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 Post subject: The problem with indie adventures
PostPosted: Fri Dec 16, 2011 9:08 am 
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The problem with indie adventures
A practical project management approach


For years, I have seen many promising projects perdure for years and then sadly sink into oblivion. The reasons are almost always the same. Lack of spare time, exhaustion of working on a complex project, quarrel between team members and lack of organization and leadership.

Everyone wants his project to get done and attain expected results, but all of that comes at a price. You'll only notice the harsh hurdles of game crafting when you've worked for some time on the game. By then, there will be a developed attrition with colleagues and a general lack of interest in pursuing the final result, in an unorganized team. But what can we do to avoid the work of so many talent people being wasted?

Many of the guys responsible for the technical work (and the artists and creative minds, to some extent) in this line of business are on this because of their passion for old-school games. They tend to be proficient at software development/creation but they usually lack the skills of enterprise software engineering and project management, which are essential for any relatively medium/large project like adventure games.

It needs to be conveyed some set of rules which will allow the developers to align themselves under a common leadership and pursue the exactly the same goals dictated by the project manager, thus bringing a formal general entrepreneur behavior and feeling  to the team, even if they work in their spare times. More specifically I'm talking about bringing some basic concepts of the PMI for the sake of "getting things done".

Enough of this intro, I'll cut to the chase by my experience as a project manager:

*Many of these projects are conducted by a team of 2 to 4 friends who have old-school adventure games as a common passion. There we have 4 men working theoretically at the same time in the same project. If we could merge 2-3 "group of friends" into working together in the same project we could double or triple the speed of production.

*Each "group of friends" --which I'll call a 'subteam'-- can indicate a single 'subleader'. Of the 3 subleaders, one should be voted as the project manager, which is responsible for the general direction and good flowing of the project as a whole. Important aspects and directions of the project should be voted among the leader and subleaders.

*After the above steps are set, every team member must sign a "virtual contract" stating that every member must compromise himself to the project to his best efforts and accept and carry on the decisions of the leaders even if he doesn't agree.

*The whole team must assemble and hold a 'virtual meeting' to craft and decide the main elements of the game: history, concepts, graphical style, development patten and platform, task partition etc. These must be documented and well detailed (the details are sharpened as the project progresses) into a standardized document only available to the team.

*The work must be distributed by the leaders of their respective teams so no one gets overloaded nor no one idles. Each individual task must be set with a reasonable deadline and after this, a few days for eventual rework, corrections and/or alterations.

*Periodical virtual meetings should be held to decide and revise key points of the project and as to assure everything is running as planned. Everything must be recorded and clearly informed to all members.

When you work with such basic organization not only you feel you want to get it done asap, but you also feel what is like to work with a greater team and you don't want to disappoint the other team members nor your "boss", who are counting on you.

It's sad when I see a WIP game being scuttled because lack of organization. These guidelines are merely a means of helping people to get things done faster and better, and most importantly, a means of helping a game to get to the gamer. I encourage developers and artists to talk amongst themselves and make new contacts, new opportunities.

====

Hi AGDI, I started this discussion at IA, and I was just curious about what are your thoughts on the subject. I invite you to take a look at the earlier discussion and share your ideas, comments or suggestions.

http://www.infamous-adventures.com/foru ... topic=4975


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 Post subject: Re: The problem with indie adventures
PostPosted: Fri Dec 23, 2011 1:20 am 
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What would be the point?

No offense intended of course but this is pretty much all I could think of after reading your various proposal here and on the Infamous Adventures forum.

I mean, what's the difference between ten teams, each working on their own games, and your proposed mega team? Because that's what you want ultimately, several fangames and indie teams banding under one banner, cranking games like crazy. At least from what I understood.

What would be the advantage of having one mega team releasing one, maybe two games a year top instead of ten different teams releasing ten different games in the same amount of time? Because the indie adventure scene is already doing that. It did this for years, dozens of quality fan made adventure games have been released every years since 2004 or so. Games in 2D, 3D, low res, high res, comedy, horror, investigation, adventure, original, fanwork...

Unless you want this mega team to produce solely fangames? Because, this so called "problem with indie adventures" doesn't affect indies that much, sure, dozen of indie games get canned, lack of skill, lack of time, lack of motivation, lack of organization... but the problem is much more frequent with fangames and fanworks project.

NOTE: The difference between indie games and fangames is that, while both are made by hobbyist game makers, fangames are based on an existing universe or game series.

One of the biggest reason why so many fangames get cancelled and the biggest reason why most of them take so much time to produce is ambitions. Most people who make fangames want their game to be on par with the original series, and often that means one hundred backgrounds to explore and dozens of characters to meet and crazy tons of animations and a couple dozen hours of gameplay, like in the golden era. LucasArts, Sierra... they were companies, with paid employees working full time on these games. A small team of unpaid hobbyists cannot produce the same amount of work as LucasArts or Sierra in the same amount of time. It's impossible. That's why these games take time.

If fanwork makers were much more frugal and humble, making short games, with fifteen to twenty backgrounds, less characters and less animations instead of aiming for the stars, there would be much more fangames out there. Most successful indie adventure makers understood that, especially the commercial ones. And the problem is far worse when it comes to remakes, because there is less freedom with a remake, it's a remake, everything that was present in the original needs to be there, if not more. If Quest For Glory II VGA had twenty backgrounds, seven characters and a simplified combat and skill system, everybody here would be knocking at AGDI's door asking "What the eff is that?!"

Which bring us back to the mega team proposal, as a solution to crank up ambitious fangames at a faster rate. But not everyone is in this hobby for the same reason, for some it's just that, a hobby, for some it's a business, some prefer 3D, others prefer 2D, low res or high res, some prefer to work in an existing universe or game series, other prefers the creative freedom of original games... I see you suggest guys like TheJBurger or Dave Gilbert could join the mega team, why people making a living while telling their own stories in their own original games would trade trade away that freedom and income to make fangames for free?

NOTE: I love remakes and fangames, I'm in no way implying that there's no freedom in fangames and remakes nor that original games are superior to them, I'm just saying it's not everyone's goal.

Even between fanwork teams you will find clashes: working methods, conflicting egos, general philosophies (Remakes versus fangames, 1:1 versus Deluxe Redux, nostalgic or more recent graphics...)

So, really, what would be the point of this mega team, what would be the advantage over the current situation, where several games get released all the time, many originals, some fanworks, at an uneven pace I concede, but they get made nonetheless.

Things are alright the way they are. Sure, ambitious fanworks take time but it's the price to pay to produce, for free, a game with the same production values as the games from the professional companies of the golden era.


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 Post subject: Re: The problem with indie adventures
PostPosted: Wed Dec 28, 2011 10:18 pm 
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Totally disagree. What you are saying is: We are fine with casual games that last 30 minutes and have, in general, inferior production quality (graphics, sound etc). We have reached our limit. If you are into casual games like this, you can wallow yourself in flash and Facebook games and many others. What I am saying is: let's leverage this limit, gather a certain number of talented persons with similar goals and styles and make a (near-)professional quality "hardcore" title. Take AGDI as an example, with limited resources they've managed to produce top-quality games. With more persons involved we could have many more AAA games available.

But if you enjoy short games with 15 rooms to "explore", then fine. You are casual. That's your personal taste. But not everyone shares this preference.

I'd much rather wait for an ambitious, full-blown, and full-quality game, with all whistles and bells, than get one that has abruptly finished when you thought it was just starting up. That is my personal taste.

No matter if it is a remake, a fan game or a completely new IP here. Many games have been canceled due to some of the aforementioned reasons. And yes, two top quality full-blown games a year instead of ten small ones would be much better, IMO.

In an ideal world, nobody would want to make a short game, they do this because we are subject to real world severe limitations. In short, these concepts merely tries to humbly move production one step towards the "ideal world".

And why do people always get things so literally? Gemini Rue was just a random example. There are hundreds of talented people out there with similar tastes and expectations, it's mainly a matter of matching right persons/teams. They just need to talk over. You don't need to base your arguments on a single example.


"A small team of unpaid hobbyists cannot produce the same amount of work as LucasArts or Sierra in the same amount of time. It's impossible. That's why these games take time."

In the same amount of time I don't know. I have no idea what was the average production time of those classicals. But there is much room for improvement in production time.


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 Post subject: Re: The problem with indie adventures
PostPosted: Thu Dec 29, 2011 5:14 pm 
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Yay, strawman.

Well. I guess games like Barn Runner, Ben Jordan, the Blackwell series, Journey Down, Gemini Rue, the Chzo Mythos, The Marionnette and Hard Space are all casual, and that Ben304's games have about the same value as Facebook "games".

There's nothing much to add I guess.

Oh, oh, yes, and one last thing. I'm far from being casual. In fact, "casual" and "hardcore" are the two stupidest labels gamers ever invented. One day you will grow up, get a job, get a spouse, get a whole bunch of kids that needs your constant attention, and you'll realize that, while you still have the skills pwn noobs in a FPS or learn the subtleties of a 4X game, that you simply don't have the free time to do that anymore. You can be "casual" and play Facebook "games" fifty hours a week and you can be "hardcore" and be glad you can finish Portal in one sitting.

Well, I guess I'm done here.


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 Post subject: Re: The problem with indie adventures
PostPosted: Thu Dec 29, 2011 7:10 pm 
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Quite childish behavior here. Don't need to stomp away. ;)

You call it straw man, and then you say I said these specific games are all casual. Interesting.

Of these ones you mentioned I am only acquainted with Gemini Rue, so I can only talk about this one (but perhaps you might know more than me what I think). I can clearly say there is nothing casual in GR. It feels like an authentic adventure from the 1990s. Impressive graphics, story and gameplay. "Casual" and "hardcore" are rather abstract, but it is not the amount of men working on a game that will define whether it is casual or hardcore. The final product is what counts, no matter how one got there.

If you were a little bit smarter you would have realized by now that the ideas in this topic can help people do less in lesser time.

Can you do some basic math?

Example:

If a game needs 200 backgrounds, a single man can finish it up in 4 years.

With 2 men, each one gets half the 200 backgrounds to do, and production time shrinks considerably.

With 4 men, each one gets 1/4 the 200 backgrounds to do, and production time shrinks even more considerably.

And in case you still haven't noticed, with less game work, each one in the team gets more time to "live their lives".


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 Post subject: Re: The problem with indie adventures
PostPosted: Fri Dec 30, 2011 8:51 am 
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Fair enough, I guess I should cool off.

I could write you a list long as my arm of indie adventure games with anywhere between ten to twenty five backgrounds with one to ten hours of gameplay, depending how much you lose yourself in the plot and game world or if you get stuck on puzzles, hardly games you could mark off as "casual". All the games I just listed are exactly that. Heck, Dance 'Til You Drop has one room, it lasted me three hours, just because I took my time and had fun talking with every characters multiple time. The game was made in one week.

Just head over the AGS website, go in the games section and try the AGS award winners and nominees, the Picks Of The Month, the games with five, four and three cups, and you will find many quality adventure games, and you will discover it's possible to make great games with only a fraction of the assets LucasArts or Sierra put in theirs.

As for the original topic, a more effective solution in my opinion would be to stop making fangames, go commercial with some original IPs and reduce the scope of games so they can be produced in about a year each because it's better to sell four to five games in five years at $10 each than one game in five year at $50. Bonus if you can port them on Mac, Linux, Android and iOS too. And if you just can't give up fangames, then by all mean, reduce the scope of your project because you can make quality adventure games with just a fraction of the asset LucasArts or Sierra used.

And that's all I had to say on the matter really. I've got games that need to be played and things that need to be done if I want to play them fancy Space Quest fangames uninterrupted.


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 Post subject: Re: The problem with indie adventures
PostPosted: Thu Jan 05, 2012 2:33 am 
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If people want to produce 10-room games with simple graphics and such, that's fine, nobody is stopping them to do so. Nobody is enforcing anything here (as you make it sound such). There are and there will be plenty of options available, just suit yourself.

Right now, 2 specific examples popped up in my mind that could (have) benefit. Resonance, a fantastic professional-looking title, being labored only by a handful of persons. And as expected, it is taking far too long. They could easily benefit from the discussed scheme.

And Gemini Rue, that if I am not mistaken was painted and scripted by only one man.

Of course, there are many, many others.


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 Post subject: Re: The problem with indie adventures
PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2012 4:23 pm 
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I definitely see where you're going with this, Bulak. There are many small teams undertaking massive projects with limited time working full-time jobs, and interest tends to wane when the initial stages of a production change from being fun, to feeling like an arduous chore of endless work. A lot of this can stem from inexperience of beginning developers, and as you pointed out, the varying levels of ambition from various team members.

I myself had a huge amount of ambition when I first got into game development as a background artist, but I didn't know how to execute my ideas consistently at the beginning, which lead to frustration and burnout. I also used to involve myself with simultaneous projects, spreading my energy and productivity thin in the long run. I think this is one of the biggest problems a lot of indy developers have; they have such a passion for these classics that they are unable to say no when being recruited to multiple projects. Some are better at balancing priorities than others, but I discovered that I was far more effective when taking a linear approach on one game at a time.

Another major factor is experience of the developer. For example: I used to take much longer to do backgrounds in 320x200 resolution, and sometimes took several days to return with a new background. But towards the end of development on AGDI's King's Quest III vga, I was sometimes turning in 10 backgrounds per week. Not only was this a drastic step up from the productivity I had 4 to 6 years ago, but the quality was also superior. This same example can extend to other areas of development:

Programmers- more polished and efficient scripting methods increase with experience, which cuts down on the amount of bugs in early builds of a game. Also, improvements to game engines such as AGS don't hurt either.

Sprite Animators-rather than having to re-edit frames that are choppy and inconsistent, they are able to get them looking fluid and clean on the first attempt. This will drastically change the motivation of the artist as well, as it's extremely disheartening to have to redo something several times.

In the end, I think a balance has to be met in understanding the factors of experience, team size, and time limitations. A team can be too big, which can not only lead to inconsistencies, but can leave people feeling unable to shine amidst a large list of names. A small team feels that sense of monumental achievement when the production is over.

My ideal team size would be:

3 Programmers

2 Designers/Story Writers

4 Sprite Artists

2 Musicians

3 Background Artists


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 Post subject: Re: The problem with indie adventures
PostPosted: Sun Jan 08, 2012 11:17 am 
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I'd agree with that from KQArtist, except that the problem with our chosen engine, AGS, is that it's not made for more than a single programmer at a time. Currently I'm fixing some typographical issues in SQ2 for IA, so Gargin can't work on tweaking the mines until I'm done and hand back the source. Not to say it can't be done, but it makes it hard without source control.

I'll also mention that the two teams who have released remakes, IA and AGDI, have both got team members who are pretty stable in their respective teams. Not to say that's 100% true all the time, but mostly we do our bit on our games. One of the ways IA overcomes artist fatigue is to have multiple projects on the boil. This allows someone who has just drawn 400 frames of Roger Wilco, for example, the ability to do something else instead for a while (change being as good as a holiday after all.) We find this works because if we only had the one project a team member might just float away from burnout.

Quote:
And in case you still haven't noticed, with less game work, each one in the team gets more time to "live their lives".


See, that's the wrong way around. We live our lives FIRST. Game work second. At least that's how my team works, and I'd hazard to say a lot of fan groups.

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 Post subject: Re: The problem with indie adventures
PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 7:06 am 
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I guess that Sierra's old SCI would work better with division of labor with its discrete resources, scripts (SRC), backgrounds (PIC) sprites (V56), test (TEX), etc. True, they all get packed into a single resource file, and some of the resources would be interdependent, but different parts could be developed separately. Too bad that SCI Studio and Companion only supports SCI0.

That said, would some kind of private GIT server help?


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 Post subject: Re: The problem with indie adventures
PostPosted: Thu Jan 12, 2012 6:05 am 
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I don't think there is such a thing like an "universal team size". Each project has its own needs and characteristics alongside lots of changing variables. I mean, the overall goals of the project; the amount of animation and scripting; the number of locations; the desired quality level of everything; the experience level of individual team members, like you said; the rate that everyone is committed to deliver and so on.

I've seen your work. Pretty talented stuff. A rate of 10 BGs/week is pretty good. I hope you can meet more talented people to work with and make more cool projects.

Regarding "feeling unable to shine amidst a large list of names", I think that is not a very helpful line of thinking. Commercial games are the fruit of hundreds of people working together. The reason so many people have to work together is the same as for indies, nobody can do much alone. In the end, the whole team struggles to rise the name of their enterprise snd be part of it, and in case of indies, to rise the group name.

As for the lack of teamwork support in AGS, I've never installed this program, don't know how it works, but that's odd. A game itself is meant to be a teamwork project. There must be some sort of workaround or plugin to add some 3rd party source control and hopefully fix this.


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 Post subject: Re: The problem with indie adventures
PostPosted: Thu Jan 12, 2012 3:49 pm 
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Unfortunately, Klytos is right that it's often not practical for two programmers to work in AGS on the same project. The source files in AGS are plain text so you could allow one programmer to make changes to a specific file's text, but you wouldn't have control over the sprites, music, hotspots etc... Basically you would be severely crippled. Even importing rooms tends to be iffy. It transfers all the code and the room in, but any sprite numbering is then wrong as Programmer A and B might have been adding different graphics at different times and any non room changes such as global variables or globalscript calls would have to be readded. The only practical way I have seen to share programmer duties is to pass the ENCRYPTED source back and forth through a dropbox account so when one programmer
is busy the other one can be working on the game. Which would become difficult once your game gets towards completion. SQ2's source was over 500 MB towards the end.


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 Post subject: Re: The problem with indie adventures
PostPosted: Thu Jan 12, 2012 6:58 pm 
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We were able to handle multiple programmers pretty effectively with QFG2VGA and KQ3 Redux.

We would just designate one programmer as the person who currently had the "master" version of the source code. And there was a mutual understanding that ALL changes made to the code by the other programmer would get added to the "Master" version. Both programmers would agree in advance which sections of the game they'd work on - making sure their room files didn't overlap and that they wouldn't work on conflicting sections in the global script.

We'd maintain a forum thread where the person who didn't have the master source code would post links to all of the room files, graphics, sprites, music, integers, and global script lines they'd changed. They would also include any specific instructions; for example "Line 58 has a function that points to sprite slot 200, but you might have already imported another sprite over this slot, so just import this sprite below into the master source and change line 58's code to reflect the new sprite slot."

The programmer who had possession of the "master" source would visit this forum thread periodically, and import all of the newly posted files/code (and carefully follow any instructions left by the other programmer).

After a certain amount of time, the "Master" would be re-uploaded and the other programmer would download it and extract it over his existing game files (after backing up, of course). This way, both programmers would have identical source code again.


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 Post subject: Re: The problem with indie adventures
PostPosted: Thu Jan 12, 2012 7:11 pm 
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Thanks for the insight on how you guys handled that AGC2. It's really cool to hear how other groups operate. I had considered doing something along these lines for a project at one point, but I had been experimenting with Dropbox instead. I might have to give this method a shot.


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 Post subject: Re: The problem with indie adventures
PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2012 1:57 am 
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You know, I've been seriously considering making a game, and while I realize it is a massively time consuming effort, I still plan on doing a trilogy as a tribute to Sierra, using AGI studio, SCI Companion/Studio, and AGS (the only reason being is that there is, sadly, no functional SCI studio VGA). I plan on doing it entirely solo largely because I don't know anyone in my immediate area that is willing to join me on the project, and given how haphazard I go about stuff, I doubt I'll be able to keep them on my team.

Till next time stay cool 8))


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