• Crunch article from Edge UK mag 081

    From mofous@21:1/5 to All on Sat Jan 22 14:38:02 2022
    Came across this article... it's interesting.
    It's for your TTS...

    Transform into sweatshop

    THe friendships die. Marriages end. No-one goes home
    until the game is shipped. Edge explores the seemingly infinite cram sessio=

    tunch time. The term sends shivers
    ? down the spines of embattled game
    developers everywhere. Any developer will
    tell you that the final stretch of work on any
    game is the toughest, most demanding, and
    most time-consuming part of the job.

    Look at the catalogue of titles that just
    made it to store shelves for the Christmas
    season and it's guaranteed that you'll see
    some titles that have taken years off the
    lives of those who made them.

    It's a tough road, and yet their ears must
    be ringing from the remarks of doubters:
    "These guys make games, They play with
    Nerf guns at their offices, they get big royalty
    checks when the games are done. We're

    crying over how hard life is for them"

    Foam projectiles and big money aside,
    game development teams aren't that big
    (outside Japan, anyway). More often than
    not, game developers in the US and UK
    are working weekends, as well as shifts
    that average from about 10am to 10pm.

    The casual dress and LAN fragfests may
    be pleasant perks, but the demands of the
    job push game development beyond the
    realm of respectable hours. It's a career
    choice with serious repercussions on
    family and social life,

    Those who have been in the industry
    long enough have seen their fair share of
    marriages end ? and this comes back a
    large part to the time demands of the job.

    Here comes the crunch
    So what is it exactly that makes the closing
    period of game development so difficult?
    Problems during development frequently
    get pushed aside to be fixed at the end. As
    ? game undergoes its transformation from a
    bare engine to a working prototype, more
    problems arise, And the more of the game
    there is developed, the more there is that
    ??? go wrong with it.

    Many features and control issues are tied
    up at the end of development. According to
    Shiny Entertainment president David Perry,


    hell in their
    own words

    When it comes to the "make
    or break" period of game
    development, it is, more often
    than not, the developers
    who are made or broken.

    And in the crazy world of
    crunch time, crazy things
    happen. Edge polled every
    industry veteran whose
    email address could be found
    and asked for their best
    crunch time stories.

    Their responses, true tales
    of superhuman endurance
    married with bizarre
    circumstances, appear
    over the following pages.

    when a developer says: "It will all come
    together in the end,? he actually means:
    ?Things are buggy, broken, or not
    implemented yet and they had better
    all come together at the end!?

    Almost universally, a game quickly
    goes from just functional to playable in
    the last month of development. That's
    when a lot of late nights are required to
    debug, tune and finish a game on
    schedule. The team must tie up all
    the loose ends behind the graphics,
    music, sound effects, gameplay
    mechanics and, increasingly, story
    and character development.

    When these elements first come together,
    the game is said to be in its alpha stage.
    The elements are there, but the code is still
    very buggy, the camera may be wonky and
    character Al may be flawed. Once these
    bugs are worked through, the game
    enters the beta stage. This is when the final
    crash bugs are exorcised and tuning begins.

    Explains Perry: ?Tuning and setting
    variables such as difficulty, lives, ammo, and
    energy can't really be done until the de-
    bugging ? making sure a gun works or that
    your enemy is not blind ? is out of the way?

    Testing courage

    "| was working for an English publisher. We were trying to finish ? PC port=

    of an Amiga game in time for the holidays. To get through the final bit of=

    testing, | took three testers along to the developer, based in the middle o=
    nowhere, and set up camp.

    "We were there for a week before we had the game to a level which
    we felt was finished. Just before we drove off with the final set of master=

    disks (shows you how old the story is), ! thought it would be a good idea=

    to have the testers play through the game, start to finish, one more time.=

    "This takes about five hours of playtime ? remember, the tester knew
    the game better than the back of his hand. He got to the last level,
    finished the last boss, and pow ? nothing happened. We went and
    awoke the programmer (it was about midnight), and told him the problem.
    He looked at the code and instantly spotted the problem. Five minutes
    later our poor tester was back playing the game from the start.

    "Six hours later (hey, he was getting tired), he got to the final boss,
    killed it and, uh-oh, nothing happened again. The player was just left on=

    the screen by himself ? no ending animation, no rolling credits, not
    even any music.

    "So we politely interrupted the programmer again and explained the
    problem. He looked at the code and muttered: "God, that would never
    have worked!" typed some more lines of code and blam, we got a
    whole new version.

    "| looked at the tester. He looked like he'd played this game for weeks.
    And just after completing an eleven-hour stint, | asked him to do it again.=

    He did. He finished the game, and thankfully it worked right this time. We=

    got in the car and took off, never to come back. We got the game done
    just in time. The poor lead tester spent the next week in bed.

    "While a lot of crunch stories will talk about how much dedication the programmers had, | think testers probably have the worst part of it - they=

    get paid peanuts, are expected to work a 24-hour shift when it comes to finishing product, and they don't even get any credit for it. If it wasn't = for
    the test groups working like crazy, crunch mode would all be for nothing."=

    Colin Gordon, vice president of product development,

    Boss Game Studios

    464 EDGE

    Developers must iron out programming
    bugs, make modifications to the gameplay,
    eliminate the bugs that arose from making
    the modifications, then modify some more.

    The pressure is twofold. They must
    deliver the best gameplay possible within
    the time limit and iron out all the bugs that
    occur. Often, new features are added or
    planned features are dropped within this
    time frame. It is the make or break period
    for a game's development.

    "Neglecting either tuning or debugging
    will simply ruin all your years of hard work,?
    says Perry.

    Months later, teams can see the end of
    the tunnel. But if they don't want to ship
    an unfinished or unpolished game, the
    amount of work done per day has to
    increase dramatically.

    And those long hours mean that
    productivity usually goes down, necessitating
    even longer, less productive hours. It's a
    vicious cycle that ends (rarely) when the
    team decides the game is finally finished ?
    or (much more frequently) when the
    publisher demands that the game ship
    no matter what.

    This is where the marathon sessions
    begin. As the days before deadline approach,
    development teams cease to go home, often
    falling asleep at their keyboards, wearing the
    same clothes for several days, eating
    takeaway food for three meals a day.

    To quote Thomas Paine, these are the
    times that try men?s souls. Crunch time kills
    friendships, ends marriages, and causes the
    occasional fist fight.

    ?There are lots of discussions, lectures,
    and software products declaring their
    solution to this ?cramming? at the end,?
    admits Perry. ?But | think it's now infused
    into our genetics forever, after years of
    our parents and parents? parents
    cramming at school"

    Of course, developers feel an
    overwhelming urge to continue adding
    to a game until the last moment. But a
    month or two before a game is completed,
    it undergoes a ?feature lock, which
    means that developers cannot add
    any more features.

    They must simply debug and tune the
    game with its current feature set in order to
    get the project finished. As debugging and
    tuning commence, particularly in ? product

    SE eS: ??

    e had all been working
    100-hour weeks. People were
    living in the offices. | was

    trying to get some new info

    related to a bug to a member
    f staff. | knocked on the
    office door. No response. |

    knocked a little louder. 1 could

    hear soft music from within
    Through slits in the window
    blinds, 1 could see that the
    room was barely lit by the
    pale glow of the Christmas
    lights inside.

    "So | opened the door The
    person I was looking for was
    in ? so was his wife. They
    were making love on the
    Persian rug. It was like she
    had come up for a conjugal

    visit, because her husband

    was in the prison of

    development. (But, hey, we've
    all been there, right?) 1 have
    many more crunch time
    stories, but ? wouldn't you
    know it ? I'm in crunch right
    now on Deus Ex."

    Harvey Smith, lead
    designer on Deus ??,

    lon Storm

    Crunch flights...

    "Spec Ops 2 just went gold, so | am all too familiar with crunch time. My s= enior ?When | was at Virtual iO (the company that made VR headsets), some o=
    f our people

    programmer stayed in the office and wore the same clothes for four days in =
    a row. missed a flight from Seattle to Tokyo and were unable get another fl= ight. Rather than
    (although he was nice enough to run them through our washing machine at lea=
    st once). move the meeting to ay, they decided to fly around the world - th=
    e long way.
    After we got the official approval, he was able, somehow, to meet me at the=
    airport at They went from Seattle, to New York, to London, to Bombay,
    to J=
    apan. They still got there
    7am the next day to fly to San Francisco, for a Dreamcast developers' confe= rence. Now sooner than if they had waited until the next direct flight, but=
    not in a good condition.
    that is dedication above and beyond the call of duty. John Williamson, prod= ucer, Zombie

    EDGE 65=BB


    Pinball police.)

    ?| bought the Shiny team some
    ???! pinball machines to play
    with. Little did | know that
    while the Messiah team was
    diligently working away on the
    third floor in the middle of the
    night, the pinball machine was
    randomly making a glass
    breaking noise. Right above
    the machine was a ?glass
    break? alarm sensor.

    "This was followed by
    somewhat excited police
    officers storming the building,
    guns drawn, putting the
    Messiah team members up
    against the wall to be
    searched. To compound the
    problem, many of the Messiah
    guys wer? foreign and wore
    black military-style gear. (Thank
    God they were not playing
    with Nerf guns at the time!)

    It was stressful, especially
    since it happened repeatedly
    before we found the source
    of the problem."

    David Perry, president,
    Shiny Entertainment

    that is extremely late, features and levels
    that are proving hard to fix are sometimes
    unceremoniously chopped.

    One recent example of a game that had
    its feature set frozen was Legacy of Kain:

    Soul Reaver. As the project was running a
    year later than its first scheduled release
    date, several later levels were cut from the
    game. As a story-driven adventure, the
    cutting of the levels required the design
    team to amend the story. (This decision
    came after the voiceover for the project

    had been recorded, and several sound files
    for the originally planned ending were buried
    on the PC version. A group of hardcore
    gamers found the files, extracted them, and
    posted them on the Web.)

    It's disappointing to hear stories such as
    the one concerning Soul Reaver. But the
    reason developers work so feverishly during
    crunch time is to get the tuning down and
    the gameplay right. Nobody intends to ship a
    bad product. But sometimes a development
    team's reach exceeds its grasp.

    Tuning and timing...

    "it was April, and | was working onsite at Pumpkin Studios in Bath, England=
    , finishing the realtime strategy
    game Warzone 2100. We had to make the quarter. A team of about 14 people ha=
    d worked nearly 16-hour
    days for the last three weeks.

    "We had to do an English version, as well as localised French, German, and = Italian ones. Towards the final
    week, testers were complaining that the game was too hard. As an RTS game, = proper balancing and tuning
    was crucial. Add into the mix more than 2,000 units which can be created, a=
    nd it was extremely complicated
    to change the values for tuning. But Jim Bambra, the project director, did =
    it to appease the testers.

    ?Two days before the final master was due, the test team now found that the=
    campaign and skirmish
    were too easy. Jim gave us his "I will kill you" look, and then called a co= mpany meeting with the whole test
    team. People were split on the difficulty, but several campaign missions we=
    re flagged.

    "Jim then did a final edit, prayed to the tuning gods and thankfully it tur= ned out fine ? everyone was happy
    with the balance. But there was one major complaint from users, resulting f= rom a feature we added in the
    final month. It was the mission timer. This was an Eidos idea. We wanted a = one- to two-hour time for each
    mission. This would prevent users refining endless supplies of resource, at= tacking the computer, and then
    repairing the unit to gain experience points.

    ?if you set your forces to do this automatically, after about eight hours y=
    ou would be nearly invincible for
    the rest of the game. The programmers could not easily limit the resource, =
    so the timer was enacted to stop
    cheating. Our testers always had enough time to finish the mission, however=
    ? some missions were tight
    with the time limit

    "A large percentage of RTS crowd and some review editors bemoaned the timer=
    as an unnecessary
    annoyance. This was frustrating, because they did not appreciate our positi=
    on on its validity. As an American
    producer working with a UK developer, one of my contributions was providing=
    a magical elixir that propelled
    the team to finish the code and put out a quality title. It came from the n= ewly opened, previously never heard
    of, Starbucks Coffee of Bath, England."

    Eric Adams, producer, Eidos

    4 66 EDGE

    "It's a pretty high
    productivity bar
    when you ask your
    co-workers and
    'Have you made
    your $2m revenue
    for the company
    this year?'"

    Can the crunch be stopped?
    Why not add more people at the end to a
    project to help alleviate the crunch? Because
    the creation of software is such an intimate
    process that adding team members near the
    end just won't speed up development.

    "More people just ask too many
    questions," moans Perry. "They actually
    decrease the efficiency of the people that
    were really getting the work done. For
    example, hiring 20 programmers to work
    with the three you already have will just
    swamp them with problems, questions,
    and thirdparty bugs.?

    Any painter, sculptor, musician,
    photographer, or director will tell you that
    the creative process isn't always orderly.
    Even a game with a solid design document
    will still change during production. As
    games become increasingly cinematic,
    story-driven vehicles, costing ever more
    to produce, design documents and
    preproduction planning are playing a
    crucial role in development, as is asset
    management during a project.

    ^| used to waffle on about ?dynamic
    design," smiles Perry, admitting that there
    was never a design doc for Earthworm Jim
    or MDK. ?It was my way of explaining that
    1 had shipped tons of games without ever
    having a design document in any form.

    ?We knew the direction we wanted to
    head and then kept enhancing the bits that
    were working the best? A logical philosophy,
    sure. But perhaps one that is best left with
    the days of smaller development teams.

    ?Once teams get over about nine people
    things start getting messy. You need to
    track progress and keep everyone guided,
    as different people work at different
    speeds. Without a design, this can get out
    of control really quickly?

    Perry makes the inevitable comparison
    to the more detail-oriented world of

    Hollywood. "We need to think of our staff as
    the expensive celebrities who we don't want
    sitting around while we redesign stuff? he
    says. "Certainly our focus at Shiny is turning
    towards tons more pre-planning and a lot
    more reality checks along the way"

    Even the film industry ? with its 90-year
    history, its unions and production positions
    organised down to the minutiae of who's
    refilling the crisp bowl on the snack truck ?

    When a debugger

    still has its share of nightmarish production
    over-runs. Remember ?Waterworld??

    Still, Perrys suggestion is valid, and
    ? model where ingame development
    is further segmented into preproduction/
    production is one many other developers
    will begin considering as well.

    But game development is an entirely
    different beast ? some 70 years younger
    than the film industry and evolving at a much


    faster pace. So much faster, that
    game developers' staffing needs have
    Changed tremendously with each new
    generation of hardware.

    "Over the past few years, team sizes have
    gone from ten to 20 people, and so much
    more is required," observes Chris Taylor,
    president of Gas Powered Games and
    designer of the original Total Annihilation.

    "It's crazy. It's like taking the same team

    s not enough...

    "This is a vulgar story - I beg.
    your indulgence in advance.
    We were in the closing hours
    of OddWorld: Abe's Oddysee.
    The game was complete and
    on the disc, which was
    getting a final run-through by
    designers Jeff Brown and Paul
    O'Connor (we had no test
    staff on that job, so the
    designers did the in-house
    testing). Jeff discovered a
    crash bug in one of the later
    venues. It might have been
    the Forest Temple ender.

    So of course, everything
    came to a halt while we
    tried to track it down.

    ?Eric Yiskis fired up the
    debugger and Paul played
    through the game, trying to.
    reproduce the crash. Things
    were painfully slow. Eric was
    watching the code one line at
    ? time, translating to a slow
    motion, fractured play experi-
    ence for Paul, meaning his.
    timing was all off and he kept
    making dumb mistakes. Add
    that to the accumulated
    fatigue of several weeks of
    crunch time, and we weren't
    at our most efficient. Still,
    Paul played through the
    sequence multiple times and
    we couldn't find anything
    wrong with the code or
    reproduce the crash.

    "Meanwhile, on the other
    side of the room, Jeff
    continued to reproduce the
    bug by playing off the disc.

    So, we have a real mystery
    on our hands: a game that
    crashes off the disc but runs
    just fine on the development
    station, and code that looks
    Correct even through a line by
    line examination by our
    programming staff. Deadline.
    Creeping panic.

    "Then Craig Ewert, another
    of our programmers, pops the
    disc out of the machine, turns
    it over, and sees there's a bit
    of crud (well, to be fair, it
    was... a booger) on the disc.
    He wipes it off, pops it in the
    machine, and the level plays
    just fine. Bug solved. Instead
    of running it through the de-
    bugger, we should have run it
    through the de-boogerer."
    Lorne Lanning, president
    and creative director,
    OddWorld inhabitants

    EDGE 67 >


    Die hard developer...

    "When it came to crunch time, |
    had the bright idea of staying in
    the office the entire week just to
    get things done.

    ?It was the early hours of
    Tuesday morning when | hit the
    sack. | laid out my sleeping bag
    on the floor in my office and
    sprawled out in nothing but ??
    jean shorts,

    "The floor wasn't comfortable,
    50 | decided to grab cushions
    from the couch in our lounge
    area. | took all but one pillow
    and constructed a fairly good
    bed. My feet were still dangling,
    so | went back to the lounge for
    that last cushion.

    "This particular company had
    tight security. All staff had
    security cards that allowed
    them in and out of certain areas.
    Heading back to my office, |
    realised | had left my security
    card on my desk. | was stuck!
    Doomed to be discovered later
    that morning, half naked in the
    lounge. It was like one of those
    dreams where you're in school
    wearing only your underwear.

    ?| couldn't sleep (there were
    no cushions on the couch). Then
    1 remembered the scene in ?Die
    Hard' when John McClane
    climbs through the ceilings.

    My first thought was, ?Are you
    nuts?? But why not? It
    worked for him.

    "| stacked a chair on top of
    the refrigerator, climbed onto it
    and eased the tile aside, The
    light seeping through the cracks
    was my only guide through a
    jungle of metal, cables, and
    pipes. | started to make my way
    across, fearing | would come
    crashing down through the
    fragile tiles, Fortunately, having
    worked in construction for a few
    years, | had a good idea where
    to crawl and which pipes would
    support my weight.

    ?After making my way over
    air ducts and under network
    wires, | reached the other side of
    the security door, exhausted. |
    began to climb down and
    realised how dirty | had become,
    My foot left a long black smudge
    on the wall. Then | jumped, land-
    ed in a cloud of dust, and kissed
    the carpet.

    "| had to take a shower and ????? SE NEUEM $ LU ? 21551532
    do some major cleaning up. But I
    learned my lesson ? don't leave
    the office without your card!

    Needless to say | finished out

    the week, getting all my work ?| don't know anyone who has fond memories of=
    crunch time, when friendships end over whose fault
    done, and now | have a great the delays were, marriages end because one of = the spouses (almost without exception the

    story to tell my grandchildren. husband/father) spends too much time at wor=
    k, and co-workers end up in the occasional fist fight.

    I'll just have to add the part "it's hard to be nostalgic for marathon work=
    sessions created by poor planning, bad management,
    about me saving the company indecision, insecurity, creative paralysis, and=

    from terrorists.? Kelly Flock, president, 989 Studios

    ?John McClane?, developer

    4 68 EDGE

    that built a speedboat and asking them to
    build a battleship. You can't use the same
    hull design. Those who try are going to
    have an extremely difficult time getting
    things to work"

    Taylor, who's busy with his forthcoming
    action-RPG for Microsoft, entitled Dungeon
    Siege, remembers a time fairly recently

    to finish Perfect Dark in time for Christmas
    '99, Nintendo opted to delay the title until
    spring, citing the developer's preference to
    meet the expectations of the millions of
    gamers who enjoyed GoldenEye.
    Even more to the extreme is id Software.

    The developer of Quake refused to set a
    release date for Quake Ill: Arena. It simply


    Full development jacket...

    argued that the game would ship when it
    was ready. Does that mean everyone at id
    works nine-to-five and goes home? Quite
    the contrary, according to Id President Todd
    Hollenshead: "| don't think people on the
    outside can really understand what a
    pressure cooker people are put in when
    they work at id?

    "There are iots of discussions, lectures and software products
    declaring their solution to this cramming at the end.

    when you could have guys working on one
    aspect of the game with very little
    communication with others: "But now
    everyone needs to work together and stay
    informed about all the changes going on
    with the project?

    With the 3D graphics revolution,
    developers have faced new challenges,
    specifically cinematic ones. And, as has
    become obvious to anyone who's played
    a game in the past couple of years,
    ingame cameras have been problematic.
    Does this mean teams will begin to hire
    cinematographers? Perhaps, but they
    won't necessarily be part of the core
    development team.

    ?Team sizes will continue to grow. Key
    members will get more valuable until things
    become impossible to sustain,? Perry
    predicts. ?The nuclear meltdown will result in
    many teams going bust and the survivors
    contracting the best studios in specific
    areas such as motion capture, concept art
    and facial acting.

    "That way we all ?share? and only pay for
    work when we need it. Then, when later on
    we are spending months on design, for
    example, we don't have to carry the burden
    of all that staff?

    When does it end?

    As with professionals in many different
    trades, it's easy to see veteran game
    developers being accustomed to (and
    perhaps addicted to) the adrenaline and
    pressure created by deadline situations.

    As horrible as crunch time is when you're
    in it, it's an intense time. Afterwards it's easy
    to remember it through a fog of nostalgia.
    Certainly teams can give it their all in ?
    heroic effort to produce the gold master,
    but how playable the game is when it is
    considered ?done? is entirely another matter.

    Companies like Rare are sticklers for
    perfection, with a reputation for big budget,
    high quality titles. Nintendo has often
    delayed Rare titles just to give the team the
    required time to perfect the game before it
    ships. And while Rare might have been able

    But I think it's now infused into our genetics?

    ?When | think of crunch time, |
    think of pizza. Basically, pizza
    equals crunch time. If | go.
    somewhere that makes pizza,
    | feel like it's crunch time. It's
    like ?Nam.

    ?You imagine you hear
    helicopters and people shout-
    ing at you that there isn't
    enough room on the chopper
    for any more wounded.

    ?You start seeing bullets
    whipping past your head and
    then somebody slaps you in
    the face, right there in Pizza
    World! It can get ugly, Oh
    yeah, and then there is
    Chinese food, and...?

    Chris Taylor, president,
    Gas Powered Games

    EDGE 69

    ?we need to think of our staff as the expensive
    celebrities who we don't want sitting around while we

    Aside from the scrutiny that id developers
    receive from exposure in magazines
    worldwide and with millions of Internet
    users, Hollenshead suggests the pressure
    is on internally, as well. He reveals that id
    set a company revenue record in 1997,
    taking in $28m.

    "And that's with 13 people," says
    Hollenshead. "It's pretty easy to do the
    maths, it's well over $2m per employee in
    revenue. So it's a pretty high productivity bar
    when you ask your co-workers and yourself,
    'Have you made your $2m in revenue for
    the company this year??

    Id enjoys the luxury of funding its own
    game development, while most developers
    rely on instalment payments from publishers,
    which come in when the game meets
    developmental milestones. Finishing a game
    when it's due to the publisher is important.

    The developer may require the final
    milestone payment to maintain payroll and
    business expenses. And at the end of the
    day, some titles need to ship for financial
    reasons. Often, a publisher needs to make
    a judgment call on whether added
    development time will actually add significant
    improvements to the gameplay experience
    or simply tack on more development costs
    while insignificant effects are added.

    Gabe Newell, president of Valve,
    revealed that Half-Life could have gone
    out the door one year earlier, when it was
    intended to ship. But he intimates it would
    have been merely the shadow of the hit
    game it was. Sierra agreed to give
    Newell's team the extra year required to
    make Half-Life great.

    Other external factors often lead to
    shipping decisions being made regardless of
    the developer's opinion on how finished the
    game is. Many publicly owned publishing

    Concert bound...

    "The Turbine art department was in crunch to get its bugs killed on Asheron=
    's Call.
    My co-worker Pete and | had spent several days in the office, from early mo= rning
    until around 2am to get as much done as possible. After a few days of this,=
    1 realised
    that our tickets for the big Tom Waits show were on the night of the "true-= and-
    honest-I-really-mean-it-this-time" deadline.

    "^| came in early, (10am) and Pete came in sometime later. He gave me the t= ickets
    and said we'd meet at the show, then he left to pick his brother up for the=
    My wife and | drove into Boston and got to the venue. The show started with=
    Pete or brother. Three or four numbers in, | began to wonder if | had asked=
    Pete to
    pick me up at the office before the show, or whether we had agreed to meet = here.

    I started to get really nervous. But then they showed up ? they'd been in t= raffic.

    "The show was great, ending around 11 pm. My wife and | drove home, and I=

    immediately got back in the car and went back to work, finishing around 3 a=
    m. The
    next day | was told that the real deadline wasn't for another day or so. Of=
    Sean Huxter, lead artist, Turbine Games

    470 EDGE

    redesign stuff"

    companies, including Electronic Arts,
    Activision, GT Interactive, and 3DO, need to
    show profits to shareholders every quarter.

    If a game fails to ship during its scheduled
    quarter, the company cannot record the
    subsequent revenue the game generates in
    time. That may result in a loss for that period,
    which in turn usually has a negative effect on
    the stock price. This far too often leads to the
    ship now, patch it later mentality that plagues
    so many PC games.

    Perry complains: ?When | talk to
    developers working for public companies,
    the common thing they hear is Just ship it!
    Adding that effect won't sell us another
    copy!" Perry accepts that his company's
    Messiah project is late, but is confident
    because the team keeps pushing ahead,
    quarter to quarter.

    "It would have been very easy just to
    license the Quake engine and whack out a
    few Quake clones," he admits. "But we
    choose to try new stuff. Some public
    companies, such as Interplay, see the value
    in hiring and nurturing creativity"

    Crunched out

    It's unlikely that we'll see game
    development organised to the point where
    crunch time is eliminated. Not in the near
    future, if ever. Long hours will undoubtedly
    remain the method to this madness. Yet,
    with all the pressures, deadlines, and
    problems developers must overcome on a
    daily basis, a finished game is undoubtedly
    the miracle of science married to an
    incredible work ethic.

    It sometimes seems like a game will
    never be finished while you're working on it.
    In fact one developer relates: "I once figured
    out, statistically, that no game should ever
    ship" But it seems that for every last minute
    disaster that requires a marathon session, in
    most games there are an almost equal
    number of last minute miracles: hacks that
    double the framerate, brilliant gameplay
    tweaks, and so on. Taylor reveals to us that
    he keeps a grocery list of miracles he
    expects from his staff. Unbeknown to them,
    he secretly crosses off these miracles as his
    team completes them.

    So, next time you walk down the aisles
    at your local game store, think about all the
    cups of coffee and stacks of pizzas that
    have been consumed in the production
    of each game.

    More importantly, think about the
    programmers, designers, and testers who
    can't remember certain months of their lives
    because every moment was lived in a fog of
    bug reports and variable tweaking. Which is
    not to say you have to like all their work ?
    just don't be caught thinking they
    had it all too easy. 18


    " recall the brutal last phase
    of shipping a game, called the
    deathmarch. After working a
    year-and-a-half on the game,
    you completely lose your per-
    spective. You can't even see
    what you thought would be
    fun about the game in the
    first place. You only see a
    growing stack of bug reports
    that have to be re-created,
    isolated and fixed.

    "The pressure of working
    around the clock generates
    the overwhelming wish for it
    to just be over. Everyone is on
    autopilot, staggering towards
    the finish line.

    ?Not everyone on the team
    makes it. There are casualties
    on the death march. Some
    simply cannot go on - pitching
    forward into the pizza box,
    asleep mid-bite, Others go.
    psychotic, jabbering nonsense
    at their monitors.

    "The team is often forced
    to leave them behind with
    some cigarettes and a single
    bullet. But for those who sur-
    vive and make it home, victory
    is sweet. Shipping any game is
    ? profound badge of honour,
    respected by all developers.

    It's what separates the men
    from the boys."

    Mark Long, founder,
    Zombie Studios


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