TE: Do you find in your experience here that having to refine and meet that stated ship date, cut these features; does that create a kind of animosity, or does it do the opposite and bring people together to focus on the actual project as a whole rather than their pet features?
RF: Yeah, I think it's different between the versions. I think we really matured as a team on Gears 1. ... After the success of Gears 1 and going through that process once and realizing, "You know, hey, that thing didn't make it into the game, and yet it still did really well; that obviously wasn't as important as I thought it was." And just that learning process.
In Gears 2, it's been completely different in the sense that everybody now knows what it means to do a date-driven schedule, and what it means to make compromises. We think about that a lot more in terms of "what are the trade-offs?" Things that Cliff never said before were things like, "The producer side of my brain says this is too risky," where in Gears 1 he would never had said that because he was the creative designer that didn't think about constraints. Which is great for a designer to be able to have the opportunity to do that, but now he also has a little bit of a reminder in the back of the head that "we need to be careful about how far we go with this" in order to get what he wants and not spin it too far out of control.
TE: Walking in here it's very calm, collected. It's a big building, I'm sure there's a basement somewhere where everybody's hammering away, throwing things at the wall in frustration. But you have a release date for a AAA title a little over a half a year away. What's the process at this point? I'm not seeing anybody sweating; when does the sweat start pouring?
RF: We're getting there. Now has been the time of when reminders of milestones are coming up, and soon we'll be getting the countdown clocks and things like that, where it's like, "Hey, are you aware that it's 'X' amount of days until content complete, and 'X' amount of days until feature complete, and that kind of stuff." It's around that time - like when you hit these next two milestones, kind of feature complete and content complete, really represent the transition of the game from a production standpoint to what we call the end-game, where you're basically beginning your glideslope into landing this project on a particular date, so. ... We've been a little bit more sensible this time.
In Gears 1, we crunched for a really long time - it was one of the hardest crunches I'd ever been on in my time in the industry. But it was necessary to get the game out. And we're all grateful that it worked out. But this time we're trying to be a little more sane; we're trying to do things like - we just crunched for three weeks, and now we're taking this week - not off, but we're taking this week in terms of normal hours so that people can recover.
Because it's easy to get caught up in the moment and think that whatever you're working on is a sprint, so we remind everybody that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and so you have to pace yourself accordingly. Yes, you have to give incremental effort as you go along, but ultimately you still have to realize that five months is a long time, or whatever it is to what we need to get to ship, and so you need to pace yourself appropriately.
I think we're also much further ahead than we were for Gears 1 at this point, so ... it's certainly not comfortable, it's certainly not like, "This is no sweat, and we're not going to have to work hard to get this to ship," but it's not as difficult as Gears 1. ... So again, we're not complacent at all, but we're not freaking out, either, because we've already been through this once.
I'm kind of one of the rare people that - I kind of like crunch, 'cause I like the focus. ... To me, it's an indication of ambition. I know there are some development shops out there who have perfected their craft to the point where they feel they can ship games on eight hours a day and that kind of stuff. But to me, I don't know how you do that, because our stuff is so fluid, and new ideas are being generated that you're getting stuff along the way that are better ideas. And so if we were to say that we're never going to crunch, that we were only going to work eight-hour days, that means that some of the really good, new ideas we're having wouldn't necessarily make it into the game.
To me, it's like, if you're not crunching, then you weren't ambitious enough, you know what I mean? You gotta overshoot a little bit and attempt that greatness, and that requires extra effort. And if you didn't do that, then somewhere along the line, you settled, in my mind.
Russ Pitts is an editor and producer for The Escapist. His blog can be found at www.falsegravity.com.