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  • A Day in the Life: Three Slices of Life from the Front Lines of Game Development

    - Ben Schneider, Ben Lichius and Andrew Zaferakis

  •  Artist

    7:30 AM I roll out of bed and get my daughter some breakfast: pancakes and "serpup" (she's two). After the morning ritual, I hop in the car and head to work around 8:30. I have a great commute. It's really short -- about 10 minutes. The nicest thing about it is that I can run home for lunch or for a quick errand if I need to. I know not everyone gets to do this so I count it as a privilege.

    8:45 AM Parking has gotten to be a pain lately as a large data processing company has been taking over our building. It's crazy. They're like locusts. Well, their cars are, anyway. I'm sure the people are very nice.

    Once I'm at my desk, I usually spend some time reading emails and getting caught up on the day's news. I might look over a resume or two that's come in. If I'm smart, I'll sit down with my notebook and review all the things I need to do that day. With multiple projects and lots of other miscellaneous things going on, it can be tricky to keep track of things like what meetings I'm supposed to go to, who is waiting on my feedback, or what artwork I have on my plate. The majority of the company gets in around 10:00, so the first hour of the day is usually when I have the most time to myself.

    10:00 AM By now, I've met with a level designer and talked over a couple of bugs and assets that are due for the next milestone. Many times, I'll call an artist into the conversation to help sort out what's going on or to help decide the best course of action.

    It might be a problem with an animation or a how much texture memory we have left, but many issues end up involving multiple departments -- so the more our artists can work with level designers and programmers, the better.

    For an artist, getting artwork created is just the first step. Getting it into the game and making sure it works properly takes an entirely different set of skills. This is where I see most artists, especially junior artists, have room to grow. I'll often end up sitting down with them and going over the assets in question. Artists can get valuable experience through a process like this, so I try to encourage them to learn how to troubleshoot their work and learn from other artists as much as possible.

    11:35 AM The current project on the hot seat is our PSP action-adventure game Dead Head Fred. Right now we're three weeks out from gold and Q/A is busy poking holes in the UI work I've done. I have a few simple TRC bugs on my plate I can squash. They don't take long, so while I'm messing around with UI, I'll take the opportunity to fix a few issues I noticed earlier. A font change here, a color change there, and now I'm late for lunch.

    12:15 PM Lunch is a good chance to take a break from what's going on. I usually try to make the most of it. If it's a build day or if there's an emergency, I may not get a lunch at all, but I generally make sure I take a full hour to recharge for the afternoon. If I'm going to be staying late, I might try to get home to see my wife and daughter for a few minutes since I'll probably miss bedtime. If not, then I might go to the gym for a quick workout (the first New Year's resolution I've ever kept past January 2) after which I'll stop off at Subway instead of eating the lunch I brought to work and then left sitting in the freezer.

    1:40 PM The other game I am working on is very quickly cruising toward beta, so time is of the essence. If things aren't moving smoothly, those wasted hours will add up to some monster overtime, and it's in my best interest (as well as that of the other members of the team) to not let that occur. My most recent efforts for this project have all been focused on getting our non-player characters into the game and working. To do this, I've been working with a couple of artists.

    One artist is modeling the characters and doing some texture work on them. We go back and forth a bit on poly counts, texture sizes, and making sure each character matches stylistically with the game. The milestones are always looming so if something's not right we'll work out a plan for fixing it while still keeping us on schedule.

    Another artist is modeling and texturing a set of unlockable items for the NPCs. The final step for him has been getting the items in the game and bug-free, so he's been working more closely with the character artist than with me. They're a good team and work with the level designers to get everything into the game. They've both had to learn more about the editor we use for our games, but that's a good thing.

    3:55 PM A quick check of my own personal task list shows that there are some cinematic bugs for Fred that have been sitting around for too long. I pass them along to an animator, but taking a look at the open bugs reminds me that I really need to update my bug list. Most cinematic bugs are a quick fix, but some require a little bit of character work. We might need to create a new morph target for a speaking character or tweak the physique on another to get rid of some pinching. The majority of bugs show up after the animation has been done in 3ds Max and it gets put into the game. Again, close collaboration with the level designers gets the kinks worked out, and things are back on track.

    Checking the more than 125 cinematics in Dead Head Fred for bugs is a bit of a chore, but I need to get a sense of how much progress we're making. It feels a bit like shoveling the driveway while it's still snowing, but I really like working on cinematics. Fred's turning out to be a fun game to play, so I don't mind it. Like most things I do, I just wish I had more time to devote to it, but I am a very busy guy.

    6:30 PM If Fred weren't three weeks from gold, I'd probably be going home right now, but it is and I'm not. We still have work to do. For me it's a good opportunity to double check a few more bugs and review some contract work. It's also a good time to check the schedules I've made, and assess my team's overall progress. Since we're doubling our efforts, it makes sense to be doubly sure those efforts are pointed in the right direction. Because we're staying past 8:30 tonight, I get some dinner at my friend Subway's house. (The guys at Subway know just how I like my chicken teriyaki sub -- and yes, I did just eat Subway for lunch and dinner.)

    9:25 PM I spend the evening reviewing spreadsheets and checking bug lists. When I get the chance, I do a little more UI cleanup or do some general playtesting. There's a good chance I forgot to get back to someone about something, but it will have to wait until tomorrow.

    On the way out the door, I make fun of a few World of Warcraft-addicted artists I can't seem to kick out of the place. They know I'm just joking -- or at least they do now.

    - Ben Lichius


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