Design and documentation journal for my interactive fiction (text games); also reviews and other miscellaneous stuff.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Data Entry

A big portion of FTA is data entry. When I get lucky, the data has already been gathered in one place, and just needs to be copied into the appropriate tables (usually with some minor modifications). I've written before aboutsome of the easy bits; naming turned out to be pretty simple.

I am not finished with what I'm calling wildland communities - a small breakdown than biomes, but similar idea - partly because my main source does not have consistent information. For some communities, all the information I want is in the documentation, and it's just a matter of teasing it out. For others, the abstract is essentially a brief overview. This is, of course, totally fine; Michigan doesn't owe me the canopy cover numbers on every community. But it often means I have to make stuff up. (Canopy cover is a percentage of how much land in a community is under trees; grasslands tend to be 0%, but can have occasional trees scattered through them; forests can be as low as 60%.) It's also the short hand I'm using for determining how shaded a particular location is. This matters annually in the wild, when the game determines what is sprouting, and also on the farm, when crops under trees are penalized and animals checked for protection from wind/rain/sun.)

Once you've got a baseline, of course, making stuff up is easier - you just copy and paste from a similar place. But it takes a while, and sometimes no number seems quite right.

There's a lot of extrapolation required. If trees in a mesic prairie meadow can grow enough to turn it into an oak savannah, you need to know that if you cut the trees down, you may get the meadow again. There are probably ways of handling these interactions that don't require cross-referencing; for instance, if I had enough numbers and measurements properly handled, the game could decide the range of options for succession on its own. But that's very iffy, since the numbers available tend towards general. Acidity of the soil is a range; it's helpful, but not determinative. Since I don't trust an automated process to be either realistic or fair, a more brute force approach is required; and almost undoubtedly less work than trying to figure out spontaneous in-game generation. (If it was more work but would work smoothly, I might try it; as it is . . .)

So there's data entry and data creation, which gets boring pretty quick. I'm about done with the wetland communities, which will be lovely, but I've got all the dryland ones to go. Thankfully, I'm eliding a lot of those. Does one really need limestone cliffs, granite cliffs, and sandstone cliffs to be separate communities? (Answer: YES, if you're an ecologist or geologist.) I think maybe I'll use one or two or those, or decide that exposed rock in this world is always limestone. The only cliffs in the game are going to be ones that I put there, so it's not like the player is going to care.

Imputing dozens of communities feels like overkill at this stage, but I think the differentiation adds something to the game as it stands, and gives the basis for a lot of very interesting future options. Unfortunately, the future is not now, so a lot of the work is slogging. Not fun slogging, either. And I may have taken a few weeks off because I was just that tired of trawling through multiple sites hunting for random obscure bits of info.

And the trees are still half finished, as well, for pretty much the same reason; I think I was using five or six sources plus internet searches on each one, and that was beginning to grind. I've cut back on the amount of information I'm inputting, but I am still woefully short of the 200th species mark.

I have no doubt that I'll get smarter as I go; I also need to plan ahead more. But a lot of this is just work that has to get done, that I can't give to a peon. (Dear self: find peon.) I'm okay with that. Some days I don't mind doing data entry, and on the days which I can, I'll input another entry or two, just to keep the process moving forward, even if it's mostly symbolic.

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