Debugging is like farting — it’s not so bad when it’s your own code.

Top 5 Game Development Lessons of 2010

Posted: December 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Soapbox, Tutorials | No Comments »

As we come to the end of a new year, it is good to look back and observe what we have learned in the hopes that we can all become better game developers. Here, we refrain from looking at the techie nerdgasm bits that are at best transient, and look at fundamentals that we will want to keep through the years to come.

5. “No Nonsense Game Development” is not always enforceable

I thought that I would never say this, but I have met my match as far as keeping down the “nonsense” in game production goes. Under normal circumstances, this should never happen as it is kept in check by the management, who has a high stake in the success of the project. However, just because it shouldn’t happen has never stopped anybody before. The root cause in this case was so fundamental that it cannot be slapped away by throwing out catchy phrases like “agile development”. Instead it is the decidedly human (yes, somehow it’s always humans at fault isn’t it?) traits of insecurity and conceit. Unlike bad communication or management which can be remedied with proper instruction, the human factor can only be conquered by each individual from within.

4. The importance of technical preproduction increases with team size

I have always been a fan of individual programmer creativity. I generally like to modularize the components of the game, give each one a specification and let the programmer create the black box that handles that task. Landing in a project after pre-production and having barely more a week to create a basic framework is sheer madness. However, the pressure of an idle workforce and the hubris in my ability to consistently produce miracles convinced me to “rise to the challenge”.

Of course, it didn’t help that the team was about 10 people strong with a majority of junior programmers and interns. The correct course of action would have been to bite the bullet and halt production, so I could lend more in the way of structure and guidelines, as well as general team training. This oversight cost the project dearly. Would it have been enough to save it? That’s anybody’s guess. Will I learn from it? You bet!

3. Web presence is well worth the time investment for B2B marketing

This was an interesting year in the sense that I spent zero time on face-to-face big event networking, mainly because I was preoccupied with ongoing projects. However, the information provided on this website, coupled with maintaining a strong presence on networks like LinkedIn and Facebook appeared to keep the job opportunities streaming in at a respectable rate. Even now, less than a week after I stepped away from my prior post, I have not one but two offers from separate parties for my next endeavour.

The other advantage of online social networking is that it allows you to gauge the mood, disposition and morale of your staff. They are more likely to vent online, even if they have to do so obliquely lest they incur the wrath of the NDA-toting lawyers. Of course, if they don’t trust you, you will never get to see any of this, Facebook buddies or no. So yes, once again technology is no substitute for the human touch.

2. Time waits for no man

When we doing tests on the iPhone 3GS back in April, we discovered that it had superior graphical capabilities, an order of magnitude more than the previous model. This of course opened the door to a wide range of possibilities and hastened us down the road of ambition and scale. Eight months later, while we still have nothing more than a prototype to show for it, the Unreal Engine has made its way onto our platform, bringing with it the likes of Infinity Blade that while simple in gameplay, takes our breath away in awesomeness. We dragged too long and missed the window.

Perhaps a better strategy would have been to focus more on core gameplay fundamentals rather than technology. While tech is flashy yet fleeting, design is eternal and beautiful.

1. The number one priority for game development companies should be their core development team

Some years back, when Ubisoft was first setting up shop in Singapore, I went in for an interview out of curiosity. What they told me blew away for the totally wrong reasons. They stated that they wished to spend one whole year just training up the team and integrating it with the rest of the Ubisoft family before doing anything serious. At the time I was thinking, “OMG! 1 year without portfolio pieces!”

What I missed was the wisdom of this approach. Your company can only go as far as your team can bring you. If you have a strong team, you can do great things. If you, like many (I hesitate to say all) startup games studios in Singapore, just dive into it hoping to learn as you go along, that team can only accomplish that much. Worst still, if you fail to maintain the team that you have (i.e. high staff turnover), you will forever be stuck at that low but very flat plateau. A company’s crown jewels are not its assets or its vision, but its people.

I don’t know for sure if Ubisoft followed through with their one year program, but from the media I have gathered that they have contributed rather sizable chunks to the Assassin’s Creed franchise. I’ll say it again… you need a strong team to accomplish great things.

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