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Bloodlines 2 Dev Diary #13: Production in the Age of COVID-19

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Bloodlines 2 Dev Diary #13: Production in the Age of COVID-19

Development Info - posted by Infinitron on Fri 14 August 2020, 22:00:00

Tags: Hardsuit Labs; Paradox Interactive; Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2

Two days after its dramatic delay announcement, Hardsuit Labs have published a new development update for Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2. The topic is video game production and how it's changed in the COVID era. The update is rather unusual in that it doesn't really mention anything about the game itself, but if you read between the lines, it seems to imply that the reason for the delay is a failure of communication between production and the department leads. Maybe that's why both product manager Florian Schwarzer and lead producer Christian Schlutter over at Paradox appear to have left their roles recently, joining creative director Ka'ai Cluney who quietly stepped down last month. Here's the relevant part of the update:

“But Austin, those all seem like things that can be done remotely and regardless of WFH mandates. Have things changed that much because of the pandemic?”

Great question, faithful reader. The short answer is yes; they have changed. The shorthand definition I gave for production is centered around concrete fundamentals of production. Specifically, planning, organizing, facilitating, coordinating, and filling gaps.

Those things are not the sole makeup of production, however. They are just the building blocks. The other parts of production come from soft skills that revolve around integrating with teams, understanding their needs, and supporting them in more profound ways than planning. To me, a producer should be someone who can advocate for their team (or teams) and affect real change because they genuinely trust and understand their perspective. They should also have built trust with the members of their team because it has to go both directions. A good producer should be listening to and supporting the developers they oversee - but at the end of the day, they are responsible for getting the project across the finish line. This can result in a conflict between what their department leads want and what the budget, timeline, etc., allow for. Building trust with their team(s) is crucial because it helps make those conversations more about the project’s quality and less about the business aspect of development.

That trust and understanding is not usually something that is easily cultivated or maintained. Like any relationship (work or otherwise) effort needs to be applied to keep things in a healthy state. This has become more difficult in the age of COVID-19 because popping over to someone’s desk to chat or taking a coffee/lunch/walking break with a coworker isn’t possible the same way it used to be. Those types of human interactions help build a relationship more organically and naturally.

This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to build those connections, but more effort is required to develop and maintain them. I guess the easiest way to put this is: the same types of learning and adjusting that we have had to do socially – during COVID - also applies to how production staff have had to shift to maintain the aspects of our jobs that are less about “paper work” and more about “people work”.

So, what could that look like? Let’s say a producer is working with a lead to define a spec for a feature. Pre-COVID times, it’s likely that the producer and lead would have an in-person meeting to kick off the conversation and then set some dates to follow up or complete it. Let’s also say that this particular lead isn’t a super communicative person by nature. If the pair have the relationship I talked about, there likely wouldn’t need to be any follow-ups until the due date or next meeting because the two would have an understanding of how the other works or what their needs are. In the year of our lord Corona, this interaction takes more time and energy. Nowadays, the producer and lead will still have a call – and will set dates – but if they haven’t had time to build rapport, there’s a high chance the producer ends up checking in more frequently. Not because they don’t trust the lead to get the work done but because they don’t have that same understanding of each other’s work habits. The higher number of check-ins mean more time disturbing the lead to get info. More disturbances to the lead means less time spent on work. Less time spent on work means… you guessed it… less work getting done. It’s the producer’s job to keep the work on track, but it’s also to support the people doing the work. It gets precarious to try and build relationships and trust at a distance while regularly needing to bug people about progress.


Production is an integral part of video game development for many reasons and, there are aspects of the job that got more difficult because we have less access to the types of interactions that help us work well with our teams.
This is now the second dev diary in a row that reads as vaguely passive-aggressive in places. I think it's obvious at this point that Hardsuit and Paradox bit off more than they could chew with this game. The upside is that as license holders, Paradox can't afford to screw up their first in-house World of Darkness RPG. Hopefully they will continue to do whatever it takes to see the project through.

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