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Postmortem: Hohokam Project

Postmortem of a 15 week developmental cycle for UAT Game Studios.

Weekly Journal
MSC501 | Hohokam: A Deeper Map
The University of Advancing Technology
 
Postmortem


I took on an extraordinary 15 week journey that allowed me to revisit the methodologies and practices of game development. This was quite an experience for me, not only did I have to be reacquainted with industry traits and tools, but I had to acquire new development strategies and work directly with an outside client.  


Our team, The University of Advancing of Technology and Mesa Grande Museum merged for a collaborative project that brought a whole new meaning to history and indigenous culture. The Hohokam Project: A Deeper Map. The project is essentially a virtual app that serves to extend awareness of the Hohokam culture that once resided over the greater Phoenix area. It aims to have a 2D map (Phoenix) and a 3D map (Hohokam) that can pin point accurate geographic locations and historical landmarks. It’s currently being developed in the Unity 3D Game Engine and set to deploy in summer of 2016.


The project launched in early August and had an estimated 15 week production cycle. In this postmortem, I will evaluate and share my weekly development and management strategies that I had the luxury of experiencing.

Week 1-7
Conceptual


In the spirit of preproduction and working with a new team, there are a lot of things that can go wrong and when they go wrong they go down wrong fast!  This was definitely something we experienced. As I reflect on the pros and cons of this very early stage, I can say that we made a huge mistake of assigning the wrong personal and subject matter experts to their roles.  Originally we had a team of 7, 1 concept artist, 3 production artist, 1 designer, 1 programmer and 1 project lead.  At the end of our production cycle we ended up with 4 team members. Artist/ Project Lead, Artist /ScrumMaster, Designer and Programmer.


The team was assembled together because of experience and overall skill sets. One of the team members (Matt Marquit) is a seasoned production artist with management title under our belt. I as well withhold the same experience and feel that the project lead positions should have been assigned to either one of us. I strongly believe this would have been the best solution for the team and project. Having an experienced project lead would have kept the project on track and kept our client happy. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case, our project leads lack of experience allowed for a lot of communication errors. The client kept on insisting on moving certain areas of the project in one direction and the current project lead interpreted the information differently. This by means is no blame on the project lead, it’s just a case of inexperience. This partially was due to new territories both parties were exploring. 


The client is a practical artist, with little to no background in game/app development. Our processes and tools of development are all new to him. The terminology of our tech world made it extremely difficult for him to understand. This caused many obstacles, our weekly builds would be torn apart and we would start all over again or he would request something new that was totally out of scope. We had to have several face-time meetings and figure out what the weekly milestones were and what he wanted (realistically) at the end of the production cycle.
In the midst of this and our ongoing preproduction phase, we unfortunately had a few team members leave the project and pursue other opportunities. Because of this, we eventually promoted Matt Marquit as our project lead. As soon as this change happened, the project started to have the snowball-effect and things started to string together and move quickly. (Productively)
 

Weeks 8-10
Production


Development really started to show and payoff during these few weeks. With our integrated Scrum based development and management system. We started to see the project form from conceptual to a working product. We examined, asked questions, and obtained feedback through each weekly sprint. The client would sit with us during our production day and guide us through his vision. I found this to be the most helpful and valuable. Working alongside the client allowed us to develop faster and if any issues arose we could make changes on the fly.

Below are the wins for this phase of production.

3D Modeling –
 
 

Asset integration –
 

UI Design
 

These weeks, were truly motivating. To see the weekly hours spent as good production hours, we were able to witness the project come to life. This brought a lot of energy and excitement to the team and most importantly the client was extremely satisfied with our progress.

Week 11-13


As the project continued to roll out, we were now on track to produce a functional prototype. Although (In the early stages) there were a lot of conversations and discussion on the actual scope of the project, we managed to narrow it down to this.

Prototype


-Functioning 360 navigation feature
-Function Zoom in Zoom out feature
-Function min map
-3D direct simulation of the Hohokam “Los Muertos” village
-2D contemporary map of Phoenix

Below where the wins of this production phase

Pop up features – mini map and points of interests
 
Asset integration with new Next-Gen Tech. (Speedtree, Bitmap2Material, Parallax texturing)


I would evaluate these weeks as the heart of production. This was the first time where we witnessed each other’s collaborate efforts come to fruition. The merits of the project were being showcased through our functional prototype.  It was incredible to see these new tools (Speedtree, Bitmap2material, Parallax Texturing) all working together to create an immersive user experience.
The only con with these weeks and what I feel was a failure was not integrating the 2D contemporary map of Phoenix. If this feature was implemented, the user would have been able to toggle the 2D map of Phoenix over the 3D virtual map of the Hohokam “Los Muertos” village. This was something that was assigned and expected to be featured in the prototype. However, even though I consider this a huge miss, our client was still very excited and motivate for what’s to come in the next iterative cycles of production.

Weeks 14-15

Crunch Time


These were the closing weeks of the semester and the end of our 1st production cycle. As we neared the last few days, I was tasked to create a video reel of all the steps, process and management strategies we applied that gained our productivity.
The video was broken down into 5 sections.
-History
-Conceptual
-Production
-Management
-Prototype
It can viewed here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ba1-_FaVV0I

Conclusion


From my perspective, I feel that no matter how many projects I’ve been on there is always something new to learn. I’ve been in the game and education industry for nearly a decade now and through each project I’ve come acquainted with, it’s never perfect, nor will it ever be. This isn’t due to lack of experience or due to poor management/development strategies it’s just the nature of projects. Yes I’ve been able to improve on my management skills, adapt to new scrum based methodologies and communicate better but regardless of these improvements, I still run into issues and will continue to. I feel that the best way to learn from mistakes is from failure. In order to perfect the world of project management and development is to gain experience and learn from mistakes, learn from your team and learn from your client.


I’m looking forward for the next 15 week iterative production cycle and hope to leave our client in a good place to pitch to potential publishers and stakeholders.

Cheers


Jorge Portillo

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