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  • A Quick Guide To Student Game Production

    [09.27.12]
    - Anthony Straub
  • [Looking back on a recent school project, student developer Anthony Straub shares his experience to help other student teams work together, hone their skills, and make better games.]

    I like to think of video game development in a student context as a boat expedition. You are on a ship with a team, you have a destination that can change depending on the current, any disturbance can make you sink, and you may experience some foggy weather. As a captain -- or producer --you have to know there will be some unruly waters, but taking that into account can save you a lot of time and help you stay on course towards your objectives. If you're a game design student, hopefullythis article will help you prepare your next expedition in an effective way.

    From May 2011 to June 2012, I was the producer of a six student team at Supinfogame (France) working on a first person platformer (think Mirror's Edge) on PC called Omen (pictured). It was our final year project, and just like every student team, we wanted to produce the best game we could. This article is based on that experience.


    Prepare

    Know your project, build your team

    I think a successful project can only come from a team. Being team-centric right from the beginning of development is important since it will allow your crew to share the same vision. I'm not a huge fan of meetings, but I have to say that for purposes of team building they can be very useful because they will encourage your team to communicate quite a bit.

    As you may have read in postmortems of other games, a lack of communication is a common pitfall in manyproductions, so starting to communicate from the start is a good way to limit this risk. Never hesitate to communicate about anything, never assume anything. Everyone must speak his or her thoughts and desires about the project out loud so that the rest of the group can hear them and get to know each other. Meetings may appear to be a waste of time -- since you are not producing anything-- but keep in mind that as a producer you are not developing a game; you are developing a team. Building a crew is surely something productive, not only for you but for everyone, since it will create a good work atmosphere and set a positive tone among your group.

    At the beginning of Omen's production, we talked a lot about the game. We couldn't work on its gameplay, art, and sound without first being sure everyone was going in the same direction. We had a lot of meetings to discuss what first interested us in the concept, what we wanted to achieve with it personally and professionally, what roles each of us wanted to take on, our thoughts about the gameplay, the art direction, the management, etc.

    This kind of team building work will help you to begin working on the project. You won't share the same opinion on everything, but you will be sure about your destination. Since your overall production time will surely be pretty short, I think it's important to limit the risk of pivoting the project, and to set clear goals for every department. It will save you tons of time once you are hard at work on the game, because you will have these originallandmarks to refer to. At this point in the production, the project is fresh, everyone is motivated and you can think calmly about it. This atmosphere is helpful in making important decisions about what the team and the game should be. Don't waste this time by working too much on the project, since there's a good change you'll have to cut that content in the month since it'll have no place in your final design.

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