Weekly Discussion Managing project deadlines and scope

This thread is part of the Weekly Discussion series.

Marin

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That's right, we're bringing back Weekly Discussions!

With the game jam going on, I think it's useful to discuss how everyone manages their progression and time constraints. Some interesting topics are:
  • How do you deal with a definitive deadline creeping ever closer?
  • It's a given that overly ambitious projects don't make it, so how do you keep the scope of your project small enough to make it manageable, but big enough to have a rich and fulfilling experience?
  • How do you split your workload up over time? Do you set internal deadlines, such as finishing all maps or writing by a certain date? What if you don't meet that pseudo-deadline?
  • Do you think deadlines are good for a project or not, and why?
 

Avery

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Well, to start, whenever it comes to deadlines I tend to do nothing until the deadline is a day away. To help combat overly ambitious stuff, I often don't plan ahead and make things up as I go. Generally, everything I do like that works because it's already something I'm capable of doing. I tend to just... not split the workload up. I just do whatever I can remember, then move on to the next thing I remember I need to do. Personally, I believe project deadlines are good because they encourage you to work hard towards a goal!
 

Vendily

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Never been big on deadlines, because I've never been a good planner. I kind of end up going from one inspiration flash to the next. Makes for very erratic spurts of progress at times if I don't have enough to work on in a given moment. Unown Ruins had a number of empty days because I couldn't brainstorm more puzzles.

At this point, I've attempted a decent number of roles, so I have a better understanding of what can and can't really be done at my skill level, which helps immensely in knowing the scale of a game in the time that I have.

I end up jumping from task to task as I get tired of it, so from sprites to scripts to maps, and back again. Unless there's a dependent in the line, like a script that needs sprites or a map that needs scripts. Then the order gets all messed up and I waste time because I'm not ready to work on the jumped task yet.

For a more organized project, especially with teams, deadlines and fixed tasks are very useful. I personally find it hard to self-regulate, it's easier when someone else points to me and goes "Vendily, you need to do this thing". The closest I got for solo projects is posting so many screenshots and talking about it a bunch because then I have an expectation to fill. It mostly works. Didn't really stop me from wasting yesterday playing both Mario Galaxys (Galaxies?) a bunch.
 

VanillaSunshine

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My prayers have been answered, all hail Weekly Discussions!!!!

Though I haven't released a game as of writing this, I have had my fair share of creative-oriented deadlines from my job and hobbies!!

When it comes to setting deadlines for yourself or choosing to participate in something with a deadline, I think it's obvious that the first thing one should take into consideration is do you work well with deadlines? Or slightly rephrased, do you work well under pressure? I personally believe some level of pressure can be healthy for creative projects (i.e. something that is being Created.) However, in the context of self-imposed deadlines, there aren't any large-stake consequences to having no deadline; if you don't work well under pressure, there's nothing wrong with simply working at your own pace.
After years of not having a choice about my deadlines, I always greatly prefer engaging in my hobbies without any deadline or pressure. It gives me room to breathe and ensure I don't stress myself out or turn my hobbies into a job.

But oh boy!! When I didn't have a choice about my deadlines, it was very easy for me to stress myself out. I learned to create a system where, after the first chunk of work is done, I calculate about how much work I got done and how much time it took. If that workload seemed to allow me to finish all of the work before the deadline, I would feel confident that I'll be on-track as time goes on. However, if that workload wasn't enough, I know I would need to kick myself into gear if I wanted to finish!!
And when the deadline is fast approaching and I still seem to be behind despite working quite hard... OOF!! I don't think I need to go into detail about how that made me feel; let's just leave it on the fact that I'm very happy I don't have deadlines anymore.

That same process of staying on-track can be a great way to define the scope of your game. It isn't a perfect science of course! But if you know it takes you one week to map and event a medium-sized town, are you willing to dedicate 18 weeks (4 months!) to mapping and eventing 18 towns for your 8-gym full region? That's not even including the time spent on mapping routes (Sinnoh has 30 routes), adding trainers to those routes, creating art assets, planning/writing your story... And suddenly you're thinking that maybe making an 8-gym region as your first fan game isn't the greatest idea. That isn't to say it's impossible or that no one should strive to create their dream full-scale Pokemon game, as long as they understand how long of a task they're actually taking on! This is where self-imposed deadlines can be a saving grace: if you say that you want to finish mapping and eventing three towns in one week, you may find yourself working at a quicker and more efficient pace than ever before! And when that deadline passes, you can keep up that pace and suddenly you can easily map two medium-sized towns in one week!

Or maybe you're a bit like me, and seeing a task assigned a deadline stresses you out, and your work deteriorates in quality when you're stressed, and now your mental health is taking a massive hit while your project is getting lower-than-average quality work being put into it. For someone like me, it's good to have reasonable deadlines, and to also give yourself some breathing room: perhaps you're participating in the Game Jam and you have a whole month to make a game, but as the deadline creeps closer, you start to realize that it's basically impossible for you to put out a quality game. Don't panic! If the thought of missing a deadline stresses you out significantly, take a step back and understand that you can always release your project after the Game Jam, at your own pace. You aren't losing out! Think of all the things you learned and all the hard work you put into your project before the deadline caught up to you. Hobbyist game dev is not a race. :)

For myself, I do love to sub-divide my workloads, but that's less about meeting any kind of deadline and more about finishing one task before I handle another. I can get easily distracted in my creative hobbies, so I keep myself on track with tasks such as "finish the Walk and Run sprites for both protagonists", and then and only then can I move onto "roughly map the Starter Town". I may not have a specific date or time assigned to my tasks, but keeping myself focused on actually finishing a task has been super helpful!
 

Nuri Yuri

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On my side I completely abandonned the Jam, I have some ideas but I miss the most important thing to concretize them: Time.
Regarless, I can still answer some of the questions from by point of view.
  • How do you deal with a definitive deadline creeping ever closer?
Deadline are the worst thing ever but fortunately, deadlines are a big issues only for people like pseudo-Journalists or Tabloid maker. In the professional world we choose sprint contents according to the deadlines and if that's not possible we simply communicate with the client an reduce down the requested feature. The good part of the is that a developper is crazy expensive so most of the time the clients don't ask the moon or realize when they ask the moon. (Unless the client is in the same company and is not paying your team directly.)

When the deadline is realizable and I'm comming closer to it, I just work harder and this do the trick. (I only work harder if there's an economic reason though, so on the hobby side, I simply delete the deadline because it makes no sense at all.)
  • It's a given that overly ambitious projects don't make it, so how do you keep the scope of your project small enough to make it manageable, but big enough to have a rich and fulfilling experience?
I fortunately have experiences in that, I work time to time for big projects and the thing to do are the following:

- Do not try to release a full version of the project. We have to keep in mind that ambitious project are a bit like an official game but the difference is that we're not a team of 45 professional at full time. We're a bunch of garage kids that does that on free time so to accomplish an ambitious project it would take 20 year for a team of 15 good people.

- Narrow down the releases to the most important features. Your project can be ambitious enough, but: It doesn't need Online, GigaMax, Trades, PokéAthlon, Contests, 9000 Pokémon and all of those "virtual life time adding" features for its first releases. You can add those thing time to time. We have to bear in mind that the casual fangame player just want to play a game that is interesting enough. It's a plus if your project has this features but this casual fangame player would rather play a bad looking game with a story than an unfinished game with a ton of feature but no actual contents. (Pokémon and battles are not contents.)
  • How do you split your workload up over time? Do you set internal deadlines, such as finishing all maps or writing by a certain date? What if you don't meet that pseudo-deadline?
Actually I have some kind of other approach:
- I do what I really want to do. There's nothing worse than doing stuff you don't want to do now, it'll only result in bad implementations.
- My internal deadlines are more like "I need to release an update this week-end". Usually it motivate me to fix some bugs or stuff like that.
- If I couldn't do it (because week-end for me are pretty busy), I release on monday or during the next week. People are totally fine with it :)
  • Do you think deadlines are good for a project or not, and why?
As you may have read/understood in this post, I absolutely don't think it's a good thing (for a project without economical consequences).
We're doing those project on free time for fun. It's not the thing that allows us to eat every meals and even worse, it's thing that can potentially take the time you could invest with family, friends or some activities.
Instead of having deadline we can just deliver tiny bits time to time and everything will be fine ;)
 

Marin

undead
Administrator
I think deadlines are a very dual-edged sword. On one hand, they're a good way to keep your project in check. You know where you want to go, and if you know yourself, your skills and how long you take on certain tasks, you can project if your goal is realistic or not. That in turn allows you to adjust the scope of your project. On the other hand, it can put a lot of pressure on you. You know you have to finish your task in time, otherwise you're not leaving enough time for the rest of the work you've yet to do. Like Vanilla also mentioned, if you're close to your deadline and it doesn't seem like you're going to have enough time to get the work done you wanted to, it can really put an unprecedented level of stress on you. I also experienced this during my time with Phoenix Rising. I suggested that we set a deadline, and really crunched everything until release. When you discover bugs literally a day before release, that really is stressful and frustrating.

I've also tried setting pseudo-deadlines before, meaning deadlines that have no consequence and are just something to strive for. In the end, all our deadlines are without consequence, and that makes it easy to neglect them or move them, unlike deadlines in professional/work-related settings. As such, we end up focusing on making things look nice and pretty, rather than making sure we have the base down for everything we wanted to do before the end of the deadline.
Those deadlines are still useful though, because you're weighing the work that needs to be done against the time you have left and speed at which you work. It also leaves room to jump between the various tasks you've set for that date, which can help with motivation. After all, you don't want to be mapping for a week straight, or making music for days on end. And sometimes you're just not feeling like doing a particular task, or you've already been working on it and it's not working the way it should. The best thing you can do in that sort of situation is taking a step back from it. Rather than taking a step back from it entirely though, this sort of deadline gives you a very clear list of other things you could do, which may suit your mood better at that time.

That said, deadlines lose some of their worth if not enforced. The point of a deadline is to restrict your time, and allowing yourself to go beyond your deadline nullifies their worth. Because, consciously or not, you know nothing is going to happen if you don't get the work done that you said you were going to have done, and as such may not work as hard as you'd have needed to in order to succeed. While I don't think this necessarily impacts the quality of that work too much, it does cause it to take considerably longer.

Overall, deadlines are hit-or-miss. Realistic deadlines are a great way to boost productivity, but they lose their worth if not kept to adequately. Continuously missing your own deadlines can also be demotivating, because it may be interpreted as not working hard enough.
 

leilou

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How do you deal with a definitive deadline creeping ever closer?

Well I pretty much learned my lesson on deadlines on the first gamejam I participated in. Basically what happened was:
I found some teammembers and we wanted to make a game around the concept of battle frontier and implement rotation battles. I was responsible for scripting, communicating and sticking the pieces of the game together. I wanted to finish rotation battles first. I hadn't set myself a timelimit. And since I didn't have much idea of how the battlesystem worked I vastly underestimated the amount of work needed. After two weeks of getting nothing done but rotation battles and not being done still I started to feel pressure because I hadn't done enough progress. So I started to put way to much time into the jam. I eventually started to do nothing else but working on the jam entry and we actually released the game shortly before the deadline. Although it's not the most polished I'm still proud of the game.

At that point I had burnt myself seriously out though. The exam period directly after the jam ended didn't help at all. I had planned to be done with the game about 2 weeks prior and it resulted in me either barely passing or failing the exams.It took over half a year for me to even open rpg maker again to release the ressources (rotationbattles, the way the Pokémon were filtered and generated for the game) that I had promised. Starting from that time in a downhill spiral I spent about 2 years making next to no progress in university and got fired from the job I had.

Not too much later I started making a fangame again ... this time alone and without even showing it to anyone because I didn't want any pressure to take away the fun and relaxing feeling whenever I am working on a game.


I for myself instead of setting a deadline for a fangame I started to set times that I start working on a game for as long as I feel like doing it. I saw that method in a YouTube video for picking up good habits and it really worked wonders.
As the hype of a game jam got me again and I found a nice team to be part in as mapper a few years ago showed. This time with the new method I made really nice maps that I still like a lot in the beginning. After some time the deadline came closer once again and so I had to cut on the time I took per map and decided to get a most barebones version of each map done before continuing refining them. I still met the deadline that way but remade a lot of the maps after the jam. Sadly the game was never released though.
But that way I made the progress, that the time I had allowed for. The consequences were that the game isn't realeased even now but we all had fun making it during the jam. Although again for the leader of the group the pressure of the deadline ruined their fun towards the end.


It's a given that overly ambitious projects don't make it, so how do you keep the scope of your project small enough to make it manageable, but big enough to have a rich and fulfilling experience?

My answer for a jam game would be to build the most barebones experience you possibly can and then expand on that.

For my personal Pokémon fangame project I handle it as if the scope is to big to ever finish it. That way I can have fun in the progress of making it without needing to worry about ever finishing it. Is that a good advice for finishing a game? Definitely not! But I'm here because I enjoy the progress of making games.


How do you split your workload up over time? Do you set internal deadlines, such as finishing all maps or writing by a certain date? What if you don't meet that pseudo-deadline?

I have a txt file with everything I still need to do. So whenever I look for another thing to do I just look on the list. I regulary update it making it more refined, cuttong or adding features. I don't have deadlines though.


Do you think deadlines are good for a project or not, and why?

I don't believe in deadlines because of what I experienced. At least not for a hobby that should be fun. At least not in traditional deadlines like the game jam has.

Short deadlines like "let's try to make the best x-themed map I possibly can within an hour" are good though. They teach you to work more efficiently in my opinion. The result will show you what time you need to invest to make a good map and also show what time you shouldn't cut. But those are deadlines without penalty. They are more like a challenge and therefore fun.


Edit:

I can't deny that the deadline made me release the only game I ever finished though. The other game jam was also almost finished. So I can say they are effective ... on cost of the fun of making them though. So I still stand by rather have fun on a hobby than finishing a game while not having fun.
 

Ras

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• Deadlines have only helped me when I had motivation from the get-go to finish what needed to be finished and hadn't any other activities that warranted my attention. I find it easy to sit down and work under it, but harder to not do rushed work in order to finish under it.

• As far as I'm concerned about overly ambitious projects, I believe the problem is overestimating oneself's capabilities or the time and patience to do it. The most common example being multiple regions. Crafting a single region with much content takes a long time, let alone two. Mapping and eventing takes the most of time in developing the game for me, so reducing the amount of work needed in those areas would cut down a lot of work. Still, naturally you would (or at least I) only worry about it with a deadline, like the Game Jams. There's also worrying about getting something done that makes you set a deadline/reduce your scope, but in the end, I think it depends on your abilities, time, motivation and patience to finish up a project, no matter its scale.
I'd restrict myself to one region, with not too many locations that it could be two regions in one. Then, the scope is fairly manageable to me.

• When doing a project by myself, which would be most times, I end up starting from the most fun activity to the least fun, it being setting up battles, as then I'd have to worry about balance, and I have yet to grow accustomed to planning the Pokémon that will be in a game before mapping or eventing.
I had once gathered a public tileset and experimented doing all the maps in a game before a certain date. Well, I completed the mapping, but I left the other areas completely lagging behind. There was little time to work on them, too, so since then I decided to split work by my progress, doing work in an area when the parts that leads to that area have their work done.

• It depends on the person. Some of us work better under pressure, while others work better with none. You can also omit the "better".
 

Dragonite

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You all think deadlines are fun? ADHD makes it all 10x better. :^)

ANYWAY.
  • How do you deal with a definitive deadline creeping ever closer?
One of my teachers once said "you managed to take a project which you had two-thirds of the semester to do, and turn it into a game jam."
  • It's a given that overly ambitious projects don't make it, so how do you keep the scope of your project small enough to make it manageable, but big enough to have a rich and fulfilling experience?
I use Trello for some things. For whatever reason, Trello seems to be an all-or-nothing sort of deal for me, and for some projects I just ignore the board from Day 1 and for other projects I use the board religiously. This is the current state of the board for what I'm working on right now (it's not a Pokémon game). Certain features have been deemed critical for the vertical slice, ie single systems that we think do a good job representing what the final game as a whole, and they've been marked as high priority (the black tag) and most of them have been given a due date. Everything else that my friend (art - orange tag) and I (programming - blue tag) have said "that would be neat" about has no priority tag, and most of them are in one of several Future Discussion lists which we'll hash out when the vertical slice is finished. It's almost finished, by the way, which we find exciting.

Inevitably, a good number of the "that would be neat" features aren't actually going to happen, if / when we finish the final thing, and that's okay: there's a finite amount of work that two people can get done - hence keeping projects manageable - and even if that was not the case not all of the features are going to end up being fun, or make sense having in the game as a whole. A few months ago we both ranked the mechanics and features we wanted to see in the game, and those are probably going to evolve as development goes on and we get a better feel for what it's about, but that should help us focus on the important bits and make it easier to cut what we don't need.

In the past I've also used Google Sheets quite a lot for task scheduling, but that's more time-intensive and unless you're trying to schedule tasks with more than two people it's probably not worth the time investment. You can use spreadsheets to do some nice scheduling forecasts and other bits of analysis, though. That might be worth talking about some time.
  • How do you split your workload up over time? Do you set internal deadlines, such as finishing all maps or writing by a certain date? What if you don't meet that pseudo-deadline?
So the memes you've probably heard about adhd are like 70% accurate, which is a double-edged sword: some days I spend 15 hours writing code for game dev and get more done than most of my peers do in a week, and sometimes I spend the entire day trying to figure out which key on my keyboard makes the most noise if I hit it with my pinky finger.

it's the spacebar

It's actually really annoying, but I also kinda know how it works by now, and I've noticed that on average I usually get a reasonable amount of stuff done, I just don't know when or where it's going to happen. I've only actually started using trello's due date feature on that board recently (prior to this month most of our deadlines have been established in the pinned messages of Discord DMs, which is far from optimal) and with a few exceptions I normally try to allocate a few weeks to get a group of related things done than trying to commit to having certain specific tasks finished by an exact day.

It also helps to work on related things at one time, because there's a lot of inertia in writing code and having to system to another can waste a lot of time. On the other hand, sometimes after three days of looking at combat AI states I'm completely sick of it and just wanna think about shader code again, and unless you have a boss giving you the stink eye from across the room, for the sake of not burning yourself out it's probably a good idea to vary what you're working on so that you don't end up detesting the whole thing.
  • Do you think deadlines are good for a project or not, and why?
Parkinson's Law: work expands to fill the available time.

Obviously in hobby projects, that's okay, since there are usually other demands on your time and the consequences of turning in a hobby project late aren't very dire - but they're still good to shoot for. But also, be realistic about it, because this is not healthy for both you and your game.
 

TechSkylander1518

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Yay, weekly discussions are back!

Uh so given that I'm replying just before the week is technically over I'm clearly not good at this but I wanted to respond to this question in particular:
  • How do you split your workload up over time? Do you set internal deadlines, such as finishing all maps or writing by a certain date? What if you don't meet that pseudo-deadline?
One thing I've done that I think feels helpful to keep a log of daily tasks to accomplish. It's kind of a lot of internal deadlines that mandate a speed rather than a goal. So, for example, when I'm starting a wiki, rather than telling myself "I want the whole thing done by x day", I'll tell myself "I want to make at least one page a day on this, and if I have more time I can put in a little more effort." It's also nice if you're juggling several projects at once, since it helps makes sure you're not neglecting the others.
 
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