My First Experience with leading a Game Dev Team

So part of the curriculum at the school where I received my Associates Degree in Simulation and Game Development was to develop a game, you started with a group in the semester before your last and finished with them in the Summer Semester, ideally working on the same game and finalizing it. During the Spring Semester I was elected as the leader of the group and we developed a game that I was very excited about working on. I had the initial idea and I knew going into it that it was something we could accomplish in the time we had as long as we all really worked on it, and I knew I would because this was what I loved.

I should probably preface this a little, I’m in my 30’s, so while I hate to use this cliche, I spent a lot of time in the “real world” working before I went back into college. So when I started there I had a lot better work ethic than a number of my classmates. A number of the people who were there when I started were not by the end. So I of course assumed that because they had been there for two years they would be as driven to make a game and have something to show as I was. They’d want something that they could be proud of, that they could point at and say, “Hey, I did this. Look at this, isn’t it amazing?!” Unfortunately it did not quite turn out that way.

Now, I take the blame for this, because I was the Project Lead. So a game not being as great as it could have been is my fault. I should have made sure that things were better organized, I should have kept on everyone to make sure they worked on this like it really was a job. I made the mistake of thinking that I did not have to be a strict taskmaster and did not realize it until it was too late. During the first period when we worked on the game I selected people as the leads of the different sections that I trusted. The woman who was the lead of art, was also my assistant project leader. I knew she was as passionate and driven to see this succeed as I was.

Admittedly I was not as sure about my other two choices, but I trusted them more than I did anyone else anyway. The woman I chose to lead the level design group could do an amazing job with design, even if she was not as confident in her own abilities as she should have been. Honestly the programming lead I chose only because I could not be both the Project Lead and the Programming Lead, I chose him because I could communicate well with him and let him know what needed to be done and I thought he’d make sure it did. I was still responsible for a large portion of the coding work on the game, because it’s what I enjoy doing. That’s probably another fault on my part, I threw myself into my coding work and made sure it worked rather than hovering over everyone to see that things got done.

Problems appeared immediately, we had all been in the same curriculum for two years, but a number of the people seemed to not understand how to use the engine we were working in, Unity, despite having used it for a number of the courses up to this point. So rather than just being able to tell them how to do something, I had to actually show them how to do it, or in some cases actually do the design and object creation myself in addition to coding. The artists were a big problem, through no fault of the person I put in charge of them, but because at least a couple of them never did any work outside of class. This wasn’t a project that we could finish by only working during the short time we were in class for. So the assets we needed for the game were never ready when we needed them.

Backtracking a little bit, one large issue we had was that when we initially decided on the idea most people voted for the game to be in 3D. While I can understand they thought games “looked bad” if they were two-dimensional, I could not seem to explain to them how much easier it would be if done in 2D. It would certainly have helped the artists a lot. Items would not have needed to be 3D modeled and animated in the way that they were, and would not have taken up so much time. Unfortunately that became a large issue which held us back, because of a number of the reasons above.

Because of the fact that a lot of people did not understand the engine, when designers finished on setting up the levels, I had to actually receive them and then setup the assets correctly. This was an issue because I needed to receive them by a certain time before the due date in order to get the levels all connected and fix any errors that came up. In neither case, in the Spring or the Summer, did this happen as it should have. I usually received them the day before they were due or even the day they were due. So I’d have to spend my entire day trying to put the game together and working out any bugs that needed to be fixed. Needless to say this meant running into a lot of issues and having to leave things out of the game that I would have liked to have added.

Moving ahead though, when we moved to the Summer section we lost the person who I had chosen to lead the Level Design group, because she chose to focus on her other degree. This meant one of the people who had absolutely no idea what he was doing had to become the leader of the design team. Things did not go well. The level designers did not set up separate objects for the levels, they did not organize the assets or objects so things were constantly overwritten and having to be redone. Which unfortunately I didn’t have time to fix at the end, so there are a number of objects which are not colored correctly in the “final” version of the game. I’m somewhat ashamed to show it off honestly, but it’s what I have. It’s the only “complete” game I have to show what I’ve done coding work on.

A lot of the people who were driven and wanted to have something to show for themselves feel the same way, I say a lot, but honestly there were a small number of those people who I felt really wanted to see this happen. Most people did not really seem to care, they just wanted to get it done, get their grade, and go. I said this to them on a few occasions, but it did little to change their work ethic. We had some people who wanted to do it, but honestly they were not enough to make up for the people who did not. The people who didn’t care, and thus my first game that those of us who did care are ashamed to be associated with is the result. I’m thankful to the people who really worked on it, and I’m really sorry for the people who put a lot of time into something and it did not end up in the game. I had to cut a lot of things at the end, because I simply did not have the time. I spent six hours on one bug, and then another six hours on a different one. I had to cut out an entire level because of the first one, and only finally fixed the second one after said six hours of working on it. Even another Unity developer I spoke to had no idea what to do to fix it.

I know a lot more about what to do now as a result of this, and if I went into it again I feel things would go a lot better, because now I know that I can’t trust everyone to do their work without being hovered over. Without being told exactly what needs to be done to get things done by a deadline. I can’t just give a broad set of guidelines and say this has to be done by this time. I have to walk some people through every single little step and tell them how to do it. Honestly, the way I’ve taken care of this now is that the team I’m working with now has no people on it that are the way this group was. All of the people I am working with -want- to make a game, they -want- to do something in this industry. This is what they love.

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