Project Management: Boring but Critical
I kind of hate producing. On my side I have insane amounts of passion for my projects, and I believe that helps energize others and bring people together. I'm loud and don't mind taking charge, and I can be passably organized if forced to, but setting deadlines, keeping track of multiple moving parts, and doing all that kind of project management/producer stuff is not my favorite way to spend time. But holy shit hell is it necessary. And, frankly, if the project is your vision or you otherwise are considered lead on it, it's sort of expected. I think I've said this before on this blog, but ideas, even great ones, are sadly almost worthless. It's the execution that counts. So if you want something executed, you'd better be prepared to pull down the black hood of commitment, sharpen the axe of focus, and prepare for the head-chopping-off of organizational management. I don't pretend to be a master, but here's how we started.
Most of our people are remote, scattered across Texas and the whole country, with one rogue even in Canada. So the first thing was to set some online meetings. We use Skype or usually Google Hangouts, but there are plenty of free options. Most people I know doing remote teams do some kind of online meeting. Frankly, I currently think I need to do a better job of setting more of them, though it's hard to get people to commit in different time zones when everyone has full time jobs and other projects. But still, online meetings. Good. Up front it was useful for me to give a vision of the project and for everyone to introduce themselves to each other and talk about their skills.
I laid out the project as I saw it - an action-RPG in the vein of classic SNES era roleplaying games, but with active, real-time combat, and branching dialogue with decisions that would heavily change the story. The story would be epic fantasy but with constant humor, though the humor would come from characters and plot so the story would always drive forward. This jived with the interests of pretty much everyone, and nearly everyone had seen other things I had written and produced so had an understanding of my style and tone as a writer/designer. Still, there were a lot of specifics to decide. We also discussed platforms, both how we would develop and distribute. We went with Unity for several reasons:
- Using it is free (though you need a license to publish
- Most of us were familiar with it, as everyone at the game company who I worked with used it there, and one of the other programmers previously made his games in it
- It can publish to a variety of platforms (mobile, tablet, PC, Mac) which was our intent
From there I set meetings with each major group: Programming, Art, Music, Writing and Design, and Marketing. I am lucky to have people with talents in all these areas. Each of those meetings were focused in on actual project planning for each areas - planning major goals, assigning tasks, and of course discussing style and scope and design and structure. Everyone needed to be on the same page so we could create a consistent whole. The programmers had to work with each others' APIs, the artists had to find a style they could all work in, the musicians had to match their sounds, and so on. So those meetings were set. Each was handled a little differently.
I got the programmers together and we had some more detailed introductions including everyone's skills, and we knocked out some other items. We needed a revision system and a way to check in and out projects and keep track of updates. We went with Assembla as a host and used Tortoise SVN. Two programmers took the lead on getting the hosting and revisions set up.
It was suggested to break the game up into its major areas by Sam, who will be blogging soon, and we came up with this:
- Tile map - world exploration, background, etc.
- Combat - a separate mechanic for the battle scenes
- Dialogue - with UI and branching capabilities
- State machine - to track branching, quests, decisions, and saves
- World Scripting - to do cutscenes and story work by having characters move and talk, animations, etc.
Everyone went off with some research to do, and I was tasked with finishing the design document (which I may have a post on later for that itself) so everyone had a clear indication of what we were going for.
I am as terrible at art as I am at programming, but at least for this one I had a vision and could give some examples. We talked through different games we liked in terms of art and style, ones that were inspirations, one that fit our vision, ones we loved from the past. There was a lot needed from me at this point. As designer I needed to provide clear examples of what I wanted. I made a document that provided links to images and videos from other games that I like for various reasons - character sprites, world designs, overall tone, etc. I tried to be specific about what I like from each and provide plenty of examples to view.
Al also suggested mood boards, a collage of images and colors that would help establish the style for everyone to follow for characters and places. This required more documentation from me, write-ups of every major characters and location, along with examples of people and places from other games, actors, real-world locations, anything to help put those together. Al offered to take the lead on those. Al was also going to do some initial tilesets for the map editor on top of some concept work.
Anne, whose style I loved for all the characters she did at the educational games company, would do character designs, detailed concepts for them, as well as the portraits to be used for them in dialogue.
Evan, in addition to some concept work, was going to take the lead on sprites, using the detailed concepts and other work and translating them into adorable, pixelated awesomeness.
You can see work from all of them in our game galleries!
We had plenty of marketing needs, and noted that we needed a logo (Al took the lead on that), a website (our programmer Brad with some design help from Tammy), and plenty of social media (Andrew and I would do that).
I'll save details on design for a post on that, but again, since I gave everyone a basic overview, my next plan was to flesh out a design document to share with all for reference.
Patrick and I needed to have a writers meeting specifically. We had done some informal writing together before so knew our styles would mostly mesh. Patrick was cool letting me take the lead to ensure the overall story and vision was kept, but he would be there to add details, punch things up, catch mistakes, and otherwise allow me to get the high level work done while he worked the plot into something more refined. Plus we just spitballed some and bounced around ideas. My follow up task there was a master flowchart of the whole story, which I will talk about in another post.
So that summarizes some initial organizational work. It's something I have experience in but is definitely not my strength, and I'd love to talk with others about how I can improve, and hope what I have to share may aid others thinking of starting something big.