Everyone’s lives have been disrupted by this new global pandemic. Unfortunately, it has happened during the last few months of my college career, cancelling all of the plans I was looking forward to like graduation. Our spring break was extended, classes moved remotely, and people are prohibited from moving back to campus, forcing us to say goodbye before we knew it was an actual goodbye. This has affected a lot of aspects of my life and while the transition has been hard for my team, the game industry is lucky in that all of the work is digital and there are a lot of tools to assist in working remotely.
Normally, we had daily scrum meetings over the phone/Google Meetings, two to three in-person meetings a week, in-person class, in-person sprint closing and planning, and an in-person work session. We worked on our tasks remotely otherwise, sending a message over Mattermost to someone if we needed their help, but we still had a large amount of face-to-face communication. Our new circumstances find us spread all over (luckily all still in the same time zone) and all of our communication moving forward has been forced into the digital realm.
It took a little while for us to process all of the sudden changes and for the leads to come up with a new schedule that could work for everyone again. Now all of our meetings are digital which does make it easier to share and show off our work. We’re creating multiple voice channels, especially for during our work sessions so that everyone can easily talk to who they need to. Additionally, we’ve found a software called TeamViewer which, with permission from the computer’s owner, can give the programmers Scott and Tyler access to remotely control your computer and help you diagnose any issues and fix bugs. These have been the biggest adjustments with the runnings of the team. Hopefully with these resources, our project will continue to run smoothly but it’s especially helped that everyone is going through this transition at the same time and has been understanding and patient with each other.
Impact on Eira: Echoes of Adventure
Champlain College and other companies have been good at making sure that we have access to everything that we need like loaner computers and all of the software, especially for art. Unfortunately though, our audio designer has been struggling to get access to a mac computer and his work that was done on campus, effectively putting a halt on original audio for the game. Additionally, now that campus is closed, the QA labs are as well, and our contracted testers don’t have a way to access our build to give us feedback. To try to counteract this, we are increasing the amount of time for internal testing and people can now ask their families to test, but that does make each test more inconsistent and the results more difficult to analyze. Yet, some testing is better than nothing.
Additionally, my work on it has been impacted greatly too. I usually did a lot of work from home but on days that I couldn’t focus, I liked to go and work in the labs on campus, getting a lot of work done in short periods of time. Now, having to do everything at home, even on days that I struggle, making my inability to focus roll over and making it harder and harder to focus at all. Knowing that my team is relying on my work does help me complete it, though it hasn't been as quick or timely as I would like it to be.
However, the virus has impacted the scope of the game the most. Digital communication can be slower than in-person and with everyone working from home, there are a lot more unpredictable distractions and family matters that can happen. With this in mind, we’ve had to cut a lot of things out of the game that we had in alpha because we no longer have the time to refine and polish some of the features. We’ve cut two levels--the stand-alone tutorial level and level 2--we are no longer going to have controller support, narrative interactables are being removed as well as the penguin gopher AI, the timer from the vault, medium object treasures, and other small features. Although our game is significantly smaller now, the quality of it will improve greatly, still keeping it a Steam-worthy product.
The Value of In-person Communication
Through all of this, I’ve truly learned the value of in-person communication. While being able to work from home can be more comfortable and convenient, I’ve always valued face-to-face communication, particularly for meetings. Now more than ever, I’ve realized how important it is for me and for the team in general.
In-person communication is easier; you can more clearly tell when someone is about to talk because you can see their full body language and there are no connection issues. It’s also easier to have relevant side-conversations like asking someone a quick question. Additionally, with everyone working in the same room, it brings a sense of camaraderie and team bond, making work on the project more enjoyable.
While these circumstances will make working remotely in the future easier, I miss in-person communication and can’t wait to start working in a studio.