Hey hey Netrunners, Extrac from the production team here with another update on Null Signal’s production pipeline.
It’s been an exciting couple of months for the production team, as the release of Parhelion in both digital and physical forms marked the completion of the first full cycle released under our tenure. We’ve gained a huge amount of confidence in our ability, both as a team and as an organization, to release quality products on a consistent basis.
With the conclusion of the Borealis cycle, our attention has turned to the next cycle, codenamed Bell-Tower. While the previous sets started their production cycle with playtesting and mechanical concept completed (we knew what the individual cards were going to do in broad strokes) with solely art and narrative awaiting completion, Bell-Tower 1 initiated in a situation where playtesting, mechanical text, and art were all in progress. Therefore, in order to meet our target of 2 releases per year, we’ve had to approach the production process in a new way.
The Batched Stages Approach
In previous cycles, we followed a “whole set” process for most of the cards. For example, once a mechanical concept was agreed upon for all cards in a set, the entire set of cards would proceed to rules writing. When the cycle’s narrative was decided, we would begin work on flavor text and art briefs for individual cards and so on.
While this allowed for a lot of safety if a card looked at later in a stage prompted an update to an already processed card in that stage, it also created a lot of dead time where most of the set was ready for downstream processes to begin being held up by a minority of cards waiting for completion. So for Bell-Tower, we’ve adopted a batch based approach, detailed in the following flow chart.
In this process, every single card will go through these stages at some point, but once a card has completed a stage and been approved by a peer review, it is available to downstream teams immediately. For example, art sourcing on a given card begins when that specific card has a completed narrative, instead of waiting for all cards in the set to finish theirs. As a result, downstream teams can begin and finish earlier, as illustrated in the diagram below.
Notice that while the overall process concludes sooner, neither Team A nor Team B has had to compress their timescales to achieve this.
This does marginally increase the risk arising from card interdependency. If, for example, Team A begins work on card 8 of a set and realizes that card 3 needs to be reworked, the work that Team B has carried out on card 3 may need to be redone or altered, potentially leading to wasted effort. The production team determined that, while this may happen on occasion, the overwhelming majority of cards will proceed smoothly through the stages without returning to an earlier stage for rework. We have decided to design the process for the rule, not the exception, and manage exceptions that do arise in parallel.
The following Gantt chart projects how the stages, their corresponding lock peer reviews, and the overall flow of cards through the production process will proceed.
Many of the elements of this Gantt chart are similar to the Parhelion and Midnight Sun charts. The process is very similar to what we were already doing but the overlap between the sections was less pronounced due to cards in progress waiting for most of the set to complete a given stage before moving to the next. Most of the new elements are the biweekly peer reviews, which will be handled in batches of around a dozen cards to keep flow consistent. This, along with all elements of the new methodology, will be reviewed and altered as we proceed through it to better suit the working patterns and styles of the teams. We’re looking forward to exploring the possibilities of this new approach and working with the teams to release quality product on a consistent timescale.
We hope this has been an interesting look into the production team and Null Signal’s continuing journey through the challenges of creating the best game ever. Watch for upcoming production updates on our website and our social media profiles.
Until then, always be running!