Log 2: Online Collaborations: It’s An Odd ProcessThe Sudden Realization
When we first started the project and were only three people working online, it was easy. Using MSN and Email was convenient to share ideas and progress the game. But as I started branching off to recruit more members, it became clear that directing the game into a smooth direction wasn’t going to be as simple as sitting everyone down in a conference room.
It was going to take a little creativity! Well, not really. I’ll be the first to admit that the process we go through as an online collaboration is probably not the most efficient, but it has worked for us thus far. That said, when we finish the Prologue (proof of concept), I plan on integrating new methods to allow for a smoother ride.Recruitment Responses
The first thing I learned about leading an online collaboration is that there is nothing more difficult then trying to recruit someone onto your team, especially if it’s a portfolio driven project. Although it does get easier as more content is developed, the first few months were by far the hardest in getting the game off the ground. Many times the thought of failure popped into my mind while I constantly posted on forums looking for artists. That was my main method of recruitment - the Internet. Although a few members were referrals and personal friends, the majority of the team was found this way.
Soon, I was constantly bombarded with emails from those wanting to inquire more about the project and spent many hours just writing up ‘pitch’ emails in response. Sure, I could have had a general one that I could send off and had been done with it, but I wanted to be as personal as possible. One major thing I learned was that the more personal and detailed you are with a potential member, as opposed giving a quick robotic response, the more likely they are to continue the discussion; the first email is always stranger to stranger - it is important to turn it quickly into friend to friend. There are some main issues I’ve faced in the daunting world of the Internet in recruiting new members:
Sharing and Communication
- 1. Rejection and Drop Outs
As these ‘potentials’ (as I called them) became more and more interested through discussion, I then had to get them caught up on the games progress, team and plans for the future. As the game passed through the months, these emails soon became longer and longer. Sometimes, after spending a few days and sending many emails to a single person, they would reject the project; other times they would join and a month later would drop out for whatever reason. It was discouraging, but I’ve learned that in spending the time in explaining, in detail, the project to these potentials, I became so familiar with the game that it actually helps me in keeping track of the development.
- 2. Lower Quality Work
The goal was to create (in our eyes) a high quality game. Of the many responses I received for members in all areas, about 80% of them were people who did not have the expertise to do what we hoped. This was especially evident in the artists, as some of the styles and quality were, to be honest, not that good. But how do you handle that? How do you say “sorry, we don’t think your work is good enough.”? Well, you don’t say that for starters, haha.
What I’ve come to realized, especially a year after we started, is to really appreciate those people who are wanting and willing to join the team. Despite the quality of work (low or high) and whether or not I was going to reject them, they wanted to join because they saw the potential in what we have accomplished. Here is the end of a ‘rejection’ email that I sent recently:
"That said, I really appreciate you wanting to join our project, it's been a tough time to get to where we are and we hope to see it through to completion. Knowing people see the potential in it really means a lot to me, and the team of aspiring (and perhaps overly ambitious) game developers. So once again, I apologize and I hope your succeed with whatever future endeavours you find yourself in."
Random Note: I hate the word ‘rejection’ but I can’t think of a better word; since we’re not a professional development company or handing out pay cheques, I feel like I don’t have the authority to use that word. But alas … the thesaurus is too far away.
- 3. Picking a Potential
There has been a few rare cases where I actually had to pick between two people to take onto the team. Both options were great but we only had the room and capabilities to take one. I have no HR experience, so how does someone like me pick the right person? I flip a coin (hi Antony!).
No, I’m kidding.
I ask the team. After all they are going to end up working together, right? Usually when it’s in their own area of expertise (creative/development) they have a strong opinion on whether or not they think X person is better than Y. So that’s what I do, get opinions and run with that person.
But that usually follows with the worst part of my role. Saying no to the other great potential member. It’s especially hard when they’ve shown you proof of concept work they made specifically for the role and have waited over a week with excited anticipation. There’s no easy way to politely say “Sorry for wasting your time.”, so I usually start with that and see what happens.
So as an international team of collaborators, how do we keep things on the same page between each member and how do we share progress and ideas? Well, we definitely do not have any special software; we do everything on our forums. It’s probably not the best method of sharing information and collaborating on ideas, but it has served us well up until now. To ensure that everyone knows what everyone has is working on or has finished that month, I create a monthly Update Report. In this informal report, I discuss what each member accomplished by embedded links and images, and discuss what they are currently working on. I also include future plans if things have changed or need refreshing.
What about tasks and schedules? Well, unfortunately we don’t have a schedule which is probably the worst idea right now. We only recently created a Creative Asset list of things we still needed to create but up until then it was more on the go. In the future, I would definitely love to incorporate a sort of task bucket system - I was looking into TrackJumper
; if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.
As for the game engine, we use SVN considering the amount of files and updates that take place.
So has this game been entirely developed asynchronously? Well, yes … for the most part. We actually had our very first Skype conference a few weeks ago. We accomplished more in planning there then we ever have on the forums so we definitely plan on having more of those.Pros and Cons
Because we work in a different environment than a traditional development team, there are some obvious benefits and hurdles that we face. So, here’s a quick list:Pros
- Asynchronous communication means discussions can last days and can be archived and referenced.
- Planning and discussion can be done anywhere - I’m at work right now!
- The Internet allows you to connect with extremely creative and talented people; I wouldn’t know where to look for developers/artists in my local area.
- It’s just cool to say that you’re working with people from around the world.
The Creation of Carla - A Pipeline Example
- Asynchronous communication is a lot slower in planning than conference calling.
- Text based explanations, especially in regards to visual effects, is interpreted differently and sometimes results in confusion.
- Centralizing information is difficult though we’ve decided to start our own Wiki to house all documentation.
- Time Zones!
So that’s nice and all, but how do we actually go through the process of creating content for the game? Well, let me take you through the process of creating the character Carla for our game. This will be fun as I’ve asked some team members to participate.The Birth of Carla’s Personality
So the first step in designing a character is to recognize the need for one. Carla was planned because of the need to have a sort of female presence in this mainly male military environment. David Lee then went through the process of naming and creating a biography for her. Here is the current biography of Carla, which is subject to change:
A stoic, stern woman, Carla is one of Lucendra’s Elite. Her one-to-one combat skills and speed with a rapier are second to none, revered and feared by many men who serve under her command. Her cold exterior is a result of suffering abuse from her father as a child, and is very distrustful of men in general. The only men she trusts are Gabriel and Ethan, who helped her through her difficult childhood. Although she is in charge of educating Amala in weaponry, she acts more like a tough, but loving nanny than a disciplining schoolmaster. Although she is fiercely independent, she is particularly annoyed when she is left out of the loop.
So David, what were you thinking!?
I wanted to create strong women who can stand on their own and won't be so damsel-in-distress, because in reality, women are not so weak. With Carla, it was a challenge to integrate these strong qualities without making her a generic tomboy, and create flaws within her that are more human than stereotypical. The Face of Carla
For the Prologue, it was important that I create three different personalities between Gabriel, Ethan, and Carla, who's union would compliment each other as a whole, but still generate conflict when occasion arises. Of the three, Carla is the most serious and strong-headed, but her desire to be equal with her two best friends causes her to be reckless, painfully displaying her lack of experience. So my intention here is to show the steep learning curve she endures, which shapes her into the person she is for the next story.
It's a balancing act I'm still struggling with, but I hope create a compelling character people can understand and find interesting.
After Dave was happy with the concept of Carla, it was sent to Geneva to create the concept art for her. Carla didn’t go through many revisions (compared to say, Gabriel) before it was decided her look was the perfect match for her personality. Once a sketch is completed, Geneva goes through and does a quick colour of the sketch; the clothes and colour are based on another World document that defines the culture. Once that’s agreed upon she makes the final render and continually sketches different versions and styles depending on what’s needed, for example a sketch concept version for the website.
Fortunately Geneva is open to suggestions and working with her and making changes is not an awkward process. So here was her design thoughts on designing the look of Carla:
Basically, when I read the biography and script for Carla, the current design now is all that came to mind. Carla is serious and no-nonsense, so I made sure she looked the part. Despite the clear vision I saw at first, after I tried earlier concepts, they looked rather generic like a female supporting protagonist found in other RPG’s. After a few failed attempts, I decided to go back to my gut feeling and design how she looks today, with minor alterations to her hair and armor. The Final Carla
Luckily the color scheme for Lucendra soldiers was already laid out, so I had no real trouble with that. Making her hair brown, blonde, or black looked ... odd on her, so I went with a strong red, hoping to make her truly stand out.
The most beneficial thing about concept art is that it’s relatively easy and quick to make changes. That is why we opted to going through a concept phase before having Tim create the pixel version since making changes to final assets takes more time. So once the concept was completed, it was up to Tim to create the in game sprite of Carla. And so he did!
Carla's Inner Voice
Carla Sprite with some others
Because our game has no voice overs, like most traditional RPG’s the music becomes the voice of the characters. The theme songs are instant descriptions and reminders of who the character is and their stories. Therefore, it was extremely important for Mike to create a song that portrayed both Carla’s personality and physical features. And so he came up with Carla’s theme song entitled A Rose Among Thorns
Here’s what Mike had to say about composing her theme:
Carla is an interesting character. On the outside, she is a battle hardened, unemotional individual who has a strong grudge towards other males. This is mainly due to her hard upbringing Dave outlined in his character biography and it really shows in her character throughout the game. Since she is very militaristic, it would be easy to simply compose a song that reflected that. However, I wanted to create something that would truly show the real Carla. She is, after all, still a young lady deep beneath her social barriers and suppressed emotions! Carla's Outer Voice
With that in mind, I created A Rose Among Thorns, a name I believe describes Carla. The song is simple and delicate but still has a strong drive of determination. A straight chord base keeps the slow tempo in a militaristic fashion, while the soft melody plays out above it. It takes both her military and feminine aspects and mashes it into an awesome theme song.
And it still remains one of my favourites from the soundtrack!
With the final concept in hand, it was up to Trevor to create the actual in game OST for Carla. Because the concept is done purely on the piano, Trevor had to continuing the work by deciding which instruments and compilation would best suit this character. And so, here is the final in game rendition of Carla:
Being responsible for one of the most important features of the characters, the music, this is what Trevor had to say about Carla’s piece:
After some brainstorming with a friend, it seemed that the character of Carla was something delicate, yet dangerous; something fragile, but at the same time, something threatening. Final Thoughts
Perhaps Carla can be compared to something like a wasp, or a swordfish — agile, poised to strike, and dangerous. When considering sounds to be used in the OST, it was important to keep these qualities in mind, and to find instruments that reflected them. That's why the track begins with a 'sssshing' sound effect, as if you've just been stung. Later on, her theme is picked up by a fiddle, a very 'nimble' instrument.
Overall, things needed to be light, as I imagine Carla is light and quick on her feet. Some of the bells and chimes might suggest a kind of innocence Carla carries, too.
So that’s how we operate in a nutshell. Although I’m sure there are things we are doing right (or at least, okay), there are probably just as many things we are doing wrong. But it’s a learning process and an online collaboration is a new environment for all of us.
If you, as the reader, have an suggestions or any comments on how to improve our processes, please post them. We want to learn and grow and if you can offer anything from your own experience, it can only help us get better!
Thanks for reading!
Ps, If there’s anything you would want me to write about, please let me know so I can keep these devLog’s flowing.