This week, I got the great pleasure of spending most of my hours working closely with Jil Franco, the lead artist for Protocol Aurora, in an attempt to get the tutorial as close to playable as possible. This included rebuilding the level space in Maya (to fix my trash geometry), custom creating a couple of assets, and then setting them up in the level to behave properly when Io interacts with them.
I am trying very hard to come up with something critical or thought provoking to say about this experience. Otherwise this blog post is likely to devolve into a long ramble about the joys of getting to work closely with another developer to complete a space. The fact that games are a creative media and require people to create together is a large part of the reason I enjoy being a game designer so much. I am able to provide ideas to Jil, who can then take those ideas and pass them through a critical art filter, to produce something much more appealing on the other side. Meanwhile, I can be present to watch the art process, offer my ideas and suggestion (which, yes, are occasionally helpful), and make sure that the asset Jil is making fits with my needs for the level as it is being created.
For this particular task, there was almost undoubtedly no more productive way to complete the job we needed to do. The building where the tutorial takes place needed to meet fairly exacting design standards, to make sure that the player would be able to learn what they needed to learn while playing. However, the custom tweaks that had to take place in the level had gone far beyond my ability to model in-engine. Sitting down together meant Jil could take the building into Maya, make a few tweak to it, and then bring it back into engine, where I could immediately review the changes, and decide what (if any) adjustments still needed to be made. This cut out almost all of the time sink that is normally associated with the review process, because both Jil and I were able to offer feedback all but instantaneously. Not only did this streamline the process, it was also a ton of fun.
However, before this post devolves any further into the land of ramble, there is a line that needs to be walked when it comes to collaborative tasks. Even though Jil and I were working really well together, and both of us had an interest in watching the other work, there were still times when I was left with nothing to do but sit around and wait while Jil went through the motions of, for instance, updating the door model to fit in a wider space. Likewise, sometimes Jil had nothing to do while I went into the level and ran the same short section over and over again to make sure the player’s camera wouldn’t run into the walls, or there was no way for the player to cross a gap without using a specific skill.
These kinds of “downtimes” are almost inevitable, no matter how well two people work together. Certain parts of a task are always boring or repetitious, despite their necessity, and require nothing more engaging than one person sinking in a bit of time to make sure it does what it needs to do. However, despite their necessity, they also represent the risk in collaborative tasks. All the time that one person spends waiting for another person to complete a task ends up as wasted time.
Of course, there’s always wasted time in a project. People can’t be endlessly productive. However, if these downtimes start showing up regularly and taking a long time to complete, collaborating has the risk of becoming counter-productive, because the time that is gained from a quick iteration time is lost on time that one of the collaborators could spend working on another task.
Generally, I have found sitting down to work together with someone is helpful. Not only does it make things faster, but it makes the time spent more fun, and the end result is usually of a higher quality. However, I also recognize that collaboration is not the answer to every task.
My other major task for the week was to do a “clutter pass” on one of the completed level, bringing in art assets that Jil and the other artists had completed and scattering them around the level. In a task like this, there probably would have been little benefit to me working collaboratively with Jil. While Jil could have undoubtedly offered some suggestions about the overall look and feel of what I was putting in the level, most of the time I spent on that task involved dragging out assets, placing them, resizing them, repositioning them, rotating them to make it look like they are laying properly on the ground, and other relatively tedious tasks that I don’t need an artist to complete. Once I complete the clutter pass, Jil can take a look, and fix any particularly egregious errors I may have made. In the meantime, they are free to work on their own tasks, while I make a first pass. That’s a better use of time for the both of us.