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  Quality of Life: Bring more snus!
by Samuel Rantaeskola on 11/07/12 04:03:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs
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  Posted 11/07/12 04:03:00 am
My name is Samuel and I'm a nicotine addict. I use a form of tobacco called snus. It is very addictive and I don't fare well if I'm without it for an extended period of time.

You can purchase it in any store in Sweden, but it is pretty hard to find in other countries (actually illegal). This creates a bit of a problem for me as I'm travelling quite a lot. I need to remember to bring a sufficient amount for my trips, or else I will not function.

Typically it's a pretty trivial problem to decide on how much to bring for a trip, my consumption rate is a well known factor; I consume about one box a day. 

In August I went on a 12 day trip to Japan, for some reason I only brought 11 boxes of snus. With about 6 days left of the trip I realized my predicament. Now I had two choices, either go on as usual and take a big hit the last day or distribute the pain by slowing down my consumption rate. I chose the latter and was able to get home to Sweden with one last snus to enjoy in the cab ride home.

Sprint work
When I was standing there with my 5 cans of snus I realized that this is actually the same thing that is happening in a well run sprint. In good time you can realize that your current work rate is not sufficient to finish the work you have committed to. Though, with a slight twist, I would prefer to have snus left at the end of my time box whereas a sprint team would prefer to be out of work before the time is up.

Two questions you can ask yourself in before and during a sprint are:

  • Do you know your quantity of work?
  • Do you know your consumption rate?

The better knowledge you have about this, the earlier you can realize you will not be able to complete the sprint.

Most game teams I've encountered seems to enjoy a good party, at quite frequent internval. Since sprints tend to end on fridays it should be quite a common conflict between finalizing everything and the party. Cancelling the party to finalize the goals takes a ballsy producer, and they will be respected for it unless it happens every sprint.

With an early realization of problems the team can distribute the pain better. Actually it might not even require pain at all, just a tad bit of extra focus.

But why bother? If we miss a goal here or there, what's the big deal?

Unfinished goals
I like to think of goals as something very valuable. Not bothering about finishing a goal will lower the value of all the remaining the goals and also reduce the positive feeling of completing something, as it's not valued. Production starts to decay when this is done too fequently, people will stop caring.

It's quite common to just move along unfinished work to the next sprint and finalize it there. In the process we are also taking on some new work and some of that work might not be finished, so really polishing the last sprints goals might not seem as important. 

Not properly finishing things means that we are pushing a pile of crap in front of us. At some point we will have to dig into that.

This topic has been debated over and over again in the games industry. It might be that we are better at managing this today than we were ten years ago. But, saying that we're done would be exaggerating.

Continuously missing short term goals and leaving unfinished work behind us will hit us at some point. Better prediction of short term goals can help us keep the game in better shape and hopefully make the end phase more endurable.

Don't apply this thinking to the backlog
If breaking down work for the coming sprint makes sense, why not just go on and break down the whole project into small tasks? It is easy to make a induction chain, saying that if it holds for two weeks it should be valid for 4 weeks as well and so on. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you see it) this is not the case. The more uncertainty you have in the system, and games tends to contain an abundance of that, the less accurate your predictions will be. This is one of the reasons sprints should be short, the other being that completing a sprint should involve a beer or two.

For more thinking around this topic I'll push for another post:

The producer role
Being producer is not an easy role, if you doing a good job helping the team to avoid problems it's not going to be noticed, but if you fail to do so it will most definitely.

Going back to my snus example, the producer should help the team to keep an eye on their consumption rate and their workload. The input provided by the team members will allow the producer to give back their gift, an improved quality of life.


Roger Hågensen
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Just wanted to comment on the Snus thing. Myself I was a smoker for many, many, many years, then I "discovered" electronic cigarettes, or rather waited for it to mature some more. Thanks to my personal vaporizer I managed to quit smoking tobacco.
Unlike many others though I went from smoking to vaping liquid with no tobacco flavor and no nicotine. I realized a long time ago that my smoking was habitual behavior rather than addictive. Also, buying/importing nicotine to Norway is a pain (I suggested the government should allow doctors to regulate prescription for nicotine liquid with the end goal of reaching 0% nicotine, who knows if they'll follow up on it.)

Also, I wanted to stop smoking tobacco, but not "smoking".

Now I vape a mix of 80% glycerin (99.5% pure) and 20% water (boiled/or distilled/or purified), and some flavoring, currently menthol crystals saturated with glycerine. (glycerine absorbs up to 20% of it's weight in liquid/water).

Now it's a habit/hobby for me, and I'm currently designing/building a step-less voltage regulator with voltage display, as a alternative power source to batteries, which is nice for home or stationary use).

The danger of smoking is combustion that you are burning plant and other material, vaping merely heats the liquid until it reaches steam/vapor.
And water is mostly harmless, and glycerine is absorbed by the body (even when directly into the blood as you breath in via your lungs) as glucose, and glucose is pure fuel for the cells in the body.

If you need to know more wiki it or google it, and if you need a shop recommendation I can suggest in Sweden (that url should not be a link hopefully, just so Gamasutra don't think it's linkspamming or anything), I've bought almost all my gear via them, they respond to email and are helpful, fast and trustworthy so I have no issues recommending them.

Samuel Rantaeskola
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That sounds completly backwards. I want nicotine, not so fond of my snus habit though. Kicking nicotine requires me to be totally inactive in one or two weeks, which is hard to find time for....

Roger Hågensen
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Now for something more on topic than the Snus/tobacco stuff.

Another analogy you could use (that programmers and some audio and security folks would understand at the least), is buffer-underrun and buffer-overrun.

Too little time and too much stuff to do and well...My own projects are like that sadly.
I've yet to have the other problem, too much time and not enough to do. My brain always work beyond real-time it seems.

Crunch or similar should ideally never happen. Do actually anyone in the industry plan with a "buffer" ?
So that when you get to what is normally "crunch time" you can just use the "buffer" time instead?
And if you do not need to do crunch, then that buffer could be used for more polish. I believe the original Deus Ex guys did something similar to this!

Samuel Rantaeskola
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Buffers are a brilliant idea on paper and I've been debating (with myself) which of these are the best idea:
- Plan to cut
- Plan to add
Right now my foot is on plan to cut, because gas (and tasks) tends to magically expand to fill the space their given. Thus, it's better to keep yourself on the toes by adding too much rather than too little in the scope list, with the intentention to cut things at the bottom range of your desires. Though this does only apply on macro scopic level, in the short term (2-4 weeks) you should have enough confidence and knowledge to be decently predictable in your estimates.

As a side note, a dark thought crossed through my brain where I was toying with the idea to keep the official deadlines totally hidden in the team. Internally we would be working towards hidden buffered deadlines. However, the idea got thrown out as fast as it appeared when I realized that it will not take more than one bad delivery before the whole thing falls apart. The temptation to borrow from the buffer will become too strong and then you are working towards the real milestones anyway.....

Roger Hågensen
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(continuation on buffers, OT: why can't I/we reply to a reply?)

Myself I tend to steer towards plan to add. Which means that from the start, everything that is supposed to be added must be added. If not then why have it part of the plan in the first place? If you plan to cut then cut it at the design stage instead, and put it in a "to add", just make sure the overall design remains logical.

Too often I've seen games where content was cut during production and it actually feels like stuff is missing or incomplete. In Mass Effect the games suffer from this, in particular with the novels, if you do not read the novels, or you do not really dig around the codex you might miss details that actually make parts of the story tie together.

Hidden deadlines. That would be amusing. "Guys: Phew, we're done. Yay, champagne." "You: Btw guys, we got 3 months to spare, surprise..."
I can see the issue. It would not need to be hidden though.
The buffer would be at the end, after the "Gold milestone", say 3 months.
Budget, etc. are all planned including those 3 months. Likewise with release date etc. Think off it as a deadzone if you like joystick/gamepad analogies. It's there but you can't' use it.

So when the day comes and you reach your "gold" milestone and folks are saying. Way to many bugs!, or Not ready!, Unfinished!, Should we cut that instead?, Need more polish! And so on.
That is when you "unlock" the deadzone, when you use the buffer.

Now if you reach the gold milestone and that polished turd actually shines like gold, then that deadzone/buffer can be used for stuff like bonus pay for the whole gang instead (pay but no work required), and/or extra marketing/community funding, or maybe to get started on a DLC or expansion, or even start pre-planning on a sequel. Or just pocket the money for future project budgets.

And last I checked nobody complained about being able to release (finish) the game too early.

What I'm saying is that having a buffer planned from the start gives much more benefits than not having one.
And I guess you could apply smaller buffers at the end of milestones, and let the employees vote on how they want to "spend it". Myself I'd probably vote for saving the buffers until the gold milestone. And then split the buffer 50/50 between polishing and bonus.

If you do not have a buffer, then you need to cut, either content, quality, employees, and that will hurt the end product and sales more than a buffer that isn't fully utilized.

I've yet to see a modern game that couldn't have used another 3 months of polishing, so a buffer might be something worth contemplating. In what form it should be is a whole different matter and worth a article on it's own I'm sure.

Roger Hågensen
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OT: I see you worked at Starbreeze, funny with how people are incidentally connected. I'm part of a volunteer community group in the MMO Anarchy Online, called Gristream Productions, GridStream is a in-game radio station, our webmaster and backend tools coder (and on rare occasions a DJ), his name is Marcus Jansson and worked at O3 (now Starbreeze) as a 3D animation artist. I'm pretty sure you worked with a guy that know Marcus (or you know Marcus, or met him once) small world huh? *laughs*.
Him and me met up IRL for a weekend some years ago for a tour of Funcom's HQ (then located in Oslo, Norway).

Samuel Rantaeskola
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I don't think I ever met Marcus, from the Outforce credits it looks like he was collaborating from the outside. Personally I didn't work at that project, though I was with O3games as well back then.

Adam Rebika
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"If breaking down work for the coming sprint makes sense, why not just go on and break down the whole project into small tasks?"
I'll answer by a century old quote, from Confucius: "A man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones."


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