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  • Promoting Studio Diversity Via Student Internships

    [10.10.19]
    - Andrew Smith

  • ELAM's call was pretty different. They needed/wanted to place students aged 17-19, before they head off to University. The placement was supposed to be around 1 week, and they wanted to know if we had any requirements. Now, I'm fully aware of how straight, white and male both myself and CTO Andrew Roper are, and frequently refer to us as 'Default Player Characters'. ELAM operated by offering the placements they find to their students, and then making a match based on interest in the role, company and projects defined therein. I identified this as a great opportunity to push our agenda to diversify again (one we'd succeeded with on a previous short term project) and so I indicated we'd love to find any students that were... not the same as us.

    Ellie Vong and Raiyana Haque came as a pair, and for a fortnight, and so we suddenly had a team of 5, 2 of whom were BAME, 2 of whom were not male! This was great for us - as I'm sure you can tell learning what we can from everything we do is a key focus and so the experience was fantastic for us, and for them. We know that because someone interviewed them about it (you can read the full thing here)!


    (From left to right: Andrew Roper, Connor Walls, Ellie Vong, Andrew Smith, Raiyana Haque)

    And yup, you guessed it, we couldn't have done this without the Tentacle Zone. "Oh hi in 3 week's time we need three more desks, one for nine weeks, two for two weeks, both overlapping k thx bai". You can imagine how that'd go down in most managed offices, but it was so easy here.

    So how did we run the team and the project? We'd had enough warning about the overlap so were ahead of the curve a touch - we had decided on the game, with a very lightweight scope and specification document, accompanied by a Trello board for managing the fortnight. We ran daily standups (nothing too strict re: scrum methodology) and made sure that they all used git for version control, no matter how much time it cost. This was probably the biggest learning curve for them and us, seeing as version control is not widely taught.

    This combined with the usual lack of confidence you'd expect in such a fresh-faced bunch of youths meant we spent a fair amount of time on what we might assume as 'the basics', or at least more than we expected. For a non-technical example, defining the deliverables required from a 2D Artist to give the 3D modeller enough to work with was something we'd not really had to engage with when working with our normal ex-AAA  contractors. A silly assumption on our part for sure, and certainly doesn't cast any shadow on our interns and their raw abilities. Both Connor and Ellie reported directly to me as Creative Director, while Raiyana reported to and worked with Andrew Roper as Technical Director.

    We wanted to have them feel comfortable and excited to be working with us, and knew that such a small dev teams like ours can fall into traps like shorthand communication and other shortcuts that would feel impenetrable to newcomers, so we made sure to have 'welcome' and 'goodbye' meals for everyone, plus as luck would have it SGDQ took place during the second week and we were able to show that lie on a spare screen. It added some fun talking points to the days as these tiny younglings tried to parse what they were seeing. The occasional exclamation of "what the hell is that?!" at a classic N64 game made us feel old, but it made them feel at ease.

    The scope we prepared defined the game as a 'single screen' arcade game based on the behaviours of Sand Pipers (yes the Pixar short was an influence for the art team, but not for the original design. That falls to a holiday in Goa in January!). A highscore chaser where you collect food for points and bank them by feeding your hungry chicks, all while avoiding the waves that splash their way up the beach - and the various obstacles the tide deposits - that will cause you to drop your mouthful and the points it contained. The art style was to be colourful and have a broad appeal, with cute elements tempered by a sense of humour that wasn't entirely childish, with the grumpily squawking chicks being a case in point.

    The project went incredibly smoothly, with the workload spread really evenly across the team - we had really lucked out with all three interns as they were autonomous and skilled enough that we could comfortably get on with Lazarus-related work for the duration, confident in the knowledge they were smashing out work on Peck N Run... though back then it was known simply as Bird Game. they were happy to interrupt us, at least after some early encouragement and nudging when they looked a bit lost or stuck, and we can't wait for an opportunity to work with them again, with any luck!

    The entire thing was a huge success. We managed to give all three interns credits on a game that has actually launched, we managed three junior-level developers across 3 disciplines, and correctly scoped and delivered on a small game in under 3 weeks.

    We can't wait to do it all again!

    Thanks for reading!

    You can follow us on Twitter, or jump into our discord to join in the good times!

    Peck N Run, an arcade action game, was made in a fortnight by Spilt Milk Studios and their interns, and you can play it here:  spiltmilkstudios.itch.io/peck-n-run

    Trailer: https://youtu.be/WX9KnMh5FYQ

    The interview article is posted on the Tentacle Zone website here.

    If you want to read about the label we launched with the release of Peck N Run, called Spilt Milk Shake, there's an interview available here.

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