What Went Right
First and most importantly, some members of our team began the collaboration process early, about 2/3 months before the actual game prototype class began. By the time the class began, we had already conceptualized and begun work on the game concept. We had a character, a storyline and beginning concept art for the game. This took a lot of work and drive on our part as a team, but it was well worth the extra effort. We knew we needed to focus our class time together on actually getting the prototype done as opposed to trying to come up with and agree upon the game concept. This added valuable time and proved to be our most successful decision. We also used our extra time finding talented individuals that would fit well with our team. This was very important since these were people we worked closely with for six months on a huge school project.
The game prototype project is a huge task, especially for full time students to complete in six months time. So I decided early on that I would need a co-leader to help take on the task of leading this multi-talented group to completion of the project. Jason Touchman and myself, Aaron Canaday, divided up the leadership responsibilities according to our individual leadership skills and talents. Jason focused on keeping an eye on the asset list and milestones. He also did a lot of hard work on some of the more advanced modeling. I spent time talking to each member of the team on a bi-weekly basis discussing their progress and coordinating assignments in order to make sure that everything was getting done according to plan. I also contributed my strengths in promotional presentations and materials.
Final decisions were made by Jason and me bouncing ideas off of each other and together deciding the best plan of action. We were able to play off of each others' strengths very well and it really benefited the team to have more of a well rounded leadership as opposed to just one type of leader. I can't imagine trying to tackle all of these tasks alone and still come out with the project that we came out with. The team was able to have a double dose of confidence in the project because of the checks and balances system the co-leadership established.
It seems that over-ambition was the biggest culprit in troubled student prototype projects of the past. We learned this from the valuable advice of our academic director Linda Selheim and our instructors Asa Enochs and Treit Ton. They did a great job in cautioning us to keep our project ambitions manageable from the beginning and throughout the process.
Overall our level was divided into 3 nodes: a jungle area, a courtyard space and a temple. We really wanted all of the areas to have a well populated feel, so making the maps a manageable size was a huge priority for us and in the end it really paid off. The area that benefited the most from this approach was the jungle area. We all felt a little nervous about getting the forest to look lush and dense and it was the smaller map size that allowed us to accomplish this look.
Another successful initiative was focusing on developing assets that could be reused in clever ways instead of building multiple custom pieces. Jason Touchman spearheaded this initiative.
Our team made a big push for everyone to communicate and be involved in what everyone else was doing. There were definitely periods of the development cycle that were better than others, but overall there was a really good effort made by the team to keep each other in the loop. Because we were only meeting once a week, this was a large priority. In fact, it was such a large variable during production that it was easy to spot a correlation between the amount of work being done to the amount of communication going on within the team.
The team was encouraged to primarily use a private forum in conjunction with an FTP file sharing site. Other communication happened via email, phone calls, or bumping into teammates at school. The traffic on the forums was heaviest during the middle of our production, but there was less usage at the beginning and end of the project. The forums were an excellent place to get feedback on assignments before they were due each week. This really helped to cut down on revisions, which became a bit of an issue for our project.
Follow-up calls and emails were also a valuable addition to our assignment process. All of us were understandably very busy, and a personal call each week helped remind teammates of their tasks, as well as alerted me to reshuffle assignments mid-week if they hit any snags.
Team Accountability & Weekly Tasks
Another issue that seems to plague student projects is simply getting people to do their work. I can't really say that our method for handling assignments is what solely inspired people to work, especially since our team was full of talented people with a good work ethic, however, I do think it helped out quite a bit.
Unfortunately we did not have the luxury of working together 8 hours a day Monday through Friday until the project was complete. Instead we had to rely on people to take home assignments and bring them back complete the next week. Overall we had 22 weeks to work with, so we approached each week as a big deal. Each time the team met, the team leads would discuss what needed to be accomplished for that week and gave each member an assignment. After the weekly meeting, an email would be sent out to the whole team outlining what happened during the last gathering, as well as what assignments were assigned to whom. This ultimately served two purposes - first, it was a great reminder about what was due by next week, and second, it informed everyone on the team on what each person was working on. Doing this really helped each member of the team see their important role for that week, and conversely everyone else's role as well. In effect, it made each team member not just accountable to the team leads, but to every team member as well.