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Feature: 'What Went Wrong? Learning From Past Postmortems'

In a feature originally printed in Game Developer magazine earlier this year, we look at the most common 'what went wrong' issues from the development of games from Rock Band to Final Fantasy XII and beyond.
Postmortems -- articles written directly by the development team on the creation of a particular video game -- have been a staple of Game Developer Magazine for well over a decade. Advertisement With so many authors revealing what went right, and of course the car-wreck style appeal of what went wrong with the development process, patterns start to emerge. It becomes clear that a lot of the same mistakes are being made over and over again, and that some companies are even repeating their own mistakes. With that in mind, we decided to round up every "what went wrong" entry from the last three years, and compiled the most frequently made mistakes (usually over five times each) into this cautionary feature. For example, when deadlines get fierce, and everyone's chugging away, communication is most likely the second thing to go. The first, of course, is quality of life, leading to crunch, but you can bet that we'll get to that. Age of Booty (Certain Affinity, Max Hoberman) "Over the course of the project there were numerous disconnects between the perceived state of the game and the actual state of the game. "The hardest hit were the designers, who continued fine-tuning plans for sophisticated features like matchmaking and party support long after the programmers had already made huge simplifications (and often cuts) to these systems. A combination of lack of attention to the project, poor communication, and wishful thinking led to the design team believing that several features were far more advanced than we were actually able to implement, and they did not find out the reality until very late in the project." Juggling projects and lack of leads have been lumped together because they yield very similar outcomes -- people are stretched too thin, and hold too many responsibilities. This means people often can't see past their bottom line to check the larger trajectory of the game's progress or feel. Catan (Big Huge Games, Brian Reynolds) "Our biggest mistake ... was failing to assign a full-time lead programmer or lead artist to the project. "Not having a solid management structure meant that things tended to fall through the cracks. There was no one to set goals for the programming team or art group. There was no one to assert what needed to be done day-to-day, or week-to-week, or month-to-month. The employees sometimes drifted, unsure what they should work on next, spending too much time on assets that were unimportant, neglecting elements of the game that were actually critical." You can now read the full 'what went wrong' feature, excerpting the most exemplary postmortems of the past year (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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