The Nitty Gritty

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The news is out: Retrovirus will be “infecting” Steam in early 2013! What’s more, Retrovirus is in Beta, and the Cadenza team are starting to wrap up the final bits of the game. These are exciting times for a development studio, filled with long nights, hard decisions and the thrill of completing a project. This isn’t our first rodeo, and the team has learned a lot from Sol Survivor and Retrovirus when it comes to how to not burn out with an approaching deadline. Today’s blog is all about surviving the crunch, and coming out on the other side with a great game.

First, it’s critical to have a plan. It’s an obvious statement, but it cannot be said enough. Once the end of a project is in sight, every team member should have a list of the tasks that they know they need to get done prior to “going gold.” For Retrovirus, these lists have been cobbled together from tester feedback, internal requests, and our extensive volume of playtesting notes. Having an idea of the road ahead is the best way to avoid “reactionary development”, where tasks can creep in on time that should already be allocated over the final push.

Even the best plans will be incomplete, and we’ve learned to speak more in terms of priorities than in absolutes when working toward the end of a project. It’s important to know what tasks still remain, but knowing which are mandatory and which are merely “nice to have” is just as important to the process. We allow each of our developers to make these decisions for themselves, after meeting to hash out the handful of line items that might be contentious. Some tasks, near the end of a game, are much less important than making the game polished and player-friendly!

Finally, with an idea of what needs to be done and in what order, we compare those numbers to the time remaining on the project. That gives us a clear guide of what we can and can’t do, and whether there’s enough scheduled time to get everything done. Cuts are made, and despite our best intentions, we have some late nights trying to fix features in the plan that just won’t cooperate. In the end, though, communication throughout the team and a thorough prioritization keeps us honest with each other and ourselves. We avoid pouring hours into lost causes, and we see delays coming if and when they’re necessary.