016, last month the team gathered once again for face-to-face meetings and discussion about the game development and our plans going forward for the project.
This year we were keen to make the most of our time together and make it easier for our non-UK developers to join us, so this year we went to the home of Allied codebreaking during the Second World War and arguably the birthplace of computing: Bletchley Park.
The event was organised over three days with the first and third days dedicated to all-day development meetings in nearby hired facilities. The second day we took a break to explore Bletchley Park and the museum.
Day One: Strategy
Having gathered the night before we hit the ground running on day one. First up on the agenda: survey results. We discussed and analysed the results of our recent survey, and noted down our findings and conclusions on this extremely useful data. It made for some interesting reading, although there were a few surprises for us - particularly regarding the spectrum of opinions that were put forward about the level of realism of our gameplay, from arcade to simulation.
Overall the feedback was very positive but we know we need to do more to explain what the gameplay experience is like and which features will be making the first release of the game. We were certainly blown away by the level of expectations and meeting them is a daunting prospect for us all.
The remainder of the first day was primarily focused on strategy and how we can speed up the pace of progress (despite our day jobs and busy lives). Towards the end of the day we turned our attention towards reviewing the design of each of our levels, and looking at how we can improve them based on the results of our weekly internal testing.
Day Two: Bletchley Park
The second day of DevCon was a break from meetings and a chance to explore, what was until recently, one of the best kept secrets of the Second World War.
Bletchley Park, or ‘Station X’ (Station 10) as was its official title during the war, was the heart of British codebreaking operations. The German Armed Forces used several different ciphers to encrypt their wireless communications, and these changed every day to make them harder to break.
Critically, it was at Bletchley where the Enigma, and later Lorenz, ciphers were broken each day to enable the decryption and translation of German messages. Enigma is well known, but Lorenz was a far more complex code used by the German High Command (including Hitler himself).
The intelligence gathered by the codebreakers was considered so critical to the war effort it was given the special designation ‘ULTRA’, and its source was kept secret to all but a very select few. Intelligence from the codebreakers was routinely disguised as coming from other sources, for example photo reconnaissance, so there was no hint to the Germans that their messages had been deciphered.
The Enigma machines were used to encrypt morse code which was manually tapped out by the operators. The rotors used to to alter the outputted message were moved to pre-agreed positions each day. The result of this was the codebreakers at Bletchley had to determine the new position every single day before new messages could be deciphered. Once the clock struck midnight all of the day’s work had to be stopped, and the codebreakers started again on the new cipher for that day.
Enigma was considered to be unbreakable, but nonetheless German high command used a different system called Lorenz for their own communication. Lorenz used a teleprinter with a cipher attachment instead of Morse code.
Without having ever seen a Lorenz machine before the codebreakers at Bletchley incredibly managed to theorise how the machine was designed in order to crack the cipher. The history of code breaking is a long and fascinating topic but ultimately let to the creation of Colossus, which was designed by telephone engineer Tommy Flowers. Colossus is considered by some to be the first modern computer, although its limited function means it was not ‘Turing Complete’.
All twelve of the Colossus machines built during the Second World War were thought to have been destroyed at the end of the war along, with the designs and manuals, on the orders of Winston Churchill. Unknown until recently however, two survived - Colossi 11 & 12 were moved to GCHQ and used during the Cold War by British Intelligence to help with cracking Soviet ciphers.
Day Three: Technical
The third and final day of DevCon was dedicated predominantly to the roadmap and technical discussions.
One of the major topics of discussion was to review how we approach certain features and technical designs to speed up the pace of development and to make post-launch support easier. Ultimately this has lead to some innovations which should prove extremely positive for the game and future support and we will be showing off some of these changes in future blogs.
We also devoted a large segment of our time together to plan the roadmap to release. Whilst our last public estimate was made with the best of intentions at the time it has proven to be optimistic.
The support and expectations of the community have always been a central part of the motivation behind the project and that has never been more true than today and this weighs heavily on our minds. We are making a game not only for ourselves but our community.
Since returning home..
Having returned from DevCon we have been focusing our energy on making rapid progress and iterating on the current build towards the next milestone. We are continuing to review how we might do things better to find the fastest and most stable way to release. Our focus for now though is development progress.
News Update: DevCon July 2017