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deadeye
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« on: April 01, 2008, 01:10:24 PM »

How do you overcome the fact that some people's ideas get left in the dust?  Obviously a group can only make one person's vision come to life.

I once tried to start a film and video club in my city, for people interested in making short films but who had no one to work with and lacked equipment.  I made a website, put up flyers around town, and managed to organize a sizable group of interested people together.  And together we all had a good body of actors, writers, and a decent collection of equipment (cameras, lights, computers, tools, etc.) for everyone to draw from.  Meetings were fun and everyone made friends that they even saw outside the club.  But people were reluctant to share their equipment.  Everyone had their own ideas that they wanted to make.  Even with the promise of "if we stick with one project for now, and get it finished, then we can do another and eventually yours will be done" people couldn't get into the long-term mentality.  One by one people dropped out and eventually it dissolved into nothing.

Also, I've never made a game with a group but, like a lot of you I'm sure, I've done a lot of other group projects (at work or at school) and there are usually two outcomes:

1.  One person ends up the defacto "leader" and makes all the decisions for everyone because nobody knows what to do.  Everyone agrees with the reluctant leader because they don't want to do any of the hard stuff like "thinking."

2.  It turns into "project by committee" where everyone is throwing their (usually bad, at least to everyone else) ideas into the mix and everyone argues over them, which is bad for productivity and the end result is usually a crippled mashup of half-formed elements.

But those two scenarios are for "work" type projects that no one really wants to do in the first place.  I'm sure that in a project where the group members all have an actual desire to work towards a common goal it's different.  But that's my question... how does it work?  What makes a good group dynamic?  And how do you resolve issues of members feeling ignored, left behind, or used?  Or do you just kick such fragile lilies to the curb?

So, discuss.  What kinds of problems have you encountered working in a group?  How did you resolve them?  What kinds of benefits did you encounter?  How did your group delegate tasks?  Inquiring minds want to know...
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« Reply #1 on: April 01, 2008, 02:22:12 PM »

I have tried to join an internet game dev group once in the past, but like most groups it fell apart before anything was accomplished.

I believe the defacto leader is the only way to get stuff done (preferably my self being the leader). The problem is that El Presidente does not know how to use people and tries to do everything them self. The group I joined dissolved because the leader (not me) came up with a general plan but did not delegate what parts of the plan each person was to execute. I guess he felt more people means better.

At my job, even though I do not carry a managerial title, I try and use people whenever possible. Mainly telling the graphics/sound artists what resources I need and how I want them to look/sound. I acknowledge these people have more experience in their fields than I. So I follow their advice when it is given about their specialty. However some one has to have an idea about how it is going to all fit together. It is probably a little arrogant of me to say, but most of the time that will be the programmer.
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« Reply #2 on: April 01, 2008, 02:23:13 PM »

I've had really mixed experience working with groups. The important thing really seems to me to be that everyone be really into the group itself and making the group work, more so than their own personal projects.

Everyone has to share the same global vision, obviously, but that usually isn't enough, considering it's almost inevitable that people will have differing opinions on the finer points. It's really important that everyone be willing to compromise and work together, and, failing that, you absolutely need a process to remove people who are not working out.

I'm not saying a method to remove people who don't agree with you, but there is always the possibility of enlisting someone who is outright belligerent, insulting or manipulative and simply refuses to work with the remainder of the group, and you need to be able to get rid of someone like that, because they can ruin everything.

Lastly, when everything goes to hell you will probably need someone who is really good at mediating between people. If even that fails, steal everyone good and get out (I've done that a few times).
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« Reply #3 on: April 01, 2008, 02:23:37 PM »

On a personal level, though, listening to everyone and not being a dick really helps.
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« Reply #4 on: April 01, 2008, 04:32:14 PM »

I've almost always worked with groups and for what I have learned there are some things to keep in mind while "grouping".

First of all, grouping is about performing a social activity TOGETHER with other people. This almost always means compromise and comunication. If grouping is not about comunicating and finding compromises, there is likely an extremely strong leader (at the point of mind control) or the project will be a total mess.

The purpose.
Whar are you grouping for?
Your team's goal must be always clear, every group member has to know where the group is heading, and the objective has to be shared via comunication. If the goal, what exactly you are doing together, is not clear to the group members it has to be explained. Again.
Doing something together requires every person to "build" his part, knowing how the parts will end up toghether helps the people feel they are part of something, increases cohesion, and usually helps the overall quality of the project.
If someone does not understand exactly what he is supposed to do and how, it will likely produce "pieces" that do not fit in the group "puzzle", causing delays, bugs, wrong content or simply cause "problems".

The group components and the size of the team.
This might sound obvious, but the team must have the right size. Too many people and you waste an huge ammount of time just to manage the team relations they will wowever lose the project focus with extreme ease.
Too few and you load them with too much work, they feel overburdened, they feel under pressure, and they tend to freak out. Smiley
How to understand what size is the right size foy your team ... I cannot tell.
However knowing who your teammates are helps, a lot.
And not only to understand if your team has enough people, but also helps to get the work done.
It's easyer to communicate with people you alread know, and you are more incline to "compromise" and "diplomacy" interacting with them.
But the most important thing in knowing your teammates is trust. You trust them, you know their level of commitment to the project and you know how they will "perform" in standard situations and under pressure.
Because we all know it is not always easy to build a game, the team has to keep some sort of developing "rithm" even something goes wrong.
Everyone is able to be a champion when there is no trouble at all, good teammates are champions when there are a lot of troubles.

Comunication.
It not only about listening, but also about speaking. Say what bothers you, tell other people when you feel there is somethin wrong. Do not keep everything for yourself just to explode like a supernova in the worst moment possible. No one needs it.
Just try to understand when it is the right time to open your mouth and when it is not.
However ...
... listening to everyone and not being a dick really helps.
Usually when a group has a good comunication between his members, leadership and decision making are not issues (at least not so big), as the project becomes more a group effort, and the goal is shared.

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I wrote enough bs for today. There would be a lot more to say, but it would become a little boring condensed in one single post. Smiley
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« Reply #5 on: April 01, 2008, 04:58:24 PM »

I believe the defacto leader is the only way to get stuff done (preferably my self being the leader).

I would assume that the person with the main idea behind the project would be the best suited to take the leading role.  I realize that not everyone is grade-a leader material, but it just seems the logical choice.  If they don't step up then "project by committee" is likely to happen, and likely to tear everything apart.


Let's take a rather infamous example... The Zybourne Clock.  It's retardedness is so vast that it has spread even outside of the confines of Something Awful.  I was there at the beginning, and shamefully admit that I agreed to help out with it.  (Thankfully my concept art has never made an appearance in any of the reminiscence threads.  It seems to be lost to time.)

Anyway, the person who proposed the idea just threw it out there one day.  A bunch of bored goons decided it sounded like fun and decided to sign on.  As I said, I was one of them.  But the goon with the idea didn't really have any idea what he wanted to do.  He let everyone run rampant with pitching in this or that, and nobody could agree.  At one time there were three versions of the basic story that smaller fringe groups were working on separately.  It was a total fiasco.  Recognizing that it was just a shitstorm, I quietly bowed out of it pretty early on (right around the time they kicked Arthur Lee off the project... the only person out of all of them that had actually ever made a game).  Nobody ever got past the "concept art" stage.  And half the "concept art" that was made was obsolete by the time it was posted because the story had changed five times over.  Either that or people would propose changes to the setting to match the new sketches "cause they were cool."

Granted, that's an extreme case.  But it is an example of how things fall apart largely due to there being no clear leadership.  (Well, that and the fact that goons are boneheads.)
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« Reply #6 on: April 01, 2008, 05:11:48 PM »

It's easyer to communicate with people you alread know, and you are more incline to "compromise" and "diplomacy" interacting with them.
But the most important thing in knowing your teammates is trust. You trust them, you know their level of commitment to the project and you know how they will "perform" in standard situations and under pressure.

Ah, see this is one of the reasons for making this thread.  I don't personally know anyone who's interested in making games.  I know artsy people, and I know techy people, but I don't know any artsy-techy people like myself.  I think that artsy-techy mix is what interests me in making games where everyone else I know is interested in oil painting or building hot-rod computers.  Suffice it to say, I know a whole lot of gamers, but no game makers.

So along with group work in general I'm trying to get a little insight on how to work in groups long-distance, with people you've never met in person.
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« Reply #7 on: April 01, 2008, 05:37:25 PM »

Obviously a group can only make one person's vision come to life.

While there are many routes to success, personally I think this is where you've gone wrong. Don't try to mimic the boardroom or the committee room in group work. Learn from comedy improv groups and bands. Think art collective, not software company. This is, in my view, the strength of indie games.

A lot of bands fall apart because there's some egotistical 'leader' who wants to tell everyone what to play, but if he's really better at the bass than the bass player than he should probably be playing bass and not singing. And if he isn't better at the bass than the bass player, then he should shut up and listen to the bass player's ideas.

In comedy people who want to craft an individual vision go into stand-up, while improv is about group work. Feeding off other people's creative output and getting a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

A big part of maturity is letting go of that egotistical urge to make everyone else do what you want. The ideal scenario is finding a bunch of creative types whose ideas you appreciate and who can inspire you, and vice versa. Games are a rather new and technical field, so they don't have quite the same talent pool to draw from as comedy and music, but I still think theres a lot to be learned from those models.
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« Reply #8 on: April 01, 2008, 06:27:13 PM »

Obviously a group can only make one person's vision come to life.

While there are many routes to success, personally I think this is where you've gone wrong. Don't try to mimic the boardroom or the committee room in group work. Learn from comedy improv groups and bands. Think art collective, not software company. This is, in my view, the strength of indie games.

A lot of bands fall apart because there's some egotistical 'leader' who wants to tell everyone what to play, but if he's really better at the bass than the bass player than he should probably be playing bass and not singing. And if he isn't better at the bass than the bass player, then he should shut up and listen to the bass player's ideas.

In comedy people who want to craft an individual vision go into stand-up, while improv is about group work. Feeding off other people's creative output and getting a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

A big part of maturity is letting go of that egotistical urge to make everyone else do what you want. The ideal scenario is finding a bunch of creative types whose ideas you appreciate and who can inspire you, and vice versa. Games are a rather new and technical field, so they don't have quite the same talent pool to draw from as comedy and music, but I still think theres a lot to be learned from those models.

Okay, I'm willing to be persuaded.  But does one avoid the aforementioned "design by committee" conundrum if there isn't one single, unified goal set from the start?

Obviously I don't mean that an idea should be set in stone and buried in an ark, a certain amount of flexibility is always good.  But it seems that if a group of people get together to make a game and start pitching out ideas, only one of those ideas is going to get picked to develop further.  And that's what I meant by one person's vision.
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« Reply #9 on: April 01, 2008, 06:55:10 PM »

I've worked in voluntary online groups, create games since around 1998. Most of the games I've made have been made with other people, I don't think I've finished a single game where I've done everything (although I started a few). I feel that groups help keep me motivated, because people can keep each other on track better than one person can keep himself or herself on track.

"Obviously a group can only make one person's vision come to life."

I disagree with this. A game is large enough that it can contain elements from many people's visions, and if the people in the group have similar personalities there's usually a huge overlap in the vision for the game.

People are less likely to let you down if they're good friends of yours and if it's what they do as a hobby anyway. And it may sound mercenary, but I never let anyone into a group unless they've finished some sort of project on their own first, because that shows they are self-motivated and self-disciplined. E.g. don't sign up someone to be the composer if all they've done is three or four half-finished MIDI files.

I do think that there needs to be a leader with veto power over all the others, in the "director" role. Usually that person is also the programmer because they know what it's possible to do in the game and what it isn't possible to do in the game and how much work things will take to do. However as a director I've only rarely used that veto power, I think perhaps two or three times per game, and only in extreme circumstances. One example was when the artist of my last game wanted to use a Christian cross to symbolize the Hate Point, and I thought it'd alienate a lot of the audience and offend people so no good reason so I had him change it.

But otherwise, besides cases where it's crucially important to me not to allow something in a game, I'm totally permissive and anything anyone else wants to do and any idea they have is discussed and agreed upon in a democratic fashion. I often let things that I'm questionable about into a game if the consensus is against me, a recent example is a track of music that I personally feel is boring, but which some of the others on the team like, so we're using it.

"What makes a good group dynamic?" -- Friendship and talent/experience. Some people have personalities that don't work well in groups, perhaps they're overly antagonistic or aggressive or just hate people in general. The qualities that make a good group are the same qualities that make a good friendship.

To some extent you may need to kick fragile lilies to the curb, though. If someone doesn't do any work in 4 months, I kick them out, after a fair warning where I say something like 'unless you contribute something over the next month, we'll go on without you'.

As for delegating tasks, we just assign roles; one person does sprites, another does music, another does tiles, another does writing, another does cutscene graphics, etc. That doesn't mean they can't contribute elsewhere (especially in the form of feedback and suggestions to one another), but at least they'd have a primary responsibility where they'd have he final decisions on.

(I don't want to give the impression that everything is great in groups and no problems can arise, but you have to have the outlook that problems are only incidental and can be overcome.)

How my current group structure works is this: We all work independently, because except for two of us we don't know each other in real life, but we're just long-standing online friends who would talk to one another regularly even if we weren't working in a group together, and I think that's crucial. Each week we have a meeting in IRC, reporting on what we did the last week. Each person gets a turn, showing their week's work. Everyone else makes comments on that work, what they like best about it and so on. At the end of the meeting everyone lists what they aim to get done over the next week.

For reference I've provided a log of our last meeting. I don't know if anyone will actually read it or get anything out of it though. I probably left too much irrelevant chatter and such in and should do some editing to make it more readable (EDIT: I cut some of the irrelevant stuff out so they should be slightly shorter now). A lot of it won't make sense without knowing us, some of us have been friends forever so we're often sarcastic to each other when it's actually a form of friendliness -- also it contains spoilers, so skip if you want to play the game without them. About half of the text is just us arguing over the game's name, which we still haven't determined. There's also a running joke in it about it being too similar to Aquaria (it's not really that similar).

Part 1: http://rinku.livejournal.com/1416801.html
Part 2: http://rinku.livejournal.com/1417025.html
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« Reply #10 on: April 01, 2008, 09:21:23 PM »

Rinku has a lot of good points. Working in groups is largely a social undertaking and the members of the group have to be socially capable of working together.

I mentioned that it helps to avoid the ego trip of leadership, trying to force one's creative vision down people's throats. This is just using people for their technical skills and not for their creativity or imagination. It's a waste of manpower, in my opinion, since the varied viewpoints are often a source of strength, and each person will feel more involved given the opportunity to express themselves.

The "committee" trap is one where all have agreed to not have a leader but none have relinquished their ego. Instead of a coherent whole coming together from the shared visions of the group, the egos have been merely partitioned. Each member imposes their vision on whatever they can lay their hands on. That's why you need the friendship, the idea of cooperation over competition. The willingness of all the members to compromise and listen.

Of course it doesn't always come together in a utopian wonderland, and often someone has to just make a decision. But if the mentality of the group is "let's make a game" and not "help me make my game" those situations will be much easier.
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« Reply #11 on: April 01, 2008, 09:38:26 PM »

I mentioned that it helps to avoid the ego trip of leadership, trying to force one's creative vision down people's throats.

Just to clarify (again) I don't mean that there should be a leader ruling with an iron fist.  I mean this:

Quote
I don't mean that an idea should be set in stone and buried in an ark, a certain amount of flexibility is always good.  But it seems that if a group of people get together to make a game and start pitching out ideas, only one of those ideas is going to get picked to develop further.  That's what I meant by one person's vision.


The "committee" trap is one where all have agreed to not have a leader but none have relinquished their ego. Instead of a coherent whole coming together from the shared visions of the group, the egos have been merely partitioned. Each member imposes their vision on whatever they can lay their hands on.

Wow, I hadn't looked at it that way before.  Makes perfect sense, though.
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« Reply #12 on: April 01, 2008, 11:27:55 PM »

Quote
I don't mean that an idea should be set in stone and buried in an ark, a certain amount of flexibility is always good.  But it seems that if a group of people get together to make a game and start pitching out ideas, only one of those ideas is going to get picked to develop further.  That's what I meant by one person's vision.

But, at the same time, under normal circumstances ideas would get thrown around quite a bit. Like, person A would say, "I think we should make a game about a radioactive iguana that fights crime!" but then person B might chime in and say, "Maybe he's a regular guy, but then at night he turns into a radioactive iguana, and he must conceal his secret identity!" and then you're well on your way to making what is, apparently, the worst game idea ever.

Point being, though, it isn't like one person just lays out the idea and then everyone else has to follow it. The best kind of group design is one where people do their own, individual work, then they come together and synthesize it in a productive way. The problem with design by committee is that the committee is then trying to do, in a meeting, the work that individuals should be doing before the meeting. That obviously doesn't work, but it doesn't necessarily mean that synthesis is impossible, or that one person has to come up with the entirety of the central idea themselves.
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« Reply #13 on: April 01, 2008, 11:42:51 PM »

Yeah, exactly.

Also, I think the idea of "vision" can be taken too far. It's generally a good idea to have a vision for a game and go for it. But "vision" is just an abstraction. Vision is ephemeral, and visions can be modified and improved in reaction to others' suggestions and ideas. What matters to me is not imagining a vision of a game and then creating it exactly according to what I imagined, but creating a good game and adjusting my vision as I go along to enable its creation.

And as I Like Cake said, each person's own vision shows up in what they created for the game; the vision of the musician in the music, etc. If there's clear markings of territory and mutual respect for the expertise of the other people within their own field you won't see too many arguments about how something should be done.
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« Reply #14 on: April 02, 2008, 02:36:44 AM »

I think that the "art collective" and "software house" modes are both good aproaches to the problem, but it depens on the context we are working in or even in wich stage of development we are.

If we are developing an "art" game, for fun, or to express something, to make an exercise of comunication with the video game media, a full "art collective" approach is surely the best.
But if we begin to have deadlines, demos to show, money involved, customers, and so on, a little "rigid" software house approach can save your project's ass.
In my not so huge experience, i found thet some times jou just have to get that part of the game done, and there is no time or way to be collective or to change your vision without screwing up the entire project.

This is what i meant when i wrote about "stuff that goes wrong", and the team that has to bel able to "resist".
The democracy - art collective mode is absolutely the most creative and lovable way to make games, but i found that some times it just does not work.
And when it does not, I found that a "Captain on bridge, crew to battle-stations" approach works better. For a short period of time.

But the most important thing in knowing your teammates is trust.
Ah, see this is one of the reasons for making this thread.  I don't personally know anyone who's interested in making games.
You are right, I suffered from a little "superhero" syndrome ... I almost forgot that it took me YEARS to find a team that actually works.
At the moment my team is made of 4 artsy-techy people, and I have to agree with you people able to make games (when there are no guaranteed-money involved) are pretty rare.

Considering that you are still searching for a good team, my advice is to gather a small group (max 3-4 ppl) for a small project (2 weeks dev time) and try to finish whatever it is that you are developing within the timespan that you choose.
Finishing your project will give you an insight of group dinamics until the end of  the "development cycle".
Insight that you can use to improve your next "Small team Small project" game.

And when you find those rare trusty game developers, meet them in person.
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« Reply #15 on: April 02, 2008, 09:56:32 AM »

I have failed in this endeavor several times.  The only thing that makes me think that I have anything at all valid to add to this discussion is that each time I have come closer to success.

Here are the points that found lacking in several of my attempts. Smiley

CLARITY of VISION

Know what you want to do.  This does not mean force feeding it to people, but you should have a clearly defined map to your end goal that can be discussed.

BRAIN STORM

Be open to ideas that will change your idea.  Get input.  People are smarter than you in some ways.  Everyone is.  Make sure the people you are working with are open as well.

GET A GOOD TEAM

Make sure everyone you are working with a team player.  This can be tough.  They have to be able to focus as well.  Look for people who have finished games.

DELIGATE SMARTLY

Give people tasks.  Make sure they own it, and make sure you are not trying to do too much.  Don't give the guy who just had a baby too much to do!

DOCUMENTS and TIMETABLES

This is super important. Make sure you set time tables on things.  Especially the brainstorming.  After that brainstorming is finished you have to set up a doc, storyboard, sketches RULES for how the game will continue that everyone agrees on.  If they all agree then there will be less harsh feelings in the end.

SMALLNESS IS GOODNESS

Start off small in all regards.  Less people, easier game design helps to form a cohesive team.  Finishing something together that is fun is great.  The confidence boost will pay off in future projects, even if the game is not epic.
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« Reply #16 on: April 02, 2008, 12:03:29 PM »

I totally agree with you.
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« Reply #17 on: April 02, 2008, 01:52:01 PM »

I'd like to thank everyone so far for their input.  It is helpful getting some insight on this.  It appears that due to past experience I've developed some skewed notions of how a team should interact.

And considering I've had nothing but negative experiences with teamwork, it might seem like I'm sour on the issue, but that's not the case.  I do hold out hope that some day I'll find a team that actually clicks.

You are right, I suffered from a little "superhero" syndrome ... I almost forgot that it took me YEARS to find a team that actually works.
At the moment my team is made of 4 artsy-techy people, and I have to agree with you people able to make games (when there are no guaranteed-money involved) are pretty rare.

So basically "if at first you don't succeed, etc?" 
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« Reply #18 on: April 02, 2008, 02:06:42 PM »

I highly recommend marriage.  Kiss
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« Reply #19 on: April 02, 2008, 02:16:08 PM »

I highly recommend marriage.  Kiss

Um... thanks, but my girlfriend and I aren't the get-married-and-squirt-out-some-kids type.  But we've been living together for five years now, so something's going right.
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