Blogged Out: Crunch, Crunch, Post-Crunch

Welcome to 'Blogged Out', the news report that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week we visit so...
Welcome to 'Blogged Out', the news report that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week we visit some developers from whom 'all the world's a game', as they hit crunch time - musings from the land of hard work come from Jon Jones, Rob Fermier and Stuart Roch. - So it's been all quiet on the game dev front. Why? Well mostly because people are either in the middle of (or taking some time to recover from) the big old crunch period required to get games out for Christmas. Ready At Dawn's Jon 'Smartist' Jones reports that he is feeling the one-dimensionality of being stuck in the zone: "I haven't opened a book in weeks, I've barely been playing games, I haven't gone and visited anyplace to take pictures of... nothing. I was either at work until the wee hours of morn, or carrying enormous boxes up the stairs of my new apartment. Weirdly enough, even though I was so hyperfocused that I essentially became a monkey capable of only one single task at a time, having work AND the move to do helped me feel as though my soul wasn't being forcibly and violently sucked out of my body and fed into a meat grinder like I have with other crunches. I guess that provided me with just enough "depth" to survive." Poetically put, Mr Jones. And I think we all know how that feels. - Rob 'Xemu' Fermier of Ensemble Studios, meanwhile, has been musing on the ups and downs of having put out a test version of Age Of Empires 3 out prior to release. "On the down side, a lot of bugs and problems fixed in the final game are in the trial... ranging from problems with the game crashing at start up to units with missing or broken art. There's no excuse for this, we should've caught those bugs, but that's life in development, especially when trying to ship the game proper at the same time. But there's been an upside too -- getting raw, real feedback from users has been quite helpful in seeing what they think about the UI, the gameplay, the graphics, etc. In an ideal world that would have been done in a more structured beta process, collecting the feedback in a more coherent way and giving us more time to work on it. But even without that, it's been a useful process and I can say for certain that last minute changes in the game have been made based on feedback from the trial." It's perhaps an advantage of PC games these days that developers are able to easily distribute demos and beta versions of their games, but perhaps a little surprising that so few developers actually take advantage of the possible free testing that the community provides. - Treyarch and Activision have now finished shipping Ultimate Spider-Man and producer for the project, Stuart Roch, is now experiencing the peculiar post-project feel: "It's always a bit surreal when the game is released to be honest. You work so hard and personally put so much into it that when you're finally done, the title is in gamers hands, and the reviews start rolling in it's a bit of an odd feeling." He also muses on this being one of the games to appear at the end of the PlayStation 2's lifespan, a situation which for many folk magnifies just how difficult it is for teams to have to get good at working on a particular format, only to have it change a few years down the line. Roch, though, puts Ultimate Spider-Man's efficient completion down to a really capable team with solid QA to close the project: "Chalk it up to the end of the console cycle where everyone knows the TRC/TCR requirements backward and forward if you will, but I choose to believe that we had some really strong programming support on the requirements issues and the production team as well as QA did a really fine job of addressing the submission issues before we went in." Roch also takes some time out to consider the Metal Gear Solid 4 trailer: "I can remember some really funny conversations I had with programmers after checking the video out where they'd dismiss the trailer and say "There's nothing special about what they're doing, we could do that." The response disgusts me now as it did then, because of course they could do what Kojima's team was accomplishing. The key difference is that Kojima's team is always 'doing' things while other teams are grumbling about how they're 'going to be' doing them." And there's a lesson there for everyone. A final note for this week - if you have a game development-related weblog that you'd like us to be aware of, please mail us at [email protected]. [Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]

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