Question for Frogboy: WTF is crunch mode?

By on January 21, 2009 10:40:07 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

astonerbum2

Join Date 09/2008
+3

I am very curious about this "crunch mode" phenomenon. I fail to understand what it is. Currently my definition is:

A time in the life-cycle of software where developers are forced to spend massive overtime in an attempt to fix up the product on time.

 

This is very curious to me, because as a programmer I feel that I always work at my full capacity. Any less would be dishonest and a waste of both my and my employer's time, not to mention that sitting idle at work = boredom! In addition since I keep my managers updated on whats going on, they are aware that I might go over the deadline due to XYZ circumstances and to compensate they need to either cut features or get additional developers.

So when I hear about these crunch modes, what does it mean? Are you sitting there with leather whips hitting the developers and screaming "TYPE FASTER!"? Are you injecting caffene directly into their veins so they don't get tired? Are you making them work 14 hr shifts?

 

Since deadlines that I deal with don't invole shipping a game at a promised date with drooling fans sitting waiting till stores open on the release date to buy the game, I don't know what it's like in the game development world. The only idea I have is from EA's practice of making employees work 14 hr shifts 7 days a week (ok fine that was a few years ago.)

 

Please shed some light on what crunch time in stardock means.

Locked Post 14 Replies
Search this post
Subscription Options


Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
January 21, 2009 11:03:20 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

   I'm going to speak from experience, but not Stardock experience. Now, people in the gaming industry have lives they try to enjoy and families they want to support and be there for. The beauty about "non-crunch time" is that you can leave work as your pre-determined time, or at least around that time.

However, during crunch time you have to break down and pick up the phone, call your wife and sigh

"Well, we encountered some problems today. So me and a few members of the team are going to stick around until we get it done, or 3am, which ever comes first. Wrap my dinner in foil and put it in the oven... yes hun, I know. But this is how the business works. I'll see ya in the mornin'. Love ya, bye"

Hang up.

  The goal of Crunch time is to make increasingly shorter deadlines no matter what it takes. Also, this means that the team can't focus on alternative projects, and most devote 100% of their attention to the game at hand until it's ready to ship. It's not much different than other periods of time, cept' you might not wanna approach the head of your team and say "Uhh yeeeaaahhhh. Can I take off early?" because um.. the answer's gunna be no.

 

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
January 22, 2009 12:46:14 AM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Disclaimer: I used to work as an engineer at EA.  I'm now working at another game company on a AAA title as an engineer (and do design on the side     )

Crunch time is a fact of the industry, more or less.  Basically it just means that to complete a game, you need more hours than initially scheduled.  "Crunch time" refers to people making up for that discrepancy in the way of doing overtime.

From my experience, here's the main two killers that cause it:

Failing to identify the critical path.  Since you're also a programmer, I'll assume you understand basic computer engineering concepts like "critical path".  Identifying the critical path when there's many design dependancies is very difficult and unless you're extremely generous when you pad the schedules, your project usually isn't as far along as you hope at the various milestones.  When this happens, the quick and dirty solution is to just raise your arms and yell "OK, everyone needs to work more hours starting today".  The nicer solution is to say "Well, we overestimated how much we'd get done by this time.  Let's push the deadline."

Bugs found late in development.  The other big reason crunch time happens is because really ugly bugs are often found near the end of the project.  Call it murphy's law or whatever, but it happens.  Often times the bugs are painfully difficult to find and difficult to fix.  As you probably know, the further along into a project you are, the harder it is to go back and change stuff.  A bug may have resulted from an poor software design decision early in development and never really found until way later.  Project managers always pad the schedule with "contingency time" to accomodate these things but many (or most) of the times it's not enough.  Thus, in order to make the deadline and fix the bugs you gotta - you guessed it - do crunch time.

In a typical game corporation, the company is responsible to its shareholders and needs to make quarterly profits.  Thus, deadlines are very important to those companies (unless they have a track record for pushing deadlines but releasing damn good games like Blizzard).  It's because of this that the general manegement reaction to not maintaining the critical path is to do overtime.

Since stardock is a private company, I don't think they have this problem as bad as others.  None-the-less, they do have deadlines and I'd be surprised if they have no crunch times at all.

Hope this was informative to you.

PS. EA's overtime is not nearly as bad as it was before.  However, for the sports games, the deadlines are very solid unmoving deadlines.  For those titles... yeah, they get really ugly sometimes...

 

 

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
January 22, 2009 9:58:04 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

I think whoever that planned a big organized project that stretch over months/years then finished it without crunch time should quit whatever his/her job and start a prophecy agency.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
January 22, 2009 10:49:39 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

wow, do you guys at least get paid for this overtime or is it all off the clock?

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
January 22, 2009 10:59:56 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

I would imagine they are salaried employees and thus do not get paid for "overtime".

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
January 22, 2009 11:03:20 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

I mean are the salaries sky-high? What is an average salary of such a developer?

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
January 23, 2009 1:52:09 AM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Quoting astonerbum,
I mean are the salaries sky-high? What is an average salary of such a developer?

depends on the role, seniority, and company.  I know a guy at rockstar who makes 6 figures in BONUS.  Also, if a game had a lot of OT, it's customary to give comp time (compensation time) off for that.  that ranges from a week to a month, I've seen

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
January 23, 2009 11:32:04 AM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

I mean are the salaries sky-high? What is an average salary of such a developer?

I would say the yearly average salary of a developer would be $90,000.       I would guess that a developer at gas powered games gets paid pretty much the same as developer at microsoft, google, apple, etc.

Average salary source:

http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos267.htm

 

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
January 23, 2009 1:47:18 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Here's my definition of Crunch Mode or at least, how I perceive it.

During normal development of a game, there are certain procedures in place for development. You have a game design document that serves as the bible for the game and everyone is assigned to do pieces of it.

If changes want to be made, then people submit that to the game designer who, if approved, typically from having a meeting with other designers, is then assigned back to the senior producer/project manager to then get it developed.

In crunch mode, you go into more of a triage because things have to move a lot more quickly and the hours are a lot longer. Time is a premium.

Let me give you an example:

Non-Crunch Mode:

In Demigod, if a player controls 60% of the flags, I wanted that player to get a big bonus to their warscore income. The goal being to make the games end pretty quickly if someone is controlling the arena.  Normally, I would submit this request to our publisher liason who would then include it on a list of requests to the lead Designer Mike Marr. If he agreed with it, he would send a list of approved changes to Bart, the Senior producer who decides what can and can't be coded. Assuming the change falls within the game's scope and budget, he would assign it to a developer's task list to work on -- typically a developer who is involved with that code.

Crunch Mode:

Because Mike Marr and I basically share the same brain, we almost never (actually we have never disagreed) disagree on a design element of Demigod. and because Bart and I are both software developers and know about scope we are able to streamline things.  

So I am out there in GPG's studio and would walk over to Shana (I hope I spelled her name right, she's a great developer) and said "I want to give a big bonus for players who control 60% of the flags to their war score income. Find the code, let's put it in right now." And it goes directly in. Time to implement: less than 2 minutes.

But you can't realistically do a crunch mode at the start of a project. And most publishers and developers don't get along like GPG and Stardock.  

Crunch mode also means lots of extra hours sometimes to quickly get in features and changes that need to go in for it to be good.

However, it doesn't mean the same thing to a Stardock or GPG as it would to a publicly traded company.

For instance, we decided we wanted an extra month to implement beta user feature requests. That moved the date from March to April.  No big deal right? Well, no, because April is the second FISCAL quarter of the year. And to a public company, that changes all their numbers. But to a private company, it means nothing.  So it's a lot easier for us to push dates back.  So our crunch modes tend to be a lot easier than other companies.

Hope that answer helps.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
January 23, 2009 5:12:56 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Not only making games is reallly hard. It suck.

Good thing there are people out here that love it. Thanks guys!.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
January 23, 2009 5:57:05 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Quoting teiman,
Not only making games is reallly hard. It suck.

Which brings me to... why the bloody hell am I studying so hard to make that my career? 

Thanks Frogboy for a 'peek' into the world of professional programming!

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
January 23, 2009 7:05:46 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Very interesting read Frogboy.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
January 23, 2009 10:16:58 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Quoting Ron Lugge,

Which brings me to... why the bloody hell am I studying so hard to make that my career? 

Thanks Frogboy for a 'peek' into the world of professional programming!

Probably for the same reasons I am... What other proffessions do you get to create a universe? The only other one I can think of is god, but that one has bad working hours. I mean seriously, they have 168 hour work weeks!

Not to mention, its a great excuse to learn about every other field of math and science!

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
January 24, 2009 7:28:43 AM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Quoting Ron Lugge,

Quoting teiman, reply 10Not only making games is reallly hard. It suck.


Which brings me to... why the bloody hell am I studying so hard to make that my career? 

Thanks Frogboy for a 'peek' into the world of professional programming!

Just now it seems that making games is not a "career", but a style of life. The crunch thing really has to mold your life, and is really beyond professionalism.

I think game devs is in the league of sport guys, astronauts and the like. People that will want to walk the extra mile to do something unique on this world.

But this may change in the future, and may become a "normal career", so stuff like "crunch mode" may become rare. Also, no everyone need to be graphic modeller, network engineer, etc...  I think on the future, some game devs will do stuff like crunch mode, and others will not need to.

Also, I don't know, but I suspect If you are beyond 37 years old, doing crunch mode could be ...maybe imposible, fisically imposible for a oldie. If this industry mature, and tons of people become old, gamers will need to learn to wait for his games.  On the other part, experience is a very good thing

 

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
Stardock Forums v1.0.0.0    #108433  walnut3   Server Load Time: 00:00:00.0000203   Page Render Time:

Stardock Magazine | Register | Online Privacy Policy | Terms of Use

Copyright © 2016 Stardock Entertainment and Gas Powered Games. Demigod is a trademark of Gas Powered Games. All rights reserved. All other trademarks and copyrights are the properties of their respective owners. Windows, the Windows Vista Start button and Xbox 360 are trademarks of the Microsoft group of companies, and 'Games for Windows' and the Windows Vista Start button logo are used under license from Microsoft. © 2012 Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. All rights reserved. AMD, the AMD Arrow logo and combinations thereof are trademarks of Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.