As mentioned in my previous entry, we over-scoped the project. I am not going to explain how that happened again in order to not repeat myself. Instead, I will talk about the consequences of that. In the previous entry, I explained the consequences it had on the sustainability of our code base. This time, I will analyse the impact on us as team members and our development pace.
After going through such a rough and crunchy development cycle, almost everyone I spoke to mentioned being exhausted, and the phrase “I used to have a life before coming to GamerCamp” became commonplace. Not just between us programmers, but the art team as well.
We think we are exhausted and burnt out, but this was only two months. What if we carried on like that for the whole of the PS4 project? A conversation I had with one of the producers at Ruffian games springs to mind. He told me about the time when the predecessor company, Realtime Worlds worked on the Crackdown title, which included crunch from 9am to 10pm for 6 days a week for 8 months up to release. The time scales match up more or less, so what is the result of such a development cycle? The producer ended up in hospital due to exhaustion and stress. He did say it was worth it due to the acclaim that the game received, but turning development into a health hazard is in no way shape or form sustainable.
I also heard of team members complaining about not being able to sleep due to the accumulated stress, so I do wonder whether that’s where we would end up if we approached our next project like that. So why did we do it for this project? There are obvious issues with the approach after all, obvious to all of us. We could have just reduced the scope. We did it because we were all hungry for success I think.
It is a naïve way to approach games development, and, while it can give great results in the short term (after all, I think the amount of features in our game is truly outstanding), it can not be sustained. Furthermore, productivity decreases with burnout, which became very apparent in the last week or so of development.
How I would approach it next time
Going forward to the PS4 project we will have to scope carefully and then be brave in re-scoping, cutting down on features and proper prioritising. It is always scary to do this, because you think that the end product will be worse, and it is so tempting to crunch because you’re convinced that your game can be better, so why not do it? I think this is a lesson developers learn with experience, and I think I’ve seen enough of the side-effects to convince myself to reduce scope, both for my productivity and well-being, as well as that of my teammates.