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Join videogame industry veteran Michael Thornton Wyman on a series of detailed, behind-the-scenes tours with the teams that have made some of the most popular and critically acclaimed videogames of the modern era. Drawing on insider's perspectives from a wide variety of teams, learn about the creation of a tiny, independent game project (World of Goo), casual game classics (Diner Dash, Bejeweled Twist), the world’s most popular social game (FarmVille) as well as the world’s most popular MMORPG (World of ...
Join videogame industry veteran Michael Thornton Wyman on a series of detailed, behind-the-scenes tours with the teams that have made some of the most popular and critically acclaimed videogames of the modern era. Drawing on insider's perspectives from a wide variety of teams, learn about the creation of a tiny, independent game project (World of Goo), casual game classics (Diner Dash, Bejeweled Twist), the world’s most popular social game (FarmVille) as well as the world’s most popular MMORPG (World of Warcraft), PC titles (Half Life 2) to AAA console games (Madden NFL 10), and modern-day masterpieces (Little Big Planet, Rock Band, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves). Hear directly from the creators about how these games were made, and learn from their stories from the trenches of videogames production. This book is an excellent resource for those working directly on game design or production, for those aspiring to work in the field, or for anyone who has wondered how the world's greatest videogames get made.
* Provides an in-depth look at ten contemporary, best-selling and critically acclaimed videogames across a variety of styles, game types, and platforms. * Unprecedented access and insight into the inner workings of the teams, large and small, responsible for bringing several best-of-breed videogames in the world to market - hear directly from the creative teams in their own words in detailed case studies. * Analysis of best practices and pitfalls common to the process of creating great games through all phases, from concept development through prototyping, production, testing and launch. * Includes a dozen interviews with games industry leaders, all of whom have shipped great games including: Halo, The Sims, God of War, Spore, Brutal Legend, NBA Street, Splinter Cell, Skate, Need for Speed, and more. * Hands-on tools and hard-won, real world advice from recognized industry experts you can start using immediately to make better video games. * A companion website provides more up-to-date information as well as reader forums.
A PlayStation 3 exclusive title, LittleBigPlanet was the first game created by Media Molecule, a development studio started in 2006 in Guildford, England. LBP, as LittleBigPlanet is commonly abbreviated, was published by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, with a North American release on October 27, 2008. From the game's first public presentation by Sony executive Phil Harrison at the Game Developers Conference in the spring of 2007, LBP has garnered almost religious fervor among fans for its genre-bending style and gameplay. LittleBigPlanet offers a distinctive, fresh, and decidedly unconventional approach to what a console game can be.
At its core LittleBigPlanet is a classic side-scrolling platform game, but it is original in almost every conceivable fashion — from the game's main character (Sackboy, Sackgirl, or Sackperson) to the game's physics, presentation style, audio, and perhaps most importantly, the extensive incorporation of user-generated content (UGC) into the player experience. A major component of the game, and no small measure of the game's widespread and passionate appeal, user-generated content plays a starring role that in the LBP experience. The revolutionary 'Popit' functionality within LBP that enables players to quickly and easily customize their character as well as their own levels has resulted in over 2 million user-generated levels being published as of this writing. The game's tagline: "Play. Create. Share." perfectly sums up what legions of the game's fans are doing within LBP each and every day.
I spoke with Siobhan Reddy, Media Molecule's Studio Director and Executive Producer of LBP, about the challenges of building a studio and a game at the same time. "Guildford is a small pocket of games development in England," she began, "and I had been working at Criterion there for seven years when the Media Molecule founders — most of whom had been working together at Lionhead Studios, also in Guildford — asked me to come aboard as Executive Producer. I set myself a challenge to develop a different kind of studio — one that had a great culture that was very complementary to creative people, but that was also commercially and creatively successful. Basicallyw ea ll hoped to develop the kind of place where we could create something that we ourselves all loved."
Developer: Media Molecule
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Release date: October 27, 2008
Release platform(s): PlayStation 3
Development engine(s) used: None — everything was created from scratch.
Game development timeline: 31/2 years; started January 2006
Development team size: 27 (maximum)
Awards, honors, sales thresholds, etc.: LBP appeared on multiple 'best of' lists for 2008, and the game has won numerous awards, including many 'Game of the Year' honors; the team is most proud of the 2008 BAFTA award for Artistic Achievement.
What Went Right
Hired the Right People
Finding great people is always a challenge, and starting from scratch with a new studio makes this process especially tricky. Reddy viewed building a great core team as a primary challenge upon joining Media Molecule. She realized that they were setting out on a very unconventional course: rather than utilizing a centralized, single-person team leader for their game, Media Molecule's co-founders — Mark Healey, Dave Smith, Alex Evans, and Kareem Ettouney — were planning to collaboratively direct the company's creative efforts. Establishing the right culture where this format could work proved a significant challenge, and a key piece of the puzzle was making sure, especially as they added more and more people to the team, that they were bringing on the right people.
It took fine-tuning to get to the point where Reddy and her team felt that they were hiring effectively. Put more bluntly, early on the team churned through several people who didn't work out. At the end of the day, though, Reddy points to these hiring decisions, and honing their hiring process at Media Molecule, as critical to their game's success. "When I look at LittleBigPlanet I can see pretty much everyone from the team; I sort of see each and every person's personality in the game itself. The general direction of LBP is very forgiving in that it is almost like a blank canvas that allows people to get their individual style onto it, yet it still hangs together. This was by design — we always wanted people to feel like we had all made the game together. A good example of this is Kareem, our Art Director, whose role really evolved into working with all of these fantastically talented artists, and instead of 'directing' them to conform to an established style, which is the more traditional way of making games, he set a framework when choosing the craft look and each of the world themes. As Art Director Kareem then encouraged his team to maintain their unique styles and personalities. He jammed with them to ensure that their individual styles all fit into the game. LBP is the kind of game that allows this to happen more than others."
It may seem like a counterintuitive notion to inject 'personality' into a commercial enterprise, but Reddy pointed out that at Media Molecule they actively look for talented people who have a strong personality and a drive to manifest this commercially. "It can be difficult to find people who are aligned with this but they are worth the wait. I feel there has been a mismatch in perception that if one is working on a commercial product, then there is no room for personality. But going all the way back to Michelangelo, who was after all working for the church — and if you think about it, what he put up there in the Sistine Chapel is really pretty cheeky — even Michelangelo put his personality into his work, and that is why it has stood the test of time. This philosophy is part of our culture — we wanted to create a studio where a small group of people can continually get better at their craft, explore different things, and just be fabulous. Of course, the reality is that all of this is underpinned by the fact that we are shipping products, and we need to have milestones; it can't be all chaos and fun. So figuring out how to determine which artists and programmers could fit into this system really helped us build the game (and ultimately the studio) that we wanted to build.
"Looking back, I can see that we are a very optimistic bunch of people. Rather than looking at the issues that inevitably came up during production as problems, we saw them as challenges. One of the other most interesting things in terms of common personality traits that I see among the people that have worked out for us is humor. I know that I can have a laugh with pretty much everyone in the studio. And believe me, that really helps us in difficult times."
Crafted Our Culture
Starting a new studio from scratch meant that Media Molecule could carefully control the studio culture as it was being created. For Reddy, this was critical and a focus of her efforts from the very beginning. She feels that this culture that they all worked so hard to cultivate had an important hand in the success of LBP. Reddy highlighted the emphasis that she and the team placed not only on processes, but also on the physical environment of the studio. "This is something I think about a lot," explains Reddy. "Whenever I travel to a show or event, I try to go and visit other studios. At this point I've been to loads of studios, in the U.S., Japan, all over Europe. I find them ever fascinating, and I feel they can tell you a lot about how a team works."
Reddy brings her analysis to bear on decisions about the physical environment at Media Molecule. "One of the things we do here is that we use the environment to communicate to everyone where we are with the game, both internally for ourselves as well as for anyone who is here for a meeting or site visit. We have an open floor plan, and everyone sits together in one big room. We have tons of open wall space, and we try to utilize our walls as 'working walls,' with loads of art and diagrams posted all over them. These are useful for the artists and creators themselves, but also great because they allow the team to see what's going on in other areas. I've seen other studios designed around noise levels, or functionally. And it's not like there's one correct way to do this, but for us, we wanted to make it really easy for folks to jam with the other people they're working with." Jamming is an important aspect to creative life at Media Molecule; we'll hear more about that shortly.
Reddy also emphasized the importance of communal, nonwork areas in their space. "This is something that I think most game teams will identify with," explained Reddy, "as when you make a game you end up spending a lot of time together — at some points more time than you spend with your friends. We had an area where we could all eat together. It might sound trivial, but I think it was really important. There were long periods of staying at the office, working late, and we had a very nice kitchen table, and really nice food. In fact, some folks would wait around just for the food, even though they weren't working late on that particular day. I truly believe in 'the family that eats together, stays together' philosophy, and we lived that — we were like a family, getting together for dinner to discuss the day's events. It depended on the phase of the project, but a lot of the work that needed to get done were the kinds of thing where people are thinking and creating, drawing or writing code, and so needed to be in 'the zone,' with the headphones on, so eating together at the end of the day allowed us to come together and visit and kind of recap the day." Media Molecule eventually outgrew their space, and this meant they no longer had an area that would accommodate a table large enough to seat the entire team together. "We're moving in a month, and we have made sure that our new space has an area large enough for that really nice kitchen table that's going to be big enough for our family dinners and lunches again."
The team at Media Molecule that created LBP organized into what they refer to as 'molecules,' small interdisciplinary groups, each responsible for a specific part of the project. "This was pretty much directly inspired by Valve," recalls Reddy. "We all read their Gamasutra piece on their Cabal structure, and we thought that sounded perfect for the kind of studio and game we were planning to make. So we took that as our inspiration and tweaked it to fit our own needs. At the beginning, we were all one big group, but we eventually got to the point where it was too many people to be in the same meeting, so it was time to 'moleculize' into multiple, smaller groups. After the greenlight period we formed these groups, almost like bands, of people working together. It was up to these small groups, always working with one of our four creative directors, to come up with their own goals for the specific area of the game that they were focused on.
"This felt very natural to me, and was in fact how I had been working at Criterion. The benefits of cross-pollination are incredible, to have smaller groups of people put together with a common goal. In fact, it kind of felt like a 'no-brainer' for us, but again that's probably because it's so perfectly suited to the style of game that LBP is. And for us, one other important detail is that these groups do change over time, and also a person can be part of more than one molecule. This is especially true for producers, who may work with multiple molecules to help these groups make their plans visible to the team. But the molecules themselves have to come up with their own plan. They need to birth it and own it — this should not just be up to production. And having that ownership within the molecule has been really successful for us. The molecule owns the conception, and also the delivery. Production's job is to track what the molecules are doing, and to hold the big picture of how each molecule's efforts are fitting together to hit the overall goals for the project, as well as to look after the other aspects of bringing the game together such as QA, localization, and the generation of PR/Marketing assets."
Excerpted from MAKING GREAT GAMES by MICHAEL THORNTON WYMAN Copyright © 2011 by Elsevier Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Acknowledgements; Introduction; Part 1: The Games: Little Big Planet (Media Molecule) (interview - Chris Trottier/Game Designer/Spore); World of Warcraft (Blizzard) (interview - Robyn Wallace/Development Director/NBA Street V3); Diner Dash (Gamelab) (interview -Don Walters/Producer/Burger Shop 2); Half Life II (Valve) (interview - Richard Dansky/Game Writer/Splinter Cell: Conviction); Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (Naughty Dog) (interview - Wade Mulhearn/Artist/God of War III); Rock Band (Harmonix) (interview - Peter McConnell/Composer/Brutal Legend); FarmVille (Zynga) (interview - Stefan Sinclair/Programmer/Halo 3); Bejeweled Twist (PopCap) (interview - Clint Jorgenson/Front End Designer/Skate 3); Madden NFL 10 (Electronic Arts) (interview - Stephen Kearin/Voice Actor/The Sims); World Of Goo (2D Boy) (interview - Rich Curren/Art Director/SSX On Tour); Part 2: Analysis: Commonalities: What Goes Right; Commonalities: What Goes Wrong; The Nature of High Performing Teams; Applying These Learnings to Your Game Projects; Hiring and Managing for Success (interview - Fields/External Producer/Need For Speed: Undercover)
Posted April 4, 2012