Neverwinter Nights 2 Interview

Game Tycoon has conducted an interview with Neverwinter Nights 2 external producer Dorian Richard about his past experience with Atari, publisher/developer relations, and the pitfalls of production. While NWN2 isn't mentioned a whole lot, the Q&A does have a lot of great information packed in it:
Q: What are the most common challenges you face when interacting with developers?

A: There's inexperienced developers, and there's experienced developers. Inexperienced developers tend to lack staff with sufficient scheduling and managing experience. They might be good at certain development tasks, but they don't know how to read warning signs and manage people, so they frequently fail to recognize when a big slip is looming. They don't plan for likely emergencies, like a key team member getting sick or having a family emergency.

Inexperienced developers also tend to have trouble understanding why they are slipping. Is a team member consistently slower than they are expected to be? Is the technology more complicated than originally planned? Are team members failing to schedule time to polish features as necessary? Inexperienced developers often fail to identify and resolve problems like these. Failure to schedule enough (polish time) is an especially common problem. Polish can represent 40% of the total effort necessary to develop a given feature, but it's regularly underestimated.

Inexperienced developers also have trouble capitalizing on pre-production. You really have to use that time to carefully schedule a project. You have to agree on realistic milestones for a complete game design not a vague, undefined game. At the end of pre-production, you have to know where the development risks are, and you need to have backup plans in place. And you should evaluate each team member to figure out their strengths and weaknesses, and use that information to figure out a realistic schedule.

Inexperienced developers also forget to give themselves time to experiment and redo stuff that just doesn't work. There will always be something that you eventually realize is going in the wrong direction, and you need to have time available to permit for fixing that. They also forget to schedule the really mundane stuff, like creating a rough draft of the game manual (which can take a designer a week of time for something like an RPG.) Or creating a casting list. These things always need to be done, but inexperienced developers frequently forget to account for them.

Even experienced developers occasionally underestimate how long it takes to tune and polish stuff, and some don't take advantage of the pre-production process as fully as they should. But experienced developers are more likely to have backup plans in place, even if they sometimes fail to execute upon them when they should. Even then, experienced developers recover from problems much faster than inexperienced developers. To their credit, experienced developers are also much more able to admit to themselves when something is not working and cut features or change them as necessary.

It's been really great working with Obsidian. This is one of the most professional studios in the business. Bioware is another great company very professional.