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Final Exam Week

March 10, 2008

It’s that week here at SCAD – when students stay awake for hours on end, get particularly crunchy, and attempt to complete the projects before them. As a game developer who happens to be teaching, I can’t help but notice the parallel between this week and crunch. People look sleep deprived. They are irritable. Others are perfectly okay having planned things out well.

At the same time, as much as I try to draw that parallel, there are some key things missing:

  • It’s only a week. Most crunches last longer than a whole quarter (10 weeks).
  • There’s not millions of dollars riding on the line.
  • The worst professor doesn’t hold a candle to certain exceptionally talented industry leads I’ve worked with. They set a very high bar – you rise to it or you sink, and if you sink, dude, that’s not so pretty.

As a contractor in the industry, I’ve also been under crunch for the last six months, I guess. One would think that as a contractor, I’d be setting my own hours and deciding exactly how much work I do an when. However, that’s only true to a degree. A year ago, when my last big project ended, I discussed the possibility of working on several projects with various clients hoping to land one of them – instead, I landed all of the them. It was a big bonus, and it certainly has been great. It’s also meant a lot of work hours. I have a friend who calls an abundance of work “a high class problem”, and it’s indeed true. I am fortunate.

Particularly when one hears about the economy death spiraling, having too much work to do is a good thing, whether its contracting or having the luxury of attending college in the first place.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2008 9:49 am

    I think I have to disagree on the ‘There’s not millinos of dollars riding on the line.’ because really, there are. Add up all the tuition and then put on the added bonus that this final will very likely determine whether or not students land that first killer job, and I’d say millions of dollars certainly are riding on this.

    Crunch time is one of the worst things about the industry, and I’m not exactly sure why the games industry is so hellbent on impractical planning. Sure, the project is huge, but we know that from the outset!

    I could compare making a game to making a car. You start with engineering, laying out a prototype, then taking a test drive. Then you add on creature comforts and make the controls feel nice and slick. You add optional features, and you get ready to launch.

    In the automotive industry, you’re just focused on marketing your creation. Why does the games industry always seem to be behind, in this regard?

  2. Malinda permalink
    March 10, 2008 10:32 am

    Thoughtful as always, and congratulations on landing your “high class problem.” (As if you weren’t busy enough! At least you’re doing what you love to do.)

    Last night, students were visited by a shrink in a clown outfit bearing food: The Pizza Fairy. I think most of us were convinced it was a hallucination brought on by lack of sleep.

    (In fact, I’m not supposed to be goofing off reading blogs. *shifty eyes*)

    Wanted to pass on some online game links that you or your students might be interested in looking at, though I’ve only had time to examine one.

    urbandead.com: MMOG about a zombie infestation
    kingdomofloathing: pop-culture-saturated RPG
    forumwarz.com: new RPG based on Internet memes and culture

    Of the three, KoL is the most developed and popular, I’d guess.

    I also meant to ask if you knew if the EA / SecuROM issues would affect Valve’s PC version of Portal, due out next month (according to Amazon) and supposedly distributed by EA. I’ve stopped buying EA products because SecuROM tried to eat my anti-virus programs and farkled my CD-DVD-associated programs and functionalities. There are a variety of flavors of SecuROM, some of which are less aggressive and intrusive, but EA apparently chose the most virulent version available. I was interested in trying out Portal, but now I’m leery.

    EA does so many things right, it is frustrating when they make a major decision mis-step like this. Almost as frustrating as the apparent lack of bug-testing before expansion packs are released, as most break a game functionality coded into earlier EPs. :/

    JMHO.

  3. March 10, 2008 10:49 am

    @Jesse – you know, I considered that “millions of dollars riding on the line” for college students, too, and then decided against including it. Really, one final isn’t going to make or break your ultimate career, particularly in gaming. Does anyone care how Jenova Chen did on foundational requirements now that he and his team have made Flow and Cloud? Does anyone care that I completely bombed calculus the first time out of the gate because I was having way too much fun as a freshman?

    That’s not to say that consecutive failures don’t have massive consequences – you fail enough and drop out of school, there are other issues there entirely.

    In games, you bomb, and you’re literally talking other people’s jobs that might be on the line as well as the foreverness that is gamerankings.com.

  4. March 10, 2008 11:59 am

    @Brenda – I completely see where you’re coming from now. It almost sounded like finals were inconsequential when compared to a game, and when it comes right down to it, the two are about equal (on an individual level). When you include the number of people affected, it would be hard to disagree that a game has heftier consequences.

  5. March 10, 2008 6:17 pm

    There is a reason, a very important reason, why real life experience can never be legitimately compared to college experience. I don’t think many even consider the mindset of the student. Looking at things from a student’s perspective will change everything.

    Students are paying to learn, not getting paid to make a product. Paying to do something and getting paid to do something are totally different things. No matter what any student or former student will tell you, it matters and it changes everything. It is an entirely different type of stress and frustration.

    Understanding this fact of student life will render all these comparisons of student life and career life illegitimate. Its not the same and never will be. It doesn’t matter if it is a make or break for your career. You have to consider who is putting they money at risk and who is taking the risk. In other words trust is the element in question.

    Career: Someone other than yourself, most likely a company, is putting forth millions of dollars. They trust that you, which is likely a small portion of a large team, will release a profitable product. Usually your responsibility in this situation is to make a game and keep yourself as healthy and sane as possible. Obviously there are numerous projects that comprise the creation of a game but they are all related in one way which is the game in which is being created. Time frames for games are usually longer than 10 weeks so naturally that is a huge difference too. No matter how you cut it 10 weeks is an entirely different than 6 months. From what I understand many games take multiple years to develop.

    Student: You, the student, are investing money to the school to provide you with an education. You have to trust in yourself and the school in which you’ve selected to attain an education as well as an acceptable GPA. It is not always true that you are working in a group and it is also not always true that if you are working in a group it is just one. Also there are numerous projects not always relating to making one final product. Students could be making board games, card games, studying for programming exams, writing speeches/giving speeches on top of trying to stay healthy and sane.

    Sure some people in any industry may jump around and be responsible for numerous projects at once. Of course this practice will usually come with experience paired with success but due to the time constraints it is entirely different.

    Consider all the fundamental differences in patterns in terms of investor trust vs employee trust, work requirements vs extra work not required, who is getting profit vs who is responsible for creating profit and of course 10 weeks vs 1-3 years. It is easily discovered that after considering these facts, the argument simply begins to break down and become an unrecognizable pile of irrelevant excrement in which you sometimes wonder why you had anything to do with in the first place.

    I still don’t see any real connections. I see some similarities… I suppose… but really the fundamental differences outweigh the similarities so student life and career life simply become two entirely different experiences.

    I guess that is the long way of saying I generally agree with you. Though it does seem as if you are ignoring the student’s perspective a little bit.

  6. brianshurtleff permalink
    March 11, 2008 12:56 am

    Malinda:

    Last night, students were visited by a shrink in a clown outfit bearing food: The Pizza Fairy. I think most of us were convinced it was a hallucination brought on by lack of sleep.

    The Pizza Fairy actually comes to spread food and good cheer to crunching students at SCAD during many a finals week actually. Didn’t find him this time, but I’ve been visited by the Pizza Fairy before.
    It is indeed surreal every time.

  7. Malinda permalink
    March 12, 2008 12:04 am

    @ brianshurtleff: Thanks for the info!

    I usually work at home unless I’m working with a group, so I’ve missed out on this sort of thing. I just get Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they always seem alarmed when I open the door after I’ve been grinding away without sleep all night, hair standing on end, cranky and not desirous of a copy of Watchtower, etc.

    Then again, even without a Fairy, I do eat nearly my weight in pizza during midterms and finals. Pizza seems to have magical powers when you’re cross-eyed from fatigue and hunchbacked from typing and mousing. 🙂

    I did learn this quarter that Screamin’ Mimi’s delivers to Monty.

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