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Crunch, Triage and Decompression Articles

May 26, 2008

During times of prolonged crunch, brains and bodies get tired. Taking into account the 4-6 hours of sleep I might get a night during crunch, it’s practically impossible to go straight out during your waking hours without stopping at all.

In my case, I’ve played and written so much in the last couple of days that my forearms are literally sore. I’m making good progress though, so I’ll be going to sleep with a lot less stress than I had when I rose this morning.

During crunch, I have the following techniques to refresh my brain:

  • I stop and take a full 30 minute break somewhere in the middle of the day. I usually fall asleep.
  • I limit consumption of massive quantities of caffeine. It just makes it more difficult to go to sleep when I actually can go to sleep.
  • I play “Hey, That’s My Fish” because I can play it in 5 minutes or fewer with people that are also crunchy. That’s why it’s currently in my “I’m Playing” list.
  • I read articles related to game development, but not to the project I’m working on.

For some reason, I also feel the need to add that there’s really a few kinds of crunch and things that aren’t crunch.

  • Long Night – one or two nights up late to finish something. This is not a crunch.
  • Long Week – a burst of work for a week or two to finish something
  • Pure Passion – you’ve been working forever on something because you want to, you really want to, and you probably have some personal stake in it. This is something you’ve done to yourself, and you’re basically okay with it.
  • Crunch – a 1 to 3 month burst of extended hours and work
  • Extended Crunch – 3 – 6 months of extended hours and work
  • Death March – you’re working all the time if you’re not sleeping. It’s been 6 + months.

The last three terms are actually used in the industry. The first two are experienced periodically but don’t really count as true crunches. I’m in the Extended Crunch category at present, and will avoid going to Death March.

In apparently unrelated news…

Tonight, Ian sent me this excellent article on Lost Garden about bug triaging. Despite its seemingly silly name, the User Pain index is truly an agile-esque stroke of efficiency and player-centricity that’s needed in this area of game development. Having spent hours of my time as a lead doing triage, I can second every one of his valuable points. I encourage you to go have a read for yourself.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 2, 2008 9:26 pm

    I might have mentioned this before, but I don’t remember. One thing to consider is that there is a vast difference between spending some long nights in the office through your own will and “crunch” that’s been scheduled in.

    I talked about crunch a few years ago on my own blog. Basically, there’s good crunch and bad crunch, and there’s an important distinction between the two, I think.

    After we bought Meridian 59, I put in long hours again, willingly, because I wanted to see the game come to life again. I worked rather long hours for years on the project, and I didn’t have any ill feelings about it because, 1) I wanted to, and 2) I benefited directly from the work.

    So, I’d be careful about putting time limits as a measurement of what is or is not crunch. 1-3 months of crunch that has been required by management in order to meet an arbitrary deadline isn’t necessarily “better” than the long, hard hours you put in to see your own business succeed.

    My thoughts.

  2. June 2, 2008 9:50 pm

    Great point. I edited the article to reflect that. Thank you!

  3. June 3, 2008 3:02 pm

    Pure Passion is where I like to be. I spend most of my time walking my dog, working on my computer and trying not to sleep. I do this because there is a lot of work ahead of me if I want to find myself where I need to be this time next year. I am also currently using the phrase “What? Summer break?” somewhat frequently. I went to GDC so that was my vacation and I don’t really dig swimming or the heat so sacrificing a “summer break” isn’t a big deal.

    Even though I’m putting my body and mind through hell I am completely happy and I don’t see myself stopping. I guess some could see it as sick but I’m having a good time so I don’t see the harm.

    Unrelated note: You seem to really enjoy agile. I think I’ve heard/seen you talk about it more than any other design method. What about the Cerney method? I haven’t had the opportunity to try it but from what I read and what you’ve described it as it seems to be the most attractive and the most logical.

  4. June 4, 2008 8:15 am

    I’ve done the Cerny Method on two projects in the past, but it’s more a starter than a finisher. You get a few people from various disciplines together to find that proverbial nugget of fun. Once it’s found, off you go to one of the more traditional methods.

    I enjoy Agile because it emphasizes the prototype over a mountain of design documentation. Design docs are good, but I also like the ability to test stuff as soon as humanly possible to see if it’s fun first. Also, having written 10 metric tons of words in the first six months of this year, I think any method which says, “Design and play,” is inherently attractive to me right now. 🙂

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