Nova Is Broken

I realize this is probably a shocking admission from the person responsible for Nova, right? After all, there are plenty of features in Nova 2 and it’s pretty stable at this point, so how broken can it really be? And what does broken even mean?

Simply put, the underlying philosophy that Nova is developed with is broken.

I can’t really pinpoint exactly when it dawned on me that Nova was truly broken, but I started to look at Nova with a very critical eye. After all, when you’re about to re-build something, that’s the time to evaluate everything (something I failed to adequately do when Nova 1 was being built). Slowly, it dawned on me that the very philosophy I was building with was wrong.

Philosophically speaking, Nova 2 espouses the same line of thinking that SMS 1 started with in 2005. The goal was to create something to manage RPGs so game masters weren’t spending all their time tooling around with HTML and site creators. For people who remember back 10 years ago, when you wanted to run a sim, the organization required you to build a website. Most were really bad. And a lot of game masters spent more time working on those little sites than actually playing the game. Then, when it came to actually playing, people usually used either forums or a Yahoo email group to play the game.

The problem was how much time game masters had to spend just administering the site. When a character wanted their bio changed, they needed to send an email to the game master who in turn would have to make the change. SMS came along as a breath of fresh air. No more tooling around with HTML, no more doing character bio updates, no more wasting time on things when the system could do it for you instead. SMS (and eventually Nova) was a tool geared toward the game master and making their lives easier. After that, it was a means of playing the game. And that right there is one of the problems: playing the game was secondary to managing it instead of the other way around.

The way it should work is that the game itself should be the primary focus. No matter what happens with Nova, it should be a means to playing the game, not managing it with the playing part being secondary. Somewhere along the line, I got that part wrong.

When you look through the forums, it’s startling how many feature requests focus on the management piece. The fact of the matter is, management should be ancillary. If you don’t have a solid foundation to play the game, then you don’t have a game to manage in the first place. But, over the years, the focus has been on managing the game more and more than I’ve lost sight of the most important part: playing. Of course the game needs to be managed, but more importantly, it needs to be played. The story is the important part and it’s that piece that needs to be brought back into focus (or maybe brought into focus for the first time). But it isn’t just about jamming some features into the writing section, it’s about distilling storytelling to its essentials and letting everything else fall away. Because of that, storytelling is one of the pillars of Nova NextGen.

Make no mistake, the larger issue of the audience for Nova is important, but right there with that is the question of how Nova gets put together. Sadly, Nova 2 doesn’t follow very many current best practices or development standards that make it easy to maintain or extend. Any extensibility in Nova has been put there by brute force and really aren’t very elegant solutions to the problem.

There’s no easy solution; these are systemic issues. The problems cannot be solved in Nova’s current form. Only a blank slate will provide me the means to fix these core issues and make sure that how Nova is built is just as important as how it’s used.

Does all of this mean SMS and Nova are bad products? Not at all! What it does mean though is that it’s time for a shift. It’s time to step back and get some new perspective. It’s time to look at who Nova should best be serving. It’s time to look at how Nova should be built. It’s not all about how it’s built, but also what goes in it as well (and maybe more importantly, what doesn’t).

None of this is meant to be an indictment of the hard work Jon Matterson put into the first version of SMS, nor is it an indictment of the work I’ve been doing since I took over in March of 2006. Instead, this is the realization and admission that Nova is broken, and it needs to be fixed, and it will be fixed.