Articles

A collection of things I’ve written.

20 years of a Video Game Developer’s Career - Part 1

9 min read

Since a young age I’ve always had an interest in making computer games and I’ve been very fortunate to have supportive parents who worked hard to get what I now understand to be very expensive bits of hardware over the years. I thought I’d share some background of how I ended up where I have today with some luck and some foresight…

I used to spend hours lurking around the only computer shop for miles around, playing with the Jupiter Aceand the ZX80 in the shops marvelling at what they could do.

I was extremely fortunate to get a Sinclair ZX81 for Christmas one year but it didn’t come with any way of getting games into it other than the usual way of typing in listings from magazines such as Sinclair User. I learned a tremendous amount during this period as I played around and adapted these early programs into something unique and my 1st game was one about avoiding a monster for as long as possible so there was even a tiny amount of AI in there (not that I knew that).

I seemed to be on the periphery of the generation of Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64 owners as I managed to get a BBC Micro Model B, which was awesome for programming. I started to write 6502 assembler on the Beeb and migrated towards hacking ROMs and reverse-engineering other people’s games as well as writing my own home-brew games.

My background in 6502 (not Z80) made for a natural progression to the 68000 series used on the Atari ST/Amiga whilst my friends who cut their teeth on the Z80 used in the ZX Spectrum ended up going more towards 8086 used in PC. This was my most active programming period when I absorbed so much info and I started specialising in the Atari ST via the demoscene groups as I started to really push what was possible on the ST as I desperately tried to prove the ST was just as capable as the Amiga (which it wasn’t). For those of you on the scene I wrote tracker players, full-screen scrollers, bitmap emulators, hi-colour displays, border busters, highly optimised sprite renderers and much much more. All of which emulated what could be achieved easily in hardware on the Amiga but I had to try very hard and be inventive to get the same out of the weedy ST. Everything I knew was entirely self-taught.

The demoscene was super cool and underground, it felt like we were on the bleeding edge of computer software and there are a lot of game developers who have been involved with the scene at some point or other in their career. I still keep in touch with some of these people but most have moved onto other things.

I was also teaching other people how to program these demos & elements at my local computer clubs, all of which were the core components of games. I found out later that some of these people were professionally making games and were secretly bringing their problems to the computer club and presenting them as challenges that I’d help them solve, then they’d go back into the game. They were quite surprised when I turned up later and they were shown for what they really were.

Being Paid To Make Games!

So, this is where my professional career started as I was approached at the computer club I’d been attending for nearly 2 years and asked if I’d like a job making games! No interview, no test, just a job offer from a bloke who’d been lurking around in the background at the club for weeks but I only recognised this in hindsight.

Alligata Software - 1987

My first job was at Alligata Software in Sheffield where I was programming both the Atari ST/Amiga versions of a C64 classic vertical shooter called ‘Trap’. There were 5 of us bottled up in an office in Sheffield churning away at making games the best we could. I know for definite that 3 of us are still making games today in 2010! We’d all work really hard during the day, we’d got to the pub together then we’d go home and do some more for ourselves. It was an addiction really and I can still see this happening in motivated, committed game developers today and I can sympathise with them.

I was writing hardcore 68000 assembler code for ST and Amiga in a professional environment and this was going to be my first commercial game, to be honest, I would have done it for nothing ‘cos I loved doing it so much. I wrote most of the early stuff on K-Seka, which was pretty hard-core low level stuff as it was all written on the target machine and there was no mouse interface. Crashes and lost work were just part of life but it was always better the next time around.

There was no debugging other than to put coloured borders on your game and then figure out which colour was showing when it crashed.

What came as a surprise was when we turned up to work one day to find the office doors locked and all of the furniture gone! Yup, the company had folded overnight taking our jobs with it and the boss didn’t have the decency to tell us, we were left to draw our own conclusions. Jonno (there’s always one) hunted down the boss and we got our last wages and that was that. Just when I’d got my favourite job doing what I love it all went pop overnight.

Wise Owl Software - 1988

I quickly got a job working for another game developer setup in Rotherham called ‘Wise Owl Software’, which was initially setup to provide educational software but we had better ideas. :)

My 1st job was to make a game on Atari 2600 called ‘Oops’, yes the first home console, which suited me down to the ground because it was all about getting the most out of the tiny bit of hardware. It meant pulling on all of my demo & 6502 experience and it was a real test. As a synopsis, it had 4x1Kb memory, no DMA for the display, 8 pixel wide ‘playfields’ that only covered 1/2 the screen width, 1 pixel wide ‘ball’ and that was it. It took some real skill to get anything like a game out of that thing but I loved it. This was the 1st time I worked on a PC and had my work sent to the target ‘2600’, which saved me a lot of time an meant I didn’t lose my work 1/2 as much.

My next few jobs were working mostly on Amiga/ST where I made a few games that never really saw the light of day with the exception of ‘War Machine’. All written in 68000 assembler along with some optimisation for the various flavours that were starting to appear such as the A600, 68020/68030 Amigas. Modular scalable code was starting to be a necessity.

Things were going well and we decided to ditch the edutainment connotations of the Wise Owl name and after some jiggling about we re-formed the company as ‘H2O’ and I joined as a director. Sadly, the other directors didn’t really do anything so I made off over the horizon onto my next venture.

Teque Software / Krisalis - 1989

![](/assets/shadow_warriors_01-207x300.jpg "shadow_warriors_01")

I joined Teque Software as a Amiga / ST programmer and I continued to work on those platforms, gradually working on larger and larger projects with the biggest one being, Amiga+St+C64+Spectrum+Amstrad by 6 people for 17 weeks! Wow! Yes, that’s how long it took us to make a game back then.

We were always trying to push what the St/Amiga could deliver and my best commercial game on those platforms included streaming from floppy disk, borderless full-screen scroller with loads of sprites. That game was Shadow Warrior.

Dev-Kits, QA, C and networks - a new ERA

Not long after that a new bit of kit appeared called SNASM, which was a remote development kit that plugged somewhere into the target machine. This meant we all worked on fast Atari ST machines with hard-drives, remember it had all been on floppy up to now, and we could send our code down to the target machine and debug it! Wow! You can imagine what a difference this made to our working lives.

Along with these changes came the use of ‘C’ language for games but it was too slow for what we wanted but it promised great things and I began to use it for tools and whatever else I could get away with.

We also got out 1st network around this time too as we’d previously been copying things around on floppy disk. Again, this was a massive improvement over what we’d had before and enabled us to pass artwork and builds around quickly.

I vaguely remember this is when we actually had a ‘tester’ in the studio too, whose job it was to just play the games and tell us about bugs. It was about this kind of time anyway.

So, as you can imagine things were changing amazingly quickly and if you didn’t adapt quickly you were dead both as an individual and a business.

The Realisation of the need to plan a Career

This is the time when I worked with some great people but I also worked with some significantly older people who I really didn’t get on with. I felt these people were holding me back and I also didn’t want to be like them. I don’t know what happened but something didn’t feel right and a change was required.

It was around about this time when I remember stopping and thinking “Do I really want to be a 50-year-old programmer like them? Having younger people running rings around me?”. So I made an active decision to plan a long-term career and actively avoid being swallowed by the wave of change that follows us around constantly.

I envisaged being some kind of technical manager or owning my own game company at some point in the future and if I was to do that I needed to make some changes. These were the days when there were seemingly infinite opportunities and adverts from Ocean proclaiming your Ferrari was waiting for you if you made games.

I started to push to what we’d now call a Lead Programmer role, still focusing on Amiga/ST at the time and I worked on a lot of football games then too so I was gaining genre and management experience. I started to manage more and more people and started to purely focus on management and tech direction.

Everything was changing around that time too, the SNES had taken off and the Saturn and PlayStation were looming and I had to be on those platforms.

So, what did I do next? Lets find out in Part 2… where I’ll continue the story along with some analysis on things like salaries, roles and events.

Can I Help You?

2 min read

I am frequently contacted by video game developers asking me for help in a couple of areas, some just want some feedback, some are asking me for financial investment to make their game a reality.

Maybe your one of these people, or maybe you’d like some critique of your work?

I’m currently looking for 1 other developer to mentor and devote some real attention to, should this be you?

I’m happy to say that in many cases I provide assistance and make a difference with their games and help re-direct them towards a more prosperous future by providing them with not only advice on the games themselves but also how to make them, what potential opportunities they have for revenue streams and even help them find a publisher. Basically, help out on which ever aspect of their game they need. The only bit I don’t do is actually make it.

In some cases my initial round of feedback can be hard to take as it’s always honest and open and what experience tells me you need to do to make better games. It comes particularly hard when people start to defend their position, which is partly to be expected and communication is always good. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know the magic formula or I’d be making my own games but I do have a good insight into how to make the most of what’s there.

I liken some of my experiences to X-Factor / Dragons Den type of feedback where the singer/businessman is obviously presenting something really bad but they just cannot see that it’s ultimately just not the right thing to be doing. They won’t listen and are adamant that their thing is actually really good because their friends/family have told them so.

Thankfully, most of my experiences have been entirely positive and people do listen to feedback and we work together on making a better game.

I’d like to point out that I also get a good set of games that are truly great and demand some attention and are obviously destined for great things. It’s these that I particularly like getting engaged with as the relationship is typically rewarding for both parties.

And sometimes, things are succesful despite everything telling you the contrary.

Critique?

So, if you want to join the others and get honest, open feedback on your game, be it a design or work-in-progress, then simply contact me and I’ll see what I can do. Please don’t ask me to invest, because I’d invest in my own games if I had the money. :D

Interview with a Veteran Video Game Developer #1

9 min read

I recently circulated a few questions to some veteran video game developers I know about their experience and their insight into video game development. The 1st response I received is from Stuart Harrison who has been programming games since 1995. Stuart is currently a Lead Programmer at Sony Computer Entertainment and continues to be a top game developer.

I’d like to thank Stuart for his contribution and please read on to find out what Stuart had to say…

#### Join In If you've been making video games for more than 5 yrs simply [send me your answers](http://game-linchpin/contact) to the questions below along with a little bio and I'll happily post good responses. I look forward to hearing from you

What inspired you to start developing games?

Doom! In fact, I think it was Doom’s vast (and probably unintended) 3rd party editing utilities that got me hooked. I was even credited with discovering (by trial and error) the full functionality of some of the triggers.

How did you get to where you are today (university course? Trial and error? Etc)

I went to Birmingham University to study Chemical Engineering (after some duff careers advice) and only when I was there did I discover there was such a thing as “Software Engineering”. I’d been programming on the ZX Spectrum since I was 10 and never believed you could actually make a career out of it. After the degree I applied to lots of local games companies, including Rare and Codemasters (both of whom interviewed me but ultimately turned me down - in retrospect I can fully understand why, but at the time I knew they were missing out), before eventually getting a job as an AI programmer (and then only just) at a company called NMS Software, in Aldridge. Within 3 months of starting there I’d made such an impression I’d been given two pay rises and been promoted to Lead Programmer. From there it’s been a rocky, but mostly upwards progression!

What qualities – apart from decent gaming designing – and factors should you have and consider when deciding to make a game (from an independent point of view)

If I knew I’d be doing it!

What’s the most frustrating thing when developing a game?

I’ve been doing it so long it’s no longer a frustrating experience (I prefer “challenging”) - but the most challenging aspects are trying to “find the fun”. It’s annoying, but just part of the process, when you develop a section of gameplay then find out it just isn’t fun and isn’t fixable and has to be scrapped entirely. I’m sure the same is true of all creative industries - think of all the film footage that must end up on the cutting room floor…

What’s the most satisfying thing when you’ve finished developing a game (or even during)?

Seeing it on a shelf in a store - I will sometimes pop in to Game (or whatever) and see what kinds of people will pick it up off a shelf and look at it. By far the most satisfying experience was when I met up with my step-brother (who I don’t get along with especially well) at a family gathering for Christmas one year. He mentioned a new game that he and his family had been playing recently and having fun with, and it turned out to be Buzz Sports. I mentioned that I was lead programmer on that and had a big smile on the inside. Incredibly satisfying.

Where do you tend to get your ideas from?

The most unusual places. I think it’s important to try and be as close to an old-school polymath as possible in this business as a broad base of knowledge and experience serves well when it comes to problem solving when your back is against the wall. Inspiration can come from the most obscure angle, but (I’m guessing) only if you’ve been there before.

Are there times when your finished version of a game is different to what you initially planned? Is this necessarily a bad thing?

I don’t think the finished version has ever been how I imagined it and it’s never a bad thing. I think that’s part of the creative process. If people could design games on paper, it would not be a fun industry to be in. The fact that it’s not possible to design things on paper (other than broad brush-strokes of an idea) make it interesting and challenging and something that fires you out of bed on a morning. You need constant assessment and evaluation and belief that it’s all going to come good in the end.

Do you tend to change your ideas based on reaction from people or do you stick to what you had in mind?

Well that depends a lot on circumstances. In some ways it’s good to stick to your guns if you know something is right, but it’s always important to accept constructive criticism. In some ways, shows like E3 are a double-edged sword. You generally get positive or neutral response from the press (I guess because they don’t want big heavy publishers pulling advertising revenues if they say negative things), but the forums are often full of negative comments. It can be worth reading between the lines on the negative comments and extracting the core of the message and perhaps changing the game design to suit. But then again, it’s just as easy to let the tide wash over you and continue unabated. I’d say a measured response is best - if you trust the opinion and position of the person making the comment, be prepared to back down; if you don’t, file the comment and move on.

What factors help in making an independent game a success and stand out?

I guess the most important aspect is that it’s widely known and talked about. This implies it needs to be the sort of game that is played by the “facebook generation” who are tapped into disseminating information. I think it would stand the best chance if it appeals to a wide audience, both male and female, of all ages (but mainly younger). Again, this is one of those questions that if I knew the formula for, I’d be out there doing it…

Have you ever had any projects that you cancelled? If so, why?

No. I’ve been on projects that I thought should be cancelled and they never were. I’ve been on projects where I practically pleaded for the opportunity to complete and they were cancelled anyway. Sometimes there seems to be no logic to this. Fortunately I’ve never been put in the situation of having to make that (oftentimes) illogical decision.

Have you had your projects altered in anyway due to circumstances (e.g. financial troubles)

There have been a couple of projects where that has happened, but to be honest, it happens with every project to a greater or lesser degree. We’re not all Peter Molyneux with unlimited budgets and imaginations. We have to do the best with the time and the money we’re given and sometimes features that you were hoping to get in have to be cut at the last minute… c’est la vie.

What genre of games (or styles like demakes for example) would you like to see being developed more?

I personally love strategy games and while there is a lot of choice out there, not all of it is to my personal taste. A lot of development effort appears to go into releasing the same game every year - just look at how many releases PES or FIFA have had and racing games aren’t far behind. It’s nice to play games (like flOw a few years ago) that are unique in what they bring to the world of gaming - and I’d like to see more of that too.

Do you think the independent community scene is thriving, diminishing or at the same level as it has been for years?

It’s both thriving and diminishing at the same time. I can’t remember a time in the past that has seen so many large independent studios closed, but at the same time, everyone and their brother appear to be trying to make iPhone games nowadays. I think the games industry is still remarkably immature, even after being around for perhaps 30 years, with decisions being made as a matter of heart, not of head. A lot of money is wasted on pointless projects while at the same time there are dozens of great little independents crying out for a slice of the pie. All part of the cycle of life…

Do you think projects like the XNA Creators Club Online is a good way to boost awareness to the independent scene?

I’m not very familiar with that, but anything that lowers the entry bar to people getting into the industry has got to be a good thing. The UK is currently struggling to get decent staff to fill games vacancies and I think part of that reason is that times have changed to a degree. When I was growing up it was dead easy to write your own programs, type them in from magazines, or just edit existing ones. It’s not quite so easy on a modern games console, so I applaud every effort made in this direction.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out making games?

Get a real job! No, seriously .. it’s hard to break in. I think there’s a lot of distrust within the industry about the quality of some of the “games” degrees that are being offered at present and perhaps some of the better (more enthusiastic) people are being enticed to take on these degrees when a broader degree (not focussed on games) would give them a wider selection of skills. In my position as a recruiter I’m far more likely to look at someone with a Computer Science / Software Engineering / Maths and CS / .. degree than someone with a “Computer Games Technology” degree.

How do you think you’ve survived this long developing games when so many people leave or get jaded?

I am jaded! And I have considered leaving. It’s so hard to find the right job these days (in the right part of the country) that this is a question that repeated comes back to me. I ask myself whether we’re likely to see 55 year old computer games programmers in 10-15 years time and I think the answer might be yes, but it could so easily be no. Where would they all go then? Honestly I’m not sure. Mostly I’ve survived by being flexible and moving to where the work was, but the older I get the more difficult that becomes as you start a family and want to settle down. Unless you’re lucky enough to plant your roots in one of the crucibles of games development in this country (Brighton, London, Surrey, Leamington, Liverpool/Manchester, Cambridge), the future is looking dim.

What are you most looking forwards to in the next 12 months?

Finding a real job! Ha, no, just kidding… I’m looking forward to seeing how Kinect and Move work out. It’s a bold experiment by both Microsoft and Sony, both of whom felt they needed to moving into the space occupied by Nintendo, who, undoubtedly, are going to play another trump card in the next 18 months or so that will shatter everything. I’d like to believe Microsoft when they say they have no plans to iterate on Xbox360, it would be great to have some stability in the platform arena for a decade or so. We shall see…

Do you have any other comments?

Yeah, ask fewer questions next time!

The Implications of YouTube Being The Second Largest Search Engine

2 min read

You tube has become the second largest search engine in recent years. It helps the viewers to get the exact idea of your product or the services you offer through the internet. It not only helps to drag the traffic towards your site, but also makes bulk revenue for you.

This tool is highly efficient to give a specification to your web page. It is the best way to express your ideas and the thoughts about the creativity. It not only gives you the recognition, but it pays your share of profit. It is very easy to access and even a beginner finds it very convenient. If you are planning to generate some income through the YouTube, then it is suggested that you register the site and Google Adsense. This is the mode of payment that is used by YouTube.

After you register your account, the next step includes of picking your subject. You must know the choice of the viewers; this factor plays an important role in giving you numerous viewers. You should have the potential to create a quality content that is easily understood by common people. You must have a perfect idea about the video creation.

Right planning is highly recommended if you are amateur. Take sufficient time to plan and create the correct content for your videos. If you have some creativity in you, then it is very easy for you to create and upload your video. The video must be relevant to the subject for the purpose. If you are using it for some product promotion, then the content must be related to the product usage, application and the purpose of the product.

Since this is a high ranking site, it also has some pros and cons.

Once you become very popular for your product, then it is suggested that you start worrying about your privacy. You must have a total control over your postings and the product. Achieving success on YouTube gives you many opportunities for the commercials, television shows and sometimes even big ventures like movies.

You can gain the traffic by promoting some charities on your videos. This result in heavy traffic for your video as this may go for some worthy cause. You can even donate a part of your earning for some charity purpose. Once people become aware about your videos and the quality that you give, they subscribe for the updates from you. This enables you to know about the viewers you have for your content. Some of the viewers even leave some comment that helps you to improve the eminence of your product.

 

The title that you place for your video must be very catchy. This attracts the people who are searching for some information regarding your product. This title must show the exact content that you used in your video. Once you become an expert with the tricks for video creation, you can experience the currency rolling and that too without being a partner to any other firm. It gives you the right output for the efforts you put.

How To Make Documents Work For Your Team

8 min read

All video game production projects need documents, whether it’s a four page description for an iPhone game, Xbox Live Indie Game, Flash game or a 65-doc library for a AAA multi-million selling game on PS3, X360 and every other platform. On all video game development projects, similar problems come up: people don’t read docs, people read docs but find them confusing, docs don’t get updated or the updates don’t get acted on. Fortunately, there are some ways you, as a game designer (or as whoever’s writing a doc) can help.

Make it readable

Documentation that isn’t read is worse than not having the documentation at all because (a) game designer time is wasted writing it and (b) the game design team assumes the other teams know what they’re doing, when they’re actually relying on other methods, like reading tea leaves. Game developers are busy people: it isn’t easy to convince us to read anything. But there are some ways you can help to make sure the team is reading what it needs to.

Make it approachable

That means no doc over 50 pages. If it’s over 50 pages, split it into a doc per section. Reasonable sized fonts. Diagrams instead of pages of text. A glossary, if you need one. Don’t make it any scarier to read than it has to be.

Make it navigable

Make a studio doc template and stick to it (within reason - a sports game and a beat ‘em up are going to need different docs, but they’ll both need a UI section and there’s no reason that section shouldn’t always be at the end and always run in roughly the same order. Help the poor sound designer who’s just been shuffled onto his third project in six months: let them turn straight to a ‘Sound’ section with ‘UI Sounds’, ‘UI Music’, ‘In-Game Sound Effects’, ‘In-Game Music’ and so on all laid out as they’d expect. Nobody’s creativity’s being stifled by keeping the same structure (and of course the template can be tweaked and improved as time goes on) and just having that template there is a great way to avoid designers (and producers) overlooking things. It’s also a massive help to designers writing their first design doc to have a skeleton to fill in.

If you really do have to have a big doc and you want to make it quick to flick through, put a navigation bar at the bottom of the page, with the appropriate section highlighted to show where you are (this is a five minute job if you use Word’s section tools and put it in the footer). That way you can thumb through the doc flickbook style and stop when you see what you want. For extra points, make it actually operate like a navigation bar on a website and skip you to the start of each section if you click on it.

Exception: while it’s great to help teams find exactly what they’re looking for, be wary of people zeroing in on exactly what they think they need and skipping the vital stuff they thought didn’t apply to them. There’s nothing wrong with putting a big note on the second page for each team, calling out sections they might otherwise skip over (‘Weapons team: as well as the ‘Weapons’ section, make sure you read the ‘Animals’ section: the rhinos have their own built-in particle cannons’ AND put a note in the Weapons section itself linking to ‘Animals’. By doing this, you’re implicitly confirming that it’s okay not to read the whole doc, but that’s probably going to happen anyway: use your best judgment.

Now you’ve made it easy to pick up and start reading the doc: how do you make it *work*?

Avoid duplication

Never, ever, ever, state the same facts in two places. Every time you list, say, the weapons in the game in both the introduction AND the weapons section, that’s two places you have to keep it updated and twice the potential for outdated information. Cross-reference instead: use hyper-linking: it’s better to make people click a few times than have someone miss a vital widget because it was added in one section and not in another. Introductions and Executive Summaries (which producers always insist on) are a real pain for this: producers (and publishers) like nice, simpile lists and they don’t want to read further than page three, so they want to duplicate all the essential information here. Keep it short, and check it every time you update the doc.

State exclusions

You have to realise that people will use your doc in ways you never intended. For example, an artist will, when they’re in a hurry, look at a list of creatures in the game on page 42, see that there are five and schedule five artists to tackle one each. Only there aren’t five creatures: there are six. The list on page 42 was in the sound effects section, and you only listed the creatures that needed sound effects (giraffes are silent). This isn’t a joke. I’ve seen lists cut and pasted from a doc, passed through a chain of ten people and then relied on as gospel for a completely unrelated discipline. So don’t list the animals that have sound effects in the sound effects section. List all the animals, and say: ‘Giraffe: this animal has no sound effects’.

Remove ambiguity

It’s better to be clear. If in doubt, state it. Don’t write lazily. This is lazy:

All rhinos can be ridden by players of level 14 or above.

Hold up. Does that means that all rhinos are rideable, and all rhino riding requires players to be level 14 or above? Or does it mean that level 14 players have their choice of all rhinos in the game to ride, but level 13 players can ride some of them? Let’s try it again:

All rhinos in the game can be ridden. Riding a rhino requires the player to be at level 14 or above.

English

This leads on to English (or whatever language your dev team has agreed to work in). Designers (and other doc writers - don’t forget the Technical Design Doc author) aren’t necessarily great writers: in terms of technical English (spelling, grammar, punctuation) or writing clearly and in an easy-to-read style. And that’s not necessarily a problem: *except* when it comes to design docs. Don’t get the wrong idea here: good writing skills don’t make someone a good designer, and I’d much rather a designer have fantastic ideas but be unable to express them than have no ideas but great communication skills. Most designers on a large team don’t have to write docs. But for the ones who do have to, writing skills *are* important because for every word they write, potentially 60-100 people are going to read it. Luckily, writing skills are easy to assess and easy to learn. I give a basic English test (a five minute, half-a-side of A4, spot the mistakes thing) to every design candidate I interview. I don’t exclude candidates with poor English skills, but if they move towards a position where they’re going to need to do a lot of writing I do make sure they’re trained up and ready for it when they write their first GDD.

Understand the reader

You should be able to identify the common mistakes the rest of the team will make. Call them out, in big, friendly letters. If there are two terms that sound very similar and could cause real problems if they’re confused, say so. Better still, think up different terms. Be helpful: ‘Remember, we don’t need to do this on PS3 because we have blah’.

Updating

Docs need to be updated constantly, to keep them in line with the design, at least until you reach whatever your agreed ‘the design is now locked’ stage and start using change control. Call out changes so that people don’t have to read the doc itself, if you possibly can. Do a daily email collecting together any design changes (if you go days without needing to do one, so much the better). Every change gets a one line description, a link to the section of the doc where the changed section can be found, and - and this is crucial - a note as to whether that’s it, or whether there’s more detail in the doc. What you’re trying to avoid here is both people reading the doc when they don’t have to, and people not reading the doc when they need to because they’ve assumed they’ve already gleaned all they need to. Here’s what I mean:

UI: New PS3 hardware requirements - added ‘Move Disconnected’ message (link)

Sound Effects: New 3D ambient effects added - MORE DETAIL SEE (link)

Version Control

Keep docs under version control and have a change control section at the start where you list everything that’s changed in the latest version. Yes, this will get long. If you’re doing the update email as described above, you can cut and paste the same text and control section into an email, save the doc and check in, send the email and everything’s done. 

Reference

On some projects, there’s a huge amount of information that all members of the team might need access to, but that the design team isn’t creating (say, lists of tire pressures for 400 cars, or the complete flight manual for an Apache gunship). The worst case scenario is when some of the information is out on the internet and different team members are consulting different sources. Allocate one person to be the ‘project librarian’. When the team needs a fact, they’re responsible for ensuring it gets stored somewhere everyone can access it - saves time and mistakes, and if a mistake is made it can be corrected once on your Wiki or in your reference doc and the change can filter down to everyone.

How I use Twitter

(mobile post) There’s an interesting post over on GameProducer.net about how Juuso uses Twitter as part of his game blog that I wanted to emulate here.

I use my @GameLinchpin Twitter feed largely to auto-post new articles from this blog. This is done automatically when I hit publish so it’s the best way to keep up-to-date. Simply follow us and you’re all set.

I also follow other people in the games industry, not companies, and join in chats there and also RT (re-tweet) anything I find interesting and relevant to game development. I also follow events such as #e3expo, #develop2010 and #gamescom and RT interesting items too.

As Juuso says, you really need a client to use Twitter as the basic web service really doesn’t scratch the surface of what’s possible. I use Tweetdeck on my iPhone, Home Mac and work PC as it’s by far the best app. I use Twitterific on iPad as TD isn’t very good yet.

If you’re starting out, start by following me then go through my lists and add people from there. Most people will follow you back and it’s a good way to kick start your Twitter addiction.

Hashtags are pretty much like public chat channels, you simply follow a hash tag and you join the conversation. This can be an amazing way of getting involved in a community. I’ve met lots of people on these channels who I continue to chat with on a daily basis. Find a channel, add people for the channel as they’re obviously interested and engaged in that subject.

I follow: #xblig - Xbox Live Independant Games #gamedev - general game development #iPhone - broad iPhone chat #leanstartup - small business bootstrapping

Event specific ones pop up too such as #gamescom #develop2010 #e3expo

Joining Twitter was one of the best things I’ve done for. Long time and I’d consider it pretty much mandatory for game debs to keep up with a rapidly changing industry.

Which people and #hashtags do you follow?

Everything you need to know about Video Game Production

By special request I’m going to dig deep and put together a series of posts on Video Game Production, covering the whole cycle from end-to-end to hopefully share some of the knowledge I’ve acquired over the years and get your feedback too on what you think. This will include elements from numerous training courses and also hard-earned best practice learned from doing the job and working with amazing people.

Don’t miss out: join the RSS stream or follow us on Twitter and be ready. Tell your friends to join too.

I’ll aim to cover the following topics in the series:

Game Production - 1000ft view

  • The Plan
  • The Team
  • The Business

Understanding the Team

- Implementation: Design, Code, Art, Audio and more - Support: Operations, HR, finance, legal and more - Stakeholders: Publishers, Platform Holders

Game Concept

  • Key elements to include in your thinking
  • Genre, Platform, Market

Documentation

- Game: GDD, TDD, Plan, Risk & Issues - Business: Contracts, Finance, ROIs, Breakevens

  • Marketing, DLC plans, sequels, derivatives, partner items

Production

  • Planning - agile, formal, phased, iterative
  • Tracking
  • Reporting
  • Risks

Finalizing the Game

  • User Testing
  • QA
  • End phase: Alpha, Beta, Master, Submission, Street
  • What next?

Develop 2010 is over, next up Gamescom

Well, it looks like Develop 2010 is over for this year (the clue is in the name) and the next event is Gamescom in just over 4 weeks time. Just enough time to detox ready for the next wave of ‘networking’. :)

I wonder if Paul the Psychic Octopus predicted the correct Develop Award winners? It looks like he’s patrolling the Gamescom web-site too, so BEWARE!

Stick with us during the break and don’t go changing channels!

Are you good enough to make 3D games?

If you’re going to be looking to make 3D games, you’re going to need the best programmers you can find, or strip your artwork down to nothing.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the basic tech: you wear glasses that control which eye sees the view from a slightly different angle giving the illusion of 3D.

There is of course a massive technical consideration for 3D games, that they have 1/2 your frame rate as you’re now rendering twice as much as you were before. (This is a gross assumption based on the fact that you’re render bound)

Those beautiful silky games that did run at 60fps, drop a frame and you’re now run at 30fps tops (2 frames at 60fps). There is no 50fps or 40fps, it’s straight down to 30fps. The next jump down is 20fps (3 frames at 60 fps) and it goes on from there but in less damaging leaps.

I know from experience that it takes a lot of effort to hit 60fps and most games only just scrape through as they try to balance content with frame rate so this jump is going to hit them hard. After all, why waste empty frame time when you can make your game look even better.

Optimising your game engine and balancing your content to hit the required throughput is going to take some effort, and of course this is effort your not spending on adding game content. It’s just a slog to get through.

On top of these there’s the aesthetic game design to get through to maximise the sensation of 3D and to avoid the problems it brings with it. The added sense of realism can amplify sensations of motion sickness and it can all go wrong when that sense of illusion is shattered when the shark coming out of the screen at you clips the edge of the screen and your brain knows it’s fake.

The 3D games I’ve played have been hit & miss and some haven’t made the transition to 3D well and need to go back to the drawing board for some optimisation and design improvements.

There are some fantastic opportunities out there for 3D games and it takes talent and expertise to make 3D game sing.

Further Reading

Housemarque - SuperStardust HD at 120fps The inspiring post