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I’ve been putting off a new post for quite a while now since I feel that readers don’t care about how cool things have been around here.  Let me just say that ZG is pretty damned amazing.  The people are awesome, the work is engaging, and I couldn’t ask for a better introduction to the games industry.

As far as things I’ve learned though:

I learned about the “user story” planning model.  I had never heard of this before ZG, but it is apparently sweeping through the industry as the revolutionary new way to manage projects.  How this works is content is presented as a need from the user’s perspective.  Then tasks are assigned to the stories to separate the user story into a functional piece of the product.  For example, a user story might be: As a player, I want to be able to jump. This means that whatever is needed to make the final result of a jumping player is encompassed by this story: physics engine, character animations, noises, decals, whatever as long as the final results of the story is that the user perceives jumping.  After the stories are all compiled, the team then participates in “planning poker”.  A deck of cards with groups of Ace, 2, 3, 5, 8, Jack, Queen, and King are split up so that all members have one of each card.  A user story is selected and everyone places a card on the table estimating the difficulty of that story.  Ace is trivial, 2 is a day, 3 is slightly more than a day, a three is two to three days, etc., where Queen is a 25, meaning the task is large and hard to predict it’s time needs and King means 50 – a task that is daunting and will require many many man-hours to complete.  This technique seemed a little strange at first, but it has turned out be very powerful.  It really helps to figure out what concessions you need to make in order to deliver the expected results and packages each story into a single entity, generally independent of other parts of the project.

Next on the list of edumacatification is “Scrum Team Management”.  This is a part of the agile development philosophy, attempting to keep teams and projects lightweight and flexible.  The idea is that scrum meetings are held every day at the same time and last no longer than 15 minutes.  Period.  In these meetings everyone on the team explains what they did yesterday, what they plan to do today, and if they are waiting on anything (a blocker, as it’s called).  This puts everyone on the same page and encourages communication.  It seems to have worked pretty well so far.

Along with the Scrum methodology is the Sprint ideal.  Sprints are short periods of development where a specific set of user stories are focused on.  If a user story is not part of a sprint, it is ignored (unless there is a direct dependance, wherein both the blocking story and the depending story will most likely be involved in the same sprint).  These sprints are usually 2-4 weeks in length, but some longer and some go shorter.  For example, I have been working in 1 week sprints.  This is mostly because my project is smaller and we have very few people working on the project at this time, allowing for rapid development and easy communication.

My last piece of wisdom to pass down is simple, but profound.  I have been informed that it is NEVER a good idea to make more work for the people above you.  Take the time to do it right the first time.  Research, test, model, plan, do whatever you need to do.  Because if you do something stupid and someone who costs the company more money has to clean up after you, everyone is going to be angry and you will look dense and inconsiderate.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for help.  This means that you should exhaust every resource you can before you go whining to more expensive people.

Things have been going really well down here.  Florida blows, but that’s really only because I’m used to dry, cooler weather.  Be sure to keep in touch and stay tuned in.  I should have more nuggets of wisdom some time down the line.

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