Darkness 2

Few days ago, we released Darkness 2, the game I’ve been working on for the past 18 months. I won’t write too much about the game itself, if you’re interested, you probably know about it already, if not - check out the demo. Usually, once the game is on the market, devs will keep on stressing how they were killing themselves in order to make the best product possible. It’s not fashionable to admit you were not working every weekend for the last 6 months. For some reason, the fact you can’t plan for shit has become the badge of honour. I feel we should talk more often about projects that didn’t require the team to live in the office. Today, encouraged by an excellent Ted Price’s talk, I will do just that. First things first, though. I will write mostly about me and a little bit about our programmers, I didn’t monitor everyone’s working hours. This is definitelly not an official company statement, just my observations. Let’s open with a bold statement: Darkness 2 has been the best managed project I have seen in my 10 years in the industry. It’s a 3 platform (simultaneous launch) AAA game with cooperative multiplayer, it uses our own in-house engine. We did not have a 200 person team. Admittedly, it’s been delayed by few months, but it was truly to polish the game some more, not to actually finish it. I’m not saying it was perfect or there was no crunch at all. Last ~2 months were quite tough, especially for the MP team, but it definitelly wasn’t the usual level of craziness. It varied from person to person, but one important thing is – no one worked harder than our leads (that’s not always the case) and it was truly voluntary. In my opinion main reasons we managed to keep it sane were:

  • the genuine desire to avoid crunch. This one should go without saying, most studios claim they try, but in many cases it’s still treated as necessary evil. Not to mention those studio heads who admit themselves they don’t believe you can make good game without crunch

  • game/bug state monitored at all times. When we entered the final bug fixing stage, we knew our pace, we knew how many bugs we had, we knew how many we had to fix roughly to hit zero. We had this little web site showing all this info (Dr Mario style, too!). We started doing this early enough to distribute the workload a little bit and ensure that daily bug quotas were reasonable.

  • our testing framework/build system. That’s a big one. As the game comes closer to completion it gets more and more risky and time consuming to change things. Every modification can potentially introduce a new bug. It’s quite often you fix one thing and break another. We have a nice safety net of smoke/soak tests that makes it much easier to verify our modifications. It’s not perfect (mostly because we don’t have tests for everything), but it’s much more extensive than I’ve seen in the past and it really helped.

It’s hardly a rocket science, I’m guessing most companies know this stuff already. It’s mostly about committing to point #1 and consequence. As I mentioned, there still was some chaos at the very end, we discovered some issues that probably should have been fixed sooner, but I’m confident we’ll use this experience to make sure our next project goes even smoother. I also hope that we’ll slowly see the change of attitude and working crazy hours will no longer be the point of pride in our industry. Working hard is important, working smart probably even more so.

Old comments

The Darkness 2: AAA game built with low crunch » I <3 Crunch 2012-03-01 00:47:53

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Karl S 2012-02-18 18:28:34

Congratulations! It’s nice to know that some other developers out there believe it is possible to ship AAA without crunch :)

Pawel W 2012-02-13 09:27:38

BTW, Maciek - don’t suppose you could write about your smoke tests in a little more detail? I.e. some examples how the new systems were covered and the overall approach?
Or maybe someone from your QA team has a blog of their own :-)

Pawel W 2012-02-13 09:21:26

Very good to hear. Not straining the workforce beyond their optimal capacity actually means greater (and certainly - more sensible) commitment IMO. Because apart from the devs, the whole admin and producer force has to work equally hard and be as sharp to plan for every foreseeable scenario (which is NOT common by a long shot).
I’m glad you’re satisfied and looking forward to new projects. Hope your game sells.
Oh, putting this on fb to propagate the approach. As you know all too well, this country needs it to come out of our caves…

Pavel Shevaev 2012-02-13 06:23:44

Nice! Finally I’ve witnessed an AAA project which didn’t make devs to devote all their lives to.

js 2012-02-13 04:53:52

Congrats m8! It’s time for the party party party

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