There is a short documentary that appeared on cable roughly 10 years ago that provides an inside look into Double Fine’s week-long time crunch for their underrated classic Psychonauts. The crunch was ridiculous, too. Employees pretty much lived at the studio for a week straight placing the finishing touches on the game before it went gold. Luckily, Double Fine provided any amenities their employees needed to stay on task: booze, massages, junk food – you name it, they basically provided it.
Even so, the very thought of a time crunch is enough to make any indie developer want to crawl into a corner, get into the fetal position, and start rocking back and forth sobbing quietly to themselves. Nobody wants to be rushed – especially when designing a game that’s so dear to you. Certainly, as an indie developer you can release the game ‘when it’s ready,’ yet there are certain circumstances where time crunching is necessary. Case in point: Team Meat’s insane time crunch to complete Super Meat Boy in time to be featured on the Xbox Marketplace (documented in the excellent documentary Indie Game the Movie).
Time crunches happen, but they don’t have to. By planning ahead and keeping your project organized, you will never find your back against the wall despite having to finish your indie game sooner rather than later. How do you avoid the dreaded time crunch? Use these tips to plan ahead.
Be able to look at your schedule within a second
Keep a detailed timeline of everything you need to accomplish on your project, and give yourself mini-deadlines for completing each task. It sound simple enough, but you would be surprised how many people don’t do this. Whether you hang up a large calendar in your office and detail dates on each day or you have it all in your phone, do yourself a favor and schedule your time accordingly. Personally, I make a list of everything I need to do week-to-week and hang it up on my office wall. It takes a while to create, but by glancing up and knowing exactly what I need to do each day, I always stay on task.
And if surprise tasks arise? You will be able to take a quick glance and see which day you can fit the task into your schedule, which tasks can be situated, and so on. Planning ahead pays off, so make it a habit.
Read your project’s documentation/update accordingly
You should be making notes about the project as it progresses. From brainstorms to detailing how certain aspects of the game work and so on, it’s crucial that you create a game development documents and update it regularly. Moreover, ensure your team members have access to the documents at all times. An easy way to do this is to have your docs available via Google Docs, so when anything is changed/updated, everyone that can view the document can see the updates as well.
It may seem time consuming, but documenting everything is crucial to avoid confusion and keeping everyone on track (and I will probably detail how to write appropriate game development docs in a later post). For now, know that you need to do it to avoid crunch time.
Create a list of every single asset in your indie game
That sounds like a huge task, doesn’t it? It is, but it is crucial that you have a list of not only every current asset in your indie game, but the assets that will be in the indie game in the future. Once an asset is completed, you can highlight the asset in the list, mark it as completed (along with the completion date), and any other information that is relevant to the asset (it’s function, any additional notes about the asset, etc.).
It is crucial that you share this with all of your team members (again, using something like Google Docs). Once your team members complete as asset, they too need to mark it as complete. The great thing about using Google Docs for this is you can be notified when a change has been made in the doc, thus alerting you in real-time to the progress your team members are making to the assets of your indie game. Feel free to get creative with organizing the list as well, and make it work for your project.
Communication is always key
A no-brainer for sure, but it’s still important to mention. Communicate with your team regularly, have them show you the progress they have made on the project, and regularly tell them what needs to be improved, what is working well, etc. If your team has no idea if they are doing a good job or not, the chances of them doing a mediocre to poor job increases. Feedback is vital to staying on track! Ensure your team members are doing a great job, correct them when needed, and your project will stay on task.
Be open to change
Of any kind. For example, if someone suggests that you change a huge chunk of your indie game, look at it objectively and see if it would benefit the game. If all signs point to yes, take the extra time needed to change it. Developing your game isn’t a race – it’s about developing the best game possible.
Learn to say no
A lot of wasted time could be avoided if you just say ‘no.’ A time is going to come where saying no is going to ensure your project continues to run smoothly. With that one magic word, you are going to save yourself a ton of grief.
Do you have any additional tips for avoiding the dreaded time crunch? Let us know in the comments below!