Character Creation Form

Character Creation Form

Macross Character Creation Form

The Project
Written in my last year at Seneca College as one of my final projects, the goal was to find a business or online community in need of an online application which would improve business or otherwise enhance the community. The goal of the project was not only to grow as application developers, but to implement the final product and ensure it met with our client's needs. This also included entering into a contract with our client to familiarize us with this process, though the end product was provided free of charge.

Macross; Symphony of the Stars is a community of online writers and fans of the Japanese Anime Macross, the first series of which was released in 1982 (adapted by Harmony Gold to be used as part of Robotech for American audiences in 1985). The Macross series continues today, with the most recent series Macross Frontier, proving to be a huge hit among fans while drawing a younger audience to the fan community. Members of the Macross; SOS community, come together in an online forum where they create characters based on their shared fandom and collaborate to create a shared story.

The Macross; SOS community uses for it's game Fuzion, a table top game system similar to the Dungeons & Dragons D20 system. While most players are familiar with one or the other table top gaming style, the community strives to be open to those who prefer the more creative writing aspect of the game as well as those who are unfamiliar with table top gaming. Since the Fuzion system requires a lengthily character creation process, one involving large amounts of calculations and confusing figures, the community has suffered some loss of membership due to the initial, bulky joining process.

The Macross Character Creation Form Project strives to alienate the strain on new and inexperienced members of the community by providing a simple form which not only provides the user with easy step by step instructions, but performs the necessary calculations for them with the click of a button. This not only makes the joining process much easier for new players, but it streamlines the creation of new characters for existing players and cuts down on the amount of time Game Managers (GMs) must spend on correcting errors for newly submitted characters. Overall, the feedback from the Macross; SOS GMs has been that the project has had a positive effect on the community.

Technical Details
Written using Perl with Template Tool Kit for the front end with the goal of keeping the code functionality and the visual aspects of the code separated, thereby allowing the community to change the appearance of their website without having to worry about breaking the functionality of the form. SQL is used for the back end to populate the data forms and to store character information throughout the process, as well as storing the final product for later reference once the creation process is complete. Some Java was used for visual aspects of the final form presentation, to ensure that the user interface is clean, organized and easy to navigate.

Features
  • Use of Perl in combination with Template Toolkit to keep program functionality separate from visual design aspects. This allows the community to update and change web design and visual elements without touching program code which manages the functionality of the form and little to no modification of the template pages
  • Data for the form is populated by an organized series of SQL databases which allows for easy upgrades and changes to features available for characters (such as skills, talents or complications) also without needing to modify the functionality of the script, giving the community GMs control over the future of the form without having to rely heavily on the programmer for frequent upgrades
  • End result of the form is stored in the SQL database for later access and use by the GMs, allowing for future expansions of the program, such as offering players the ability to upgrade their characters using experience points (xp) gained throughout the game using a similar form or allowing GMs to resolve character actions through a similarly automated process
  • Upgraded user interface including sleeker, cleaner design, easier to navigate and easier to upgrade the visual appearance without needing to upgrade the template file (the original design, built in PHP, was far more cluttered and harder to upgrade)


Planned Improvements
I am still actively working with the Macross; SOS community to maintain, update, and bring new features to the Macross Character Creation form. Some planned future implementations include:
  • Backwards functionality - allowing the user to go back to a previous step of the character creation process in order to make changes. Currently, the user can only move forward through the process and would have to start over in order to make changes
  • Enhanced Stats Calculator - added functionality to the calculator would allow users to choose predefined statistics packages for commonly used character types to alleviating the need to enter stats manually, making the process faster; similarly a 'random' button would be added which would generate the primary statistics randomly allowing for a more interesting character writing experience if desired by the user
  • Separate Stats Calculator - create a stat calculator with all the functions discussed above, but separate it from the rest of the form, thus allowing players to test ideas they may have for character stats without having to complete the entire creation process; this would also allow users to generate stats that they may wish to use for things other than the Macross forum
  • Skill Packages - like pre-defined statistics packages, this will allow the character to choose a set package of skills specifically designed for common character types rather than choosing skills individually, reducing the skill selection process (which is lengthy) to a single click and speeding the entire process if the user desires
  • Sessions - to allow a password system for resuming paused character creation processes rather than using the email system which is currently in place (and managed by cookies) as well as allowing a smoother and more secure process overall (the cookies were always meant to be temporary when implemented)
  • Added Program; Experience Spender - a program which links to the character creation form, allowing the user to call up their character as stored in the database, update it using the defined rules for spending experience points (xp) to enhance the character and save the upgraded character for later use in the same process
  • Added Program; Round Resolution Generator - a program which links to the character creation form which allows the GMs to call up a player's character, input their chosen actions and have the outcome of the actions generated manually (rather than spending an entire afternoon rolling dice); this same program would eventually be expanded to a GM management console which would allow GMs to monitor upgrades to characters using the experience spender (listed above) to ensure that characters are being upgraded properly according to the game rules

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