As the lead artist, Louise works closely with the art director who has a good level of technical knowledge on game engines and can get assets working. Louise’s main remits are team management, making sure everyone knows what they need to do, understanding what they need, and making sure that everyone’s happy.
I was amazed at the size of TT Fusion and at how much manpower was needed in order to produce a title (see e.g., Lego Batman: the Videogame; LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga; LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures; Guinness World Record™: The Videogame). Being a successful game company in the north west, TT Fusion has more than 150 employees working on 3-4 titles at the same time.
Louise showed us a staffing plan with roles and number of working days. For example, a concept artist would work on a title for 6 weeks, then move on working on other titles. In so doing, no human resource is redundant. Asked how she knew that each character would take a character artist 2 days to produce, Louise said it was all experience. It’s like she knew it usually takes 6 months to produce a Lego game (sometimes they were given only 4 months – then in that case artists would have to sleep on the floor in the studio). And if a title would like to be released for Christmas, the final submission date will be August, hence Alpha would be due at the end of May, Beta due in the end of June. This is common sense for a veteran in gaming industry.
Louise also emphasised the importance of agile management and communication. Game is a highly creative environment, and a lot of things are changing all the time (e.g., publisher’s requirements, emerging ideas). New elements are constantly emerging, and likewise some existing elements are being dropped all the time. If the art director decided to add a new animal, other team members will have to work together to make this animal look good, animate the animals and integrate the animal in the game play. If at a meeting someone said “it would be great to have a water session”, then a lot of things will be changed – animation, new creatures, environments. Sometimes the publisher would change requirements. The development is very fluid. So it’s important to have good communication and keep everything fairly organised.
Despite working in such a dynamic environment, Louise said “We don’t do SCRUM; we don’t have a quick meeting every morning.” Her team usually meets once a week for 1.5 hours to monitor their progress.
To manage the project, surprisingly, Louise said they don’t do much documentation. Documents and information are emerging all the time, but they use OneNote, a wiki-like tool to communicate, exchange ideas and discuss ideas. Through this way, documents can be constantly changed, updated and instantly circulated/shared once changes are made. And for data backup, the company uses SVN version control system.
Each game development process is different, depending on whom you work with, the game engine, the publisher’s requirements.
The best working experience she has had was making Batman when the same team worked together for the 2nd time to produce a game. Since they’ve worked together before, they knew everyone’s strengths very well. They also knew what to expect.
Making Guinness World Record™ was difficult because it was the first time the team making weekly titles and with no existing IPs.
When making Rock Band required a huge amount of work because the demands from the publisher of 200+ new characters. The team would produce 60 first, submit the characters, wait for ca. 2 weeks to get feedback/decision from the publisher, and carry on making the rest. Some characters were rejected because they were too sexy (e.g., cleavage), with hairy chest, got sad look or any other reasons that Lego thought it didn’t represent Lego’s image. If a character was rejected, the team had to come up with something new and resubmit.
The hour Louise spent with us was precious. We could never have enough of her real-life stories. When asked if project management skills are essential for their employees, she gave a rather counter-intuitive answer “not necessarily”. She said TT Fusion would hire someone based on their art skills, not whether they could do project management. When she first started her career, she did not know how to do project management either. I thought that was an interesting point. Because project management knowledge and skills are best acquired through problem-based learning; it’s learning by doing. The more experience one gets, the more PM-savvy s/he is.
I was pleased to see many students asking questions during the Q&A time, and going to speak to her after her talk. Although some students were absent due to a pressing deadline for Arts and Graphics the day after (or perhaps some went to the demonstration in London), I could see Louise’s talk was very popular and well received. Students’ enthusiasm at Louise’s talk can be best exemplify by a feedback I received:
“Today’s guest lecturer was really interesting, thanks a lot for getting her in, it was probably the most interesting and useful lecture I’ve had since I started this course.”
Thank you, Louise. You’ve inspired them.