Postmortem: Cutler Creative's Last Call
May 11, 2001 Page 3 of 4
1. Feature creep ruled our roost. We were continually adding features to Last Call as we refined the game in response to tester feedback. As it became increasingly clear that the game had taken on a life of its own -- exceeding our expectations, and certainly exceeding SSI's expectations -- we became perfectionists. Had the title been produced independently, working at a slower pace with a smaller team, this would have been par for the course. However, we had a deadline and milestones, and eventually had to contend with an angry publisher. Last Call was relatively complicated considering the budget for the project. Users interacted with the bar environment in ways we did not expect. Even the metaphor of drink pouring was highly scrutinized and debated -- our target customer did not play games, and was not likely to pick up strange, unnatural actions.
Adversarial relationship with the testing company. Over the course
of the project, we built an adversarial relationship with the company
hired by SSI to test Last Call. CutlerCreative LLC did not have
the resources to test the title internally. Often, deliverables were sent
to testing with "see if it starts up" testing. Our inability
to simply delay the deliverable and to conduct half a day of testing on
a stable version cost us weeks answering (and writing) angry e-mails from
all parties. These are all standard beginner mistakes, but as the project
spun out of control, tempers flared, pride reared its ugly head, and time
was lost. A clear understanding from the outset of our publisher's expectations
would have helped somewhat. However, as mentioned, the scope of the project
was ever-changing based on player feedback, tester remarks, and the like.
3. Controversy, and lack thereof. Due to the "mature" nature of Last Call we knew from the outset that it may be difficult to sell the game in Wal-Mart or Best Buy. We also expected the game to generate some controversy. Unfortunately, neither happened. To date, we have yet to receive a single complaint regarding the content of Last Call. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. In the months leading up to the signing of the contract, I went out of my way to address content issues -- contacting MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and other public advocacy groups. The general consensus among the groups (MADD never replied) was: you seem to be making something fun with a strong emphasis on responsible serving. Even if we had gotten this in writing it would have done little to temper the fears of the budget chains! I'll admit it: I even wrote a fake letter to my congressman to no avail.
4. Lack of scope. Many reviewers remarked that the game lacked scope, and their observations were entirely valid. We concentrated 100 percent on making the game -- which consists entirely of characters approaching the bar, waiting, ordering, talking, and retreating -- interesting within the defined game world. Bar patrons become drunker as the night progresses. The bartender is able to flirt with the customers. Bad drinks can send a customer into a puking spell. All things considered, we might have benefited from spending less time on game nuances, and more time on adding some different activities, environments, level goals, and other elements.
Got Game? I hold the Last Call gold master after a couple all-nighters. New developers beware!
5. Inexperience. In retrospect we made many classic beginner mistakes. We were not realistic about the project's timeframe. We underestimated the duration many small tasks -- culminating in a lengthy delay. We did not press for change orders when appropriate (probably because we were changing the title daily).
Page 3 of 4