This Dumb Industry: In Defense of Crunch

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Apr 26, 2016

Filed under: Column 137 comments

Last week I derided permacrunch – the policy of working an entire creative team 70 hours a week all the time – as “the policy of simpletons and sociopaths”. This led to some people asking, “Why is crunch even a thing?” Can’t management just plan the schedule so that the project is done on time using only 40 hour work weeks?

Sadly, I don’t think that’s a fair expectation at all. And it’s not because management is a bunch of soulless meanies who want to work our poor developers to deathI mean, management might still be soulless meanies, but not for this reason.. The problem is twofold:

  1. Scheduling is hard. To accurately predict how long it will take you to create software, you’ll need to know all the problems you’ll encounter ahead of time, and how long it will take to solve them. By the time you know that, the game has probably shipped.
  2. There’s no upper limit on how much time you can spend making a game, and no matter how much time you give the team, some developers will always push for “just one more feature”. Not because they’re stupid or irresponsible, but because they really love games and want to make this one really good. I say this from experience. Good Robot shipped about four months later than we planned, because we had more features we wanted to add. And none of us were getting paid until the game was done. If we were willing to delay our own payday to make the game we wanted, how much easier do you think it is to push for more features when you’re not the one who will have to bear the direct financial consequences?

Scheduling isn’t just a problem in videogames. It happens in all kinds of software development. When asked “How long will it take to accomplish X?” the most common answer will be given under the assumption that when you work on X you’ll never encounter hard-to-identify bugs, that the requirements of X won’t change, and that some obscure hardware problem won’t eat up a bunch of your time. It assumes you won’t have staff turnover that requires integrating someone new to the project. It assumes that no programmers will be pulled away for “just a few days” to deal with some horrible crash or exploit in the game you just shipped, which might actually stall the whole team because everyone’s work is interconnected. It assumes that the design itself is perfect, that all systems will work as imagined on the dry-erase board, and that everyone’s artistic and technical ideas will fit neatly together in the final product.

Continue reading ⟩⟩ “This Dumb Industry: In Defense of Crunch”



Diecast #150: Star Fox, Playstation 4.5, Mirrors Edge

By Shamus Posted Monday Apr 25, 2016

Filed under: Diecast 78 comments

The mailbag has been empty for a few weeks now. I assume this is because we stopped answering them in a timely manner. That’s fair. But if you have questions and boundless optimism, the email is in the header image. Good luck!

Direct link to this episode.

Hosts: Josh, Rutskarn, Shamus, Campster, Mumbles.

Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes: Continue reading ⟩⟩ “Diecast #150: Star Fox, Playstation 4.5, Mirrors Edge”



Lord of the Rings Online #9: Going Postal

By Shamus Posted Sunday Apr 24, 2016

Filed under: Shamus Plays 18 comments

I’m back in the Shire, and in the town of Michel Delving. The postman – my mortal enemy – is asking me to deliver the mail.

They should have Kevin Costner voice this character. Except they also really really shouldn't.
They should have Kevin Costner voice this character. Except they also really really shouldn't.

Mail delivery quests. It’s actually not possible to describe them using any sort of in-character point of view because they employ the kind of logic you get when you mix bourbon and peyote.

The mail sits there, with nobody in a hurry to make it go anywhere. Then a package is handed to you, and suddenly the clock is running. If time runs out, the package vanishes and you fail.

You run faster (20%, I think) when carrying mail, which means that you can use the postal service as a sort of ersatz transport system. As long as you never actually finish any of the deliveries you’ll have a speed-boosting package available in every town. Just take the package and head off to your destination. Drop the quest when you get to wherever you’re going. Given the distances you need to hike in the Shire, this is actually a really attractive option.

But! Before you grab that satchel and run off, you need to be aware that if you get too close to a “Nosy Hobbit” then the package will vanish and you’ll fail the quest. Their chat indicates that they’re trying to stop you for a bit of gossip, although I would really question the prowess of their gossip vs. my knife and my will to complete this quest.

Let’s assume that the postman managed to explain all of this to Lulzy without her head exploding. We now rejoin her trip to Michel Delving.

Continue reading ⟩⟩ “Lord of the Rings Online #9: Going Postal”



Rutskarn’s GMinars CH1: Your Job

By Rutskarn Posted Saturday Apr 23, 2016

Filed under: Tabletop Games 74 comments

Before we get into any specific advice or instruction, I want to rectify the most basic and chronic misunderstanding about what goes into running a good roleplaying game.

Anyone can spot the external functions of the GM: you’re referee and storyteller. You enforce the rules, you describe people, places, and events, you establish how difficult certain kinds of actions are. If you’re good at all of those things, great–they’ll absolutely make you a better GM. But they won’t, by themselves, make you a good one–and you can be terrible at one or all of them and still run a good game. They’re your job, but they’re not your real job.

They’re not your core responsibility, which I will state as bluntly and unromantically as possible:

As a GM, your real job is to give your players something to do.

Continue reading ⟩⟩ “Rutskarn’s GMinars CH1: Your Job”



SOMA EP12: Detainee Lab 2021

By Shamus Posted Friday Apr 22, 2016

Filed under: Spoiler Warning 26 comments

Link (YouTube)

The most suspenseful moment in this episode is where Chris vanishes, possibly to be force-upgraded to Windows 10 by the WAU. And just so you know: He didn’t come back. We have no idea how that drama turned out.

Yes, point and laugh at the 20 minute mark when I was lamenting how Catherine never explained what she was feeling, when she just got done doing that. Still, that statement felt like it should be the start of a discussion, not the end of it. The question of “What are these two characters experiencing in a physical sense?” was always in the forefront of my mind, and the game was very coy about it.

In this episode, Simon dreams. That’s the most concrete bit of evidence that this computer-based brain is honestly having a go as simulating human brain activity on some fundamental level.

Also, once again I have to commend the team for doing a proper dream sequence. In far too many movie dreams, the writer is just so childishly excited about the part where they get to pretend to kill someone important and then do the “Ha ha! It was all a dream!” thing. The problem is that when you do this, you can only do this. If you’re trying to pretend this is real, then you can’t put crazy dream stuff in there, since that would spoil the “surprise”. Which is why dream sequences are usually so terrible. They exist only for the sake of the surprise, which usually doesn’t even work because the trick is so played out.

Here, the writer skipped the trick and actually did something interesting. They kept it short, because overly long dream sequences are annoying. They made it feel dreamlike by hiding Ashley’s face and presenting the sort of unrealistic scenario Simon might dream about. It provided a nice time gap, so we wonder how long Simon has been asleep. And it provided a nice contrast of his old life and the new. We spend just enough time in his comfy little apartment to be reminded of just how much it must suck to be stuck in his current situation.

Also, as promised: This is a Trent Reznor song.