Something I want to talk about is the interdisciplinary nature of the team. Some developers have teams sit in interdisciplinary pods, and you guys don't. Your colleague Chris Butcher says he doesn't like the idea, because you can't find the people at hand to solve a problem.
Say a programmer's in a pod with other people like an artist and a designer, and he has a programming problem, and he doesn't have another programmer to his left or right, and he can't grab them and get an answer out of them. What do you think about those kind of team structures?
MZ: We do have interdisciplinary pods at times, not to contradict Chris.
I don't think he said absolutely not, but typically.
MZ: We sort of cluster by general discipline, but our desks are angled at 30 degrees so we can build... we don't have a grid system, basically, in our office. We have a giant, open layout, and we can cluster people.
So we generally have programmers sit in the same general area, and art and design and etcetera, but we try and pair up... like, a programmer who is working on animation systems should sit near the animators. So he'd be on that fringe of the programmer side. And environment designers need to sit near mission designers, because they're constantly iterating together. So that we definitely try to figure out, but there's...
BJ: Like a gradient kind of dwelling.
MZ: Yeah, and we shift it around a lot, too. If somebody changes position or assignment, then they might move desks. We try to keep it fluid.
I think he said that they have wheels.
MZ: Yeah. All of our wiring is in the floor. We have a false floor and it just comes up through there, so we can just unplug, move, and... the IT team must... it happens all the time.
BJ: Actually, the IT team is doing it while we're gone. When we go back, we're going to have a whole new work area.
MZ: Yes. It happens all the time.
Do you think that's good? What do you think is the best situation?
MZ: It takes some people a while to get used to. They're used to having their own office, or sharing an office with like two people. I came from a studio that had separate offices, but I would never allow that. If I ran a studio, there would be no question. I'm a firm believer.
How you segregate or integrate in an open plan... there's no perfect way to do it, but I absolutely believe in an open plan. There's just so many conversations that never would have happened, or so many people who wouldn't know each other well enough... emergent ideas that can bat around.
There is definitely a problem with being able to concentrate at times, but you just learn to love the headphones. Half the time my headphones are on and I listen to music, because I need to concentrate and slightly dull the noise. People tend not to include you, when they come talk, because they know they're interrupting. Simple systems that emerge.
BJ: That was the real motivation for moving to our new space, primarily. We were in a cubicle farm, a generic office space like the rest of Xbox. Like Mike was saying, we didn't even have a big enough space for the whole team to congregate. People would go a whole work day and never see somebody, and they'd sit in the corner behind some wall.
MZ: And this was after we knocked down all the walls.
BJ: Yeah, we knocked down all the walls in this building, and it still didn't work for us. Now our space has the custom design of being completely modular and totally wide open. I will say that anyone who has come to visit us from other developers and partners... everyone seems jealous and envious of our space. It may not work for everybody, but everyone's like, "Wow, this looks really freakin' cool. I wish we had something like this."
MZ: The other thing I really like is that it democratizes the feeling in the studio. Producers and studio management sit right in with everyone. There's no corner office. Well, Marty's got his ivory tower, but you could argue that sound actually does need to be isolated.