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December 09, 2007


Peter Bessman

This a pretty chaotic post, in the sense that it lacks a coherent, take-away message of "this is the one thing you need to do." Which leads me to believe it's probably right (or less wrong than average). Obligatory Fred Brooks quote: "there is no silver bullet."

My team is firmly in the "almost no planning required" category, which means we're a small, broke startup. While that's traditionally thought of as a curse, given how much established companies seem to struggle with the nightmare of managing big projects, perhaps there's also a blessing in there somewhere.


The more you can iterate, the less you need to plan. Conversely, the less you can iterate, the more you need to plan. You need at least enough planning to have some breakdown of production areas, estimations of resources and costs, and a good idea of the dependencies.

All of those will help you figure out your balance of plan / iteration in different areas. For example, you will rely on iteration for things like player control, and you will need some hard plans for voiceover recording or outsourced art.


Don't you need planning for the higher level ideas though? Iterations work great for low-level features that can be implemented and tweaked relatively easily: controls, enemy AI, etc. But you can't really iterate on high-level concepts. Sid Meier's dinosaurs game died after a while and as I understand it, they still weren't sure if the game would be turn-based or real-time -- that can't have helped production.

Basically, how do you balance the need for a clear overarching vision and the need for flexibility during development?

Clinton Keith

Hi Jamie,

Good post.

Actually I wasn't proposing more planning outside of the sprint, but more coordination of hand-offs within a sprint.

Scrum practices were developed for groups of programmers (with an occasionally UI artist), so it's not surprising that there is some weakness in the Sprint planning when you have 2 designers, 3 artists and a few programmers making up a feature team.

Also, note that this burndown was proposed and tried by our team alone. As it turns out, we abandoned this practice in favor of having weekly reviews during the sprint, within the team, where we could deal with all the dependencies. Much better solution.

Gantt charts are evil for long term planning!



To be fair to Spolsky, he recognises that some of his advice doesn't apply to games - he mentions somewhere that games don't usually get the luxury of a throwaway version 1, which changes the assumptions enough about design that his advice doesn't really apply. Games almost certainly need to iterate more than regular software - but at the same time there's some really expensive asset requirements that it doesn't make sense to iterate on, so clearly there's some sort of forward planning that needs to go on.


Lots in here to take in so I'll only point out one small takeaway that I think is a wonderful point that needs to be made more often. "Agile is not the antithesis of Waterfall." I'm personally tired of people seeing Agile as the silver bullet (and hero to Waterfall's villain) of the day (in whatever literal form they mean it to be in: i.e. specifically SCRUM, etc.). There is so much more to it than just abandoning the "old way" of Waterfall and adopting Agile as the solution. As much as I am a defender of an Agile mentality I always hesitate when getting into the ring for it because Waterfall still has it's place. Thanks for going out on a limb on that one Jamie.

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Jamie's Bragging Rights

  • Spider-Man 2
    The best superhero games of all time Game Informer
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    Top 100 PS2 games of all time Official Playstation 2 Magazine
    1001 Games You Must Play Before You Die Nomination for Excellence in Gameplay Engineering Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences
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    Nominated for XBLA Best Original Game
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