Jed Merrill, Producer/Game Designer

Week 15

April 21 and 23, 2015.

Eric, Shahbaz, and I work on a new razor and pitch intro in the suddenly Spring outdoors, and after listening to five other teams discuss their game progress in front of the class, share an After Effects video Eric made of our latest game updates.

Most of the feedback from the crowd and a second, this time Caucasian visiting professor/potential hire is about user interface.  One person says it is too busy, and I agree.  Fortunately, some of the interface buttons are temporary.

In informal follow up afterward, I get a glowing comment or two about my Legend of Zelda Link t-shirt, and Andrew says he admires what we are doing.  He says the complexity of our project is why no other Producer would touch it.  “If it all works out, you guys will make a lot of money,” he predicts.

EAE Day is approaching, so everyone works feverishly on graphic and technology updates, from RealSense integration to a more detailed neighborhood.

In other news, the Cohort 4 thesis game I helped with at the prototype stage last year, 404Sight, made it onto the front page of Steam last week!  A friend who has nothing to do with EAE also told me he heard the game discussed on NPR today.  Congrats to all who stayed on for the full project!  I hear they also won $13,000 from Epic Games.

Here’s the launch trailer:

Wednesday night I attend the local meeting of Utahans Against Police Brutality.  The librarians look at me funny when I say I am looking for the meeting room.  I listen for ninety minutes before introducing our solution.  Most people cheer and give really positive, constructive feedback, though two of twenty-five people present seem to think police are agents of a broken system and want to use anger over police brutality to overthrow the system.  Our game is kind of a threat to their ends, but I am okay with that.  I invite some of the people to EAE Fest to try out the game.  My goal is to produce a game that makes it unnecessary for groups like this to even meet, so they can move on to other issues because police related killings are so few and far between.  If we can please both UAPB and POST, we have the ultimate solution.  The biggest issue that comes up may be race related:  The group suspects that police are more likely to shoot people who they perceive as not like them, whether they are of a different race, have a mental disability or their pants sag when they walk into a convenience store.

I think it is really important that we meet with groups for which police use of force is a passionate issue, both police and citizens, and integrate what we learn in our design process.  UAPB meets once a month formally, and has protests and potlucks on other days. One person recommends we visit a group called Citizens United.

Thursday morning, I post my findings to Slack for my group to consider, and have one on one discussions when I can.

BESTPOSTER3We also welcome Charlie to the group.  He has been working remotely in China, and now gets to try out the game and technology in person!

Next up:  Have a B.E.S.T. poster printed by either EAE or CostCo for EAE Fest!

Update:  Thursday afternoon a Director and Producer from Pixar come to campus to talk about Inside Out, the latest Disney-Pixar film.  They show us the first seven minutes of the movie and ask us not to film it, because it has not been released anywhere yet.  One of the two talks about his experience at Pixar as though he is still in school, and a lot that they do there is analogous to what we do in our Projects groups at EAE, but for games.

518cdNiHrNL._SL300_During the Q&A, they say animation is 98% acting, and that is something I think we will see become more and more important in games.  Can we approximate not only the image and motion of something in so many pixels and frames, but its emotion, its inner motion, expressed through the eyes, hands, and body as a whole?

I love studying processes, and Pixar has lots of them.  I look forward to reading Creativity, Inc this summer, after finals.  I appreciated the sentiment that they are lucky to work someplace where they can create something. As a Producer, I was also impressed that the Producer sees himself as someone who helps put on a show rather than being the show.

After the presentation, I return to the lab and split the voice over tracks into about 120 clips.  I then pick and annotate the best clips for the engineers to put into the game.

Tuesday is EAE Fest!

Saturday Update:

Corrinne emailed our team Friday to let us know that FOX 13 wants to feature us and one other Cohort 5 team on EAE Day!

I show up at the South lab at 9 pm Saturday night with drinks and we continue to work on the game as a team.  We are the only team that is all present, though one or two individuals from other teams are there.  It helps (and hurts) that much of Team B.E.S.T. is not from the US originally, so their families are overseas…  We leave at midnight, and Eric and I drop off two team members to their respective homes so they don’t have to walk home in the rain.

A lot of people dislike crunch time, but the results can be pretty amazing.  Creative work does not automatically happen on a 9 to 5 or 8 to 6 clock any more than you can choose when you need to use the WC.  Some of it happens in spurts, and is often driven by deadlines.  Is there a way to have crunch from 9 to 5 so we don’t have to do long weekends?  Inventing such a method might help game developer families enjoy more quality time and companies reduce the expense of overtime.  Maybe it is as simple as reminding people not to procrastinate at SCRUM stand up meetings so we can avoid crunches later, as seems to work with finals…  Mini, self imposed deadlines along the way could help avoid the pain of manager or client imposed macro deadlines before a fixed date.  Managing the backlog is a Producer’s job, but avoiding crunch is something everyone can contribute to through proper self management.  Got another idea for avoiding crunch?  Let me know in the comments below!

Game Jams are proof that crunch works and can be fun.  It just isn’t healthy over a long period and probably drives a lot of people out of the industry.

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