Before developing any major project, one of the most important stages of pre-production is to define the asset pipeline and identify any major roadblocks and/or failure points. While this takes some time, it is extremely important for teams that will continuously gain and lose members over the course of a lengthy development cycle.
The Pen is Mightier than the Sword
The first step to project development begins with documentation from all key leads. Lead Designers generally create a Game Design Document that outlines all the major gameplay elements of the project, Art Directors often create Style Guides that define all visual components such as silhouette, color palette, etc., and Tech Leads document all the technical restrictions, asset conventions, and architecture flow.
Even for small teams with improved communication, documentation is absolutely vital. Besides providing the framework for a team’s milestones and progress, documentation forces all members to really examine their production plan and provide justification for their approach.
This doesn’t mean that these documents have to be flawless; in fact, a simple centralized repository of knowledge is enough of a start to provide information to team members to avoid future debates over previously made decisions. It takes the mind-reading element out of project development and streamlines the production cycle in a way that minimizes mistakes.
Game Dev Relay
Once the major documentation is complete, milestones are generally created and team members can start getting a sense of who will take on what responsibilities. For small teams, wearing multiple hats is expected and can often help dictate how assets are moved through the pipeline.
Generally “user stories” are derived from any documentation and milestones. A user story refers to a feature or element of a product that a typical user would want or expect. From these user stories, individual tasks are then identified and assigned to team members. The tricky thing is that no team or game is alike so this stage takes a lot of compromise.
The other important component is timing of task completion. If an artist is responsible for VFX and 3D Modeling, it is absolutely vital to focus on the task that would create a roadblock for another team member’s task (such as texturing or animation). Similarly, it would make sense for someone at the end of the art pipeline (such as an animator) to take on the additional responsibility of importing the asset into the engine.
Finally, bottlenecks and process inefficiencies often creep up on a game development team without anyone noticing it. Things to watch out for include unneeded extra steps that could be resolved with a few scripts or tools, lack of a review process, and lack of ownership for executing an asset in-game (my part is done but it’s not in-game).
Many times bottlenecks occur because too much responsibility for identifying inefficiencies lies on middle to upper management when, in fact, the “guys on the ground” are in the best position to identify and recommend process change. Game development is generally very fast iteration and doesn’t follow traditional waterfall software development methodologies; therefore it is absolutely vital that members at any point of a pipeline can identify and recommend improvements. Ultimately, the device is the ultimate arbitrater!
Let’s face it - no one likes talking about pipelines. They are often perceived as dry and boring processes that members often don’t want to spend time thinking about; however, they can determine a team’s success or failure. The mythical synergy that every team wants can only come from optimized pipelines that make rapid iteration possible.