Jonathan Kromrey, or “Krom” as he's known by friends and colleagues, is a producer at I-play (www.iplay.com), a leading publisher of mobile games like 24, The Fast and the Furious, Jewel Quest, and Skipping Stone, chosen as "Game of the Year" at the 2005 Mobile Choice Awards. Jonathan has produced, directed, written and developed games for all platforms over eleven years for companies such as Strategic Simulations Inc., The Learning Company, Mattel Interactive, Namco, Eidos, and I-play.
5:23 AM (No, I'm not kidding.)
The fast blast of traffic horns races from the alarm clock and crashes into my mind, scattering my all-night “almost-got-it” dream as I'm about to place the last of hundreds of little square pegs into little square holes. I hate dreams like that.
Then the vision fades into the realization I need to get up and get going – this is Gold Day for the 24 mobile game project, and I can already sense the work that's waiting for me, anxious to pounce from the digital depths of the Internet while I try to fend it off with only a laptop and a mobile phone.
Morning routine ends after a quick breakfast with wishing the kids a good day and kissing my wife Wendy goodbye (she's the smartest and most beautiful woman in the world - and she played D&D before I met her!).
6:45 AM - Work Begins
It starts the same way every day - in my driveway. Start the car, hook up the power to my Treo 650 and being to download my emails over the air as I drive. On a busy day there are typically over 200 messages by the time I can glance at them while in the green/red traffic line to get onto Highway 101 – most are auto-notifications of game versions posted on the I-play Repository/publishing server so I skip through those until I recognize the name of someone on the team and see that they have a question I can review quickly.
It's unusually warm in California today and in the low 60s already. The stop-and-go from San Jose in the South Bay to San Mateo on the peninsula takes about an hour and a half, and is roughly 75 miles roundtrip… but hey, I love making games so it's not so bad.
I pull into the parking lot, and check again for new emails. There's 150 new messages since I have been driving. The UK group is 8 hours ahead of us and getting to the end of their day (4:15 PM) so their test results are getting posted.
It's quiet as I walk into the building and head up to the 5th floor. Chris Johnson, fellow compatriot and Head of Production for the US is here already at his desk and talking to the UK group via Skype. I wave at him from across the aisle while I start up my laptop, start a fresh pot of coffee brewing, and take a look outside. We have a great view of the bay, a pool table, and a foozball set (which I don't usually play because I've been focused on getting 24 out the door).
I've had a moment to collect my thoughts and get caught up on the bugs that are remaining in our assortment of reference builds. The best news is that Bruno Mateus (Sr. Programmer at Big Blue Bubble) has already been working on the issues already for 3 hours (I love Canada!), so there are already builds up on the FTP site waiting to be uploaded and freshly tested.
I call the I-play UK office and chat with the QA Lead as it's now 4:30 PM and he's winding down his team and the US QA team is now arriving. The torch has been passed back again like the Olympic flame, or a hot potato.
The 24 builds have been put in by the team, but I need the additional FIGS versions (French, Italian, German, Spanish) so the localization group can get a headstart on as many builds as possible once the English versions are cleared. The 24 game is very deep with lots of content so we have 3 different versions of the game for High Memory (series 60 devices), Medium Memory series 40 devices with 100k of memory, and Low Memory series 40 devices with less than 64k available. It's a challenge, but with every group working efficiently together we've been not only able to get it done, but also on time and on budget.
The team confirms that they should be ready in approximately an hour at our daily “formal” conference call at 10:30 AM, PST. I send an update to the Localization group in the UK that the new FIGS builds will be ready when they arrive tomorrow morning.
I realize I'm already out of coffee, so I get more.
One of the builds already cleared through QA works on the mobile phones we have sent to the licensor (20th Century Fox) so I upload the game link on our sever and send it OTA via a text message to their handsets. Their devices will beep and show a message has been received, then when the link in the message is activated the game will be installed. I love it. Getting builds to a licensor for review and approval has never been faster or easier. I have a separate site to send the game to 20th Century Fox in the UK as they use a different carrier and system, so I refer to the list of phone numbers and devices to make sure I've got it right.
The Fox Mobile group and 24 television show producers have really liked our game concept (where the player actually is a secret agent like Jack Bauer and is using his own mobile device to tap into the government anti-terrorism network and help other agents out). They've been really supportive and fast to respond, so I'm hoping to hear that we have licensor approval as early as two days from now.
Time for the daily development conference call. Ian Grutze (US QA Lead), Chris Johnson (Head of Production), and myself, touch base with the developer every day, prioritizing the fix list and reviewing what else is coming down the pipe.
For today, it's not just the code I need to have, it's also all of the other items that fulfill the milestone: video of gameplay, screen shots, legal statement, application specifications, final GDD / TDD, three walkthroughs (one for each content set), etc. Mark Maia (Art Director at BBB) has everything waiting for us on the FTP site. I start the download from the meeting room (thank goodness for wireless connectivity) as we speak.
I check the list and everything seems to be there so we sign off and begin to process the new build.
After writing up the meeting notes I send them to everyone who attended to see if I missed anything. Then I take short a break and scope the game news and info. The IDGA production Track is amazing and a feature a few weeks ago about transforming entire walls into dry-boards is something I'll suggest to Chris.
Some of the testers pass by talking about the new Xbox 360 and the riots that happened at a few locations. I played the Call of Duty 2 demo the other day in Toys R Us and it looked impressive and played well.
The Gold candidate of 24 is coming along nicely. QA has a few questions but they're not showstoppers so they hunker down to go through all of the playthroughs – there are three medals you can win, but some only appear if you beat the game under certain times. We're down to 2 B bugs but they're deep within the game so it will take a few hours to verify if they've been fixed.
I call BBB and let them know what issues remain to be verified and that things are progressing well. It's 3PM for them and they would like to go home at a reasonable time tonight (the development teams both internally and externally have been working the last six weeks straight and I'd like to give everyone some good news).
I'm happy that we've been able to stick to our ultra-aggressive schedule and how everything is falling into place like a well-oiled machine.
Ah, the daily question “Where to go for lunch? Healthy, not-so-healthy, or breakfast?”
I go with Chris and our Conversion Project Managers - Brett Conklin, and Kari Hattner - out to Baja Fresh and I select something healthy – the Naked Burrito – very risqué sounding, but actually just a burrito in a bowl and without the tortilla. During lunch we talk about WoW (World of Warcraft), some new games on handhelds and new licenses that are under review, then WoW some more, and then WoW on the way back.
Must…. stay…. awake…!
I grab my last cup of coffee for the day in order to power through the lunch that's making me so sleepy, and start to review the next licensed game potentials from other Hollywood film and television licensors.
From our past experiences in the game industry Chris and I have met many talented and reliable people, so after mulling over the concept, we review which of the best developers we'd like to touch base with and I send out a few feelers to check their availability.
Lucky for me, one of the projects is perfect for BBB, and I know they have a team soon available from Mahjong Quest. I touch base with Damir Slogar, their CEO, and he's excited about the new opportunity. I point out a few existing engines that they have which might be useful and Damir promises to send me a team breakdown and proposed budget in the morning.
Great news! US QA has confirmed that the bugs are verified fixed and the first set of reference devices are good to hand over to conversion. I first call the team at BBB and they raise a ragged cheer and I bid them good night. All I need is the source code to be posted to the FTP site so the conversion groups can begin the next stage – taking the code and porting it to over 250 devices.
I walk over to Brett and give him the thumbs up – his work is just beginning, and won't be fully complete until the middle of January. After that it's submission to carriers (Sprint, Verizon, Cingular, etc.) and then 6 weeks later - release! He's on the phone with the conversion group and says that the code will be available to them within minutes.
To polish things off, I sit down and update my daily status report for the project and send it out to everyone I can think of – QA, Production, Marketing, Sales, and Localization.
There's always more than one project at a time going on, so now that I'm at the end of 24 I make myself some green tea and settle down to check some of the other proverbial eggs in the basket. First I take a moment to review I-play's 2006 Road Map – Winter Olympics, 24, and 2F2F are in the early part of the year – uh oh. Need to start the concept for “24: part 2.” It feels strange to have to almost be in the middle of production on the second game when the 1st will be shipping, but the mobile space moves extremely quickly. I'm hoping we'll have a bit more time than the first game (3.5 months) – I make a mental note to check to see if we've set a record.
5:30 PM - SWOT
I create a SWOT report for each of the next upcoming projects (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), then run some preliminary numbers based on a 5 month development cycle as well as Profit and Loss spreadsheets. One of the ideas doesn't match up so we'll either need more time or we'll drop it. The other 2 look promising so I fill in the rest of the production dates, starting backwards from when we need to release it, submit it to carriers, start conversion, end production, Beta, Alpha, 1st playable, Concept, contract – and see that if we make decisions quickly we can make the dates that we currently have.
Naturally, something will happen to cause these dates to be in jeopardy, so I add a few weeks buffer, just to be on the safe side.
Last but not least!
I'm tired but feel good as I say good night to the testers and head home.
On my way I get a call on my mobile from a Korean developer/publisher who's looking for a distributor for the US and EU. There might be something there so I set up a time when we can see more of the concepts.
The smell of raviolis and the sight of my family's smiling faces greets me as I come home. After a relaxing meal and reviews of the boys' homework we have a quick game of Candyland (for the youngest) and Yu-Gi-Oh with the boys and then it's bedtime for the kids and a bit of World of Warcraft for Wendy and me. There's a quick quest that we've been waiting to complete and we're close to leveling up…
All in all I have to admit that I feel very much in life like the Paladin I play in the game – able and experienced to dispatch threats and issues as they arise and at the same time provide support and encouragement for everyone who works with and around me. I feel like I'm the luckiest man alive.