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Scaling the Software Development Process: Lessons Learned From The Sims Online
Price $5.95
Stock Unlimited
Weight 7 lb, 8 oz
SKU GDC-03-121
Scaling the Software Development Process: Lessons Learned From The Sims Online,

Programming, Lecture

Darrin West

Greg Kearney

Larry Mellon
, EA/maxis
As a project and team increase in size and complexity, the overhead of software development increases. Nowhere is this more evident than in massively multiplayer games. Using over 30 programmers, The Sims Online incrementally morphed a hit single-player property into a massively multi-player Internet subscription game. The game engine was kept fully 'live' during a twelve-month rapid development period to support parallel game design and content development tracks, for an overall team size in excess of 80 people. To field such a large, complex system on an accelerated schedule, many aspects of the software development process itself required scaling. Defects became much more expensive than the norm, as a single defect could take down the whole team. They also became all too common as parallel work collided within a large, tightly coupled code base, and as critical, mutually-dependent infrastructure components continually evolved. Further, the sheer bulk of code, the size of the development team, and the size of the feature set directly conflicted with the required acceleration of the full software lifecycle. Day to day processes for developers, CM and QA all required significant changes to meet these scale-imposed requirements in a rapid develop / field environment. This paper discusses a series of team/process/code scalability and stability roadblocks encountered by The Sims Online development team, and the lessons learned while overcoming them. Multiple solutions and refinements were attempted to solve these issues, including radical module decomposition, incremental refactoring, adoption of specific/standardized code patterns, workspace management, build systems, testing approaches, parallel development teams, and phased / continuous release cycles. These general engineering practices are discussed in terms of their adaptation to the project-specific constraints for The Sims Online and the requisite tradeoffs between "doing it right" and "having it done by tomorrow". We will describe where we started and how we improved, focusing on what successfully evolved to meet real-world conditions, and what did not.

Converting a hit single player game into a large-scale network game is slow, expensive and painful. Unless you do it right. The audience should leave with a clear understanding of the general software engineering problems faced when fielding a massively-multiplayer game, and a healthy dose of paranoia. The effects of scale are analyzed in the context of how architectural simplifications, workspace management and tools allow a large team to co-exist in a tightly coupled, rapidly evolving legacy code base, all the while keeping the system live.

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