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Crunching the crunches: Rooks Keep, Viscera Cleanup Detail and the time demons

The way we have been working is not sustainable, especially the crunches just before release. Several days on my work log peaked over 15 hours and that is not really sane. …And that log doesn’t count lunch or any other breaks as work time (unless lunch is eaten with the other hand on the keyboard)

There has been a lot of this crunching because there have been many releases.
Going back to June, we finally pushed through to get Rooks Keep released which was met with a pretty depressing reception. That was not really surprising. We realised as development dragged on that it was a mistake to make such a big game with no clearly communicable hook, but we wanted it done.

Rooks Keep members enjoying a sunny morning

Very shortly afterwards, born from a thread of otherwise rather cynical contemplation, inspiration struck and we dove into Viscera Cleanup Detail.
After that we had the deal to do VCD:Shadow Warrior and that took longer than expected. Following that a major update for VCD and the insane idea of VCD: Santa’s Rampage came up. We could either cram it in before Christmas with a very tight deadline or wait a year (yeah, that’d work…)

Merry Christmas! Now you're all gonna die!

We crunched to get VCD v0.2 on the date we’d set for the end of November and went straight into VCD:SR for 2 more weeks. Arn started working on Santa after regular VCD work and I gradually started as VCD v0.2 neared its target. It wasn’t all *gruelling, but it was not healthy and the team needs a break.

All in all, it has been a pretty punishing schedule and it was all compounded by my eye surgery and subsequently complicated recovery which devoured lots of time before and around VCD:SW.

Nooooo! Not the face!

However, time management has been steadily improving – we somehow got 5 significant releases out on schedule in the last 6 months – but it’s not nearly good enough.
Getting this right is a major focus of mine for the coming year. Properly spacing out milestones and being disciplined about feature creep is going to be challenging, especially since ‘feature creep’ introduced some of the most interesting elements of VCD. Allowing space for unexpected changes and time to experiment will need to be done. This is challenging because it is planning around the unknown, combined with the perpetual certainty that there is not enough time to do everything already on the list.

This tank is rated ONLY for green monstrosity growing fluid, never use other types of monstrosity growing fluid!

It is also vital to make sure there is time to continue experimenting with new prototypes. Game jams and experimental projects are not just a way for studios to possibly scoop a new hit, for indies, I feel they are essential to long term survival, because the ability to produce crazy, unique and unconventional games is one of our best edges compared to big studios with massive production capacity. Making one new crazy game that stands out is great, but once that becomes old and done, we need to have something new up our sleeve and it better be damn good and it better not be the same as everything else. In order to reach that, many prototypes must be produced and discarded in the process. Somehow, those have to be produced while still developing the main, proven games.

That will be an interesting challenge and it won’t happen at once. It will be a continuation of the process that has (I think) been evolving and improving. I will just put more concious effort into it and try to push myself to better understand where the limits of the game development process are for us.

Yeah, considering the evil inside that machine, this is about as close as you wanna get

TL:DR – Less burnt-out devs, more crazy stuff, time will kill us all – don’t say I didn’t warn you!

 

 

*some of it really was; fucking physics, yeah you!


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4 Responses to “Crunching the crunches: Rooks Keep, Viscera Cleanup Detail and the time demons”

  • That’s a great lesson to learn!

    In the past year or so, I’ve found that even though we love making games, and we love dedicating pretty crazy amounts of time into our labour of love, it’s really important to take breaks, for a couple of reasons:

    When I’m fresh, calm and un-stressed, I find I’m much less prone to making mistakes, redoing things, and generally being inefficient. As much as my heart might want me to work seven days a week, I’ve found that for me to function really well in the hours that I do work, I’ve got to have about 7 hours of sleep, and one day a week when I do absolutely nothing to do with making game art. It helps me to stay focused and keeps resentment down.

    I also believe that there are countless sources of inspiration outside of game dev that can help us grow as game developers. I used to feel guilty about taking breaks, going on hikes, going to the beach and hanging out with friends, because it meant time away from levelling up at my art skills. But when I thought about it as gathering reference, and as exposing myself to many other parts of life, things that could be sources of inspiration for another art style, or another game mechanic, I started to enjoy taking time off more, and seeing it as necessary.

    When Rami came to visit for AMAZE, he said something along the lines of “Go sky-diving. It’ll teach you more about game design than months of game design courses, reading books or staring at a computer screen.” I believe it’s true. :)

    Good luck!

  • Great comment! :) And wise words!

  • Blitz:

    Hey I just have a question about when the machine jams and guts/a bomb come out. Is there any way to avoid that? I try to be as conservative as possible when getting new buckets and bins, but it never fails to include a long string of jams.

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