3rd Year University Design project group aiming for a successful graduation with a well-thought, entertaining game.
I have been a producer for the development team 10:1 Productions over the course of the last year of our University education. Three years of experience in Project Management have taught me one thing - there is always something that can go wrong, even if you anticipated it and prepared for it. The things you didn't even expect - they are the ones that can snowball on you, if you let it. The game we are making now is supposed to be our leading statement - it's supposed to give us a nudge out of the door and into the terrifying world of making AAA titles. So hang around - it just might get interesting.
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My name is Delyan Ivanov. I’m a humble student from a little country called Bulgaria. Hence the weird name. But not here to talk about myself. I’m here to talk about the birth of a project.As part of my task for the final year of my educational course, proudly entitled “Computer & Video Games”, I got bundled up with six more people, bent on making a full game as their project. And I am here to talk about these exact people and this exact game. The beginning of it all, if you will.
On to it, then. We got:
Me, Delyan Ivanov, as the team’s Producer and Project Manager. And honestly, it is hard work to try and organize the workflow of six other fireballs, but on the plus side, it’s fun as hell.
Caoimhe Carroll is the brains behind the concept art for the main character of the game. She is also a Texture Artist as well, so you can see why we rely on her so much.
Alishea Stedford-Reid is our Environmental Concept Artist. Without her, the “flare” of the game and the actual visual scope of it wouldn’t be the same.
This guy is our main 3D Artist, and he’s doing a fine job on it, too. Ryan Simpson also collaborates with Luke on the sound & music for the game. We’re lucky to have him.
And this guy build the levels of the game for us. Adam Bartholomew is our lead Level Designer, the one who’s inventive enough to think up of a puzzle game from scratch, and more importantly, build it and populate it with various puzzles. This guy knows his stuff.
And that’s basically a very short and colorful presentation of our team. See? You learned our names, you saw how we all look (well, sort of) and you have a basic idea of what we do within the team. But that’s not enough. So that is why I’m going to tell you how we all came to get bundled together. Buckle up.
It all started during the hot summer of 2011. We study at the University of Salford, and as you may have already gathered, we attend a course called “Computer & Video Games”. Part of that course is about learning how to work well within a team, or teamwork for short. The other one is actually creating a full game to go with that. After our second year, our 40-man course was split up into groups of six, seven or even eight people. I was left teamless for a while, mainly because the groups weren’t that well confirmed yet. So I chose to bade my time and wait for an opportunity to jump onto. That opportunity came with a phone call.
On July 26th, I received a call from Michael Foster, a good friend and an even better co-worker, inviting me to join a group of six troublemakers. When I heard the names, I immediately accepted, and thus the core of 10:1 Productions was born. We high-fived, we laughed and we marveled at the idea of creating a game for our project that was going to be so intense, so marvelously complicated, so superb, it was basically going to be an AAA-title created by a small team in the time of one year, just barely enough to scrape our overall deadline, and which would leave our tutors breathless. Yes, our original idea was that grand.
When we sat down in Ryan’s house for the first time that summer, on the faithful day of July 28th, just two days after I was assimilated into the fold – we ventured out in the hopes of finding the means to create the perfect game.So here is when it gets interesting, people. Continue reading, for I am about to share some knowledge with you.
Every video game’s path starts the same way. The creative team behind the scope of the game gathers up and starts drafting ideas for it. Those ideas can be numerous, ranging from such colossal decisions like the game’s genre, its plot, visual setting, back story, protagonist and antagonist; and such little details as the color of the sidekick’s teeth and/or hair. And I’m not even joking.
Basically, what you want to do for your game, is to have a good, long session of Brainstorming. There are many ways to go about it – some of the world’s most famous game designers use the “script” technique, essentially having a big scrapbook of their employees’ thoughts about the game, others prefer just talking and discussing the mechanics that are about to be included in the video game. We chose the “Post-It” method.
This method involves the leader of the meeting (usually the project manager or lead designer) to outline some of the necessary pillars of design such as story, main character, antagonist, genre, setting, visuals, mechanics and so on; and have their team write little post-its with their thoughts on these pillars and then stick ‘em onto a big board. Readers, please note: while this is an effective way of designing a game, you must never let the “Post-It” method run wild. A game designed from collected scraps of thoughts must go through a cycle of relentless re-defining and polishing of its structure, otherwise it risks becoming two things – either very grand and big for the team to handle, or a muddled-up mess. You will see how this came to affect us in a minute.
So we finished with our post-it notes and picked the mechanics and ideas we thought would go well with the game. I will admit that the game we ended up with sounded quite fetching, Just look at those details: A Hack&Slash Fantasy RPG, set in a world devastated by rampaging Zodiac monsters, tall as a building. Yes, that was the back story. The constellations of the Zodiac would come to life and eradicate the world. The protagonist’s job? To set things right, of course. We envisioned the world to be post-apocalyptic, demolished by those beasts, and the actual story to evolve 200 years after their conquest. We would have epic boss battles with sequences and cycles; magic spells and incantations to be used by the protagonist; crafting system for those who wanted to make their own armor and weapons; loot system with more than 20,000 items; open-world setting with more than 12 zones; and I’ve not even begun listing the interesting stuff yet.
But at the time, we didn’t account for one simple thing. We were happy with the game’s idea, don’t get me wrong – we thought it was awesome to have a project like that. We thought that it would bring us honor and glory (I’m not exaggerating), and win the hearts of both tutors and fellow students alike. But here’s the thing. The most crucial, important, life-threatening and oddly enough, neglected detail of all. Are you ready? Truly ready? Because here comes the punchline.
We didn't have a programmer.
Oh, it’s okay – you can laugh your guts out. We didn’t at the time, but now that we look back – Mother of God, we reminisce with joy.
Yes, it was certainly entertaining at the time, you know – imagining to make this glorious title out of thin air, with no programmer to back you up, relying only on Kismet – yes, that’s right, I said Kismet, UDK’s scripting module – but now that I think about it, it was insane.
So we ventured out to make this game, this AAA title whose scope resembled that of an Elder Scrolls game (imagine that), and we started building. We had concept arts, 3D models, even entire levels drafted. We spent the whole summer meeting up, adding mechanics to the game and taking out others and we reached a level which we thought was going to be acceptable for when we presented the project to our tutors.
And then we started Semester 1. And we met up with our tutor. Zuby Ahmed. Lead Designer for Smashmouth Games.
When we presented the game idea to him, he was indecisive about the scope. With every mechanic we revealed to him, his smile withered more and more. And when he finally asked us who our programmer is…
Bottom line, he was honest. His opinion was that our project was extremely unrealistic. A game with this scope would need an experienced team and a minimal amount of two years time to finish it in an acceptable state. Seven students without a programmer in the team would not be able to even start it. So the only choice left was to re-think the game entirely.
To our credit, we were not phased at all from this. And right here is where that man’s lesson paid off. There is one rule he constantly repeated to us, his students, over the course of his teaching: “Never be precious about your work. There will come times when you have worked very hard on a project, and it will be taken from you, leaving you to start from scratch. That is the reality of the industry”.
And on that faithful day, when we were told to scrap our project, we didn’t take it like an arrow in the heart. Instead, we just agreed to revise it.
Stay tuned, for there is more to come!