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From the trenches of project Maguro, part 2

We’ve hit upon a bug, and it’s a showstopper. Somewhere in the country, at the offices of a large governmental organisation, 48 individuals are playing the pilot of Project Maguro, which I last wrote about two months ago. The players are trading goods on our game’s website, and somehow they’ve fulfilled all of today’s orders. This should not be possible, and we don’t know why it’s happening.

Project lead Kars calls our client, then summons tech lead Alper and game design lead Karel. They study the game’s progress. They inspect the underlying code. Kars is stressed out, slightly. Karel is relaxed, but probably only at the surface. Alper seems grumpy, but when someone mentions this, he murmurs, “You haven’t seen me grumpy yet”, which sounds like a threat.

It’s interesting how the shift happens. You don’t really notice it until it’s already, irreversibly, passed.

That’s what occurs to me while tapping away at my keyboard, trying to ignore the ruckus about bugs, filling in fake news reports and in-character e-mails. The pilot has already started, but we’re still creating copy for the later parts of the three-week run. Today we have to finalize what players will be reading next week. Everything goes into the materials document, which is now at around 10.000 words – and counting.

I’m lucky enough that I can make use of Arjen’s services. Arjen is Kars’ new intern, a quick and faultless writer if I’ve ever seen one. His work makes me curious to see what he’ll come up with on project Katsuo. Together we hurry to slam our messages into shape.

In the middle of all this, Kars brings in a box of tiny, delicious cakes from a nearby bakery, to celebrate the start of the pilot. Not sure how to react to cake while there’s so much stuff to do, we all take our picture and tweet it.

I remember vividly how it used to be. Just weeks ago we were slowly but steadily developing ideas, solving problems, trying to incorporate client’s suggestions. Not every solution was immediately clear, but the process felt controlled and reassuring.

Outside it was dark, cold and rainy, inside the atmosphere was upbeat. Jokes were cracked. Discussions were had. Nobody really knew how the project would end up, but we were giving our best and confident that we’d get there.

Then, from out of nowhere, things were caught in a maelström, sucking everything in. The path forward was now clear – in a way, this was what we’d been waiting for. However, at around the same time that client’s intentions, team’s vision and team members’ tasks finally lined up, deadlines were suddenly looming.

This changed the atmosphere, too. We were still having lunch in the city, but in more of a hurry, with no time to get coffee afterwards. We were still cracking jokes, but harsher than before – like we’d become seasoned sailors on ocean steamers. The change was subtle, but it happened, alright.

At the end of the day, the showstopper bug is squashed, of course. Zooming out, things are actually looking great. Karel’s game design is now set in stone – and working. Simon’s visual design is splendid. Alper’s tech is running without a hiccup.

Next week, Arjen and I have to deliver one more batch of copy, and then we’ll have time to take a good look at whatever it is we’ve written. The insights that will undoubtedly emerge will be used for two weeks of ‘refactoring’ the game, after the pilot and before the true kick-off. And maybe, just maybe, there will be time to grab a coffee downtown.

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