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A Story of Miscommunication (and some tips)

The story of a miscommunication incident on my team at school, and some tips on dealing with similar issues in the future.

A Story of Miscommunication

By Ed Dearien

Introduction

I am a student at The Guildhall at SMU, a top-tier master’s degree program in game development. Each cohort (class) is comprised of students in game development specializations –art, level design, software development, and production. I am a production student; therefore I am tasked with solving a great deal of team related problems that may arise during our class projects. Today, I will discuss an issue that arose recently involving miscommunication between art and level design specifically.

As Game Designer, I am responsible for maintaining the vision of the game. Therefore it is my job to channel that vision through the GDD and relay it to the rest of the team. Our game is an FPS about zookeepers fighting each other to capture a panda (aka. flag, it’s panda CTF, I know its great!). I was responsible for establishing a setting for the game, and relaying that to the Lead Artist.

 

Original Plan

The theme for the game was an American zoo with a Chinese themed panda exhibit. The Lead Artist took the description I gave them, and attempted to explain the theme to the Lead Level Designer. Over the next couple of weeks, the Level Design department introduced assets that were indicative of a Chinese zoo, not an American zoo (the original plan).

It is important to note that the Level Designers had to create some of the art assets to help the Lead Artist with the workload (he was our only artist).  The assets the LDs introduced ended up swaying the visual theme more towards China and not America. This is when I realized that some form of miscommunication was happening.

 

Resolution

As soon as I realized the theme was unintentionally changed, I scheduled a meeting with the Lead Artist, Lead Level Designer, and another Level Designer.  In this meeting, I attempted to find the underlying cause of where exactly the miscommunication happened, and how I can help fix it. It turns out that the Lead Level Designer told the Lead Artist that they understood the vision, but in reality they were still very confused. Because they did not speak up, the Lead Artist felt like they understood the setting, so did not bother to explain in more detail. This resulted in the Lead Level Designer taking some creative liberties on the level, specifically in the assets they created, and ended up with things that were ‘too Chinese.’ I encouraged everyone to communicate concerns, even if they seem stupid or unreasonable. It is always better to voice a concern rather than to sit on it and it cause problems down the road.

While the situation ended up costing us valuable man-hours on the project, there is a silver lining. There are no discrepancies about the game’s setting, and everyone is making more of an effort to communicate concerns to each other. This was a valuable experience for me, because it helped me see an example of miscommunication and how it domino effects out of control very quickly. In retrospect, I believe I handled the situation fairly well by initiating a meeting between each department and trying to figure out what the problem was. The simple answer to miscommunication is more communication.

 

Recap and Helpful Tips

To recap, handling miscommunication can be easier than you think. Here are a few tips to remember when you find yourself in a situation:

  • Objectively analyze the facts
  • Schedule a meeting with the parties involved
  • Communicate with effected parties that you have discovered a potential issue
  • Start a dialogue between individuals to get them to voice their concerns to each other
  • Stay positive, and remember that people make mistakes!

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