Jed Merrill, Producer/Game Designer

Week 11 – EAE is #1!

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Tuesday, March, 24, 2015.

Had a great morning! Bob and Roger announced that our graduate program is ranked #1 in the nation by the Princeton Review! We were #2 when I started, and part of what I hoped to do when I signed up was help make us competitive for #1. I probably didn’t make the difference, but I did my best and am pleased with the program’s progress. We all cheered at the news, which some of us already heard over spring break. Congrats to USC, also, who scored first as an undergraduate program. EAE was second in the undergrad category.

At 10 am, we gather to show off each team’s progress. I did not check the schedule before break, none of us did, so we all thought we would be presenting Thursday. We scrambled to put something together, and fortunately had some positive things to show. With five minutes left, Eric and I wrote out a few lines as an introduction to our presentation, which I updated to appeal to Roger’s Communications background and Roger-isms in general. It was too late to memorize word for word, so I read half of it from my phone screen, which did not impress anyone, but Roger praised the writing. Two people in the class seemed to think the others should just tell me what to say next time, and let me put the technical details into words and pictures they could understand. I feel good about the compliment, but one of my priorities is to have my team all feel comfortable presenting. (I consider myself first and foremost a Producer of a team, second a game.) I am not a perfect presenter, but I’ve had the chance to speak in front of three and four star generals, have practiced 42 speeches in Toastmasters clubs, and have a BA in Communications, so I’m not the one who needs the practice most. Shahbaz, our talented technical artist/animator cheerily volunteers to present with me next time.

Bob and Roger suggest we always have a locked build available at any given moment, and that each of us have access to a build or video—a Producer’s job.

At noon, my team has our first design meeting in a while.  We dine on Jelly Bellies and actually get a lot done. I suggest to the team we do these at least once a week, either Tuesday or Thursday mornings at the beginning of class, depending on which day we are not doing presentations. Our project will be less iterative than others in Cohort 4 and 5, since its end purpose is already defined, but I suggest we create a full scale game concept with way too many features to get done with a team our size, then choose the features that we can get done from that broader list. As we come up with more potential features from sprint to sprint, we can have the new features compete for our limited time resources, which should lead to a stronger product than if we just work on the five features we think of first.

While Eric, our Scrum Master the last few weeks, gets commitments for what we are going to get done this sprint, I get each member of the group to commit to a five minute 9:05 standup meeting every Tuesday and Thursday that we don’t have a design meeting. The extra five minutes should give Ahmad a chance to put down his cup of coffee and everyone else a chance to find each other. Up until now, we often have not officially started until 9:15 or 9:30. With this morning’s scramble, we had no stand up, which makes the Scrum Master’s and Producer’s job(s) a bit tougher. This is not to say people were not productive.

We enjoy the meeting so much that we leave class 30 minutes after class typically ends, and Eric, Ahmad and I head to the Crimson Room for lunch.

We talk about other design decisions that we will bring up to the group Thursday for a vote. Among other ideas, we consider having two officers in the simulation at once, maybe one sitting in the police car while the other goes to investigate a snow shovel incident… Maybe they can pause at any given time to talk about what they should be doing in this scenario, or just play through in real time.

Ahmad would like an option for a second player to play the suspect, which would turn our game into a virtual reality version of cops and robbers. Eric seems concerned that this might reduce the effectiveness of the game as a training tool, but we will decide as a group.

We also discuss the needs of the client (police academies and unified districts), how we can do something that fits their instructional needs, and how to make the game approachable (like an arcade machine), so officers can just pick up and play it rather than having to go through a long and complicated setup process. I agree to do a one page design document to outline what they are likely to want, based on my in person chat with Police Officer Standards and Training last month.

After the meeting, I have a brief talk with Eric, who allows me to take over as Scrum Master for the rest of the semester, if not the duration of the program. It’s a Producer job, one that I didn’t mind him doing for a while since there is only one Producer on our team at the moment (me) and Earl suggested we may have four Producers’ worth of work to do over the next year. Eric also has experience with Scrum from his edutainment focused workplace. He’s done a great job, but I think it’s a lot of extra work for him when we haven’t had regular 9:05 am stand up meetings. Now he will focus on 3D modeling environments and other essential tasks that come up during design meetings.

I really believe this is the time to have design meetings. It’s a major part of the learning experience, and I think we’ve underweighted its importance so far. If we spend 60% of our class time in design meetings, and 40% in execution and presentations, I think our game will end up better than if we spend 100% of our time executing. Engineers, artists, and producers need to learn to communicate and develop shared visions, and without enough face to face communication, even with a small team, we won’t be as effective.

Thankfully we all like each other.

poke1Last semester my group did not all get along and seemingly could never come to a consensus. (Probably a product of the environment/rules, which have been updated this semester to be less Game of Thrones, more Hunger Games.) I think I talked the new group into not fighting each other from day one, and now I’m thinking we may have gone too far. We may not want interpersonal issues to arise, but our ideas do need to compete like Pokemon, or they will not become strong enough to be the foundation of a real game.

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