If, at some point or another in your development process, you’ve wanted to take a dull claymore to your programmer’s neck, trust me, you’re not alone. And for you programmers, how often you’re on the verge of smashing your keyboard over your artist’s head again and again until it’s nothing more than a red mess of pulpy mush is something at which I can only guess (also, shame on you). Everybody wants for the development process to be smooth sailing all the way through, nary a pirate vessel nor a stormy cloud in sight. But this just isn’t reality. And nor should it be.
Why, you ask? Be silent, and I will teach you.
Calm, wave-free seas, sunny skies, and steady winds are great. When questions are easily answered, direction is clear, and each member of the team is on the same page, it’s a bolstering, satisfying feeling. Work will get done, and progress will be made quickly. But, as they have a tendency to do, problems will arise. Less readily answerable questions will pop up. How are we handling lives? What’s with this character’s design? Why do we need score? Why’s this thing so fucking buggy? At these points your team may polarize, people may get angry, and weapons may be drawn.
Currently there are three people on my team. Beau, David, and myself (oh and Luke I guess, but he’s just a lowly musician). Each of us bring something different to the table, and there are times when the three of us mesh effortlessly. But these are rare. While Beau often somehow manages to express his opinions and desires neutrally, and doesn’t often come to blows with other members of the team, David and I are stubborn blockheads, and we’re often at each others throats. We both try to remain civil, but occasionally things escalate and petty name-calling ensues. Observe the following conversation from yesterday, involving the layering of backgrounds and foregrounds for Wyv and Keep’s map editor:
And the following, later on that same night:
It’s easy to become agitated, frustrated, or even furious at other members of the team when you’re absolutely convinced you’re right, and nothing they say is making sense to you. There will be times when you can’t understand how they can possibly think a certain way and you’ wonder if they’ve ever played a fucking game before. These are the times that make or break a studio, but what you and your team need to realize is that these are the most important conversations you will have.
If everything went smoothly, and nobody asked questions, raised concerns, or voiced their opinions, sure the development would be cake, but the product would almost certainly suffer. It’s in the collaboration of different ideas, points of view, and opinions where greatness really lies, and unless you’re a visionary director on the path to revolutionizing the concept of interactive entertainment (which likely none of us here are), you’re gonna need those opinions and ideas.
So what can you do? Well, easy. First, calm the fuck down. Take a break. Talk about something else, or if you’re too pissed off, leave the conversation for a bit. Go watch some MST3K or play a game. Get your mind off it. As you get better at this you may find yourself even able to simply push that specific issue aside, and move on to another problem that’s more likely to be resolved. David and I can usually leave a heated topic for later when we’ve had time to cool down, and work on something more productive in the meantime.
When you’re ready to deal with the problem again, start by trying to think about it from the player’s point of view – not your own, and not even necessarily your team member’s. You don’t have to agree with him or her. In fact, you may find, as your team grows stronger, that agreeing with each other is usually unnecessary. Sometimes it’s even counterproductive. If everyone agrees, and there’s only one ingredient in the soup, it’s gonna be a pretty bland, shitty soup. It’s only by adding lots of different ingredients that you discover which are the best. So if all else fails and you can’t find a solution through discussion, try it both ways.
Wyv and Keep themselves originally used to move on the same grid system that controls our boxes, TNT, and traps. In fact, early on in development, this movement system was a big part of the game, and something Beau and I thought was essential to its controls. When it started causing problems later on however, David suggested changing it to a fluid, 2D platformer-style movement system – an idea that was at first met with extreme ridicule and massive opposition. But we tried it. As much as a I hated the idea, it turned out that Wyv and Keep played much, much better this way. Not only did it make controlling the characters easier, faster, and more fun, it enabled me to expand upon their animations and inject far more personality. Did it lose some of that retro feel? Possibly. But there’s no arguing that it’s a more entertaining, more immersive, better game now. And that’s the point, isn’t it?
You see, in the end all that really matters is that the game gets better. If you manage to make something that players love, and that you can be proud of, it’s okay that you were wrong, failed to get your way, or gave in a few times.
Now suck it up, put down that battle axe, and get back to work.
(just kidding, Luke <3)