- Permadeath is frustrating when it means having to repeat a lot of the same content over again… but a legitimate fear of death definitely adds to the setting. Did you ever experiment with or consider a "soft" death penalty, such as death at sea resulting in the game being reset to your last visit to Fallen London? Perhaps your captain wakes up in their lodgings and everything that just happened was a horrible nightmare. Death would thus still cost time, but could be weathered without having to repeat a bunch of story progress. Maybe you could even shuffle the sea’s map around when this happens.
There is a soft death penalty in the game currently - you can manually save and reload whenever you want. Those that want to a softer death penalty can choose to take advantage of it, and those that want a hard core experience can play with it on. I’ve been surprised to find myself playing with it on - I’m not usually one for "hardcore" mode, but for whatever reason, I can’t get myself to use the manual saves.
Back on the topic of the post mortem though, yes I thoroughly enjoyed the article, and quite frankly am very impressed at the decisions that you’d made along the way. It reminds me a lot about what I read in Erik Bethke’s book Game Development and Production (http://www.amazon.com/Development-Production-Wordware-Developers-Library/dp/1556229518), and how he said a key to making a successful game is to focus on the core experience, even if it means the game doesn’t contain as many features as you’d originally envisioned. He talks about the importance of how Warcraft focused on just a main core set, and then Blizzard was able to further polish and expand the features in the next game once they’d produced a quality and polished game. So far, to me at least, I can see the payoff in your decision to focus on and polish that core experience. And all of the "it’s almost a classic" comments, again to me, seem to show that this is your Warcraft - the initial foray that whets people’s appetites so you can build off the lessons and deliver an even better game the next time around.
As for the tooling, I personally think you chose the lesser of two evils. Sure, in retrospect you can see that a little more time spent on the tooling up front would have saved time later, but it’s difficult to find that balance until you’ve gone through the full process once. If you’re going to spend too much time on one area, better to spend too much time on the game than on the tool.
I say this from my own experiences in college - my senior capstone we spent two trimesters (basically six months) developing a game that we presented to local game company CEOs. As one of the main coders, I decided to spend a lot of time up front on developing a flexible hit box system that could double as an event triggering mechanism. My professor kept warning me focusing more on the game than the tools to make the game, but I was convinced that I was saving myself later. At the end of the capstone, I had a decently polished hitbox system, but a rather mediocre game. It felt clunky and lacking in polish. The other two teams, on the other hand, created something that looked and felt extremely promising.
So, in conclusion, I’ll be keeping a much closer eye out on your future projects. You’ve definitely proven that not only can you deliver a high quality game, but it’s clear from your post mortem that you don’t get stuck too much on sunk costs, and are willing to adapt to whatever is necessary to deliver a high quality game.