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Crunch Time Interview with Mark Jacobs

Tim Eisen Posted:
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A “Crunch” is a time when studios hunker down, dig in their heels, block out all distractions and grind like its launch day in a new MMORPG! It’s an emotional rollercoaster of hard work and determination during which the outside world must simply be put on hold in the name of the game! Here to create a distraction and break through the bubble is MMORPG.com!

MMORPG: Let’s get the serious stuff out of the way right off the bat. Based on the Beta 1 announcement stream your beard seems to have been nerfed a bit, as a result I have two questions. Straight razor? (fyi anything but will be considered a disappointment to hipsters everywhere-no pressure)

Mark Jacobs: No beard nerfing has happened. And since we don’t do stealth beard nerfs, I must assume your view of reality is a bit different from mine. The beard is bearding as intended!

MMORPG: Is this a sign you are going Arthurian at launch?

MJ: Arthurians are absolutely my favorite Realm, as are the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Vikings. J

MMORPG: How are the first days of Beta crunch going?

MJ: Great so far. No blood has been spilled, lots of good food has been prepared by Lady J (as I type this, she is headed here with carnitas, tacos, lots of fun side dishes), and the code and art assets continue to fly out of the studio. Hopefully, we’ll be able to lasso those and get them into the game before they fly away and we can’t use them in Beta!

In all seriousness, everything is going fine. Important elements of the game are being added, and it’s nice to see us be able to begin to shift our focus away from just making a great engine to making a great game. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to really focus most of the team on making game assets, rather than having a real split between engine assets and game assets.

MMORPG: CSE seems like a group of highly self-motivated individuals but during crunch do you feel the need to help keep them motivated (I recommend buying chocolate covered coffee beans)?

MJ: Motivation aids confirmed? Nah, we are all motivated, especially during crunch. However, the key is to keep them from burning out, and I/we are doing that. At 10PM, we tell everybody to go home, even when they still have more things to do. As far as food, candy, etc., we have plenty in the office, and one of our Backers, Ludovic, just sent us a bunch of chocolate Quax, so now we have a new supply of chocolate goodness!

MMORPG: Is the amount of Crunch time community interaction via things like live streams (for example), a hindrance or a welcome distraction (or maybe not a distraction at all) for the studio?

MJ: A welcome distraction for some of us, but certainly not a hindrance for anyone, or I wouldn’t have scheduled them. Nobody is forced to livestream; we want it to be fun for everyone involved, including our artists. For example, Jon and Michelle, our artists who have streamed so far during crunch, are able to get a lot done in front of our Backers; so it’s a win-win for the studio and the Backers.

MMORPG: Not to build a trap because we all know MMOers tend to take this sort of thing and NEVER forget, but is it possible to put a % on how far along you are on the march to Beta 1?

MJ: Yep. We have done more than 1% and less than 100%. :) We will put out updates at the end of every week, as well as updates during the week. As they have in the past, these updates let people know where we are at, in terms of checking things off the list. Just the other day, I sent out an update that talked about our progress on building destruction, items in the world, and lots of other things! At the end of this week, we will have another update that shows our progress on other fronts, as well.

MMORPG: From the outside it seems like concepts at CSE are very creative and discussion driven while the physical work portion seems very multi-faceted (like I’m assuming most MMOs have to be). Does your workflow change for things like a crunch and if so how?

MJ: It changes a little bit, but it’s not like all of a sudden we are doing a lot of things differently. There’s always lots of typing, and the occasional need to get up and discuss something by the whiteboards, etc., and we’re just doing more of all of that. Now, however, instead of being focused on engine tech, more and more of these discussions are around systems and mechanics we need for the game.

MMORPG: Alpha seems to have been the foundational tech testing phase, which a little bird told me CU absolutely excelled at! Beta sounds like it will be the first phase where CU starts to mechanically and physically resemble the game it will become, is the team as excited as the backers are to see that to come to fruition?

MJ: Oh yeah. We want to start putting in more game stuff just as much as our Backers want to see us putting in more game stuff. It really is a two-way street, as most of us are gamers and MMORPGers as well. On a personal level, I’m happy that we are going to have the first bits of crafting in the game in time for Beta 1. I’ve been working on the spreadsheets for quite a while, and it’s nice to be able to see it in the game, even in a very rudimentary form. And again, as most of the team are gamers, and some are hard-core MMORPGers, it’s great to be able to see some of the things we’ve talked about wanting to have in an MMORPG in our own game.

MMORPG: Are any surprises planned for the crunch streams (fondly remembers random fits of dancing in prior CSE streams)?

MJ: Yep. At least one surprise.

MMORPG: In the Beta 1 update you touched on some of the non-game related distractions that have been happening since January such as some studio visits (go on) and issues with Merchline as well as Paypal. While that might not sound as cool as building destruction and classes this backer believes it’s both fascinating and helps humanize the development process by expanding the view of the incredible effort it takes to make a game. Will you be giving us any more insight into that sort of un sexy “businessy” stuff during the crunch?

MJ: Possibly. It really has been a very busy couple of months here, what with outside distractions. Thankfully, none of them are too bad, but they all take some time away from me and sometimes from the team as well (like when we really had to clean up the office for a visiting group). When you are a small studio like us, everything that doesn’t directly advance the game counts as a distraction.

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Tim Eisen

I roleplay a wordsmith that writes about the technological and social evolution within the game industry