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Postmortem: Avalanche Studios' Renegade Ops
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Postmortem: Avalanche Studios' Renegade Ops


June 8, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next
 

4. Focus on Measurable Success

In addition to focusing on the core mechanics of the game, we also put a lot of energy into making sure every person on the team was working on tasks that had concrete, measurable results.

When making plans for each milestone, we asked ourselves how every chunk of work on that list would improve the quality of the game in a defined and measurable way -- not just for the publisher (which is standard practice) but for the team.

We strived to prioritize our production in a way that would get the team more excited about -- and confident in -- the project. This approach gave everyone (the team, company, and publisher) a strong sense of confidence in the project early on.

This had the unexpected effect of feeding a steady stream of positivity into the team, which lead to very high morale throughout its development. Long before our vertical slice was submitted, we were saying things like: "Damn! The game is already so much fun to play! This is gonna rock! I can't wait to get the stuff I'm working on now, into the game!"

Our vertical slice was a huge success. It was the first time we had worked on a project that actually managed to deliver a true vertical slice -- a slice of the game that truly is representative of the final game. We chose the game's first mission for this, and in fact, we didn't change much about the first mission after vertical slice at all.

This upward spiral of positivity is something we are going to strive to make happen in future projects, as it is nothing short of awesome to be a part of when it happens. There is a catch, however, which I will get into when we get to What Went Wrong.

5. An Experienced Team

The Renegade Ops development team was built around a group of senior developers. The experience each individual brought to the table was a key factor in getting the project up on its feet and running in the right direction quickly, and consistently. We were eight people from the start, up until the main production phase, when we ramped up to 16, our maximum. The eight individuals who were involved from the start of the project had to function within several disciplines to cover all the facets of creating a game. Everyone pitched in wherever it was most needed, to the best of their abilities.

However, the most important factor of having a team of senior developers was that we could use our collective experience to mitigate risks and minimize waste by simply talking about a feature or system. Some of these discussions were time-consuming, but not nearly as time-consuming as it would have been to actually implement the system first and then go back to the drawing board once we had realized it wouldn't work.

These discussions also created an awareness of the limitations of each solution before it was applied -- an awareness that gave us time to work on adapting the game's design to function within those limitations right away, instead of waiting until after each system was in place.

Now hold on a minute! Didn't I just write about the "super-iterative" nature of game development and that our time should be spent on making the game? Yes, I did -- but that was in regards to documentation, not communication in general. Communication is paramount -- especially in regards to capitalizing on the experience that each individual brings to the team.

What Went Wrong

Beware, traveler, for the road grows dark ahead... Here are the major sins we committed and how they affected the team, the project, and the final game.

1. Greed: Gotta Have it All

Our ambitions for Renegade Ops were too high. We set out to make a game that felt like an triple-A budget game with a tiny team and a tiny budget in comparison, so the odds were against us from the start. However, compared to other XBLA/PSN titles, the budget was quite large.

In spite of this, we poured in an unacceptable amount of overtime on our own accord to pull it all together -- something Avalanche Studios' upper management frowned upon, since one of the company's primary goals is to avoid overtime at all costs. If we had been willing to compromise on the triple-A quality values to some degree, we would have had a bigger margin for error throughout the entire project.

One big problem with using the term "triple-A" to describe anything is that its definition is highly subjective. For some "triple-A" is only a matter of budget -- if you put more than X dollars into a game, it becomes a "triple-A" game. For others, it is critical reception; yet other see it as sales, or it is a mix of all of those.

Basically, every time anyone says "let's make a triple-A game," every person in the room most likely has their own idea of what that means. This became a problem for Renegade Ops, as Sega, Avalanche management, and the development team all had different views on what triple-A stood for. This created divergent expectations and priorities between us, which made it difficult to compromise, since everyone had different opinions on what was most important.


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