IMG: In my industry, we deal with a lot of independent contractors to get work completed when we walk into crunch times and tight deadlines. Is that an option for porting houses / software developers? Is there a talented pool of freelancers out there that can be hired for jobs, or does the industry generally tend to hire talented programmers on for the long haul and train them up as required?
Brad: I haven't seen or heard of too many freelance programmers who work like that in the Mac games business. Most of them work like Westlake - they sign a project and see it through to completion. The PC/console games market is different, and I have heard of programmers like you describe that swoop in to fix a specific part of a project that has slipped.
IMG: Last time we chatted, you mentioned that most of the Westlake employees work from home. That must take an awful lot of discipline to get work done without being distracted by the comforts of home. Do you work with a specific routine? Do you still run into “crunch times”, the period of time of intense work near the end of a project, similar to what game developers go through trying to get a new game out the door?
Brad: I suppose it takes some discipline, but we are all driven by milestone money. We get paid when we hit project milestones, so there's a great deal of incentive to keep moving forward. It doesn't hurt that you have the additional incentive of being able to play a game as the end result. :-)
There's definitely a crunch time at the end of the project, and some are a lot worse than others. EverQuest had a pretty horrific crunch time, and Age of Empires 2 had a pretty bad one as well. Some are fairly smooth – Civ3 wasn't that bad, and I seem to recall Jedi Knight 2 going fairly well.
IMG: I’m assuming that Westlake keeps you busy even when your projects have some downtime, ie when a project gets shipped off to the publishers for approvals. Is the nature of your work loose enough that you can have a few projects on the go concurrently?
Brad: There are always patches to work on in the downtime. As for concurrent projects, that's fairly uncommon nowadays. Most projects are getting bigger and bigger, so more often we're seeing 2 (or more) people on a project. Quake 3-based games and expansion packs seem to be the exception - most of those are fairly light and easy to port.
IMG: I just have a couple quick questions regarding Westlake’s port of Halo, if you don’t mind. Westlake currently has three programmers working on the Halo port. That seems like a larger number of programmers than usual. Is that due to the nature of the code , the production schedule, or good business tactics?
Brad: It's mainly because Halo is a big, complicated beast. :-)
IMG: Generally, when a publisher approaches you guys with a project, do they get to dictate the number of people on the job, or is that decided internally?
Brad: It's mainly an internal decision. We bid projects based on man-months of work. So if we find a project will take, for example, 8 man-months, and some of those involve easily separated tasks (like networking), and the publisher has a deadline of, say, 6 months, then we might put a second body on it for 2 months to make that deadline.