26 September 2011

Figuring Out My Role -- Week Ending 24 Sep

Figuring out my responsibilities has been an interesting process. I've mentioned before that I've had trouble deciding exactly what it means to be a producer in the EAE: MGS (I imagine that many of the other producers are experiencing the same thing). Part of that process has been a fair bit of trial and error, and I'm trying a few new things as we begin work in new teams on our second prototype.

During our initial planning meeting, I asked the group what their expectations of me are. This was fairly successful, as it allowed all of us to come to an understanding of what I'd be responsible for throughout the development of our game. We established some communication norms, such as email turnaround expectations, as well as how often I will check in on each of them personally. This has helped alleviate the feeling of being micromanaged--since they understand and expect me to update their progress occasionally, they haven't felt like I've been hovering over them incessantly. Beyond that, they now also understand the expectations of me from the Production class, and they are willing to help make sure that I apply what I learn there (not to mention successfully complete the assignments I receive).

This meeting was also great for structuring a manageable backlog and giving everyone a sense of ownership over the tasks in their department. I am confident that the process will run smoothly. I hope I can keep up with the level of work my new team exhibited in their previous groups.

Since everyone loves lists, here are the duties and accomplishments I took care of during this past week:

- Designed and planned many of the game features for our new prototype
- Created the pitch materials (except the art--the talented Ashley created the Prince and Princess)
- Gave the pitch presentation to the cohort and our mechanical engineering contacts
- Headed up planning and process meetings
- Researched freshman mechanical engineering concepts (as suggested by our ME contacts)
- Established a correspondence with an external content area expert to ensure accuracy and relevance in the educational aspects of our game
- Created and distributed the Sprints and task schedules (and updated them as necessary through the end of the Sprint)

One last personal note: While I wish I were in more of a position to work on the game itself (rather than just managing process), I feel more qualified to fill the producer role than to fill a dedicated artist or engineering role. On the other hand, I have been somewhat of a creative director on both the prototypes so far, which is exactly the job that I hope to land as my career. Plus, I'm sure there will still be plenty of opportunities to lend a hand to my teammates.

I guess, then, there's really nothing to complain about, now is there?

- Troy

17 September 2011

First Project Produced! -- Week Ending 17 Sep

Being a producer in a cohort of MGS students feels a bit different than what I imagine being a producer at a professional studio feels like. Learning the nuts and bolts, completing homework, and having hours-long lectures are obviously more academia than they are work place--that's not what I'm getting at. I just feel that being a producer will likely have a different dynamic with co-workers than it currently does with student peers. As members of the MGS, we are all learning together. None of us has a paycheck riding on our performance (at least not directly, and not that I know of), so there are different motivations for each of us to do our work and to do it exactly as we are directed.

That's where being a producer has been difficult for me to figure out. As one in a group of students, I am certainly not "in charge" of the groups I am a part of; however, my duties as producer dictate that I manage development process and workflow. When not every member of the team has "bought in" to the system (Scrum, sprints, charts, etc.), things get a bit sticky. I guess my biggest challenge right now is to learn/figure out how to go about educating and motivating individuals about process: why it's important and how it bolsters the team when members are dedicated to said process.

In other (related) news, we finished production on our first prototype this week! In the final stages of the project, I did the following:

- Finalized our sprints and other process lists and documents
- Created/modified a few last art assets as suggested by our Executive Producers (faculty)
- Re-tooled some of the text popups to reduce their length and entice more emotional involvement from the player
- Tested and adjusted the level design and layout (I wish I had a bit more involvement in this aspect, but it was difficult with such limited source control over the master files [only one person could actively build the main file at a time, and the engineers typically had possession of it])
- Prepared the final presentation -- screenshots, verbal points, PowerPoint layout, etc.
- Gave the final presentation (along with Dan--he played the prototype while I explained it)
- Organized and recorded our team post-mortem
- Wrote an overview and captured screens and gameplay footage for a potential game trailer
- Created and submitted our project's official wrap kit

As a side note, I'm bummed that a few of the assets I created didn't make it into the presented build of the game. In one case, the engineers simply didn't have time to replace the placeholder art, but in the other case, feature creep distracted an engineer from implementing the documented feature that would have used my work. I was kind of upset about that last part. That's a bit about process that I'm definitely going to work on during future projects.

Now I've gotta start researching freshman mechanical engineering concepts and expectations--our next prototype is to be used in such an environment. Wish me luck!

- Troy

12 September 2011

It's Gonna Take Time -- Week Ending 10 Sep

...A whole lotta precious time. Creating games is no walk in the park. Even once I understand a particular process in and out, I still typically have to do it several (if not dozens) of times for the various components and assets that make the game special. Thus, even if the tasks are at times individually simple, they are definitely not easy when combined.

This is especially the case when I have created dozens of art or text assets in one format only to discover later that I need them in another. I then have to go through a series of steps to convert each one properly. Rar. Can you tell that I've had to do that a few times this week?

Correcting piles of work aside, I was also genuinely productive this week:

- Managed the sprint documents and burndown charts, tracking the work on individual backlog items and doing my best to keep all team members on schedule with their assigned tasks
 - Solidified the name of our prototype and our development team with the help of Dan (one of the engineers)
- Created the title menu, based on the layout of the default PGF menu screen--simple, but actually has our title, team name, and some original artwork now
- Helped design the layout of objects and enemies in the level, then tweaked and polished all aspects of the level so that the platforming and action are as fun as possible
- Created several more art assets:

star (for level rankings),
hazardous waste barrel,
pollution cloud,
more text art and popups,
earth in cupped hands (for title menu--I know it's cliché, but it looks nice, okay?)

Other than that, I did my best to apply any techniques or practices in my role as producer that I've been reading about in our text books. I doubt there's been anything earth-shattering about my behavior toward my team, but I feel like we're all getting along and working well together. Let's hope all our effort pays off next week when we present our first "complete" prototype!

- Troy

05 September 2011

A Taste of the Good Life -- Week Ending 3 Sep

It has been interesting working as the producer on our team. Every day I seem to learn something new about what my duties entail (or could entail, depending on the circumstances of the team). The most direct job description that I've been able to come up with, via professor lectures and my own limited experience, is more or less "the one who enables everyone else to get their work done." On that note, however, it also seems that my responsibilities could become endless, essentially, if I don't make an effort to rein it in. I can see it becoming natural to try and actually do other people's work rather than to simply enable them to do it more efficiently (or at all). The problem here is that I'm not a brilliant engineer (I have limited programming knowledge and experience), nor am I a top-notch artist (though, I can hold my own with digital art). This is simultaneously disheartening and relieving; I'd love to have the skills to create complex video games completely by myself, yet being part of a team and having distributed responsibilities can be far more efficient--and then I don't have to do it completely by myself.

Those thoughts considered, I am still the type who will try to help out on specific tasks and do my share of work on the actual project whenever and wherever possible, especially when holding any sort of lead or management role. After all, I can't expect anyone else on my team to do work that I wouldn't be willing to do myself.

That was a fair bit more introduction to this entry than I expected, but maybe it was a good preface to my list of accomplished tasks this week. Here we go:

- Finalized the product (game prototype) backlog with my team (this began unofficially last week, when we first came up with a pitch), then assigned each backlog item to individual team members based on their skill sets
- Created a dynamic spreadsheet for the current Scrum sprint that automatically tracks and charts specific work hour data with only simple updates
- Made said sprint document available via Google docs so that all team members can access it and update it from anywhere
-  Researched trash, pollution, and other environmental problems that would be applicable information to present in the context of our "serious game."
- Wrote the in-game text for minor tutorials and for the researched information, then created art assets for those text popups
- Created a number of art assets for the game by using photo references, digital photographs, Photoshop, and Illustrator:

hazardous slime puddle,
slime projectiles,
beach ball,
beach umbrellas,
plastic bottle,
paper bunch,
character ammo (an educational flyer!),
and a menacing slime wave based on Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa

- Gave pep talks as necessary (woo!)

Now I'm off to update the general blog for our game; it's located at http://devdiaryuofu.blogspot.com. Check it out if you want to follow the progression of the games that I work on during my time here in the U of U's EAE:MGS!

- Troy