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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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