GAME 260, Week 3

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, ch. 2: Uncharted 4

“Video games, like any works of art, are reflections of their creators” (31)

Uncharted 4, the final entry in the Indiana Jones-style action-adventure series starring the rogueish Nathan Drake, is the story of a man who spends way too much time at work” (31)

“In game industry circles, Naughty Dog has two distinct reputations. One is that its staff are the best of the best, not just at telling top-notch stories, but also at making games so eye-poppingly gorgeous, competitors publicly wonder just what kind of dark magic the studio employs. The other is that they embrace crunch” (31)

“All game studios crunch, but few are as known for going all-out as Naughty Dog” (32)

“How do you follow your dreams without destroying your relationships?” (32)

“‘Your life’s passion sometimes isn’t in line with your life’s love,’ Neil Druckmann, the codirector of Uncharted 4, said. ‘And sometimes those things are in conflict’” (32)

“The studio had hired several talented new staff members who had Hollywood background but little experience developing games, which led to further hiccups as the rest of Naughty Dog tried to walk the newcomers through the nuances of making graphics run in real time” (34)

“Some say the Uncharted 4 team didn’t get the staff and resources it needed to survive, because The Last of Us and Left Behind had vacuumed up so much of Naughty Dog’s attention. Others say that Amy Hennig had trouble making decisions and that the nascent game wasn’t shaping up very well. Some who were working on Uncharted 4 wished that there was a more cohesive direction. Others thought it was perfectly understandable, considering how small the Uncharted 4 staff was, that the game hadn’t coalesced yet” (37)

“One part of the story is indisputable, however: in March 2014, after meeting with Naughty Dog’s copresidents, Wells and Christophe Balestra, Amy Hennig exited the studio and didn’t come back” (37)

“The directing pair [Druckmann and Straley] talked often about ‘feeding the beast,’ a term they’d picked up from the Pixar book Creativity, Inc. that referred to a creative team’s insatiable hunger for work. With The Last of Us done, there were now nearly two hundred people working on Uncharted 4, and they all needed things to do” (40)

“The directing pair met with the leads in each department—art, design, programming, and so forth—to ensure that their teams still had work to do every day, despite the turmoil” (41)

“This [Uncharted 4] was a story about addiction, they explained” (42)

“Most game projects have a single lead. Whether they call themselves ‘creative director’ … or ‘executive producer’” (48)

“Druckmann and Straley were an exception. On both The Last of Us and Uncharted 4 they served as codirectors, which made for an unusual dynamic. They complemented each other well—Druckmann loved writing dialogue and working with actors, while Straley spent most of his days helping the team hone gameplay mechanics—but they still squabbled as much as you might expect from two ambitious, alpha-type personalities” (49)

“Naughty Dog’s staff liked to emphasize that, unlike other game studios, they didn’t have producers. Nobody’s job was simply to manage the schedule or coordinate people’s work, the role a producer would fill at other companies. Instead, everyone at Naughty Dog was expected to manage him- or herself” (49)

“This freedom could lead to chaos” (50)

“Straley lived on the east side of Los Angeles, so it took him at least an hour to get to Naughty Dog’s Santa Monica office. During Uncharted 4’s crunch, when he wanted to arrive at work first thing in the morning and stay until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., he began worrying that the drive was excessively time consuming and maybe even kind of dangerous, so he rented a second apartment near the office” (53)

“For decades, extended overtime has been a ubiquitous practice, seen as integral to game development as buttons or computers. It’s also been controversial” (53)

“Some argue that crunch represents failure of leadership and project management—that for employees to spend months working fourteen-hour days, usually for no extra money, is unconscionable” (53)

“‘To solve crunch, probably the best you could do is say: don’t try to make Game of the Year,’ said Neil Druckmann. ‘Don’t do that and you’re good’” (54)

PsychOdyssey, eps. 4-6

Episode 4: Bringing Back Psychonauts

The studio prepares to announce Psychonauts 2 on a new funding platform, creating both fresh opportunities and complications. —Episode Description

“I feel like as soon as Broken Age shipped, I went immediately onto trying to plan this campaign and figure everything out. So I feel like it’s actually been, you know, five months maybe of work, or at least thinking about it”—Greg Rice

“We are going to make Psychonauts 2 and hopefully crowdfund it. A combination: crowdfunding, Double Fine revenue, and an outside publishing partner. But we are going a different route now. We are funding it with Fig and crowdfunding. Which is of course scary, but I think really exciting, because it’s a whole new deal. That could be really great” —Tim Schafer

“Fig is Justin [Bailey’s, ex-Double Finer] new gig. So after Broken Age shipped, he went over to start this new platform, which is where we are gonna be launching our crowdfunding campaign on. And then the new big thing is the investment portion of it. Just any fan who is interested investing in the game could choose to either do a rewards based investment, or invest in the game for actual revenue” —Rice

“Well it’s 3.3 million, because that’s what we got the first time … But also to be really honest about what we need, because we don’t want to, you know– I think it’s morally wrong to ask for less than you need” —Schafer

“We didn’t, I mean, when we asked for $400,000 [for Broken Age] that was what we needed to make that little Flash game that I thought we were going to make. And then we got much more than that, so we changed our plans. But this time, we have a model for what we are going to make. We are going to make a game that we can compare to Psychonauts 1. So, we know the kind of game we want, and we know that it’d cost money” —Schafer

“I am worried about the entire thing!” —Schafer

“We are figuring out a kind of investment that was not even legal a little while ago. And it’s still not technically legal now. It’s just going to be by the time we are ready to take the money. It will be legal then. How about that? … It’s like we’re setting up a medical marijuana dispensary before it’s legal, because by the time we open the doors, it will be legal” —Schafer

“Yeah, everything is coming in kind of hot. But, you know, everything always does. That’s deadlines, that’s why you have deadlines. If it wasn’t for the Video Game Awards show being on a certain date, we probably would have pushed it out to have a little more time, but it’s gotta happen sometime, might as well happen now. And that awards show is just too big an opportunity” —Schafer

Episode 5: You’re Public Now

Psychonauts 2’s funding campaign is in full effect, but Double Fine finds itself confronting criticisms of previous projects in order to move forward. —Episode Description

“Up until now, the focus has been making one level look really good. Which was the jet. And learning about how that’s going to work, and there was a lot of back-and-forth. Now we are moving forward on, ‘let’s get designs locked down, let’s build out environments in a rougher, faster sense, to get the gameplay foundation put together, so we could start moving forward on multiple environments’” —Andy Alamano

“Almost everything we show Tim, he wants it to be more elaborate is his feedback … Like, most of his ideas are good. He’d probably say all. But I’d say most of his ideas are good. And you want to get it in there, but the practical side is definitely saying: ‘that’s a whole new character, that’s new animation, that’s new work. Is it worth adding those things? Or should we take our existing things and polish them, and make them better?’ But, you are right, it’s always a trade-off with time” —Chad Dawson

AMA Response: “Regarding games going over budget. Many times in the past I’ve made the choice to invest more in a game than the original budget specified, and that’s because in the end, my highest priority is the quality of the game. Most of the games you play, not all of them, but more than you think, went over budget and extended their schedule at some point. Double Fine is just more honest and transparent about it” —Schafer

“I secretly hoped it would go to four million, but… it got close. Well the first time was an unbelievable miracle. This time, you know, kind of just by setting the goal at 3.3 million, we are like: ‘the miracle has to happen again.’ So it can’t be seen as a miracle. It has to be business as usual” —Schafer

Episode 6: Creative Promises

Tim and new lead designer Zak lock themselves in a conference room for months, attempting to define the gameplay and story of Psychonauts 2. —Episode Description

“Zak [McClendon]’s done things like involving everyone in the brainstormings for the minds, and having those meetings, that was a great impulse of his. Whereas I am kind of more isolated, like: ‘I’m just going to be by myself with my notebook.’ Zak’s definitely been driven to, like: ‘Let’s get everybody brainstorming from the very beginning.’ And I think that was really helpful to make everyone feel tied into the project” —Schafer

  • Creative Promises
  • Design Values
  • Gameplay Paradigms
  • Core Features
  • Support Features
  • Wishlist Features (Cornfield)

“No, I mean, hopefully you find something fresh and interesting to do about it that means, that’s not just, like: ‘we like this kind of thing. We like double jumps, so we’re putting double jumps in the game.’ It’s one of the things with the high-level direction, of really trying to understand, ‘what are we trying to do with the game globally? And does every idea help contribute to that?’” —Zak McClendon

“I like to aim high. That’s why you use the phrase: ‘Creative Promises.’ Because it has a moral component” —McClendon

“I also love stories in games, and I love writing in games. So, working with somebody who has a much stronger understanding of how to bring that human side, and the story side, into games is always a really nice complement for me, and a nice struggle to account for both of those things” —McClendon

“Escaping… escaping life. It’s very motivating” —McClendon

Commentator’s Note: Not related to project management, but rather Levinas, On Escape.

“Yeah, we totally took a bite out of it. I like to say that, because it’s pitiful. Have you watched on Seinfeld, when they were doing the show, a show about nothing, and they had these brainstorming meetings where nothing got written down. And they are like: ‘well, I think we took a bite out of it’” —Schafer

Agile Manifesto

“Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”

Commentator’s Note: This is my number one priority in project and team management.

“Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.”

Commentator’s Note: Depends on the project. Very dangerous on FC, since we are not Agile.

“Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”

Commentator’s Note: Ties to my number one priority.

“The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”

Commentator’s Note: Again, ties to number one.

“Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.”

Commentator’s Note: Questionable. The dream of frictionless work. All work generates waste energy. There is no perfect machine.

“Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential”

“At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”

Commentator’s Note: This is where Scrum ceremonies come from.

Previous Post Next Post

« GAME 260, Week 2 GAME 260, Week 4 »