14 December 2011

A Wild Ride -- Week Ending 17 Dec

That's it! We've finished our first semester of grad school in the EAE:MGS. This last week has been busy with all sorts of wrap-ups, but finishing our final prototype game was actually the smoothest part of the ride. Because we had planned a game with a scope that fit our time frame, we were able to schedule the heavy development during the previous weeks and leave polish for the last stretch. And it actually worked! The team came together and made something special, and the reaction of our clients to our presentation validated our efforts over the past 3-1/2 weeks. I've said enough throughout the semester, so I'll quickly just list the final few tasks I completed this week:

- Playtested and suggested tweaks and iterations to the mechanics
- Recorded and edited a few more sound effects to add charm to the game
- Created and delivered the bulk of the presentation to our clients
- Finished off the Scrum sheet and blogs
- Produced the trailer and compiled the wrap kit

What a ride. It's been a crazy four months, but it has been the best academic experience of my life. I've learned exactly what I was hoping to learn, and more. I'm stoked to get started on an incredible thesis! See you next semester!

- Troy

11 December 2011

Finding My Role -- Week Ending 10 Dec

This semester, with all projects previous to the current one, my team members have generally come to me when they'd complete a task. They'd ask for my approval, ensure that their work fit the goal of the game, and look for positive reinforcement.

The first reason for that is because, as producer, I track the tasks and progress that everyone makes. Though it's not necessarily the case, this has often given people the feeling that I'm somehow the one who they need approval from. The truth is that we should all be checking in with one another about whether our individual vision and work fit the end goal. I tried to approach my task check-offs in that manner--simply as a voice who considered the central vision for our games. I hope I did that well--that I honestly considered whether everyone's work was what we needed for the games, rather than whether I thought it was good enough for my own liking.

Another reason they'd come to me is that I have generally acted as lead designer on the games thus far. While being the designer probably holds more weight in deciding whether something fits the game than just being the producer does, I still tried to go about managing the deliverables based on the team's vision and not just my own preference.

The real point, however, is that I had yet to be the one to go to another team member for their approval of my work. Until now.

Since Derek Higgs is the lead designer this time around, I have been going to him to check off my work based on his vision. It has been a great experience supporting another team member to make the executive calls and to bring the team together. There have been times when he has corrected me and made me continue working on something I thought I'd finished. There have been a few times when I had to scrap a particular piece of work and start from scratch. While I definitely didn't like throwing away work any more than the next guy, I have gained a lot by running through the iterative process with the team.

Derek has been a fantastic leader, unafraid to correct something when needed, but sensitive and patient enough to do so in a manner that encourages rather than deflates. I think it has been good for all of us to have a team member other than the producer running the show this time around. While I've still tracked the tasks and made sure that everyone is on schedule with their labor and deliverables, we've all learned a lot from supporting Derek in unifying our goals.

My accomplishments included the following this week:

- Decided on appropriate classical music, then re-tooled, edited, and chiptuned it to sound like it was written for retro video games; also worked it through Derek's approval pipeline to ensure that it matched the team's vision
- Created original sound effects, as well as finding and editing free public sounds
- Updated the Scrum sheet and blogs
- Conducted team meetings to gauge progress and needs, then adjusted schedules and sprints as necessary; also helped manage our SVN pipeline to stay in the loop on team progress
- Motivated team members and promoted unity by planning a lunch outing (and providing transportation to said lunch outing)
- Assisted engineers in learning and navigating the tools and programs we used to develop the prototype (searched through tutorials and helps for XNA to provide quick answers for them)
- When the controller hardware broke, I contacted our clients to get a replacement
- Compiled a cohort-wide email with a summary of all the prototypes in development, then sent that email to our clients so they'd have an idea of what they could expect for the final presentations of the games

Beyond the work dedicated to our final prototype, I also contributed to our end-of-semester open house for the EAE:MGS. As a producer, I was tasked with greeting and showing people around the studio, and then explaining what our program was all about. In addition to the occasional prospective student (I did my best to recruit them for future years), I met other members of University faculty and a few industry professionals, including Lane Kiriyama (of Ninjabee) and Alan Tew (formerly of Avalanche, now independent).

Besides the open house, Craig Caldwell also wanted images and representative samples of all the prototypes we've been involved in this semester (I don't quite recall whom he was presenting the compilation to). I compiled those materials and sent them to him as requested.

It's been a long week, and I'm stoked to finish up these projects and the semester by next time!

- Troy

03 December 2011

So Far So Good -- Week Ending 3 Dec

At the end of our second week (first of true development), I don't have much to mention in great detail--and that seems to be a good thing. In terms of process, though, there are a few things I'd just like to point out.

First, I imagine that in the workplace/industry, there won't be engineering homework assignments to get in the way of development. Thank goodness. While it hasn't been a horrible problem, it has been kind of annoying that the occasional engineer is too stressed about getting his homework done to work on the project during our designated studio time. However, this is certainly not the case with all engineers, and even when someone on my team has done so, they've really picked it up and delivered when it came down to the line.

And as a shout-out to our current artist, Christine has done a great job taking care of the art that we've needed, even getting ahead of schedule.

In fact, things are running so smoothly this time around that I am almost to the point where I'm unsure of what to do specifically as a producer. Everyone's got what they need, I've tried to catch potential struggles or problems already, and now I'm afraid that I'll look like I'm not doing much during this coming week. If you have any suggestions on how to step it up and be a rockstar producer, please let me know!

Here's what I did this week:

- Brought candy for my team (I've found that even something as little as a bag of Starburst can be a big deal--thanks to Kurt Coppersmith for the suggestion), and worked to boost morale
- Tracked tasks and updated the burndown charts as Scrum master
- Created a sticky-note task checkout system to give physical token reminders of where effort was currently most important
- Conducted team meetings and backlog updates to ensure deliverables were punctually completed
- Researched and distributed to engineers tutorials on getting graphics and spritesheet animations to function properly in XNA
- Updated the game production blog
- Got some sound code snippets to assist in the eventual creation of our sound engine (is that the right term?)
- Assisted in the art pipeline by taking Christine's Illustrator files and creating transparent-background PNG files out of her images

Finally, I also kept in touch with our Museum contacts and set up the official installation of our Museum games. We now have a public game credit! Thanks to all our team members for their incredible efforts, to the Museum for the opportunity, and to our EPs for supporting our shot at such a project!

- Troy