Any developer who has done a project of any significant size will tell you production issues are just as important as the game design, who is on the team, and even what is the total project budget. Developing a project is lot like learning a skill or sport ... You can always get better, and often, there are new ways to do things. Game production has always fascinated me because there are so many opinions on what to do, how to do it, and why one way is better than another. I certainly have come to some conclusions in my 20 years of producing games. In this series of blogs, you'll read about some of my experiences.
In many ways, indie development has even more pitfalls than traditional publisher-funded development. First, there tends to be higher budgets and more experience at established publishers like Ubisoft, EA, and Activision. Although more money doesn't always translate into a better game (we know there are plenty of great lower budget indie games), there are many consumers who want a blockbuster AAA experience with huge graphic budgets. From a management perspective, it is necessary to have several art directors, an art manager, an asset manager, several producers, and even a dedicated project manager. When your team size gets larger (50, 100, or even 300), it is unrealistic to expect people to just know what to do and how to do it. Even at large publishers, most teams have a significant portion of green talent on their teams.
So let's start with what can go wrong without good management of a project. Of course, good management may mean different things to different people, so let's look at it from situations that a team wants to avoid:
- Poor Source Code Control: Bad builds, new programmers, mistakes, and failed computers can all lead to problems with production if the code is not saved properly. This usually means a cloud-based solution like GitHub or SVN.
- Poor Art Specs: Artists need to follow a look and style of a game, not to mention a quality standard. Having tight art specs will allow artists to stay on target and future artists to ramp up much more quickly.
- Too Many Iterations of the Game: This is a double-edge sword statement. Many great games are only derived out of a hugely iterative process, but there is a practical limit on what is efficient iteration. Budget and schedule are two huge factors here. Most projects have tight budgets and short schedules, so complete redesigns are not desirable. Therefore, the game design needs to be well documented in pre-production and along the production cycle. Again, documentation can never be 100% of the full vision of the product, and developers should not be drones who just implement without any creativity, but the reality is a lot of time can be lost to unclear design and goals.
- Larger Projects Need Project Management: Often an ugly word in game development, it is necessary on larger projects if efficiency is a goal of a project. (Project management details are for future blogs.)
As the Tactics for Game Design series is meant to inform those curious gamers about game design, the Tactics for Production series will aim to give people interested in how game development works a peek into the development of games. From a career perspective, there are many opportunities to be in the thick of game development even though your specialty is project management. The importance of efficient game production and the quality of the final game are often highly correlated!
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