The Hyperbolist

gently embracing subtlety and nuance since 1975

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13 Jul 2010

Meatbags, Glue and Gamesauce, Oh My!

Posted by dgackey. No Comments

“Producers: Essential Glue or Useless Bags of Meat?”

I recently co-wrote this article for the second issue of Gamesauce magazine with my friend and colleague Kenn Hoekstra. In it we break down some of the roles that development-side producers perform, and what a good producer and a not-so-good producer would do in each role.  Hope you find it useful, or at least good for a laugh!

Speaking of Gamesauce, it’s incredibly late to be mentioning it now, but I’ve been working on helping the fine folks there (most of whom I count as friends) host the 1st annual Gamesauce Conference, which will be held next week in Seattle, just before the Casual Connect conference.

Our goal with the conference is to do a really solid, grassroots devs-only program that isn’t cluttered with thinly-veiled marketing pitches or mobbed with students and vendors.  Somehow I got roped into being designated Conference Director as well as Emcee (along with industry legend Chris Taylor!) so hopefully I don’t embarrass myself too much :)

After the show, video and slides of ALL the talks (along with other supplemental material) will be posted online for free.  If you can’t make the conference, stay tuned for the slides.  We should have some really great talks!

26 Feb 2010

Virtual Team Game Development

Posted by dgackey. 1 Comment

In my latest role, I am working remotely and managing a totally virtual team.   I was fairly skeptical about this before I agreed to join the project, because I know firsthand the importance of face time with your team.  After all, producing a game is a lot more than simply collating status updates and checking off tasks on a tasklist.   Your ability to communicate is critical.  Ad-hoc conversations between team members (especially cross-discipline) are often incredibly important — nobody’s going to email you notes from those discussions, and if you miss them, you may have missed a great new idea or toxic miscommunication that will come back to haunt you later.

At the same time, a producer has to know when to communicate.  Bonding with the team, listening to their concerns, even shooting the bull at the water cooler are important and necessary, but every hour you spend talking is an hour you spend not doing — likewise with your team.  You can have the tightest group of ninja developers on the planet who get nothing done but talk if you’re not careful.

So how can a producer manage a team virtually?   Isn’t this a recipe for disaster?

Read the rest of this entry »

9 Feb 2010

From the “Death Is Hazardous to Your Health” Department:

Posted by dgackey. No Comments

Apparently, layoffs are actually quite bad.   Even for the shortsighted, pump-and-dump stock manipulator CEO’s, it seems.     Though this all seems fairly obvious, it turns out that investors don’t buy the “lean and mean” story any more than employees.

My take on this study is that the majority of companies seriously contemplating a layoff are probably so unhealthy that taking an alternate action probably isn’t a viable choice, anyway.    Thus, the layoffs will continue.  Here’s an idea — perhaps curbing irresponsible growth would allow companies to better focus on the employees they have right now.  Too radical?

29 Jan 2010

Wherein our blogger realizes he’s written three posts over the course of a year

Posted by dgackey. No Comments

So let’s review what happened in the course of that year:

  • Founded brand-new development studio in Austin for a major publisher to work on top secret project.
  • Recruit fantastic group of 10 people to join said studio.
  • In roughly 7 months of development time, go from zero lines of code to working client-server MMO prototype (which is actually really fun), create extensive design documentation,  produce concept art book, run market analysis and business plans.
  • Receive word that corporate benefactor is not interested in pursuing the project any further.
  • Lay off fantastic group of 10 people.
  • Lay off myself.
  • Joined the ranks of a small local company as a contractor, managing a totally virtual project.

There’s a lot to discuss and a lot of valuable production insight and experience I gained over the last 12 months, and I plan to spend more time chronicling that experience and insight here.  I’m also penning an article with my friend and colleague, Kenn Hoekstra (Pi Studios) for GameSauce magazine (which is the brainchild of the very brilliant Jessica Tams and the incorrigible Jake Simpson) that will discuss some of the roles producers play on a development team.

11 Apr 2009

Defining Polish In One Sentence

Posted by dgackey. 1 Comment

At a forum I frequent, one of the posters was asking people for their definition of what “polish” really meant. He was, of course, looking for something a little more philosophical, I suspect, than my one-liner:

“Fixing All Your ‘C’ Bugs”

 I was being cheeky, but the truth is, those “C Bugs” are a really great metric for how polished your game is.   If your QA department is worth its salt, those testers are going to be actively trying to bury you in bugs, and the quickest way to numerically overwhelm a dev team with bugs is by enumerating all the C’s.  

It’s hard to reproduce a lot of crashes, and gameplay B’s that aren’t showstoppers require a lot of research, but an exhaustive inventory of all the rough edges, typos, UI inconsistencies, graphics errors, poorly designed scenarios/levels and inaccuracies?  That’s money in the bank :)

Depending on the kind of game you’re making, it might be a lot more difficult for testers to point to obvious design issues that reflect on the polish of the game, but hopefully your designers are playing the game enough and being objective and critical enough to know before anyone else when the game isn’t a very polished experience.   

It’s easy for a developer to develop a blind spot for all those “little things” like your terrible tutorial (you’re an expert, so you never use it anyway), spelling errors (after a while, you don’t even notice them), graphical errors (a little clipping never hurt anyone!)… but testers, you can’t pay them to turn a blind eye to that stuff.  

So the next time you fire up your bug database and look at your bugs, try mentally substituting the word “polish” for “C”, and ask yourself if you can afford *not* to tackle them!

8 Apr 2009

The Many Myths of Crunch

Posted by dgackey. 5 Comments

beatdeadhorseThe topic of crunch and its place in the pantheon of unholy sins against game devs is probably the single most discussed and debated subject in the history of game development, so it’s no surprise that this well-worn subject has reared its polarizing head again, this time from everyone’s favorite Che Guevara wannabe, Greg Costikyan (founder of Manifesto games, designer, and frequent pontificator on All That Is Wrong With Game Development).  

Mr. Costikyan apparently took issue with a comment made by Michael Capps, President of Epic Games, who said rather candidly that Epic really isn’t interested in hiring someone who isn’t willing to put in overtime to make a hit game, if that’s what’s required.   Considering both Costikyan’s penchant for attention-grabbing rants and Epic’s track record of developing hit games and handsomely rewarding its employees in turn, this seems like a classic case of seizing on an out-of-context quote that really isn’t a fair representation of the organization’s M.O. and using it to drum up controversy.  

That, of course, hasn’t stopped the gaming media from milking the headline for whatever traffic they can get from it, and voila!  We’ve got this year’s EA_Spouse tempest in a teacup. 

To be fair, Costikyan’s primary beef appears to be that Capps used to be an IGDA board member, which proves that the IGDA can’t even get its leaders to stamp out abusive practices at their studios, much less effect change elsewhere.  For what it’s worth, I let my IGDA membership lapse and stopped volunteering to help because I really don’t think they serve any purpose to me as a developer.  In this respect I agree with Costikyan. 

I do, however, think a lot of the ensuing commentary about crunch and how badly game developers are being abused is, frankly, a lot of shite.    This isn’t going to win me any popularity contests, but here are my observations about some of the myths of crunch. 

Read the rest of this entry »

11 Feb 2009

Yeah, What He Said

Posted by dgackey. No Comments

5 Feb 2009

Why Projects Fail: Extreme Game Development Edition

Posted by dgackey. 3 Comments

Crash and BurnIn thinking about Scott’s entry on shitty post-layoff rituals and the ensuing discussion about who really owns the blame for the bad decision-making and subsequent layoffs, I thought it might be a good exercise to try to enumerate common reasons cited for why game projects failed.  As they say, success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.

I break these down into the following categories:

  • Failures of ideas / design
  • Failures of execution
  • Failures of management (including HR, strategy, marketing, and sales) 

Read the rest of this entry »

4 Feb 2009

10 print “hello world!”

Posted by dgackey. No Comments

After literally *years* of neglect, I decided to do something with my website.   I had a blog on my old site (hand rolled) but I didn’t use it that much.  For years I put off the idea of replacing it with an off-the-shelf solution, but thankfully since those days, blog tools have come a long way in terms of ease of installation and functionality. 

So this is it.  I’ll be blogging about games, specifically issues relating to game production and management.   Hopefully on a more frequent basis than I updated my old website ;)