Post Mortem

I’d like to start off this post-mortem by saying this semester was a fantastic learning experience for me. A lot of things went wrong and those downfalls show the weaknesses in my capabilities and where and how I can improve myself as both a person and a game artist. As you all know, my team decided to not present during the Winter Showcase and we were cut. In this post-mortem I will analyse why we made the decision to not present and what I could have done, and will do in future projects, in order to prevent the team dynamic issues that arose.

Our team faced a multitude of issues throughout the semester, though some of our issues began long before the first day of classes this year. At the end of sophomore year I thought that I had found my senior production team. However, it was revealed to our class during our junior year that we could not ‘double up’ on disciplines (i.e. we could not have 2 designers, 2 artists, 2 programmers, or 2 producers) for our senior teams. As that theoretical team had 2 designers the team split and things were off to a rocky start. I contacted my programmer as he is a close friend of mine and the new team began to come together. Although we weren’t allowed to ‘double up’ I reached out to our other artist, another close friend of mine, as they did not yet have a team and I knew our team would be stronger with them. Things started looking up, we had reforged a team and I was very close with every member of the team. We started having Skype meetings over the summer to brainstorm ideas and to begin building a sense of team camaraderie. We came up with a 5 games that we really wanted to work on. Then the semester started and the problems began.

We had a really strong bond as we had been communicating a lot toward the end of the summer and members of our team had worked on projects together before (I had worked with everyone on the team before, our designer in production 1 and our programmer and other artist in production 2). However, things got a bit shaken up a bit when we took on a producer. None of us had met this producer or heard anything about them, some folks on the team were skeptical, including myself, but I tried my best to have an open mind and make sure that as a new member of our team their voice was heard. I did my best to include the producer in our group conversations, but we had a problem and that problem was we had already decided the games we wanted to make and the producer was not very interested in those ideas. I cannot blame them for this, as I can understand it being quite difficult joining a team that already has a direction in mind.

The new producer did an excellent job setting up our team wiki page, but as far as leadership was concerned our designer took point. This worked out fine for the first couple weeks of the semester where we tried prototyping different concepts and narrowing down our direction for the year. Everything was going semi-smoothly (we were having some communication issues) up until we challenged to get into deep dive. Our challenge presentation was done fairly hastily and did not go over well in class. This lead to a lot of waves. Our designer started to lose faith in the project and we stumbled into a lack of leadership. Team morale hit an all time low. Our major issues were lack of cohesion. I am sad to say that at the time if you asked each member of the team what our game was you would receive 5 different answers. We had a lot of group communication issues and it became clear that we were no longer working as a team, we were just working as individual components. A prime example of this is when I went about creating a modular house kit so that we could more easily populate a world with different houses. This took a good deal of time, but really was not necessary for gameplay and was barely used in our final builds. Another example is when our programmer went about making it so the player could pick up and throw objects because our designer thought it would be important to game feel (which it is, however we needed gameplay before feels good mechanics). We all shared the issue of lack of overall vision for the final product and as such we did not function as a team.

Later in the project, I realized that things were going down hill and I took too long to take lead. I eventually began acting as a second producer as well as an artist in order to push to present our game as it was something I would have liked to do. However, it became more and more apparent to me that the amount of work that myself, our programmer, and other artist were putting into the game was far different from the amount of work that our designer and producer were putting in. While our designer continued to work on the project, recording audio, editing audio, and the like, it seemed to me that our producer was not. They repeatedly discussed doing research for writing documentation on market analysis and our target player base, but never showed us any of these documents. It also became apparent to me that even if we had a final build in time for presentations, we would not have the drive nor desire to move forward with this game into next semester, which was eventually the decision we made.

I made mistakes. A lot of them. From the beginning many of our ideas were very high in scope, especially on the art and programming ends. I feel that I failed to communicate just how much art was required in order to make our game feel the way we wanted. The biggest mistake that I made was not doing more management at the begining of the project. I should have had a one on one meeting with the other artist and we should have determined an art lead and direction for each of our game concepts. Both the other artist and myself would have greatly benefitted from having a lead. (I have had multiple conversations with the other artist about how this would have been much to our benefit). I believe had I been art lead we would have had a set art direction and style much sooner than we did. Having an art lead would have also fixed a lot of our communication issues. A prime example of such issues is both myself and the other artist did a character for The Fog, but had entirely different reasons as to why. I made 1 character because I wanted to make a character and assumed the other artist wanted to make a character as well and figured dividing the characters amongst us would make us both happy. Our other artist assumed neither of us wanted to do characters and thought it would be best for us to do 1 each so we would not be stressed about making characters. This was a horrendous communication failure as I would have gladly done 2 characters, which would have led to a more cohesive look, less time wasted, and overall more enjoyment in the project for both of us. This experience has shown me how important an art lead or manager is to a team as they can stop these communication breakdowns from occurring and keep everyone invested, happy, and working.

In the future I plan to do more for thinking and planning before beginning work on a project. I plan on having a clear asset list divided up by artists based on what needs to be done, who is best equipped to handle which assets, and who is interested in making which assets. My time management is also a problem I have been struggling with for a long time and it needs to be resolved now if I want to continue to make games. I definitely learned a lot about myself this semester. I put the team before myself, as I tend to do, but it was not nearly enough. I worked inefficiently many times, I focused on the wrong assets at the wrong time, I wanted to move forward with a game that I could not fully envision.

In short, I learned a lot this semester, sometimes working with your friends is not the best decision, sometimes the coolest idea is not the best project to work on, sometimes taking charge does not mean  you are being bossy or pushy, lack of management can ruin a team, and lack of unified vision can ruin one even more. I enjoyed my time in capstone and look forward to joining my new team on their game The Grandmaster next semester.

Thank you for reading.

Ben Hiller

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