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A good development team is much more than a group of talented people. There needs to be a palpable sense of drive, healthy competition, and synergy such that the sum effect is greater than the individual parts could ever achieve.
The Crackdown team had a reassuring buzz about it. People regularly congregated to see what recent progress was causing a stir before dispersing with an increased sense of combined purpose and accomplishment.
Even during the inevitable crunch, when particularly pooped and still facing an overambitious product scope, our indefatigable heroes pressed on, concealing content from the axe man by providing refuge in special extra-curricular projects (strictly speaking not always to be encouraged).
If there were a single source of fuel for this teamwide thrust, it was the knowledge that the initial prototype (and subsequent first-playable demo) was a belter.
Video games are creative art, and the best developers are inherently passionate about crafting them. However, there's a difference between developers who willingly give overtime, and managers who demand it.
I admit that at key points in the project, I did strongly urge the team to invest more than their contracted hours. Under the circumstances, and with predominantly the best interests of the project at heart, there was no other option. Unfortunately, this kind of demand subtly degrades the team dynamic and causes resentment.
Crackdown's total crunch period varies depending on the definition, but is widely agreed to have lasted far too long. The situation flew directly in the face of Realtime Worlds' first commandment -- Thou Shalt Not Abuse Thine Most Valuable Assets -- which is actually a doctrine we're better positioned to adhere to more religiously since Crackdown's success.
Toward the end of the main project, the crunches became steadily more pronounced and, though we reached the mess hall just in time for Christmas brandy and cigars, it also allowed everyone to forget the commitment, professionalism and, above all, passion that came before.
5. Downloadable Content
We tried to plan the additional downloadable content before we finished the main game, but ultimately the pressure to focus on the project at hand meant it never progressed beyond a few conceptual discussions.
Even in the final release phase, where managers could do little more than buy pizza and mop brows, the key architects of a solid plan for new content were lost to an intense program of promotional video production.
In early February, after extensive and undeniably well deserved holidays, and with a thorough plan in hand, work finally began on the new content with roughly half the original team. Just three months later, the package was submitted to certification. In the shadow of a monumental four-year project, 12 weeks sounds almost inconsequential.
The reality, though, was that we finally had a stable technology base, and we all had experience working both with it and each other. Not only that, but a sudden boost in efficiency reminded us that check-in logjams were just one reason why we had regularly been pining for the halcyon days of smaller teams.
The greatest key to success for the downloadable content was that the team drove the scope. Naturally, there was some input and guidance from the stakeholders, but the targeted features and content were ultimately derived by the only people who really knew what was possible and worthwhile within the timeframe.