Back in the day I worked with the startup independent developer Limebird Entertainment, we entered into a few game development competitions. You know the kind — make a game, show it off together with lots of others and then a group of people select the best ones for some prize.
Usually, the competitions themselves were not that exciting, but you know you take what you can get in terms of exposure and if you’re making a game anyway, then why not enter it into the competition? So we did.
The immediate result of this is that we now had a deadline. Deadlines can be incredibly healthy things because they force you to pull together and produce something solid. It doesn’t matter how many subsystems you have in place or how brilliant they are unless you’ve got something you can actually show off to impress people.
Another thing about deadlines is that you’re always behind for them. We were no exception here… I’ve done some crazy crunching at my current job, but for a single crunch, the one we did on Velox for that competition must be the absolute worst kind of crazy. The setup of the competition that year was that you bring your machine in (unless you liked the ones they had), and you show off the game on a big projector screen.
We worked incredibly long hours the week leading up to that deadline. The game was coming together really well, but we were working ourselves dead. We didn’t really have all the stuff in that we wanted, however, and the deadline loomed. We worked all through the night to the presentation day, and then finally packed up our demo machine and left for the presentation.
At this time, I’d been awake and at work on this thing for about 30 hours. I was dead tired, and I’m sure my colleague wasn’t much better off. I was running on fumes and Coca-Cola.
Anyway, we set up the game, show off our menu system, host and join a network game and fly around for a bit in the hovercraft. Really high-tech stuff for the kind of level the competition was at, but it was also pretty rough around the edges. A minimap bug led to us having a hard time finding each others, for instance. Also, not having prepared any presentation as such, we sort of played around for a bit and showed off most of what we had in a rather unordered manner.
Then I went home, slept for 4 hours or so, got up, fixed most of our major bugs, and slept for another 10 hours.
The competition? We lost it to a team who’s game was an un-innovative re-make of an old game and whos engine was basically a Maya file viewer that needed really top-end hardware to even run properly, despite the really simple stuff they were doing.
So just what happened there?
The first thing to take away from this story is hidden in what happened after the demo. I slept for just a few hours, and was so conditioned to working with the game that I went back to it, even though we didn’t have a deadline anymore. But something had changed — I wasn’t dead tired anymore, so my mental clarity was much much better, which meant I could do much more good.
If you ever think about doing an all-nighter to hit a deadline, think again. If you’re crunching hard for long periods of time, stop to think, because chances are you’ve crunched so long that you now produce less in 12 hours than you normally would in 8.
The second question is the key to why we lost the competition: Polish and show. We failed to analyse the situation of what our target was, so instead of locking down early and polishing what we had, we forged on adding stuff to our game. If we’d come to our demo in a better shape with a presentation we’d practiced for beforehand and a polished game, we might have done a lot better. Now our high-tech stuff just looked bland next to the shiny effects of the winner-to-be (as did many other teams’ high-tech stuff, by the way).
Whenever you’re up against a deadline and need to show off what you’re working on, take a few minutes to identify what could give you the maximum impact with the people who’ll be watching and judging your stuff. Focus on the right things.
And have a good night’s sleep before you go there.