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Forza Motorsport 3 And Predictable Development
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Forza Motorsport 3 And Predictable Development


October 26, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4
 

Estimation and History

How is it that great game developers, artists and designers can sometimes have work estimates that are so far off? This is a question that plagued me for quite a while during some of our early development within Turn 10. Additionally, I would find myself asking whether or not it was possible to create a predictable project schedule despite having poor estimates.

Throughout Turn 10’s history, we have been fortunate to be able to attract some fantastic talent in all disciplines within the studio. Each software engineer that joined the team brought a wealth of game development experience and often brought experience with the consoles and platforms on which we were working. So, how was it that their estimates could be so far off at times? With our emphasis on building predictability into our efforts, I set out to find answers to these questions.

It was actually while serving on jury duty, where I had time to grab some of the books that I had on my "to read" stack that I came across a gem of a book on this exact issue.

The book Software Estimation by Steve McConnell was a wealth of information, supported by years of industry data and it felt as if I was reading through post mortems of many projects of which I had been a part.

We all have a gut feel for the causes of errors in our estimates, but seeing historical and industry data that confirmed and clarified the common root causes gave us the confidence to make changes to address known risk areas that affect iteration and predictability.

In McConnell’s book, some of the top factors contributing to schedule variability are project complexity, time constraints, domain experience, platform experience, and storage constraints. As you can see, these are factors in just about every game development project.

In our experience, the fundamental key to predictably planning our project, which enables iteration at all levels, was to adapt our processes to collect and utilize historical data in understanding our project plan.

For the software engineers in the studio, this means providing estimates for all work that is executed and then working with producers to find a way to measure actual results. One key for me was to let go of the notion that we could measure with great accuracy and track those results. We learned that you can develop a very predictable project plan with high level estimating and tracking techniques. At Turn 10, we employ a macro estimation technique where all work is estimated with a limited set of work sizes, which translate to individual and team work capacities.

With the use of historical data, which enables more realistic project plans and early scoping, the ability for the studio to iterate on features is greatly increased. Knowing when features will be completed allows the team to schedule work to complete areas where code and design level iteration is required such that there is time to complete multiple passes on those areas of the game. Additionally, this opens the door for second order historical data use in the areas of predictable estimation errors and found work estimation.

Conclusion

Often times when the programming and technology teams speak of supporting iteration, we immediately jump to scripting engines and in-game editing of content to make our content producers able to efficiently iterate on their assets during production. While this is important, at Turn 10 we have learned that some of the fundamentals associated with good software development can be leveraged to enhance and enable a creative team’s ability to iterate and still do so with a project plan that allows for predictable scheduling.

As we continue working hard to develop innovative and creative experiences that capture the imagination of our customers, we will always be seeking ways to enable the ability of our most creative minds to iterate on their ideas and their content. As an engineering team, we will continue to hold these pillars as fundamental keys to enabling a culture of predictable iteration in our studio and will continue to look to knock down those barriers that prevent us from quickly realizing our vision in our products.


Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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