Elf Song Tavern
The folks at Wizards of the Coast came back to us again for another bot—but rather than the fortune tellers or giants that the Dungeons & Dragons team at WotC have asked for in the past, we were working with the board game division of Avalon Hill... so they pitched us an entire tavern haunted by an elf ghost. And so that’s what we gave them! (The bot tells little snippets of adventures, often fatal or tragic, based on the board game Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate.)
We worked with Li Zilles to make this bot, which meant we needed to teach them the basics of our spreadsheet-and-Tracery project workflow. Fortunately it was pretty intuitive for them to pick up, which was a relief because we’ve never shown the code to anyone outside of Feel Train before. Probably the most fun we had putting this together was working on the “songs”—short song lyrics that end up looking like:
A tale told of gods at sea
Beyond the grave could none foresee
Your fate was sealed, doomed to die
Captive here, the end is nigh
We ended up stuck on this part for a bit because we couldn’t come up with lyrics that made sense. But then we realized that we’d been thinking about these song lyrics like the “story” portions of the bot. A story needs to make logical sense, but lyrics can be evocative and one phrase doesn’t necessarily have to follow another! Once we figured that out, the rest came more easily.
This was the first Feel Train project we’ve ever worked on end-to-end with an independent contractor and we learned a lot. We’d suspected that having our backend driven by Google Spreadsheets would lead to good remote collaboration on the data set, and that did turn out to be true; on the other hand it did lead to a lot of redundancy in the data. And Slack just isn’t a substitute for working in the same room as someone else. In the end we felt vindicated about making physical proximity to the rest of Feel Train a prerequisite for anyone who’s going to co-own our coop. For short term collaboration, remote work can be fine! But it’s not for us long-term.