Game Development Reference
The deceptive part of development is how long it seems at the start. You have a good
plan, and it's easy to think that anything and everything can be accomplished. This
phase of the project can be dangerously similar to summer vacation. At the beginning,
all you see are weeks and months stretching out in front of you, with plenty of time
to accomplish everything that's on your mind. Then, as the deadline draws near, you
wonder where all the time went and suddenly start scrambling to fit everything in.
The trick to surviving this long stretch is to break large tasks into small, manageable
tasks that are rigorously tracked. You can't know whether you're behind on a project if
you don't track the tasks. This is something that you should do as often as once a week.
One successful task-management technique is to have each developer track his own
tasklist, complete with time estimates. These individual lists roll up into a master list
that shows at a glance the estimated time to completion for the entire project. This
method is particularly useful for seeing whether one person's taskbar sticks out
beyond the others. If this happens, that person is the de facto critical path for the pro-
ject and you should take a close look at his list to see whether some tasks can be
offloaded onto someone else.
This method also has the advantage of leaving the developer or artist in charge of his
own estimates, instead of imposing them from above. This increases their buy-in to
the schedule and makes them less likely to miss deadlines.
If you are an external developer working for a publisher, your progress is tracked for you
in the form of contractual milestones. The incentive to stay on schedule is clear: if you
don't meet the milestone, you don't get paid. Well-run internal groups use the same
structure. Milestones are established at the start of development and there is usually a
companywide, monthly project status meeting where all the producers get together and
go over the status of their projects in detail. What senior managers look for during pro-
ject reviews is not only whether the project is on schedule, but also how the producer is
working to minimize any risks that could endanger the project in the future.
Here are some non-technical tips for surviving the development phase:
Bring the test lead on at the beginning of development. If you are the test lead,
get yourself involved early. Add testers at first to create the tests you will need
and then transition them to test execution as development progresses toward
Maintain good communication across the team. Keep the project documents
updated and accessible (especially the game design doc, tech design doc, and
the art production plan). Establish internal mailing lists that allow groups to
email their peers without clogging the inboxes of the entire group.