Greetings Citizens! It’s been awhile but 10 for the Producers is back!
It’s been 4 months but 10 for the Producers episode 12 is here with Darian Vorlick and Eric Kieron Davis to answer 10 questions from subscribers! Below is the transcript of the episode above, Enjoy!
Eric Davis (EKD): Hey everybody, and welcome back to Ten for the Producers! We haven’t done these in awhile, so we’re really excited to go through these awesome questions. Before we get started we’d like to thank the subscribers for allowing us to do this enhanced content. It is because of you guys that we can do this and share this information, and it’s really cool to be able to share the details and get in front of the camera and talk to you as much as we possibly can. And to interact with you on the forums and all the other social media that we do, so thank you very much for allowing us to do this.
So, to get this started, our amazing ten questions, Darian, I’m not going to introduce who you are (Darian laughs, “Apparently”), I’m just going to start talking. I’m Eric Kieron Davis here with …
Darian Vorlick (DV): I forget who I am, oh, Darian Vorlick!
EKD: Alright, Darian’s going to start us off, go ahead!
DV: Okay, the first one. We’ve got a question from Doc.
(00:51) Doc asks: As a producer you get to see an in-depth look of the game and how the people work on the different systems. Are there any specific things you always wanted to do (or wished you could do) yourself if you had the skills for it? What assets would be your favourite to work on?
DV: This sort of like a bucket dream list, like if we could work on other aspects of the game, what would we want to do? What would yours be?
EKD: Oh, man, I was thinking about this a lot. Well, if you watch the “Get to Know the Dev” or whatever it was …
DV: “Meet the Dev”
EKD: … I talked about my background is animation, so I actually got out of college thinking I was going to be an animator.
DV: [holding up a bottle] Is this yours or mine?
EKD: It’s yours. So I spent a lot of time learning the craft of animation, getting a degree in acting, just all the things you need for a good solid performance of a character, and so that was actually the path I was going in. So for me what I would love to do, or what I would have loved to have done, what I would dig into (probably too much) is the animation side: performance and characters and just conveying a story, because I love telling stories.
DV: So this is your leading role as a Senior Producer?
DV: You’ve been cast as Senior Producer, and this is your script?
EKD: Yeah and I’m going to act someone out. So that would be me. What about you?
DV: Probably the lore or writing aspect. Given that I’ve got a background in publishing and writing I would love to be a project managers or just oversee how the writing develops. Creating that kind of mythos is incredibly interesting for me. I have a deep seated love for traditional printed media. There’s something romantically classy about holding a book in your hand and knowing that this is something that you had a hand in putting together. But I actually like what I’m doing here: being able to interact with developers on design and engineering, it’s different from anything else I’ve ever done. I like new things.
EKD: So there you go, that’s what we’d enjoy working on if we weren’t already doing what we loved, which is this.
(2:47) Graxas asks: As a producer you maintain an overview of the project progress and coordinate the disciplines (Art, Design, etc) to bring together a final product in the game (ship, location, etc), however to maintain the overview you need to be in the detail of each discipline. How do you draw the line between maintaining an overview and going too far down the detail rabbit hole? Give us an example.
DV: I think this is a question we’ve both been looking for, at least we’ve waiting for this question to be able to answer it.
EKD: It’s very tough. We’re going to get to later, I think there’s a question on ownership but when we talk about what our backgrounds are, what we’re experienced in and what we know we’ll tend to spend a little bit more time in those. So you hire different production with different skillsets to provide you different perspectives. So if you have a producer that’s very technical they may know a little bit more about the detail so they may answer those questions better. As you said in that post, “know enough to be dangerous”, right?
DV: Yes. I actually got that from Senior Producer Jason Hutchins.
EKD: It’s great, it’s exactly right. So I think the question’s “how do you draw the line?” You just got to figure out what you need to dig into. For me, it’s good to have an overview of the schedule; to plan it; to work with your leads and your team; but then sometimes you have to get into the weeds, you have to dig in even further. So it’s not necessarily you shouldn’t do one or the other: it’s more you do each at different times.
DV: That and when I first started here, I’m not a coder, I’m not a programmer, I’m not an engineer, so there was a little bit of a feeling of displacement when I first started because I wasn’t really sure if I would be able to talk at the level that’s necessary for the engineers and designers. But just through sheer saturation I feel I can at least carry on a semi-decent, intelligent conversation that doesn’t rely on just grunts and pointing.
DV: So being able to have a conversation about the Item system or the Entity Token system with developers, like on a phone call this morning, I think we should know enough just to be able to ask questions on how progress is going and know when someone is bluffing us. So we have to be able to read, what’s the word I’m looking for, anticipate what the needs of that particular discipline are. We don’t need to be experts in it, we just need to know enough to be able to converse with the developers and be able to manage those tasks.
EKD: Sure. So give us an example. I think you already started talking about one: the Entity Token. Right?
EKD: So how did you manage that how did you draw the line between; how far did you go versus “I just need to stay back and help you guys get it done”?
DV: For reference, this is what we were talking about on a Skype call we had this morning with our UK office, with one of our programmers Stephen Humphreys, and he’s in charge of our Entity Token which is the sequel to GOST. So I am not fluent in FlowGraph in CryEngine but with the way the Entity Token system’s working I know enough about what they are trying to accomplish with it to at least know what the end goal is; what they are trying to do to get there; what the voids are; and if a certain person leaves an aspect of this project what more resources do we need to allocate to that.
DV: And knowing who has what skillset is absolutely necessary knowledge to have in order to be able to fulfill that void. So in talking to Mr Humphreys we knew that he was making progress on certain aspects, certain concepts; I need to be able to ask how far is he; where’s he going with it; and i had to be able to converse with him at a level where it showed I understood what he was trying to do.
EKD: I would say lastly I was just re-reading this about “how you maintain that overview?” That’s kind of the point of production: we are the third party perspective; we are the outsider; we aren’t in the weeds per se so we are able to get a large overview. So I think, intrinsically, by being Production and being required to not know everything down to its base level that allows us to keep that overview. Right? So then we chose, as producers, where we should learn more information to help understand that better.
DV: That becomes a double edged sword because the more technical detail you have, where does it stop where the producer starts getting more involved with the actual technical, for example, if the producer can read code or write code it doesn’t mean that he’s going to start jumping in and changing people’s code when he sees a mistake or he feels something should be changed. That should be up to the designers and the programmers, and the producer should just be there to guide them towards the specific objective and not interfere with what the designer and programmer is doing.
EKD: Absolutely, great question.
(07:09) Steve hunter asks: How do you make task duration estimates when situations like ‘technical blockers’ pop up?
DV: I don’t think one is necessarily contingent upon the other one thing we do is talk developers and ask them how long they think it will take and this is predacted on their knowledge if it’s something they’ve already done we as producers will have a good idea to taken them in the past. We look at the scale of what their doing and we upscale it or downscale it based on the project need.
DV: If situations like technical blockers pop up something we’ve mentioned in previous Ten for The Producers videos is every time we put together a schedule and publish it for the team it soon becomes obsolete because dates and how long someone takes on a take can change from day to day we may need a programmer on a task pulled off because we’ve got another blocker that needs a fix and that may even become related to what he’s working on. Because we are a I wouldn’t say a small office but we have a limited number of resources that makes each time how a developer spends on a particular project that much more valuable. So being able to plot out that time is a very tricky thing to do.
EKD: It is and how do you plan for that? It always comes down we’ve never done it before the teams never done it before we’ve talked about this before at the end of it just add five ten percent buffer they will take 2 weeks so we give them a little bit over two and a half weeks and say that’s our coverage. So you’ll tend to see production bloat things a little bit more but that’s usually to protect the team. You want to over deliver as opposed to the other way around where people over promise. Anything that’s part of our job as production is to go we’re going to add a little bit extra time because even if comes down we deliver faster and then we’ll know for the next time as well.
DV: On top of that let’s say that I ask Mark Abent to do a programming task and he gives me an estimate that it takes fives days. Is that five days from now or five days worth of work? That’s something we have to be concerned with as well what resources does he have at his disposal as well?
EKD: And being a live plus development pre-production plus production and you also have to add in a certain amount of bugs. It’s a good question and it does come down to we‘re doing a lot of guesstimating and you have to trust the team the team usually knows the best or if they’ve never done it before you just add a bonus and go
(9:45) AragornBH asks: It has already been mentioned that CIG is in progress of trying to pool their human resources in their various studios around the world. This puts more people with a similar set of skills and focus in the same place, avoiding some of the natural roadblocks of working with people in a different timezone. From a producer’s perspective could you give any examples of how this organizational change has produced SC content more efficiently. Has this affected the speed/quality at which the Freelancer has been remodeled for instance?
DV: That’s a very specific question!
EKD: I’m wondering why he asked this specific question!
DV: You can use the sound team as an example on this.
EKD: So this one is a good question. I know a lot of people have wanted to know more after Chris sent that email out to inform how this was going to work. People like to read what is said and then what’s between the lines and there was no real reading between the lines on this one; it was truly just looking at the business, looking at the project and seeing what’s best for us to do it as fast, as cheap as we can: which we’re always doing! Every day we’re doing that! Every hour we’re doing that! So you’re going to see changes and in normal game development this happens: you go through and you revamp the team.
EKD: The previous places I worked we revamped or reorged every year, every six months! It’s pretty common because you learn so much more: like I know how to make that ship faster so I don’t need so many people, or I need more people, or whatever the case may be. It’s just the nature of business.
EKD: Have we seen anything? So this is in process of happening right now! We are talking about it because it was just announced and these things just don’t happen [snaps fingers] over night! But we are moving quickly on them, so for instance one of the examples is we looked at our amazing audio team, the majority of them if not all of them (except for one) is out in the UK led by Lee Banyard. It’s a fantastic team, they deliver quality stuff and they are very quick. The turnaround is very quick and their communication is solid and yadda, yadda, yadda: all the things that make teams great.
DV: And their all in one place together.
EKD: And their all in one place together. And I think that was one of the things that when you see “why are they doing so well?”, Well they’re all in one place together. They’re always together. So when things come up they just turn and they get it fixed so they don’t have to wait twenty four hours for an email to come back. So that’s a lot of the things we’re doing: just putting little things in place that make sense. So we’ll still have our multiple studios because it still makes sense to have that but we are unifying and I think we’ll start seeing the knock-on effects of that in the coming months.
EKD: Freelancer one specifically? You want to speak to that one?
DV: I got nothing on that one!
EKD: I got nothing on that one as well. That’s a great one: we’ll look into that one and come back to you!
(12:20) Fobile asks: As producers I assume you play the role of project managers and therefore have a huge role in monitoring the developmental progress of the project. At what point do you step in and determine that a person, group or contractor(s) is/are having difficult with their assigned task and what actions have you taken to remedy the situation? Also are your teams comprised of individuals focused in specific tasks or are most tasks down in small teams with a leader/mentor for the less experienced members?
DV: So this is kind of plays into key about what Eric was just talking about how we’re trying to centralize all of our resources in particular offices. Now our team hierarchy, we have a lead for each team for example, we have a design lead, we have an engineering lead, we have an art lead. So these leads pretty much head that team, now when we created a task for someone, these tasks are generated in collaboration with those team leads, that way the team lead is always aware of what their subordinates are working on and we as production can see an overall picture on what work needs to be done.
DV: So the kind of tasks that get dictated to us by the leads, we look at let’s say what features are coming down for the next patch. We’ll sit down with the design leads, what do you need done for this so design lead will give us a list of we need this in there we need to have that in there, so we look at these features, break them down into individual tasks and look at which developers are free under that particular lead, for example with art team, if Elwin we need to have a concept for actually our hangar ready ship, we see okay we need to see one of our artists Daniel, he can do this, Gage can do this, Patrick can do this, so us as production it’s our job to kind of make granular on how these tasks are broken down
EKD: And to speak to the other question because I think that was good for the last question, the other question is, when someone is having a difficulty right, that’s I think you touched on that a little bit. That’s a great question and what actions have you taken? Anything, everything right? We’ve gone everywhere from evaluating maybe the task what incorrectly bid out, maybe we said two days and it’s 3 months, major mistake right we got to get those leads again. Maybe they’ve had computer issues, maybe we’ve pulled them away too much to bugs for live things like we said in the last question I haven’t been able to get to it.
EKD: Maybe it just isn’t working with the structure so to the last question talking about shifting things around, we’ve gone all the way from having full pipelines move to different locations because they had the staff for it, it wasn’t necessarily because someone was failing and can’t do their job, get rid of them it was more okay this isn’t working out here lets evaluate why, oh, it makes sense here because they have more people, they have the right resources or maybe we realized there’s one person here that needs to be apart of it, the rest are in Frankfurt, or vice versa, it’s more about again, constantly evaluating as we look at our hiring practices, who we bring in, look at our overall tasks and then we shift those responsibilities around which is one of the cool thing about having as I’ve called it before, “follow the sun development”. We shut down, UK opens up, Frankfurt opens up, Austin right, vice versa, we kind of keep things moving along so we can keep things going as fast as we can. So that’s some of the things we’ve done, and we’ll continue to do it.
(15:30) Masq asks: What are the challenges that come with staff changes in different departments? What are the challenges you face when changing producers? Do you need to re-assign certain responsibilities? Do you guys share all responsibilities, and have similar knowledge/information about current tasks, or is it split between you? How do you effectively share information? Do you ever find it difficult to exchange information with other studios due to cultural, or language barriers? If the buck knife breaks while defending yourselfs, do to poor workmanship, how do you punish the employee you assigned to make it?
EKD: That’s a lot of fantastic questions.
DV: We stab them with the stump of the buck knife.
EKD: There you go! A lot of those could be answered in different portions…I think that’s like 4 of 5 different questions, I think the first one to speak to for sure is staff changes, production changes, responsibilities, sharing knowledge.
DV: Work still needs to get done.
EKD: In this industry, in many industries of creativity. People move around, it’s a very common place. People get another job, people get a promotion, they change, their spouse needs to move around the country, their kids need to go to another school, there’s all kinds of reasons people come and go, it’s a pretty fluid thing it’s just business, right? Any company any industry has this, this is not new.
EKD: So for us it’s about building contingency plans and understanding who can own what in the current environment. So as somebody ships out, there’s by no means ever an expectation that every producer needs to know everything, there’s no way we could all do that, at the number of production we have at this company alone, it would be an overwhelming amount. So yes, we do break it down by responsibilities, we do try to say alright Darian, you’re going to work with the engineering and design team in Santa Monica, you’re also going to work on live releases, you’re also going to do X, Y and Z, that’s what you’re going to try and own. You will be likely involved in these three things and you may hear about “this” stuff because it’s in your studio, so you should be aware of it but by no means he’s required to know it all.
EKD: In fact, we have to trust each other, so yes when someone says hey I got another great job, my wife needs to move to this, my husband this, right, whatever. We go “cool, here’s the contingency plan”, we start to either shift out that work, look at what we may need to rehire right? It’s kind of the part of the last question, re-evaluating the business needs and then we can filter that out. So if it makes sense they go okay that chunk of work that person was owning, we can probably still cover that here for a short period of time until we get support, we’ll do this this and this and we’ll fan it out. But ultimately we’ll have a longer term plan of okay the job will go up on the website or we’ll promote this person and were going to give these responsibilities, so we come up with a contingency plan and then we generally have a contingency on back of that.
EKD: We also you know, you may have heard this before, the hit by the bus plan, as vulgar as that sounds and how much I hate that because I never want anyone to get hit by a bus, the idea is that would we still be able to function? Yes, we want to make sure that people are, they understand enough of what everyone is working on so we can step in to help whenever possible.
DV: It’s also a good sign of good management practices that the company doesn’t fall apart I mean if you’re someone who’s so central to everything that if you can’t leave for a day without things falling apart, that highlights a lot of inefficiencies in that management practice, you should be able to step away for weeks on them, because as a manager as a project manager or producer, everybody should have an understanding of what they’re doing and that if I step away, those things continue on like clockwork.
EKD: Yes, that’s right. So there’s some other questions in here. There’s a good one in about difficulty exchanging information with cultural barriers, that’s a great question and in fact these are two good guys to talk about it. When we were in our previous place expected to work in China for many months to set certain things up, certain operations, and that was kind of, for me personally, I know I’ve travelled but that was my first on the business side dealing with cultural barriers and so yeah absolutely you work with anyone that’s not within 50 miles of yourself there are cultural barriers, whether it’s phrases you use or the terminologies in an email or knock on effects. I just use that in this thing but that’s apparently a very large thing you use in the UK, we don’t use it here at all. There was also someone reference soccer, I’m sorry football, and how we should do something and I’m like I don’t understand that, what are you, use basketball terms, or something else.
DV: Or what they call take out food, or to go, is take away.
EKD: Yeah, that’s right, and that’s obviously our silly examples but there definitely are on the business side, questions. We do have that added element of, ‘oh what does that mean or how do we do that or you know’. It’s not as bad with other english speaking cultures, right? But I know our Frankfurt office, those guys are all very fluent in english so it’s worked pretty well,but there are definitely challenges.
DV: It also helps that we have our guys going back and forth between offices. We have our UK producer Ricky Jutley, we’ve had a few of their designers here. We’ve sent a few of our guys out there so there is kind of a cultural exchange that goes on and it keeps the company more homogenized and unified in how we view things.
EKD: Totally, that is absolutely right, so the last question on here about how do you punish an employee who is assigned a maggot.
DV: Have they not seen my lead pipe of project pub scheduling?
EKD: Yes, yes you have. That’s a good question, it’s not always as simple as that. Poor workmanship isn’t always that one person failed at one thing, this is a team effort, it’s always a team effort and so we want to look at it that way. We do like to find where a problem is at the root and fix it for sure but we don’t run around and going “oh this is wrong, you did it!” Blame games don’t help anyone: they don’t help in family, they don’t help in business, they don’t help in a team.
DV: It just created animosity and toxicity.
DV: It’s a knee jerk reaction to instantly want to point your finger like it’s their fault.
EKD: That’s right. So it’s more about understanding what the problem was, going to the root of it and then going let’s figure out how to solve that problem on a mass scale as opposed to just, you know if somebody is a problem, obviously take the correct business steps for that but that’s not necessarily what this conversation is about. But there are things you want to fix so you want to find the root cause and fix them.
TH: [In the background] Communicate expectations.
EKD: Yes, that’s right.
DV: I think there’s a book Eric has.
TH: Communicating, making sure that you’re clearing communicating it because if they don’t, maybe the expectations weren’t clearly communicated and by clearly communicating it expectations that is the step to you know, because then if they fail again.
EKD: Mhmm, we set these expectations, what happened?
DV: So! Number 7.
(21:53) Cavguy asks: How do you guys manage the challenge of multiple development streams going on at the same time? For example, the team is pushing out daily updates to PTU 1.3 (awesome job by the way) while i’m sure others are still heads down trying to get the “Baby PU” up and running soon™
Crazyprsn asks: We’ve been told that 1.3 is the merging of all the development streams into one. This makes me that 1.3 is actually kind of huge in the way of things running smoother. Could you spend a few minutes to describe the sort of impact “merging the streams” has on the development process, and how better (or worse) it makes your job?
EKD: I definitely want you to answer the question but there’s a part in there I just wanted to chime in on. It’s kind of huge in the way things run smoother? Absolutely having everything condensed into one place means globally as a company we’re looking at the same information the same data and we’re all working in the same place.
EKD: We just merged the stream back that we working on the web side and it did make some people not that excited and it broke some things but it got us all looking at the same thing. So we got all those streams back a while ago that was definitely a step in the right direction so now we wait until the last minute right when we’re about to release and we break that often we give that to you guys and then we merge all that back so just try and maintain one core sense of development so we can all work together and can all speak in the same language
DV: And we always try and keep the emphasis on stability and I don’t know if you guys noticed but the stability of the systems have been much improved as of late since we’ve been doing. So as far as how we manage the challenge of multiple development streams at the same time well.. that’s what we have the different teams for.
DV: We may have one person working on one stream another person is working on a much more public stream so and then some of those come under as QA. For example the QA team may report a bug in the 1.3 stream and we ask them to go back and test see if it’s happening in our main development stream as well just to see it may be happening in the 1.3 stream it may not be happening in the main development stream. Because whatever’s happening in the main development stream may have fixed it already.
DV: So it’s kind of being cognitive about what the differences between streams are what’s going on in each one. This is where being able to track product milestones and the fixed version in our test bed program Jira come in very useful so we do have a way of reporting in fact we have a daily dashboard that shows how many bugs we have open in this stream and this stream, are they blockers are they critical or are they trivial? We have daily conversation with the production staff globally about what bugs and what tasks need to be tackled before the day is over
EKD: You mentioned how better or worse it makes your job it definitely makes it better and how we’re maintaining it is even as people work in the 1.3 stream that you guys are seeing we’re we have an automation process that we’re immediately grabbing that date and trying to bring back into the mainstream at all times now before we didn’t even have that operation running so that’s been wonderful so that when we are going with 1.3 we’re right back working together and we can lop off again for a new stream without going hold on we have to stop everything and merge it back now and becomes this big orchestrated process.
We get those emails constantly “Hey we’re blocked someone needs to help us get this done”. But it’s better to do it a little bit at a time it’s like you’re writing a book or painting a painting everyday you spend a little time on it because by the time you’re done on it it looks prettier. And the other part of that question was how do you manage multiple streams at a time and I think you just answered that.
(26:02) TheTick asks: What is done when a component becomes too complex or cumbersome to be useful in the game. Would it be dialed back or scrapped and start anew?
Delaron asks: Hey fellas thanks for taking time to answer questions. What are some of the carrot and stick methods you utilize to get a task done on time? How do you balance positive feedback with critical critiques? What are hard lines you draw for yourself and the teams you produce?
DV: So, on the first one if a component becomes too complex or cumbersome…this actually ties back to that Skype conversation I had with Steven Humphreys regarding entity token system. One of the things we talked about is anytime a designer uses the flow graph system or using flow graph as a designer, it pings the network and the more times you use flow graph to ping the network, that’s going to cause more and more bandwidth problems.
So, one of the things we want to do it is look at is using flow graph the most effective way of doing this design feature on the ship. So, from that it becomes a conversation between the designers, would they rather just hard code it, would they rather flow graph or entity tokens through flow graph. So, these are things that are planned out in advance but there is some research and development that goes into it, we do some concepts, some proof of concepts for prototyping to see which one works better.
EKD: Yeah, to speak to the next question about in terms of carrot and stick methods…I personally don’t believe in carrot and stick because if you see the old adage of carrot and stick, it generally means whatever it is you’re pushing for with this carrot is going to get tired at some point, right, cause they’re never achieving that goal. It’s more about making something attainable, more about working alongside their leads, it’s more about constant and consistent daily motivation. It’s not about sticking something out there and going, ‘All right, let’s go get it, if you don’t get it you’re going to get hit’.
That’s not going to get anything done and we work in a very creative environment, we’re making video games, we’re making experiences, we’re making entertainment…we’re not building a cog, we’re not building a car, we’re not building something that’s been proven, we’re making stuff up as we go along. It needs more, I think, finesse than carrot and stick, I think that’s using very old production processes….
EKD: Production facilities and it just doesn’t work in this environment.
DV: Yeah. I think that’s largely true of a lot of game studios where production ruling with an iron fist is an antiquated model and largely doesn’t work out because so many people have valuable voices to add to the content of the development of the game. It’s a much more collaborative effort, there’s no single moment where production is, ‘this is what we need to have, this is what you’re going to be working on and absolutely nothing else’. So, we have a lot of sit down discussions that we’ve mentioned before with our international colleagues. We also do daily stand ups with the development team to see where they are in every task, what roadblocks they have, where they’re at, do we need to do anything for them to help them get their job done.
EKD: To use the carrot and stick method generally means the person who’s doing it, you have to force them to do something they hate.
DV: Yes and we don’t want to use coercion.
EKD: And here everyone is excited to work on this. The passion drives all of us to work hard everyday, every second we’re at our desk and if you get distracted, that happens but that generally doesn’t need some forceful motivation.
DV: No, no. Usually get distracted by something else cool in the game.
EKD: That’s right. Look what this does, isn’t it cool. Then balancing positive feedback with critical critiques and hard lines, how to balance them…you want them both. You don’t want everything to be negative and constantly down even though in this environment we’re trying to make things better so we’re always looking at things partially with a negative eye. So we need to motivate… what’s good about it, what’s successful, how did that go well. Let’s say that last release, we all want to pick it apart and say how horrible it was, we agree with what you’re saying, we read the forums and Reddit…yeah, this was horrible and that’s stupid and this sucked but we have to go but we succeeded here, here and here and everybody loved it. Awesome, let’s keep building on top of that while fixing the bad things. It’s easier for us, we’re all in that critical mind set to make things better.
DV: There are sometimes where we have to put a hard line down and say, ‘no, cannot include this into this build’. I know you love it and it’s something that you really, really want to see fleshed out but we just don’t have the resources or the time. If we can get it out for the next patch awesome but we would like to see some more testing, some more tweaking, some more balance on it and definitely some more input on whether it’s from our QA team or the big man CR himself.
EKD: That’s right, absolutely.
(30:42) Sean Ridley asks: How much of your work is focused on stuff we won’t see for many months or longer compared to stuff that goes from concept to delivery very quickly? Are we seeing the bleeding edge, or is it mostly polished but old content to you? What is the project management style, meaning waterfall, some flavor of agile or something else? You often mention the use of sharp, pointy implements when talking about herding the team. Is the work environment more Mad Max or Jurassic Park?
EKD: [Laughing] That’s awesome.
DV: So for clarification, if we ever joke about having to prod the team into shape, please understand it is always mentioned in jest. Very rarely, do we ever need to cajole or coerce them into doing something. I think it’s because they know I have a sword hanging on my desk that I don’t need to do that to begin with. (They both laugh). But it is an interesting question because a lot of the stuff we work on is planned out months in advance, however, a lot of stuff during, let’s say stuff we are working on towards Citizen Con, we’re still plugging away at things even until the 11th hour.
So there may be features we’ve been trying to fix, trying to get into the game. We may not see it until like a day or two before. Or we may only see one aspect of that project, and we won’t see the completed or finalized thing until we are at the event. Because we are only working on one facet of it, so being able to see it in completion, the complete fruition of all our works, we see it on the live stream when all you guys see it.
DV: I guess like when you have an actor working on a film, they only do their lines. They don’t see the final film until like a private screening or something. So this is very similar, we won’t see the final product until either just days in advance, or during the live stream, and that’s why when you see us watching the live streams, we are cheering along with you guys because this is awesome, we get to see what we’ve been working on for the last two or three months.
EKD: Yeah, we keep our heads down, and it’s hard to see the whole thing all the time with how big we are. It is a bit of both. We do have a master schedule that is laid out, and we are constantly feeding into that. The stuff we are showing you, because of the environment we are in, we’re showing you the stuff as much as we can as often as we can. So unless it’s a big reveal that we want to show off to you guys, like we did at (DV: Bishop’s speech) Citizen Con, Bishop’s speech, we might hold that a little tighter because we want to make it cool to get you excited, but for the most part we are trying to show you guys everything we possibly have all the time.
But we do have a longer term schedule that we are feeding into, and we’re delivering as much as we possibly can as often as we can that feed into that. Because everything you are seeing is still building that large universe, right, and that’s why Chris built this out kind of at the beginning as modules, so we can show you here are the pieces that make it and here’s exactly what we are doing.
DV: Even on Around the Verse, the Art Sneak Peek and stuff like that, so they may see that piece of art or concept artwork, so knowing those kinds of concepts are being previewed, we’re still working on facets of that concept or that ship, that terrain, whatever we are previewing, so that by the time it is released to the Hangar or into Arena Commander, or whatever we work on in the Persistent Universe, that is the culmination of months worth of work, but you’ve been kind of seeing the progress all along, because we do like to share that transparency with everyone.
EKD: Yep. Exactly.
DV: As far as project management methodologies.
EKD: Yeah, we get this question a lot.
DV: It’s pretty agile I guess?
EKD: It is pretty agile, what’s not hardcore 100 percent.
EKD: We follow more agile, but we take a lot from waterfall, right, because we do have this large thing we are trying to deliver, and all these milestones for each of those. They are kinda living within each other, because agile is more this micro deliveries within these larger milestones.
DV: I’m going to use my brother’s methodology, it’s called the DWIT system. Do whatever it takes.
EKD: There you go. Get er’ done!
DV: DWIT system. Do whatever it takes. Now, as far as Mad Max or Jurassic Park, I’m going to photoshop a picture of Eric on Chris Pratt’s face from Jurassic World, and different designers faces on the velociraptors when he’s standing in the pit kind of like this.
EKD: That’s a tough question, because it’s, I don’t know if you’ve heard, it’s like herding cats, right, you have people who are very passionate and know what they have to get done, but keeping them all together is a challenge, but a good challenge. Okay, last question!
(34:51) TGWS/Bennu asks: Okay, I’ll try a more serious question. I’m a programmer that works on bespoke business apps and I use Jira at work. How do you guys use Jira? Is it the “source of truth” for tracking what people are working on and how completely they feel it is, what’s assigned to them but unstarted, etc. Have you modified the workflow and statuses to better represent the ship pipeline, for example? Or is it all spreadsheets? :)
While I’d love to hear about this, I can see where showing screenshots like cardwalls would be great in help explaining but perhaps more info than we can handle.
EKD: You already said it, if it’s not in Jira it doesn’t exist, that is definitely a methodology that we’re not only adopting but utilizing more and more everyday. Jira definitely is becoming more of our production tools and were trying to encourage people to keep the statuses up to date because it does help communicate accross studio about the status, when things are being delivered and how much work is left.
If you’ve ever done any project management you know if you can build a backlog as realistic and thorough and good bids, the better because you can now go okay it will take me an hour to sit down and tell you exactly how thing this is going to take to get done. Now that’s usually is at like darian said at the beginning, when you start off with that it’s usually when you got into battle the moment you start the project, it all changes and you got to keep it up to date, but at least you start with it and you can start getting estimates, you can see how long things are going to take, you can see the resources you need.
We are at the start of that with our leads. Our leads go, we get our vision, the leads break it down, the producers put that all together. We look at what that means for us and we get the realities together and I think Jira, the point of Jira is to collect all that information as much as you can so when you look at something like 1.3.0, when we want to deliver it. We constantly look at what’s left, what’s the big blockers, what’s trivial, what really won’t break anything, what will keep things moving and we can make quick decisions faster.
DV: So we can bump it to the next version.
EKD: So on and so forth, So if it’s not in Jira it doesn’t exist that’s kind of because our Mantra, and we’re doing our best to maintain that as our database.
DV: It also helps with accountability. So for example if someone starts working on a task that’s not in Jira, how do we account for how much time was spent on it, is it a feature we actually needed in the first place, so by having everyone working through Jira on specific tasks,we create a paper trail on what’s been worked on, how long people have spent on it, how long it’s taken, how much time is left to complete it. It gives the production team the roadmap that we can provide that information whether it’s to you guys on how soon we are presenting something, it lets us tell the other team here where we’re at where are you guys, okay cool let’s work together on this and let’s see what we can come up with.
EKD: Absolutely and any sort of tracking tools. it’s only as good as the people that use it, and it’s only as good as the people that keep it up to date. If the goal for someone is to say, hey what is calix working on, What does it say in Jira, in search oh he’s working on this, it says in progress is that right? Yup, Great! Not only have you sped up communication, you’ve made it efficient for someone to go oh Calix can’t work on that because he has this this and this or we can say that’s not the priority anymore, we’re shifting to this because of a certain release. It makes us, makes decisions quicker.
DV: Or you know Zane suddenly decided one day, “I’m gonna make a 3D environment for the capital class ship HUD system” and that’s not on his task list and we see him working on that we’re like zane, were getting close a deadline here, that’s really awesome but let’s get that into the schedule but right now our crunch time because we have this this and this, this is what the needs of the product are right now. Now as far what workflows, we’ve modified and it’s all spreadsheets. I spent a lot of time in Excel, I’m an Excel guy, I love using Excel.
EKD: And I don’t think you’ll ever get out of Excel. Excel is a great tool for scenario building and planning and you can move things around quicker until you have all the data, you can make more assumptions with Excel than you can with Jira: Jira needs actual data.
DV: And we’ve been playing around with Microsoft Project.
EKD: Yup, a lot of good production tools that are all kind of working together.
EKD: Okay, well I think that’s it. We had a bunch of great questions. Thank you guys so much for these, I’m hoping we can do another one of these. If we missed anything, please continue to submit questions to the forums, send them to us any way you want.
DV: Talk to us on Twitter.
EKD: Anything and everything.
DV: We love talking to you guys.
EKD: Again, we want to thank the subscribers for making this possible. We couldn’t do this without you guys, so thanks for everything. I’m Eric.
DV: I’m Darian.
EKD: We’ll see you next time!