Ice Cream Time: How Great Games Are Made
I’ve been really reminiscent about Ice Cream Time lately. I think one reason is that ice cream is delicious and even more delicious when I don’t have to pay for it, but the other reason is that I’m going to be embarking on a new adventure soon and I’m really excited about making something great.
I should probably take a step back and explain what Ice Cream Time was. The first year of my video game career was working on Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal or RC3 as it was known internally. If I remember correctly, there was a team of about 75 people working on the project. Like pretty much every game that’s ever been in production, RC3 was at the very least, a little ambitious for the time frame and team that we had. As a result, it was a project that required quite a bit of overtime.
One of the institutions that arose towards the end of the project was Ice Cream Time. At the stroke of midnight, every day, Slim and I would scooter around the office attempting to collect everyone that was still there to come to the kitchen to take a short ice cream break. Insomniac’s kitchen was legendary and the ice cream selection was no exception. I was quite partial to the Vanilla Caramel Drumstick.
At the beginning, it was just nice to take a break. We’d all been working so hard that it was nice to have 15 minutes where all the testers were eating ice cream instead of finding more crash bugs.
But it was more than just a break. The was a nice side effect due to the midnight timing of Ice Cream Time. By midnight, there weren’t many people left in the office. However, it was always the usual suspects. There were two amazing things about the group, though. The first was that it included people from every department. The second was that it was the people from each department that cared most about the game they were making.
There was a lot of work for everyone and everyone was working very hard. But if the project was at a point where everyone was required to stay until midnight, we would have just started cutting features. So everyone on the team was probably assigned enough work to keep them busy until 8 or 9, but not midnight.
The thing about the Ice Cream Time crew were that we didn’t just do the work that we were assigned to do. We didn’t just fix the bugs that were assigned to us. We obsessively played the game, looked for small tweaks that would add up to take the game from a competently made game to something really special.
In the end, that was the magic of Ice Cream Time. There was the team hierarchy of how things were designed and specified and handed down as work. There were the official communication channels for review and feedback. But Ice Cream Time was something entirely outside of that system. It was getting together with the handful of people who most cared about the game and working together to make something magical. They were all people who couldn’t go home knowing how much better they could make things.
During the day, there were a tons of requests that went up the chain in one department and back down the chain of another that just vanished into the ether. Someone might have said no. Someone might have forgotten. Maybe a bug was created and never got assigned. Who knows. But at Ice Cream Time, it was a world where anyone could talk to anyone and make a case for how something would make the game better. And if you could convince the one person who needed to do the work, it got done.
I will always look fondly back on Ice Cream Time, but will always be saddened by the context in which it lived. My theory today, almost a decade later, is that if you can find the people who would have come to Ice Cream Time, you can make great things all the time, not only after a midnight ice cream-based rallying cry.
Will you come to Ice Cream Time?