Thursday, October 04, 2007

Random Update

After I left the god of war team me and my friend Eric were talking about who they should hire to replace me. We joked around that every one who is capable of doing the job we already have on our aim list. It was around the time of the 'fake' E3 that me and Eric came to the same conclusion oddly enough - the people were actually on our aim list. Jason De Heras and Jason Cole were both hired shortly afterwards. Both have a ton of industry experience and understand games on a very technical level. I won't go about listing all of their videogame accomplishments but lets say it runs deep - Evo Championships, etc.

Jason De Heras has written a really good article about one of my favorite games of all time, "Mike Tyson's Punch Out". In fact secretly some of the bosses in the God of War universe were designed around some of the mechanics found in that game. Even after leaving the GoW team I've even referenced this game in many meetings haha. I go back and play this game maybe once a year or so. 007-373-5963 has been etched into my memory since I was a kid. I thought about downloading the Wii version but I can't betray my boy Mike and play against some random white guy that they threw in. I digress - go check out Jason's article about one of the greatest games of all time.

There has been a lot of interesting videogame news here lately - particularly Free Radical's decision to pay their employees overtime. All I can say is about fucking time. There are a billion problems with this industry and this is definitely one of them. So many young kids get into the industry and are so happy to have a shot at doing what they love that they will do anything - including working 90+ hours a week. When I first got into the industry I almost thought it was 'cool' that I worked 20 hours in one day to get a ton of things done. Then I realized I was stupid and barely got anything accomplished for the rest of the week. Not only that but I missed a lot of social events such as friend's bday's just so I could get some bug finished that could have been fixed the next day.

It's also a sign of holding producer's more responsible for their job which I think is a good thing. If an artist says it will take 5 days to do something and they don't get it done in 5 days then they are usually yelled at, etc. If a producer says the game will be done in X months/years and if the game can't be done on time then they should get yelled at. The solution shouldn't be one of just working more hours which is what has been forever. Plus working that much just burns everyone out - something that I don't think enough people talk about.

While not directly related but on a very similar note the rumors about Bungie and Microsoft are very exciting. As of today with nothing being announced officially - the unofficial rumor is that bungie/ms are breaking the bonds from one another with bungie being more independent but ms still publishes their games. This is somewhat similar to the plan that Jaffe set up with Eat, Sleep, Play.

This doesn't surprise me at all - Halo3 comes out and makes $170 million in just one day! I don't enough about their situation but I know after God of War 1 and 2 - I still can't afford to buy a house. I have an apartment in the fucking valley for crying out loud. Is it all about $? Most definitely not but I bet Sam Raimi had no problems buying a house after Spiderman 1 let alone 2 and 3. Good luck to everyone at Bungie and I hope you guys get what you deserve.

Hopefully these 2 things are a sign of the industry as a whole growing up and will be a better place for everyone to work. I hear EA is a much better place after the whole EA Spouse thing. Sometimes all the crazy muckraking leads to something good.


Anonymous said...

Hey Derek -

At the risk of opening a can of worms ... here goes -

1) Producers do get yelled at - a lot

2) Teams working late and needing to do overtime ( at least in my experience ) are a result of the "team" not specking things propperly - while a producer can run around quoting the schedule and making cuts - that does NOT garentee a good game or a happy team.
3) I often wonder how good a game GoW2 would have been if we cut all the things we had to work OT on. While I certainly am not an advicate of 20 hr days and 7 day work weeks, I wonder what would be worst a. shipping a great game and having to do some OT to do it or b. shipping a mediocer game and working a consitant 9 to 5. I imagine there would be just as many gripes over otion a. as option b. ...

Anonymous said...

Ohh Steve

Max A said...

Dude you kick ass.

Miss you man!


omar kendall said...

Hey anonymous guy: your argument is a classic one of false limitation of alternatives. How about realistically scheduling a game? Instead of cramming a game into a 18 month development cycle, how about give it 36? How about paying people overtime if you know they're going to have to work it?

Oh I know why, because there's always a batch of new developers off the bus from out of town, willing to let you walk all over them. Publishers are doing what they do not because they are thrown into a hapless situation due to the "team not specking things properly," but because they can get away with it, plain and simple.

Anonymous said...

I'm still not convinced "regular" hours are possible if you want to make a really great and epic game. Well, unless you schedule it for 3 years or more.

omar kendall said...

You might want to go back and read Derek's post, because I don't think he suggested what you describe anywhere.

I guess I'll take solace in the fact that you did concede that a really great and epic game can be made in three years with "regular" hours. Make sure you tell your team!

someguy said...

Feeding the worms….

I may be stating the obvious but while I think paid overtime is good, it’s only part of the solution. Realistic planning and working efficiently is even more important. I would like to be paid overtime but that doesn’t mean that I would put in 60+hrs for a year, I want to do other stuff besides work.

Although having to pay overtime would probably help/force producers to plan better since overtime is no more "free", it’s not all their fault. Everyone on the team needs to take responsibility too. It’s really easy to underestimate the amount of work that needs to be done until it’s too late. Sadly too few people actually realize that sometimes.

"OMG! We ship in two weeks! We have all these cool features but did anybody think how we are going implement our savegames?"

Prioritize, Prioritize!

Saying no to a cool feature is hard but it’s better to do it sooner than to yank it out of the game half done (or leave it in as is) because we don’t have time to finish it anyway.

Still, I think that creating a great game comes with a good amount of risk taking. IMO if this risk is managed responsibly by the whole team, the crunch time will be reasonable.

Anonymous said...

Basically, this industry needs to plan and schedule properly. It needs realistic timeframes, it needs to budget for things like staff leaving, people's personal lives and so on. A game can't be done like that unless it takes 3 years? Hire more staff or reign in your overall scope of the game then.

90% of the time when people are working overtime, it is production's fault, yet producers never get held to task. Developers usually take the flak, and it's about time this industry started making the right people accountable.

Derek Daniels said...

Wow - I've been out of town for a few days (still am) and never expected this post to take the direction it has.

Sigh...where to start. The first post (which I assumed was Steve - producer on God of War 2) bummed me out a little. The relationship at Sony Santa Monica places the Creative Director and the Producer basically on the same level. The 'problem' of overtime - both on GoW1 and GoW2 was the creative director getting away with whatever they wanted. While this made for 2 great games the producer should have stepped up and realized the team was becoming burnt out to deliver this. I really don't want to dig up dirty laundry because both games are done but the concept of just throwing man hours at any problem is one of the main reasons why I left. And I'm not the only one who left due to this problem. The trade off wasn't shipping a great game or work a 'little' overtime - almost the entire team worked 12 hour days for over 6 months straight. A week break here and there doesn't even begin to put someone back to 'normal'. I didn't stop being burnt out until after I quit and started a new job.

In fact I think the concept of 'burn out' is something that is very prevalent in our industry and no one says a word about it. It is one of our many little dirty secrets. Especially people working on sequels who develop franchise fatigue - people think a sequel can just be pumped out in a year or less. Working at that pace on the same thing over and over drains the soul.

Back on topic though of this post though - a lot of people are at fault. Is the team wrong for trying to impress saying they can get something done in a shorter amount of time? Most definitely. The producer is just as if not more at fault for realizing that though. Especially if it keeps happening. At that point the producer should realize a trend and have a talk with everyone involved.

Me and Eric had an interesting relationship on GoW - I wanted to cut everything and he wanted to add 3000 things. If it was up to me, Kratos wouldn't have half of what he had. However if it was up to Eric, Kratos would be doing 9 million more things and hardly any of those would be polished. The 2 of us found a good working relationship of when to listen to the other. Me and him would have a small meeting about once a month where I would suggest like 10 new things to cut. Of course he hated them all then a few days later we would come to a good agreement. I really wish something like that would have happened on a larger scale with the game.

Making videogames is fucking hard.

Anonymous said...


don't want to get into this whole producer skirmish, so...i'll hit on the other part of your post.

from my experiences: not many "combat designer" positions exist in the industry. Maybe this is what makes God of War so special? Well, among other elements obviously...

But, really, why do very few combat designer positions actually exist in the video game industry?

how does one become a combat designer, i guess, specifically, at sony.



Anonymous said...

speaking from an artist's perspective (animator to be exact), I will second what a lot of other folks have said. It really is just a matter of scheduling. A producer should know that based on the number of people on the team, we can achieve X amount of work in Y amount of time (as long as you have a reliable group of talent).

With that said there are things like pressure from the publisher to hit certain milestones, and if you simply don't have the resources to handle it, then crunch can be your only option.

Plus you need to plan for time for iteration at the end, as features won't always work out has you envisioned. But, stuff like that should really be scheduled.

There is some merrit to having a bit of crunch at the end to really get stuff polished up if need be, but ultimately, it is kind of a load crap.

- B

Anonymous said...

I wish it was that easy - people do not come with "burn - out" meters attached to there chests. It is often the case, when one person is saying they are burned out, another is saying all is fine ... I agree there are no easy answers and anything in extreme amounts is not good.

Cory Barlog said...

Wow...I get away with whatever I want? Sweet.

I never thought of it that way, but it is interesting to see another person's perspective on that situation. I obviously see it in an entirely different way...but that could mean that I am wrong. fortunatly I am shallow enough to just cover my ears and pretend it isn't happening. :)

I do miss having you...and now though. Maybe one day we will all make a game together...a great where I get away with anything I want...again.



Derek Daniels said...

"Hello Wisconsin!" Man is it cold tonight - Rocking a paltry 42 fahrenheit. I can't wait to get back to warmish LA.

Anonymous #1: To be a combat designer? Play a lot of fighting / competitive games and become involved in their communities. Figure out why things work and why things don't work. DMC3 has a deeper combat system and yet GoW outsells it. Don't think for a minute that me, eric, jason, adam or foge couldn't have done something as deep as DMC3 or NG because we easily could have. We wanted to make something accessible and I think it was a choice that paid off. Beyond that - I don't work at SCEA anymore so I'm not sure how to help you get a job there.

B the animator (bruno?) hits on some good points. One of the biggest ones is the publisher/developer relationship which kinda sucks the way it is. Having to do a monthly dog and pony show sucks when you work 3rd party.

Anonymous #2: Yeah...people don't come with burn out meters on their chest. But like how a designer needs to know how to make things 'fun' the producers should be aware of when people get burnt out.

Mr. Barlog: Haha - of course you didn't get everything that you wanted (and for the record neither did El Jeffe) it was an exaggeration to get a point across. Your job (or anyone doing your job) is to push the team to get the most out of them and to do what is best for the game. Your job's #1 priority should always be about the game (aka little jimmy in Iowa). The producer's job should be able to figure out how to get that done without killing the team.

I never expected this to turn into the thread it has. I wasn't necessarily attacking producers. I was just excited that producers will now (hopefully) have to account for more now with overtime being paid instead of a 'freebie' like it has been in the past. And this wasn't even necessarily directed at Sony - I worked something like 55 days straight for Paradox.

Michael Dudikoff said...

Who likes crunch time? I know I do

You should hire this guy as a producer...crunch-itize

Bruno Velazquez said...

Just to make things clear, -B was not me. This however, is Chainsaw. I've been working in the game industry for a little over 5 years now, and even though I've only really worked for 2 companies, every project that I have worked on so far has had crunch. From the moment that Cory handed me that 3D studio Max tutorial book and asked me to animate a horse for X-men 3, to working with Eric on Kratos during GOW2, I have always had to at one point crunch. I love animation, and I love video games, and I too have fell to the alluring trap of letting my passions get me through crunches without protesting because I simply wanted to make the best game possible.

There is no easy solution to this problem, but I think constant communication between producers and the team, plus keeping the scope of the game reasonable in relation to the time scheduled is the key. Basically, if you are making “Tetris: the Revenge” one year might be enough, but if you are making “T. Hawk: The Epic Adventure quest of the Native American Indian who got deported to Mexico by Shadowlaw who must fight against all odds to reclaim his native land” then a year might not be enough. Is all about planning and making the best estimates possible. Then again, it can all come crashing down when the budget is only enough to be able to make “Tetris: T. Hawk Edition”. There are too many dam factors in the video game making process! Yes, making games is very hard, and I wish that there was a clear and easy formula to create an awesome game without giving up your first born. Sometimes I also wish that games were not so dam fun to make, other wise I could settle into a nice 9 to 5 job.

Anonymous said...

This is 'B the animator'. Sorry, I'm not Bruno. My name is Barry. I currently working for a east coast developer...

Bruno does make some good points though. It is really all about communication and like I said before, knowing what you can do with the resources (# of people) in the alloted time. But yeah, it sucks having to do the whole 'dog and pony show' every two months.

Anyways, I'm really diggin' your blog, Derek. God of War is one of my favorite series, and I really dig your articles about combat design and how it relates to animation.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, all of my best friends are commenting on this post, so I am chiming in so I don't feel left out! Here is my epic revelation...I don't like crunch! I hope this helps. (In reality, everyone has already stated my views eloquently, so no point in rehashing the sentiment).

Also, Derek, Madison, Wi. is 2 hours, 35 minutes away from my house in Chicago. Drive down here dumbass!

John Edwards

James Che said...

Crunch isn't so bad when you've got Def Leppard blasting in your headphones. I agree with Michael Dudikoff, 'cause he's right. And I agree with Bruno 'cause he's my lead... and... he makes good points. T.Hawk: Border Patrol Battle is one of the best game pitches I've ever heard.

Anonymous said...

A key point often missed is that a producer's contribution to a project is not only the schedule. In my past experiences, most producers see themselves as nothing more than a person who throws a schedule down and tells people what to do. These producers suck and are more of a hinderence to a team than a help. Producers who view themselves as a facilitator more often than not will have a team that is happier and work more efficiently.

There were many times during a project where I have sat idling, waiting for my next task. Where I was scheduled to start a new task, where I didn't have the assets or the information I needed to start said task. Where my producer scheduled a task that was impossible due to time or technical reasons. All these things happen because of producers that dont have an understanding of the job that my colleagues and I perform. All these things add up to lost time (time which could have gone unwasted) that can only be made up either by extending the schedule (99.9 percent of time this is impossible) or crunching.

As a producer, there needs to be an anticipation of your team's needs as they come along to insure your team is working as efficiently as possible. This anticipation comes from understanding the work you are trying to schedule. Wasting less time and getting more work out of a normal 8-hour work day should be a producer's ultimate goal, but I rarely see this as the case. More often then not I see producers more worried about keeping track of the schedule then actually making sure everyone has what they need to meet their schedule. This isn't surprising considering most producers are probably struggling to schedule something they don't understand to begin with.


Rawrasaur said...

Scheduling is important, but I don't think that you can only blame the producers for it. As another veteran of the industry (sometime designer, sometime programmer here), I've noticed in the projects I've worked on that many times the game just lacks a single, coherent design. This happens far more often on a company's first foray into a specific field like with a new IP. The producers typically schedule around 1-2 milestones ahead, but when the design keeps changing (or isn't locked down, as it usually isn't), it's really hard to accurately gauge what needs to be done when. Add in the dog and pony shows for the publisher and possibly any sort of license holder, and you typically end up with a lot of scrambling.

I'm not saying the designers are completely at fault either. The main issue is that the project is often struggling to figure out just what it *is*. Every project typically needs some sort of vision to describe the game in 1-2 sentences, and if the devs stick to that vision, it's a lot easier. But since that vision often keeps changing, you end up with people scrambling/crunching to catch the state of the project up with the current vision. Features are introduced, cut, reintroduced, etc. all the time, and that's where the majority of the 'dead' time comes from.

If the teams had a fully fledged design doc that didn't change all the time, production would be able to realistically schedule a lot better. It's when you have a milestone like "You MUST get Feature A in at all costs, because this is now what the game is about" that it ends up with some massive crunches.

Scheduling properly is often like trying to hit a moving target. If the design of the game is in flux, then it isn't always realistic to get a proper schedule.


jchensor said...

Yeah, I see this all the time in the software industry... not just gaming industry. My work, the same thing happened: major crunching with no pay-off in the end. But the difference is that the software industry allows for patching and updates. A video game doesn't (well, there are patches now, but that shouldn't be allowed to be used a crutch).

What hurts the gaming industry most is that it is driven so strongly by seasons and events. Christmas is a big push, forcing people to crunch to finish a game by the holidays. Other big pushes are (were) events like E3. You gotta get that demo out there, so you spend weeks working on a demo instead of just continuing on the game.

Frankly, I'd be 100% willing to sacrifice all demo builds at gaming events if it means less stress on game makers. And I'm all for release date pushbacks. Smash Bros. Brawl, for example, just got pushed from Dec. 3 to Feb. 10. I've heard a lot of people express anger, but I am willing to wait. Delay it as often as you want until it's good. Instead of forcing people to work insane hours to get it out on the original date, push the date back. A better game in the end will increase sales anyhow, regardless of season IMO.

"T. Hawk: The Epic Adventure quest of the Native American Indian who got deported to Mexico by Shadowlaw who must fight against all odds to reclaim his native land"

I want this game.

Margalis said...

Burnout is a big problem in software in general. I just got done with a job where I worked until 4 AM, woke up at 10 AM then worked until 2 AM again...good times.

One thing some people don't realize is that after a certain point extra time is actually negative productivity. People produce bugs, or they become over-tired and everything takes longer, or they become over-invested in a problem and can't see the forest for the trees.

I suspect that around the 50 hour mark people's productivity declines so much it's barely worth it to keep working, and once you start hitting 60 hours plus you are just hurting yourself. (Depending on the person, of course)

Then there is the fact that when employees burn out you have to hire new ones with less experience and get them up to speed, which is another drawback.

Anonymous said...

I'm anonymous as this industry sucks but for me there's only one rule: I don't do overtime - ever! You don't like it? Fire me...