Daily Archives: July 15, 2008

WAR Project Management

If [Project Management] is competent and strong, we can concentrate on our work

Judy McKay, Managing the Test People

Truer words were never spoken. Yet project management is always one of the more difficult things for a software development organization. We’ve been fretting a bit about a lack or project management around my own office of late, so this has been on my mind.

Engineers generally don’t like schedules, they tend towards optimism when estimating how long things will take, and it can be something of a mystery tracking durations of software design and implementation. Designs tend to become “done” because the date has been reached, while the amount of code written is the only tangible indicator of how far along implementation is going, and I have seen enough cases of features being “90% code complete and nowhere near finished” to trust that metric.

Even in SQA, where we love project management because it means somebody else being the bearer of bad news, there are issues. I have been asked many times a question along the lines of, “How long will it take you to regress all the bugs you will find in the software?” I hate to do this in the room with the development team looking on, as it tends to reinforce in their minds my reputation as a pessimist. (Even when my estimate turns out to be quite optimistic in the end, which they do a depressing percentage of the time.)

Which brings me to Warhammer Online.

I would love to know how project management played a role in the decision to make the content cuts they announced last week. Without any insight into the goings on out there in Virginia, I wonder how they have run the Warhammer Online development cycle.

Still, being past the 18 year mark in software myself, I can sometimes get a vibe, sense a clue or two, pick up the tenor of what might be happening… with some companies at least. For example, the way SOE talks and produces, they seem to have project management under control. Rise of Kunark shipped sans some features, but hit its date and was solid.

At the other extreme is Sigil, project management, or the lack thereof, seemed to be an underlying reason that Microsoft got out from under Vanguard when they did.

So what do last weeks announcements tell us?

First there was Punkbuster support. Very good. They don’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel. Blizzard can spend time and money on Warden, but Mark Jacobs would prefer to out source that effort and spend development cycles on the game itself.

Then there are the cities. Certainly going from six to two capital cities seems like a reasoned approach to the inevitable content vs. schedule conflict. Well, it would if they were not already a year late and only a couple… a few… not very many months from release. And the follow up about putting only two of the six cities in play for conquest once they are all in seems like either an ill-considered plan or an ineffectual smoke screen. Mythic now has a FAQ up about the decision to remove the capital cities. Not a great choice for a RvR game, but not a deal killer either.

And, finally, dumping four classes seems a bit less well thought out. Two of them were tank classes which, in a PvP dominated world, probably won’t be missed too much. But the other two were DPS classes, which has the distinct possibility of making two races considerably less desirable. That seems like questionable judgment in my opinion.

According to the FAQ about the classes they just put up, the pay off will be smoother animations and more visual effects for the remaining classes. Not a bad thing, but it seems like an odd trade to me. The classes removed weren’t removed because of animations, and, in my mind, the people doing animations are not the same people doing class balance and skills… they are not the ones creating GREAT careers, or so I would imagine, so I wonder what those people will be working on.

And the statement put forth that EA had nothing to do with this… well, I have to go with Michael Zenke and his “EA exec looking at his watch and tapping his foot in cartoon-like impatience.” You don’t make a cut like what was done to classes unless you’re under some time pressure, and only the execs in Redwood City can put that kind of pressure on Mr. Jacobs.

So I would have to guess that while they have strong personalities out at Mythic, strong project management is probably not part of the equation. That is my reading of the tea leaves, and given the state of their schedule and past delays, I don’t think I am going out on a limb.

None of this seems to have put a damper on the enthusiasm for the game. I have seen mostly cheers and very few jeers. A lot of people want to play this game very badly.

And these may be the right decisions for the project and for the quality of the game at this stage. You don’t need strong project management to make these decisions, just to make them early and to accurately know what you are getting for the decision.

I don’t write much about Warhammer Online. I have kinda/sorta of decided to pick it up when it finally ships, pending announcements about pricing and such. Otherwise I have tried to avoid the rabid fanboi mania that surrounds the game. To hear some go on, you would think that this game is the Messiah.

And if it doesn’t deliver on those rather high expectations, I’ll be there to paraphrase a quote from “Life of Brian.”

There is certainly a mess here, but no Messiah.

Ah, well, back to my own fanboi obsession; Diablo III.  Is it out yet?  No?  Gaaaaagh!