Leveraging Professionals for Input
The team recognized the fact we were novices without the answers, as well as that no matter how hard we tried we just couldn't make all the "right" decisions, decisions that are made at a AAA scale. We incorporated the advice of industry professionals as a counterbalance to our inexperience, and although not directly on our team to guide us we could use their experience to help influence ours. We used their advice at each stage of our project: pre-production, production, and post-production; but not in the same way each time.
Our pre-production phase was us figuring out how we could make this project work. We weren't yet into the technical details, but more asking questions revolving around how a software development project at our scale could work and what they, the professionals, would be interested in seeing from a project like ours. We asked because they will be the ones hiring us, might as well use that to help. By time we started development we had spoken with about 6 industry professionals along with our entire faculty (~20 professors). We had an idea of what we wanted out of the project and how we best thought we could accomplish that, but the feedback is what molded the final direction. Most of the advice we took at this stage was based on how we felt about it, which might not have been the best selection criteria. If we were excited about the advice, such as developing a game, we would take it, but if the advice was to make multiple games, we chose to ignore it at the time because it seemed unfeasible and intimidating. Had we taken all feedback the project wouldn't have happened because everyone has their own two cents. In addition, some of the advice was counter to what we wanted to do, such as removing networking from architecture to the extreme of not developing an engine at all. Talking with professionals was also different from talking with faculty, where faculty think of educational value and the student growth. The advice from the professionals leaned toward warnings and pitfalls they had experienced from their projects.
In production, we were then able to ask technical questions to professionals, although usually not specifically about our project. The project was no longer a hypothetical situation of, "we are going to do...", but rather something that we had learned from. Having some experience to pull from to ask questions was valuable, otherwise it would have been difficult to contextualize what we were trying to say. The added benefit of talking to professionals during production, is that you don't know what you don't know. As a team we would often create solutions which worked best for our engine and made sense to the team but didn't have reference to how others, particularly the industry, does it. Talking to professionals gave us this glimpse which was enough to confirm we were headed in the right direction or we needed to refactor/redirect. We had our own terminology for some implementation and features, and in conversations with professionals we would be introduced to the actual engine developer vocabulary, which was searchable and had information on unlike our team's internal definition. What may also happen during these conversations is that the professional may ask about technical details of your project out of curiosity then discuss how they've done it in past, this will help you reflect and rethink your systems.
Professional response in post-production isn't necessarily useful but rather motivational.