Archive for November, 2007

Talking to the students

Posted in Industry Rants, Tales from the grind-stone on November 22nd, 2007 by MrCranky

So, since I didn’t have any pressing deadlines this week, I agreed to visit Paisley University and give a talk to the undergraduates there. Sorry, University of the West of Scotland:Paisley Campus (that’s soo got to bite them in the arse when it comes to their stationary). As an industry, I think we’ve somewhat dug ourselves into a hole in the past few years, by cutting back on hiring new people (and instead insisting on experience); now we’re facing a talent shortage, especially on the software side. We’ve seen the error of our ways now, and I see more adverts for graduates again, but that dry spell will no doubt have diminished our talent pool enough that it will take years to restore.

Nothing in the talk was particularly enlightening I’m sure, but I tried to impart a few of the things that you learn after your first years in the games industry: how to write a good CV, what it’s like working at smaller or larger companies, how to spot when your company’s about to go down the tubes. You know the sort of thing – stuff that no-one will tell you before you actually get your job, the sort of stuff you learn in the pub after work. I always remember talks from industry people when I was at Edinburgh, and they almost invariably had people saying “this is our company, look at how shiny it is, here’s our token recently hired graduate, listen to him tell you how shiny it is”. It was always about the potential for recruiting the graduates, and glossing over all the potential downsides.

So I tried to give a balanced view of the industry: a quick summation of the current state of the business, the potential likelihood that your employer will make you work unpaid overtime to ship the game, and the likelihood that the company folds while you’re still working there. Of course, I tried to stress the up-sides as well: the joy involved in making games, the rewards involved in shipping a title that people love. I hope it came out fairly balanced. Otherwise I must look like a bit of a numpty – why would I still be working in the games industry if the pros didn’t outweigh the cons?!

Anyway, if it didn’t come across in the talk, I’ll say it now – making games is great. It’s fun, it’s rewarding, and I find it hard to imagine how a job in the regular software industry would compare. Sure, there’s less money in games, but the non-monetary rewards are many.

Our pile of cards

Posted in Tales from the grind-stone on November 16th, 2007 by MrCranky

And so we finally wrapped up the latest work we’ve been doing for Add Knowledge yesterday, with a trip up to IC-CAVE at Abertay to drop off the PSP kits and an archive of the final software. Our Scrum board has been slowly shuffling cards over to the ‘done’ side, and now it’s all neat and tidy.

Job done!

Just in time for me to strip them all off and put them in a drawer. I should really look over our velocities and backlogs for the last part of the project, but for now I think it’s time to put it to one side. All in all we delivered what was asked for and on time, despite having to shuffle things around for a big demonstration in early October, so I think we can be satisfied with our recent efforts.

I think I’ll be spending the rest of the day making sure everything is tidied up after the deadline and that all the little bits of admin I’ve been putting off get done. Then, time for a relaxing weekend, and maybe some time finishing off Phoenix Wright 3.

Game Credits

Posted in Industry Rants, Links from the In-tar-web on November 6th, 2007 by MrCranky

Well, with the recent furore around Manhunt 2’s omission of certain developers from the credits of a game they clearly developed, the IGDA has put a reminder up about their work on establishing a Game Crediting Guide. It’s a fairly comprehensive guide now, and looking over it I agree with most of the  stipulations within. I could argue that attribution of team roles to individuals is perhaps not necessary (especially when some developers fulfil many roles and so appear in the credits many times), but that’s probably a rare enough case not to worry about.

Proper credits is certainly a real issue though, as it’s a tangible benefit to your team. Being able to point to a good and/or successful title and say “I made that” is of real value for their sense of worth and their career long term. While not being credited isn’t the end of the world, there are enough unscrupulous people that claim credit for the work of others that not being credited when it is due is sufficient cause for doubt on the part of an interviewer.

Credits are, in my experience, usually knocked together at the end of the development process, and not thought about in advance. The list of people is usually drawn up quickly, and if there has been a lot of movement in and out of the team, people can easily be missed. It’s the producers job to maintain a credits list throughout development, detailing who worked on the title and for how long, and it’s not a chore which should be neglected.

Finally, my biggest bug-bear is with the ordering of the credits. I’m sorry, but the publishers, external producers and company management are not the most important people for a game. The director comes first, followed by the core team, and then the less involved parties. It might seem like a good idea to pander to the management or external partners, but you’re selling your team short if you don’t proclaim them loudly to be the most important part of the game.

Public Service Publishing seminar

Posted in Industry Rants, Tales from the grind-stone on November 1st, 2007 by MrCranky

Just back from Glasgow, after attending a seminar from OfCom about their Public Service Publishing work. Yes, I know, PSP. Confusing, and unwieldy to say the full version. Here’s hoping they change it before long. I’d suggest British Media Office, but that probably wouldn’t get past committee.

Anyway, the goal of the PSP is, as far as I can tell, to provide a vehicle for financing public service content, in the same manner that content like the BBC, ITV and C4 currently provide. I believe the remit goes something like “content that informs and entertains, and enriches our cultural heritage”.  The consensus is that the traditional TV broadcasters and producers are unsuited to finance new types of content, such as websites (interactive and regular) and games.

Of course, it is the games part that interests me. There is, I believe, huge scope for producing games which both inform and entertain. Specifically I object to the fact that we have to Americanise our games in order to target the largest possible audience. Even when set in fantastical or science fiction environments, we still get American voice actors to play our roles. Our children can readily identify many American cultural references, at the expense of our own. We don’t have fire-hydrants, our taxis are black, and our postal carriers drive red vans.

I think there are many games to be made that use British culture, settings and characters. Be that an adventure game based on Inspector Rebus, or a modification to a real-time strategy game to put it in a British historical setting. We invest much in British programming, for the education of our children or the entertainment of us all. For E.R. we have Casualty, for the Bold and the Beautiful we have Eastenders. But where is GTA: Liverchester? Okay, bad example.

Anyway, the seminar itself was informative, but not entirely heartening. The games industry moves very quickly. Project life-spans are measured in the order of months, not years – and I’m not convinced that the PSP would be able to move quickly enough to operate successfully in games. It was clear from the turn-out (a couple of dozen TV industry types, and only myself and someone from Realtime Worlds representing the games sector). Apparently in the London version of this seminar, games weren’t represented at all. And yet the shift in people’s habits, especially in the young, is clearly moving away from TV and towards games and the internet. While the PSP is a good step towards allowing new content creators access to public money to make worthwhile public content, it still feels like the traditional TV producers, who have little to no games experience (and I’d venture ability) are lining themselves up to be the ones to continue to recieve that public funding.

OfCom are still in the process of a ‘review’ stage that is feeling out the remit of the PSP, and from talk at the seminar, is more than a year away from even really getting going. With the rate at which technology is developing and public attitudes towards how they use media are changing, I can’t help but think that this is moving too slowly.

So in summary, I think the PSP is a laudable idea, but it needs to stop worrying about the bickering about what exactly the PSP should do (primarily by TV producers and broadcasters who feel their financing is being threatened), and get down and dirty and actually get to encouraging more public ‘new media’ content. Whether that be by financing, or simply by facilitating existing projects, whatever – as long as what they do results in publicly valuable content being produced that otherwise would not have been. Getting mired in an extended ‘consultation period’ where people argue back and forth is not only inefficient, it may mean that any action they take is just too late, and the free market will have replaced valuable public service content with commercialised pap (Beauty and the Geek anyone?), and may never get the public’s attention back.

Speaking strictly from a games industry point of view – unless the PSP is a responsive and fast moving entity, it will never be able to engage the help of the dedicated games sector, and may find itself quickly outpaced. That would relegate public service games to being second rate, pale imitations of their commercial counterparts, and so never gain the attention of the public they are supposed to serve.

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