To say that the last few weeks have been a change of pace would be a massive understatement! Obviously, with the recent COVID-19 developments business as usual has more or less gone the way of the dodo, and the team has had to deal with the aftermath of the situation. As it currently stands, Champlain College has been reducing the number of students who can live on campus including in our apartment building – meaning that much of the team has been relocated and are now working from home. 

These measures are in place to decrease both the spread of the virus and the risk of infection for my team and the local community, which is good! What isn’t good is the lack of notice we were given and the quick rate at which developments are happening, meaning that we need to stay vigilant. As the lead producer, my number one priority isn’t hitting milestones, conducting daily scrum or tracking tasks right now. I’m making sure that the team is okay, and that they will remain to be through this crisis we are facing. In this blog post, I’ll be discussing the impact that working from home has on all of us, as well as how we are working through it and some ways I’m keeping myself sane through this social-distancing and self-isolation period! 

I promise that while things seem grim, everything is going to be okay so long as we all do our part to stay inside and flatten the curve. I also want to just apologize that this blog is a bit more text heavy than what I usually post, not as many pretty pictures but still good content I hope.

With that, let’s get into this! 

Initial Impact

Once the news broke that COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, many of the schools within the state of Vermont began to close down as a preventative measure. We were on spring break at the time, with much of the student body having gone home to spend some well deserved time off for some R&R. The school put out a statement saying that in-person instruction was being postponed until further notice, and that our spring break was extended a week as they figured out the logistics of transitioning the entire school to online education. This situation escalated further as the school wanted to limit as many people on campus as they could, and began to evict students from their residence halls in order to keep the population down. 

This did not really help the already stressful situation and lead to a lot of undue stress on many students, including members of my development team. I personally believe that by forcing students out, that puts them at higher risk of getting sick due to their travel, but that’s just my opinion. With all the rapid changes in our lives, the project was effectively put on hold for the past week and a half as members of the team worked out logistics of getting home, and their ability to work from there. As the lead producer, I offered my help in any way that I could, and made sure that everyone knew that the project was effectively on hold until we figured out out lives. 

Faculty Response & Path Forwards

Despite everything occurring with the school’s residential life and the issues that began to surface, I want to really applaud the efforts of the Champlain Game Studio and their work to transition us to an online format. The faculty has done a very good job to not only organize the class into an online format, but make the transition process fairly easy for all of us as students. Since this project is the entire team’s magnum opus from their time here at Champlain, there were a lot of concerns that we weren’t going to be able to work anymore or that the project was going to suffer. 

Given the very nature of our project (Virtual Reality), demoing and showing off our game is challenging to do in a remote setting. To help ease the difficulty of the new situation we find ourselves in, here’s a breakdown of the major changes that we are seeing for the remainder of the semester!

Team-Defined Milestones

Before, our development team had a series of hard deadlines for the major content deliveries that we had to meet. These dates were set by the faculty leadership of the Game Studio, which works totally fine when we be in class. Now that we will all be working from home and not meeting in person, the team leads and myself will be working to create our own milestones for the remainder of the semester. These milestones still need to be approved by the faculty of course, but it gives us more flexibility to plan out the project more on our own terms.

I would make the argument that this is the way that the class should be oriented, as we are supposed to be self-organizing teams that are ready for the industry workflow, but I guess the class need some guidelines in its rubric. Either way, I’ve been working with and meeting with the team leads this week so we can get a proper estimate / plan made on what we can feasibly accomplish this semester. I have hope that we can still create something awesome! 

Minimum Play Time Dissolved

Another one of the rubric requirements for our Senior Production class was that we needed at least 30 minutes of gameplay / progression within our game. Due to the lost time over the extended spring break and the logistics of everyone moving back home – that requirement has been dropped altogether. Cash Force was already getting close to that amount of time with the systems and features that we have been developing, but now we can just focus on making the most polished gameplay experience we can given our resources and individual situations. 

Mandatory Online Daily Scrum

Something that the team did differently than other agile development teams was our implementation of the Daily Scrum. To you non-agile folks, Daily Scrum / Stand-Up meetings are quick update meetings where the team delivers valuable information to each other.
Examples of important info include the following below:

Josh provides some much needed levity in his March 12th Update - lets us know exactly what he's been up to and what he plans on doing next!
  • What they are currently working on / any progress on tasks
  • What they plan on working on next once their current tasks is complete
  • What their impediments are or what is preventing them from completing tasks (usually related to other tasks) 

The team made the decision in the beginning of this project that rather than taking the time to communicate this in an in-person meeting, we would just create a text update in Mattermost that we can all see and refer back to if needed.

Now that we are doing online Daily Scrum meetings, we are able to have even more clarity and transparency with each other. We opted to keep the text updates as well so if there are people on the team that miss a meeting or can’t be there, that they aren’t going to be out of the loop since they can just refer to the written updates! Pretty nifty, and covers all our bases for communication (so long as the team follows through with it!) 

Transition to Social Media Marketing

At the start of the semester, the goal was for the team to attend events and conferences such as PAX East, the Game Developers Conference, as well as other local events such as the Champlain GamesFest or Sundae Month’s demo nights. Our attendance to PAX East was denied due to concerns with the virus, and GDC was outright cancelled before the event was supposed to occur due to a similar fear. Because of this, the team has decided to invest a lot more time into building our online presence before our planned May release. Speaking of our social media pages, check them out down below and get ready for a lot of awesome content about the game! 

Follow the team on Twitter! @FellowHumansDev
Follow the team on Facebook!

Upcoming Weeks Plans

These next few weeks are going to be interesting for the entire team and many people around the country, and the world. With the logistics now (mostly) figured out for how we plan on working from home, next we have to get back down to business! This upcoming week’s sprint doesn’t technically start until Thursday – so until then I’ll be working with the leads on our new revised project plan, and making sure we finish up the remaining tasks from before spring break and everything happened. 

Final Thoughts!

Even though these past few weeks have been uncertain and stressful for many reasons, I have faith that so long as we all lay low and follow the W.H.O and CDC guidelines that we should be okay. In relation to the project, I believe that we’ll still be able to create a kick-ass game by the end of the semester once everyone is back on track and settled. I’ve needed to be pretty flexible due to the rapidly changing nature of the situation, and I see this as a great learning opportunity for me as a Producer / Project Manager to learn more about adaptive thinking. Rather than freezing and not knowing what to do, I’m proud to say I was able to stay levelheaded as the situation developed and worked with my team to create a contingency plan. Next time, hopefully I’ll be able to talk about some good news and some awesome new features that we’ve added! 

Until next time!