It’s 10 For the Producers! Check out The Relay’s transcript.
This week we are expanding our current The Relay transcript format to include a requested idea and that is TLDR’s (Too Long, Didn’t Read.) We know many of you love to read our transcripts and we love bringing them to you as well! But for those who really don’t have enough time or want to get right down to business, then you’ll enjoy this addition to our transcripts.
@1:00: How do you prioritise which gameplay mechanics or systems get developed first?
A: The priorities come from Chris and Tony. Once they have decided on what needs to be developed for a particular delivery we categorise each feature as critical, high or moderate and prioritise accordingly.
@3:39: Will there be an ongoing story arc in the PU after release?
A: Large ongoing story arcs are what SQ 42 is for, though there will be characters and missions with their own isolated stories within the PU.
@4:52 Will Star Marine have a storyline and cutscenes? Will Sq 42 have FPS?
A: Star Marine will have a small back story in some instances but SQ 42 will feature a far richer and truer the word storyline. SQ 42 will feature FPS.
@7:00: Challenges faced during restructuring.
A: Communication and putting yourself out there for the team to make sure they’re taken care of is important as morale plays a big part in the project and as a producer you do what you need to do keep morale up during those times.
@8:36: What are you most proud of you and your team achieving so far?
A: Jake Ross: Getting ArcCorp out.
Jason Hutchins: N/a
@10:25: How much time do developers spend providing community updates? How do you prevent these interfering with actual development? When a update disappears for a few weeks is it because the developer is crunching or on holiday?
A: The reports are written as a partnership between the senior production staff, the developer leads and the Community team. A good producer will keep the impact of these kind of reports to a minimum: no more than a few minutes per developer per week. It’s easy for the producer to take that information from his head and put it on paper because he already just knows what his team is working on. Some guys obviously spend more time but those are important updates because the communication with our backers and feedback from the community is unique in the industry.
@14:54 How do you keep track of all the things small up to the big. Do you prioritize all those things on a daily/weekly basis?
A: We look at things within a 12 month horizon, anything beyond 12 months get put into a backlog. Every 12 months, when something get finished we pull something out of the backlog. If there are features that pertain to the Persistent Universe and Squadron 42 as a whole those things get prioritized higher.
@18:00 How do you plan to build star systems in the PU?
A: We are currently gathering data as we build and complete Stanton to streamline the building process. To make it faster and see where and how we can improve the process.
@21:26: What’s the team excited to work on?
A: Mark Skelton is very excited to get his hands on the new zones with his concept artists and the other zones, Hurston, Microtech and crusader are coming along nicely, Nyx is getting close among other ones so we’ll start seeing some really cool stuff soon. Jason Hutchins is very excited about noncombat roles and can’t wait to see what they can do for miners, traders, etc.
@24:23 Has persistence started to roll out in 1.3 or added to 2.0 or is it now part of the shopping release?
A: True persistence has not been rolled out yet. Await the first release of it soon™
JR: Hey guys welcome to another episode of 10 for the producers, texas edition! Yee haa!! [Gun sounds]
JR: Yeeah, so welcome to another special episode. We would like to thank subscribers first of all for making video content like this possible, we wouldn’t be here making this video if it weren’t for you guys so thanks for that. I’m Jake Ross by the way, associate producer of the Persistent Universe.
JH: I am Jason Hutchins, Senior producer for Star Citizen.
JR: And we’re here to answer questions from the forums. We got 10 questions here that we’ve kind of gone through thanks to those of you who have submitted questions. We can only get through 10 of them so apologies in advance but with that Jason.
JH: I will take it away!
JR: Take it away.
JH: Our first question is from…
(1:06) Graxas asks: With so many gameplay mechanics and system content needing to be developed for the PU, how do you make prioritisation decisions on what is developed first?
JR: Yeah I’d say first and foremost, the priorities come from Chris and Tony. Those are the guys directing the project so they pave the way for how we are supposed to prioritise our features. So they decide “Okay we have an upcoming release, what do we want to show?” And then once they decide what we want to show we’ll break those features down into critical priority, high priority and moderate priority. And what that really means is that a critical feature is something that is an absolute must-have for that release; a high priority feature is a nice-to-have, it’s something that’s not essential but it’s something that we would like to have in the release; and then a moderate is a wishlist item, so it’s something if we get to it “great” if not “no sweat”.
JR: So for example, for the first Social Module release we had ArcCorp, the environment itself, it was a pretty critical, must-have feature. Without ArcCorp there you wouldn’t have had an environment to run around in: so it had to be there. That’s a critical feature. We also had emote text descriptions, it was like a high feature. We wanted everyone to know when you did your emotes what was happening as you did them so the text would show up in the chat box. So that was a nice to have. And then moderate would be the critical, er, moderate would be the chat …
JH: Opposite of critical!
JR: Oh so critical! Moderate would be the chat, additional extraneous chat features like the ability to minimise windows, customise chat just a little bit and that didn’t end up making it in.
JH: Stuff that we want to do eventually but we don’t have to do right this second for this release.
JR: Exactly, and then those features that don’t make it into that release they’ll either waterfall into the next release, sometimes at higher priority, sometimes not at higher priority depending on what Tony and Chris want to focus on; or they’ll go into a backlog for later review.
JH: A little peak behind the curtain too, we’re trying to standardise what we are doing on the Production side, as far as using the same kind of nomenclature for features that we do for bugs, so we have critical bugs; high priority bugs; and moderate bugs. If it is a critical bug we’re not going to ship a patch with it.
JH: Just like if it is a critical feature, or how that relates to task, we’re not going to ship the patch without that being done. Also there is a focus shift to try and prioritise features going forward that are needed for both Persistent Universe and Squadron 42 and Star Citizen as a whole. So we’re trying to look at it holistically rather than being split up across various modules.
(3:39) Foible asks: Chris Roberts has stated that it his intention that after the PU launches, his vision is to see a continued roll-out of content, as long as there is interest in the game. He sees these releases to be as frequent as a few times per week. Do you envision these releases to be a progression of the story arc or just a technical expansion of the universe? In other words, will there be a progressive story arc that will unravel with time in the PU?
JH: That’s a really interesting question. The PU is first and foremost an open world style first person universe and it’s a sandbox really. There will be story yes, but it’s the same kind of story you have for settings, like world settings. Rather than a story arc, missions will have stories, characters you run into will have stories. But for big sweeping story arcs, you’ll get those with Squadron 42. The PU will support and can live around that story and that dovetails nicely with what you’ve got.
JR: That’s actually a nice segue into this question..
(4:52) Nahema Darkstar asks: Will there be a storyline in Star Marine to be a little like Squadron 42 with some rendered cutscenes? Or is Star Marine just an FPS like unreal tournament, quake wars, etc? And will there be some FPS in Squadron 42 or maybe in the next part of the single player game?
JH: There will be FPS in Squadron 42. The thing I want to talk about here though is; Star Marine is a simulation within the first person universe. Much like Arena Commander is a simulation within the first person universe. It’s a game within a game. Star Marine is going to be a test bed for new features, new game types, new mission objectives and maps. We even plan on rolling out a way to do white box testing in the environments that you expect to use in the PU or even a part of a level for Squadron 42. Perhaps maybe we’ll even roll out new enemy AI behaviour for certain monsters or other NPCs out there so we can test within that environment and get that working right and tweaked, get feedback from backers and get that into the game itself proper.
The other questions will there be a story? Yes. Some modes will have a story and again it’s like the setting, rather than the story. So it’s like pirates are attacking the station. Fight them off. That’s a story but it’s not a big story. So it’s not a story like you see in Squadron 42 that’s where the big story arcs are going to come from.
JR: And Star Marine is also used like Arena Commander is used like a simulation to practice your dog fighting skills. This is a simulation to practice your first person shooter skills if you don’t want to jump right into the game.
JH: Yeah. Not only that not only first person shooter skills. Your first person maneuvering skills. Say a place to learn how the character interacts with the environment.
(7:00) Mr. Nowak asks: Cheers to the PU team! With the recent ongoing restructuring of the company what has been the most challenging aspect this has brought to your work as producers? How do you cope with the organizational change when you have a system in the work place.
JR: The most challenging part of any kind of restructuring is just keeping team morale up. Nobody likes to see friends leave the company or moved to other parts of the project; They like to kind of keep the status quo so to speak so when that shifts the team morale sort of takes a hit. Part of the job of a producer is the momma bear factor that you like to call it. It’s that support and encouragement that the producer can provide. When team morale is high, productivity is high and so it’s really crucial to our job to make sure that happens.
Communicating what the new structure is to the entire team, making sure there are no questions if and there are questions, make ourselves available for those developers who have questions about the new structure. Just being aware of the feel of the team and interacting with them whenever we need to update them on everything that’s going on.
JH: Jake and I were also adjusting to our roles here. There’s a bit of a learning curve that we’re in the middle of so really, ask us again once when we know what the new normal is.
JR: The normal is always shifting [chuckles]
JH: The next question is from…
(8:36) Amontillado asks: What’s one of the accomplishments that your team has achieved thus far, that you’re most proud of?
JR: It’s a tough one. There’s a couple of things that stand out. Namely the Social Module release in general. The first release was just a huge success story for our team. It was one of if not the only Star Citizen release that actually hit the deadline that we set out to hit. Partnership with Behaviour in Austin has been really great so far, and that I think has shown with the release of ArcCorp. The community can now see evidence of that partnership. The ArcCorp environment is amazing it’s really beautiful to look at even though it’s supposed to be a super grungy environment. It went through several design iterations over the past..I don’t know how long but they’ve been working on it for a while. We tried to get it just right to suit what our gameplay needs were and as those needs evolved we had to switch things up so Tony (Zurovec) and Mark Skelton went back and forth with Behaviour to make sure all those needs were taken of and iterating and polishing and that kind of thing.
The emotes were a fun addition as well getting to see. Some of our animators here in Austin actually captured a lot of those emotes with motion capture. So seeing them work on those, get those in the game, to tag team with the designers and stuff. It was cool to see those in the communities hands as well
JH: You know we’ve done so much in the past year, since i’ve been here, that it’s hard to choose just one. So i’m not going to answer this. This is a Rosemary’s Baby kind of question and i’ll have no part of this!
(10:25) Drewcifer asks: How much time is spent on average by individual functional personnel (non-producers/project managers) providing content for all these regular updates? How do you all prevent “status updates” from interfering with personnel doing their jobs? Most of the status content we’re seeing looks like it takes a while to put together and that it would really get in the way of actually creating the universe. As such when I stop seeing something like Around the Verse’s “Ship Shape” during a given week or several weeks straight I’m assuming the personnel are refocusing on actually getting the ships out. Accurate or are those folks on vacation?
JH: Your assumption is correct: they all go on holiday until the camera rolls really!
JH: No, they don’t. They do, in fact, get back to work on their respective pipelines. It certainly can be a big distraction. Not that we don’t love spending a lot of time with Thomas here, or writing letters for the community. It’s an important thing though. So the community updates that we do, they’re written as a partnership between the senior production staff, the developer leads that they work with closely, and the Community team.
JH: The senior producers are in a position to have a big picture view of the project. Which makes them uniquely suited to write this kind of report. One mantra of Production is “protect your team” and that’s protect your team from distractions; protect your team from things that keep them doing their job. So a good producer will take this to heart and keep the impact of these kind of reports to a minimum. Try to keep it to no more than a few minutes per developer per week on these kind of reports.
JH: It’s the collating of the report, and the gathering of the necessary materials, the writing it down and editing it that really takes the time. I’ve personally spent: the worst was probably a day and a half total, spread out over a few days, writing some of the bigger Star Marine reports that I was working on. But I would say that the average time for me has worked out at less than four hours a week. That’s a chunk of time but if I worked a forty hour week, which would be awesome, it’s less than ten percent of my time. So I would say the average time is not that great.
JR: And it’s important for a producer to know what his or her team is working on at any given point. So we have weekly scrums here, we have leads meetings, we have just the day-to-day interaction with developers. At any point I know what my team is working on at any given time. So making these reports, I know you do the Star Marine reports, and I’ll chip in on the monthly report you guys see; but with any of these reports it’s easy for the producer to take that information from his head and put it on paper because he already just knows what his team is working on. In some instances it’s not the case and you actually have to reach out and get detailed updates for things you don’t have the information on. But for the most part you should be able to pull a lot of that information from your head already. So the important thing is, like you said, to protect your team from that time and a good way to do that is just to pull it from your own head.
JH: I should point out we’re not doing the Star Marine reports any more. Our focus has shifted so that it’s specifically a report on the progress of 2.0 and ultimately that will be a report on our Star Citizen releases in general. I’ve been partnering with Tom Johnson in Manchester on those reports now, so we’re splitting the burden which makes it both easier and harder for both of us.
JH: The other thing I wanted to point out is that developers like Zane Bien working on the User Interface or Mark Abent who does the Bugsmasher, those guys obviously spend more time but I think those are important updates. The communication with our backers, with you guys, and getting that feedback from the community really keeps the team going and allows us to make course corrections where we need to. It’s great and it’s almost a unique situation in the industry.
(14:54) Doc asks: How do you even keep track of all the small things up to the big i.e the sheer size and difference of things like (1) creating modular assets of new designs that can be used for new systems/stations/landing points, (2) bugfixing and adding important content to ArcCorp (e.g. Subsumption update, netcode…buggies) and (3) all the as-of-yet secret economy systems (simulators, deep designs) for the far away multi-system PU?! Do you prioritize all those things on a daily or weekly basis?
JR: Yeah, there are a lot of requests that come in from Chris and Tony for all kinds of things and speaking for Tony…Tony’s general philosophy he’s told me several times is that he really only has a 12 month horizon meaning that he only really cares at any given moment about what’s on the horizon for the next 12 months, what’s on the schedule for that time. It makes things a little easier to manage on my side since the amount of content in the game planned right now takes us well beyond 12 months from now. Things that don’t fall in the next 12 months usually fall into a backlog for later review, things aren’t falling through the cracks or anything, we document everything and make sure it goes into a backlog. That backlog grows, grows and grows but 12 months everytime something gets finished or completed we pull something else out. That’s kinda how a backlog works.
JH: There’s never a shortage of good ideas.
JR: No, never and a lot of those good ideas come from the community so thanks. As far as keeping track of the features goes…usually it’s a matter of just pulling features from the backlog, producers gathering estimates and dependencies for those features from the lead. A lot of times it’s a relationship between the producer and the lead talking about a feature figuring out what’s required, how we break this down into individual tasks and then taking those tasks and documenting them in our task tracking software. We use JIRA here. That’s kind of how that whole process works for me at least.
JH: Also, as I mentioned earlier, our new focus will be looking at the backlog to see what features are needed for the Persistent Universe and Squadron 42 so we can focus on Star Citizen as a holistic product. If something is Persistent Universe only, it’ll probably go back to the backlog for the year for the next time we review the backlog. We’ll build those features for the Persistent Universe as we get closer to rolling those features out and rolling out different patches for the Persistent Universe.
JH: So basically, if Squadron 42 needs something that is also beneficial for the PU, those things will get prioritized higher than something that’s only beneficial for the PU.
(18:00) Lock Ostrie asks: How do you plan on building out the Persistent Universe? Are you planning on prioritizing the Stanton system and then work out from there or are you planning to finish building out systems that already have content for them for things like SQ42 or is there no real plan set for building out the PU at this time?
JR: Our midterm plan is to flesh out an entire system so almost like a vertical slice of what a system in the PU entails. I think we’ll be focusing mostly on the Stanton system for the foreseeable future getting it to a gold standard quality we’re focusing on the four landing zones in Stanton; ArcCorp’s Area 18, Hurston, Microtech and Crusader. So getting all those landing zones fleshed out getting it so you can actually visit those landing zones, so we’ll be working with other teams across the project who are fleshing out the space portion, the spaces in-between the landing zones starting with Crusader in 2.0. Basically getting a gold standard system is going to be our near to mid term priority.
JH: When I first joined the team over a year ago now the idea was to be designing the first five star systems. What we did not know at that point was how long did it take us to make a single star system or even a single landing zone. Over the course of the year we really fleshed out a single landing zone and we’ve done most of the work needed for our second landing zone and just recently added points of interest around the Stanton star system itself. This is teaching us how long it’s going to take us to do it. Even though I would say we are not one hundred percent complete with the landing zone yet once we have that, it will give us an idea how much more we need to do. So we shifted our focus from instead of the first five complete star systems to the first five landing zones.
So we currently have four landing zones in Stanton. Those are landing zones, not like i’m going out to a space station to make a quick repair and getting back on. That’s not a landing zone that’s more like a mission. We’re adding those as well. This tell us what we need to do. Then from here we’ll move on to the next one which is Nyx, the Levski landing zone. A much less populated system. That’s going to need a lot of activity in it as well, cause you don’t want a single star system with one landing zone and that’s it, how are those going to work out? This will tell us what a medium sized system takes to build, what a very small size system takes to build. Then we can look at our processes and see how we need to tweak those processes and see how we can go forward making a lot of content.
JR: It will give us actual metrics which is something we don’t have for some of the areas of our project. So once we get those metrics we can actually calculate ok this takes this long. If we want twenty systems by this time we know it will take this long to make. That will give us information like do we need to ramp up more resources or outsource a little bit more
JH: And how we can make changes to the system to make it better or faster or more procedural or what have you.
(21:26) Zeshio asks: Do you have different team members who are really excited to work on certain parts of Star Citizen that aren’t in the pipeline yet? For example, maybe a team member is dying to work on mineable asteroid fields but the work isn’t there yet. Do you have any examples of what team members are excited to work on as we progress into 2.0 and beyond?
JR: This is kind of already in the pipelines and pre-production phase but I know Mark Skelton is super excited to get his hands on the additional landing zones for Stanton…. So Hurston, Microtech and Crusader. We’ve got one landing zone out there and we’ve got another one almost finished and Nyx and so moving onto these next three there’s lots of opportunities to create new things and new aesthetics that we haven’t seen yet in Star Citizen. Microtech is kind of a cold snowy planet and crusader is kind of a vespen, kind of cloud city.
JH: Cloud City
JR: Cloud city. Hurston’s a refinery type atmosphere. I know as an art director that’s a lot of things to look forward to. We’re already in pre-production phases there and as we enter white box phase we’ll get some of those white boxes back which is basically just the designer taking these 3D objects and building out a space, rudimentary kind of space. We’ll get that back and then Mark Skelton will put our concept artists to work and do paintovers so it’s actually what is this space actually going to look like and that’s really exciting for him I know.
I myself am excited to see the first iteration of the character customization because I’m one of those guys who spends hours just customizing my character and making them just perfect before I even start the game so I’m excited about that.
JH: I don’t even want to talk about how much time I spent trying to make my Fallout 4 character look like Pam Poovy last night… It’s a little embarrassing. What’s also embarrassing is I failed, I didn’t really get it…
JR: Awww man that’s a bummer
JH: I just want to mention that this may seem out of character for me because I’m one of the leads of kind of the first person gameplay but let me just put this out there. I’m most excited for the opportunity to work on game systems that don’t involve combat. The way you interact with mining or the way you can be as Todd Pappy said:” A space trucker”. Where you don’t need to shoot anybody at all and to kind of make it around the universe and earn a living like, that’s interesting to me.
When I see people play some of the other games, especially the MMO’s and try to do it as a complete pacifist and the lengths that they have to go to kind of earn that as an achievement for themselves… we’re making a sandbox and that just really geeks me out the fact that we’re making a sandbox for people to play in. You don’t have to kill anybody if you don’t want to. I’m really look forward to seeing how that shakes out
JR: Not a lot of games reward the pacifist lifestyle so it’s kind of nice.
Cool I got another question from..
(24:23) Lock Ostrie asks: In the last monthly report, it was said that Casaba Outlet was wrapping up in order to get ready for the shopping release. Does this mean the persistence update or at least parts of it has already been folded into 1.3 and 2.0 or is persistence and shopping now part of the same release?
JH: Persistence in the traditional sense of the word is not folded into 1.3 which is live or 2.0 in any kind of meaningful player face anyway. Though we are working as we speak on the back end required to support player persistence. That being said our partners at Behaviour and Turbulent are working on some really clever things that allow us to be able to customise our character and have that state stick when you’re going from one map type to another map type. We’re a ways off from having traditional persistence and by that I mean an inventory system that allows you to pick up an item, drop an item, sell an item, trade an item with a friend have that thing and have it persist between play sessions like if you logout of the session and log back in. We’re going to fake it, right now and then we’re going to have real persistence coming in. I’m going with soon™
JR: Last thing i’m going to add to that. The persistence as with everything will be put out. We have iterations, we’ll have the first iteration go out to you guys and then as we release 2.1, 2.2, we’ll put in more functionality surrounding persistence. We’ll have hangar storage somewhere in there, being able to buy something and send it back to your hangar. Potentially even as you have clothing in Casaba outlet picking clothing and being able to persist that across places as you will. It’s an iterative process as it is with everything. Be patient and you’ll get it.
JH: Thank you all very much for joining us for this very Texas edition of 10 for the Producers.
JH: I forgot to wear my cowboy hat. Yeah, sorry. So Jake, thank the backers and subscribers for making this possible.
JR: Thank you so much.
JH: Good job. Thanks guys.