Now the issue with having a hand-picked team as a producer is that it can make your job a hell of a lot easier, Just as its your job to make everyone else’s job easier. Having a team that you know has the same drive and motivation as you is half the battle in the end. Especially if those team members have a high skill level and also understand and appreciate what you as a producer brings to a team.
In my 3 years at Staffordshire University, each year I had a group project to make a game. In the First year it was ‘Intro to Game Design’ with a group of 6 first years, all who had no idea how to make a game. Then in the second and third year it became Junior/Senior or Collaborative Games Design. This was groups of around 10-12 students, a mixture of 2nd and 3rd years, made a game for the whole 2 semesters.
The difference between the team I put together for the Games Jam and the Team I was put in for Collaborative Games at University (in the 3rd Year) had in my opinion 4 key different attributes. Bellow I will list these and break them down a little of what I mean.
People in the collaborative modules just don’t seem to give the teams their full focus, the seniors have final year projects that full showcases their own work, and Juniors are mostly working on games they had no say on, as they don’t join the groups till after the initial prototype and direction of the game is set by the seniors in the first few weeks. If they are not made to feel part of the group by the seniors they often just see it as a chore and focus on other modules.
Now for my team in the first weeks I told them one of my pet peeves was people being late, and for the most part my team was in on time each week. They would be in between 9am and 9.30am and stay till 5pm as requested by the module leaders. But just looking around the rooms you could see them all being half empty till 11am and then again around 3pm
This is completely different from my Jam Team where everyone was involved from the start and also knew what they were getting into when they agreed to join the team. They knew how I worked and what I would expect from them which means they were all committed before that Jam began
Level of skill
This is not even about the juniors who only have one year’s experience at University. This is about the makeup of the groups and how they are balanced. There was clearly a shortage of techs for the amount of groups they wanted to have. 4 of the people in my Jam team where actually lead techs in the own Colab groups. One of those was my designer who ended up doing tech as there was no one else to do it for his group.
In my own Colab group we didn’t have an outright tech, we had two of us who had done advanced engines but had put down for design as main job. Luckily for me the other guy was happy to be lead tech, although this caused issues later for our group with things we hope to achieve not being done.
This might just be an age thing or it could be a student thing. As someone who has had a real job for over a decade I have a good work ethic in place and when I was in my group I was there to work. But so many times you would see people doing other projects or watching videos on YouTube and just general procrastination. Not to mention people not doing work in their own time, many would just do the minimum they could or nothing in some other groups I heard about.
That whole doing the minimum they could get away with was a common occurrence, some people would be happy to come out of there with a 2-2 where as some of us were gunning for a first. The gap in effort needed for those two grades is step and it showed in some student’s work ethic.
With the Colab teams I noticed more a divide between departments, the Art, Tech and Design teams. I think it has to do with the individual grade you get being based on how your discipline was graded within the game. This was put in place for when say a strong tech team makes a great game but has issues with the work provided by the art team and then the tech team would not lose too many marks as their work is graded differently. The problem is it can lead to these divides and people only showing interest in how to improve their areas grade.
In the Jam I think as your all just working towards the common goal of getting your playable game out there you get more of that team comradery. It is still possible to get that within the Colab groups it just takes more work and some creativity from leads. For our group I kept moving people around so they were sat next to people they were working with, for example the Tech and Designer who worked on the Tutorial or the Artist and Concept who worked on Characters. Then when it came to play testing I mixed the groups up so that each play test had someone from each department, this meant seeing the test from different perspectives and they would see different bugs.
Issues Overcome in Colab
The Issue – With a week between each session I found that each week the team started off the development sessions a little slow. They would procrastinate or spend time rushing the work they had been asked to do in their own time.
The Solution – I started hold morning stand ups. Just quick 5 minute meetings where I would go round and ask what work they had been doing in the week, checking if they had any issues or problems blocking their progress. Then I would outline what we wanted to achieve for the session today. The benefits to this are it will in some cases encourage your team to get their own work done, so they don’t look bad in front of their peers. It also then gives you the chance to eliminate excuses, if they all say they have no problems and are all clear on what task and the daily agenda is then they should hit the ground running once returning to their computers.
The Issue – This mainly came from my own issues with dealing with our lead tech. In past groups I have worked with strong techs who really knew their stuff and when I articulated an idea to them they would either understand what was being asked of them or know the right questions to ask to get the information they needed to be able to get on with their jobs. What I found in Colab with not having an out-and-out Tech is that when the lead would tell me “it should be simple enough to do” they actually meant they were not listening.
The Solution – I had to really start breaking down the tasks on Trello, with very clear with what was required and how exactly a certain mechanic would work and how it would fit in with the rest of the game, If I didn’t then they would build very limited systems that could not be added to later or used in other areas of the game.
It also required more regular check-ups on how things were progressing, I also had to try to get him to explain his blueprints to me so I could try and figure out where the crossed wires were coming from. This sometimes lead to more frustration, but ended up with us just simplifying the game further to try and make sure our basics were fundementally sound and ditch any extra mechanics we had planned.
Game File Management
The Issue – The first semester we just had a master file and we would add work each week from a few different files that other people were working on. This caused issues with clashes in the files, random naming conventions that didn’t sit right together and a mess of folders with things scattered all over the file. We also ended up with hundreds of extra materials in the game file that were not needed
The Solution – After learning how to use source tree in my Jam group in December I set it up for our game for the second semester. I also spent a few hours correcting naming conversions, sorting files and removing the excess materials from the file. Then on return I went through the new process with the two Techs and lead Artist so they were aware how the file management would work moving forward.
We still had countless problems as people couldn’t get the hang of regular pushes of their work or that they had to pull before pushing. Towards the end of the semester the team had really started getting the hang of using source control. We even gave access to the Animator and Junior Designer which allowed us to work on multiple areas of the game simultaneously without then the slow process of merging builds
Not Play Testing Correctly
The Issue – People would test the game and then not report the bugs they found, when questioned they would say they thought the others would report those issues or someone else would find it as it was so obvious. It leads to very small bugs being missed for weeks as no one was reporting them.
I also had issues with when I gave groups set tasks to test they would get side tracked and focus on other bugs they thought would be easier to test rather than repeatedly testing what I had asked them to.
The Solution – I started setting up the bug forms differently, asking them for their names and groups so I would be able to see how many bugs each person was reporting. I also took 5 minutes to go through with each group how I wanted them to do the test, weather that was a set number of tasks on Trello they were checking or a list of areas I wanted them to check collision boxes on. I realised that I could not watch multiple play tests at once so I put 2 of the team in charge of their own play test groups, these two seemed to have done testing before or had the most aptitude for it.
People Not Working In Their Own Time
The Issue – I spoke about this a little already, but I think it’s a student problem more than anything. If people are not motivated to get the best out of there £9,000 a year education there was not a great deal I could do about it.
The Solution – I did try the basics, I would send reminders during the week, I asked if there was a reason why they had not done other work, nobody could ever give me a good reason, I think that’s because I was someone who commuted from Birmingham for University, had a wife and 2 small children at home yet still managed to find the time to produce the work I needed to.
In the end I just tried minimized the issues, for example I would not give certain people work that was time sensitive and thus would not slow down the game if their work was not completed. In the case of our lead Art he decided he was not going to download the source tree at home for a number of reasons that made no sense, so after a few weeks of him clearly doing nothing I started setting him work the same as the other artists to complete Islands in a base version of the build that I could then just copy and paste into the main world file. This worked and he produced some of the best islands in the game and then could do more world dressing and artistic touches in the sessions.