DreamBuildPlay, and my crash course in production

Each year, Microsoft holds a game development competition known as Dream.Build.Play. To enter, you simply build a game in XNA and submit it, either by yourself or as a part of a team. For this year’s competition, you can submit a game for either the XBox 360 or Windows Phone. For this contest, my classmates and I decided to build a platformer.

The first issue we ran into was staffing our team with artists. DreamBuildPlay has a team limit of seven people, which is one of the biggest challenges of the competition. Initially, we’d planned on building a 2D platformer with 2 programmers and 3 artists. The last two spots were to be left open just in case we suddenly needed extra help later on down the line. Unfortunately, we were unable to find enough artists to fill the team spots, at least for a 2D platformer. My partner suggested that we change the game to be a 2.5D platformer, using 3D models instead of 2D sprites. Thankfully, we were able to get the artists that we needed. However, new problems arised from our seemingly great decision.

1) 3D  art & animation, while it may be more impressive in some cases, is also more complex, and requires a larger team than games with 2D art can get away with. After the modelers, animators, and artists for other things like textures and UI, we had filled our 7-man team cap. This leaves us with no wiggle room to pick up additional talent later on.

 

2) As the size of a development team increases, it becomes more difficult to coordinate all of those people. Eventually, the team size reaches a point where the team needs someone on the team who is dedicated to organizing the team and keep the team on track. Since we were already at 7 people, it fell on me to take up the job, along with already being the designer and assistant programmer.

3) I have some past experience with 2D art and animation. While I’m only a half-decent artist at best, it was more than enough to be able to properly manage a few artists working on a game with me. My knowledge of 3D graphics, on the other hand, is zero. I signed up for a 3D Animation course this spring in order to learn a bit about the subject, and I consider it  a successful day’s work if Maya doesn’t crash on me. “Unwrapping the UVs” sounds like something from another language.

I had a some idea of what producers do in industry prior to this game. Producers are in charge of scheduling for the project. They are responsible for keeping everyone organized and on track with what needs to be done when it needs to be done. They are the go-to guys for the anything you need to know about the progress of the game. As far as I knew, it was important to the team, but it wasn’t necessarily a hard job. That is, until I had to do it myself….

This. Job. Is. Soooo. Stressful. I was debating whether I wanted to pursue a career in design or production in industry, but this project is not making production shine between the two choices. While I’m sure a big part of our troubles are my lack of experience with 3D animation, production is much more challenging that I’d initially thought. I’m quite certain that almost every day, I’ve woken up to the realization that I forgot to handle something the day before. In spite of this, the game has been a great incredible learning experience. A few things I picked up include:

  1. Communication is without a doubt the greatest necessity.  Bad communication can save even the most experienced developers from building a catastrophe.
  2. A big part of production is not organizing work so that the games you work on don’t ever hit issues. It’s being able with deal with these surprise situations. Which will happen… a lot.
  3. Much of the job is also a test of how you manage your own time, using the knowledge you’ve acquired to best help upkeep the morale of the tam.

There’s without a doubt more to learn for this project, and I look forward to the project we have to present at the end of the quarter. However, the lessons learned from working on it are invaluable assets. Both now and with future pursuits.

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