Monday, January 20, 2014

Ramping Up, Keeping Up, and Facing Fears

Coming out of November and into December, I found myself staring at the ceiling every night, worrying about the team at Fixer Studios. We'd made tremendous progress in the first few months, but could we keep it up? Were things on the verge of a breakdown? For the first time since starting the project, I couldn't honestly say that I was 95% certain we'd ship this game. I was afraid.
It wasn't until our UX designer sat down and played our most recent build that I really came to terms with something I was afraid to admit: Sinister Dexter is actually doing pretty well. When I look at a build, I tend see a whole bunch of stuff missing and it's been really easy for me to gloss over the incremental progress we see reflected in updates. I need to get better about that.

To be fair, it's been way too long since I updated this blog, but since my last post we have accomplished a great deal. We have server-based remote play. We have animated turn recap videos. We have a forum with an active group of insightful Beta participants ready to go. We have a solid PR plan, fun teaser videos, and our core cast of characters all fleshed out. We have UX drafts for every major system, our design docs nearly ready to share with the public (weird), and a team completely aligned behind our objectives and philosophy. Despite all of this, it was my fear, that the project was losing momentum.

Every December in our industry faces a holiday slowdown. To compound that, our team members are fully encouraged to ramp their time up and down each week as family, health, or even other projects and jobs take priority. Lots of people come onto the project, kick tail for a few months, then need to focus on other things, and we fully support that process. However, one of those life-cycle changes was going on in late 2013 and we naturally slowed as some vets ramped down and fresh blood ramped up.

We also decided to tackle some long-burn goals in late 2013, knowing full well that we may fail to deliver weekly sprint progress on these behemoths. In fact, we even time-boxed one big goal knowing that additional investment may not provide linear results against it. I'm being vague, I know, but basically we aimed for a couple things we know could be "black holes" for effort.

Add all this up, and the appearance of weekly progress diminished. At least it did to me, and I started to worry. As a passion project, we're fueled by one thing: enthusiasm. As I looked at our production schedule and weekly velocity measures, my real fear surfaced: "What if our team gets frustrated? What if our team loses enthusiasm?" That thought really dogged me in early December, and it took a couple weeks for the team to really convince me we were okay.

On a distributed team of nearly twenty devs, mostly part-time, it's tough for people to get a good sense of all the progress being made in other functional areas unless it's shown directly in the build. Well, we have a bunch of new communication practices in place to shed better visibility on that. Further, our holiday party allowed a lot of team members to mingle and catch up - even with a handful of people who traveled from out of town. Most of all, this team just, well, they have awesome attitudes and perspective. With another group, my fears about team morale may have been well advised, but this team basically needed to take my hand and tell me, "everything is okay, we're happy."

Thanks guys, I'm honoured to work with you.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Avery! I saw that Sinister Dexter was going to be a mobile game. After reading about your server side technology, and it looks like you're going full-stack Javascript, do you have any ideas on how you will deploy them to Android or iOS? Are you going to use Phonegap? I'm a newbie mobile game developer and just researching on current technologies mobile game companies use. Thank you and I'm excited about your next update!
    - JP