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Monthly Archives: September 2014

I’ve heard a lot said about planning, to do it or not to, which flavor of planning is best, stuff like that.  I am a firm believer in intention and organization.  Let me just say that so-called “crunch” is always a consequence of making mistakes, and the best way to mitigate mistakes is to be diligent and smart about production design, however you feel that is best achieved.  But… life still seems to resist organization, not sure why, maybe its the second law of thermodynamics being expressed at a meta level.  Whatever the reason, life is unruly, capricious and unpredictable, and while its wise to be diligent in organization it still must be done with a nod to the God of Chaos.

I was on a panel once discussing the topic of dealing with the business side of being a commercial artist.  For some reason the panel got sidetracked and we began talking about how best to organize an art business.  We discussed some details of how that might best be done, and then one lady on the panel threw out a metaphor that I thought was extraordinarily insightful.  She, like everybody, stressed the need for diligent and competent organization, but then, feeling a need to concede that there is inevitable chaos said “you know, you have to try to organize but good organization is more like surfing the chaos.”

The moment she said it I did a mental “duh.”  Having had time to think about it since then I think her analogy is remarkable apropos, especially to game development.   I’ve often said that game development was a lot like putting together a master level model kit.  When I was a kid I bought a Revell model of a UH 60 Blackhawk helicopter.  This thing was so detailed that it had every working part in the rotor assembly!  I didn’t count the number of parts but there were hundreds and hundreds.  Then I pulled out the instruction sheet.  I don’t remember exactly how exhaustive the instructions were but I do remember that the sheet was so big that once unfolded I couldn’t figure out how to fold it back up again properly.  My first impulse was to chuck the instructions all together and just “intuit” my way through the project.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that if I didn’t want to waste the twenty five dollars I spent on the kit, the only chance I would have to successfully assemble this beast was to assiduously consult the voluminous assembly instructions, which I did.

Fast forward to the middle of my game career, suffering through another crunch period, calculating that my real hourly rate was less than what I made flipping burgers at Hardees in high school.  For some reason I thought back to that helicopter model I completed as a kid and realized that the entertainment software we were trying to assemble had waaaaay more digital parts than my helicopter model had physical parts, and that my model kit had waaaay better assembly instructions than did the game project I was working on.  Little wonder that we were enduring yet another episode of crunch, and given this new revelation, suffering needlessly.  Armed with this new insight I determined that if I were ever in charge, I would do my best to create as complete a set of assembly instructions as I possibly could.  In 2010 I got the chance.  I’m pleased to report that the art team I headed up never worked extra hours, produced an ambitious number of assets, won a national art award from Unity, and had 3 months of DLC in the can when the ship date arrived.  So yes, you can create a game without crunching, I’ve done it, and yes there are also black swans.  But, it took profound effort on my part and was very, very taxing. If this sort of effort were to be extended across multiple back to back projects the risk of manager burnout is high.  I guess this is why most managers default to lax planning.  Better to burn out my subordinates than me, its a matter of blunt self preservation.

So maybe surfing is the answer?  I think its worth try, anybody know where I can get a good surfboard?