A quick read into the world of video game production!
What is Game Production?
Hey all, Kai here! Today I’d like to share some insight into the production of Legion Hearts, which is the second part of my job. So, what do we do?
Broadly speaking, video game producers oversee the process of making a video game. How are we going to make this? Who will make it? What do we need? Answering those questions is part of the producer’s job.
While it varies with every studio, producers aren’t usually involved in creative decisions. Instead, they make sure that those decisions get implemented efficiently.
Making a Strategy RPG
The first step towards making any video game is making the task itself less ambiguous. Thankfully, Legion Hearts falls into squarely familiar territory when looked at from a genre perspective.
That means we can classify it as an Online Cross-Platform 2D Roguelite Strategy RPG for PC and Mobile combining Deck Building with Autochess Combat featuring a Single-Player Campaign, PvP Battles and Co-Op Dungeons.
While I would never use this abomination of a word salad to pitch Legion Hearts, it helps us identify the many different parts that make up the game and break it down into smaller chunks.
- Online -> networking solution
- Cross-Platform -> player accounts shared across platforms
- 2D -> lots of illustrations, mostly fixed camera
- Roguelite -> systems-driven design, procedural generation
- Strategy -> battle outcomes affect larger game loop
- RPG -> entities have a range of different attributes
- PC -> keyboard and mouse controls
- Mobile -> limited UI load with touch controls, no tooltips
- Deck Building -> large character roster and shared effect system
- Autochess -> robust targeting system and deterministic outcomes
- Campaign -> unique, one-off content with an underlying story
- PvP -> no input during battles for asynchronous multiplayer
- Co-Op -> clan system and encounter save states
Compartmentalizing the project gives us a decent idea of the scope and possible risks involved with making each part of the game. This brings us to the next step: Pre-Production.
This initial planning phase consists of mapping out the game’s development, identifying its target audience and building the core systems.
The deliverables of this process are twofold: Firstly, we want to estimate the time and money required to make the game. Secondly, we want to know if it’s actually worth to do it.
In practice, that means our pre-production will end with the release of a polished vertical slice to validate the market and help us understand the scope of the project.
Part of this process is the development of important game systems that will be in the full game, so let’s examine how we plan them!
When making a new feature, it’s good practice to start with an outline. What does this feature do and who is it for? This high-level overview helps to inform everyone else in the team.
Next, we break the feature down into more manageable tasks which are then assigned to the appropriate team members to be done at a specific time.
The combat system for example starts with my design, which is then handed over to our UI designer before our programmer implements it. Then we all playtest it together and make the required fixes.
Assigning effort or time estimates to any given task helps us schedule other work around it. This makes sure everyone has something to do and we can better plan into the future.
But even with good planning, team members might get blocked because a prerequisite process wasn’t completed on time or the instructions were unclear, and it’s on the producer to fix it.
Pipelines and Processes
This takes on another level of importance when these blockages become a pattern, which might indicate a deficiency with an existing development pipeline.
This term refers to a series of processes that accomplish or create something during development. An example would be making a new character for Legion Hearts.
As a producer, half the job is identifying and implementing the most efficient way to get something done. (The other half being making sure it gets done.)
While certain features can be seen as one off-challenges, plenty of work that will be repeated many times over. Finding ways to optimize that workflow will save a lot of time, money and energy.
And just like individual processes can be put into a pipeline for better organization, the entire development cycle can be structured in a certain way to better manage it.
As the name implies, a project management methodology is a set of principles, practices and guidelines to better organize and manage an entire project. Let’s look at a few of them!
The classic Waterfall model of project management maps out a project into distinct, sequential phases, with each new phase beginning only when the previous one has been completed.
This linear approach is intuitive and most projects can get done this way. But given the growing complexity of games and their propensity to change during development, it’s fallen out of popularity.
Next is Agile, a project management methodology designed for quick and iterative software development. Its primary advantage is being able to ship small increments of a larger whole.
In practice, that most often means making mini-waterfall projects that can be completed in smaller chunks of time to allow for frequent iteration and direction changes.
Scrum is a well defined agile framework. With Scrum, work is split into fixed time cycles known as sprints which usually last about 1-3 weeks, and may be part of a larger release.
A hallmark of Scrum is a regular review after every sprint to discuss what went well, and what didn’t. This way, teams are able to continuously improve their workflow and product.
Last up is Kanban, where upcoming work is continuously broken down into small tasks and done by members of the team when needed.
Kanban is incredibly flexible and can be applied as is, or used to simply visualize the workflow while adhering to a more structured framework like Scrum.
Each methodology has distinct benefits and downsides, and most teams use a combination of different frameworks to fit their own unique needs and circumstances.
Making It Yours
Ultimately, being a producer means managing people just as much as it means to manage work. And because people are not robots, every team member might need a slightly different approach.
- Some people need micromanagement.
- Some people hate being told what to do.
- Some people don’t like some other people.
And just like every person is different, every company is different too.
- The department might have too many people for a framework.
- The team might lack the experience for a pull system.
- The product might be too complex for weekly iterations.
That means it’s paramount to experiment, adapt and iterate until a workflow is found that benefits the team and complements the existing company structure.
Good producers make sure the game ships on time, under budget and in the best shape possible. All while keeping the team motivated and far away from the dreaded crunch time!
Due to always having to stay on top of everything, producers tend to pick up a surface-level understanding of all other development roles very quickly. It’s hard work, but essential!
Game Dev 101
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into game production. While precise responsibilities differ at every studio, every team benefits from having a strong producer watching out for them.
This post is part of an ongoing game dev 101 series, and we’ll cover more disciplines in the future. If you’re curious about an aspect of game development, don’t hesitate to reach out!