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Danielle Riendeau, Editor-in-Chief

April 4, 2023

8 Min Read
return to monkey island characters in a map shop

Game production isn't always the most glorious or heralded work in this industry, but it's absolutely crucial to a smooth (or even functional) development process. Producers organize and facilitate every aspect of game dev, and some of the best talks (and interviews) the Game Developer crew wrote up at GDC 2023 this year not only reflected this importance — they also had your truly taking copious notes for my own practice. We couldn't attend every talk (we'll be checking Vault for the rest), but here are a few of our favorites. We're also including interviews with Alt.Ctrl.GDC creators and IGF finalists, who had particular production challenges and solutions to share.

Learning the production secrets of Return to Monkey Island

Terrible Toybox Lead Producer Jenn Sandercock revealed a treasure trove of secrets from the creation of last year's Return to Monkey Island.

"We made sure in our sprint meetings [that] we had six or less people in a meeting, [and made] sure it was just people within the same discipline," she said. "If we had more than that, the meeting would go for a lot longer and a bunch of people would be listening to work which wasn't very relevant to them. We made sure we would ask retrospective questions ahead of time so that people have time to stop and think about what was going on for them. Or big questions. [We asked] 'what went well?' 'what could have gone better?"

One bit of advice I personally loved (and might steal for our own tasks here at Game Developer) was the system of estimating task person-hours. The team used t-shirt sizes, from extra small all the way to multiple XL (and with cute animal emoji). Team members could give a very clear estimate based on this colorful criteria, and, naturally, adjustments could be made from there as needed.

not for broadcast TV switcher with many screens and buttons

Handling dystopian news in NotGames' Not For Broadcast

Not for Broadcast sees players handling the programming of a live nightly news broadcast, keeping things clean (or not) for government overlords.

"Our team all have a background in TV and film, so I was looking for a way to incorporate that unique skill set into our games. Her Story by Sam Barlow was a big inspiration. I especially liked how he used the live action video diegetically—the player character is watching videos as part of their job—as this felt like a way to use video in an immersive way for the first time. This led me to the thought that the gallery of a TV station would be a really engaging and interesting way to use real video in a completely unique way."

Developing a live game that never truly left Early Access with Deep Rock Galactic

How listening to the audience and implementing player feedback transformed this co-op FPS into a popular live service game.

Deep Rock Galactic, which Akopyan describes as a mixture of Minecraft and Left 4 Dead, was launched in 2016 and sold 90,000 copies in its first week. Knowing that the team would need to sell an additional 10,000 copies per month to stay afloat, the team designed cosmetics as a major part of the game from the get-go, inspiring a strong and expressive fanbase that came to see the aesthetic as a large part of the appeal. The addition of cosmetics would also allow them to keep the game profitable without the lengthy pipeline of traditional DLC, opening up opportunities to continually engage with the fanbase and better retain their attention over time.

Exploring unique surveilling and thieving controllers for Debono's HEIST '98

HEIST '98 uses cameras, door controls, and tapping pad controllers to simulate a thief and security guard going head-to-head.

"The touch pads for the thief player were built out of cardboard, tape, and foil, which, although crude, proved to be resistant to smacks and hits from players. The keypad for the security player was made from a repurposed DIY macro pad, which I customized with extremely clicky Kailh Box Jade mechanical keyboard switches. Each player was given a PVM-style CRT monitor, and each play space was decorated with a variety of printed maps and sticky notes."

Creating the endgame of God of War Ragnarok was a battle for its developers

The senior level designer of the PS5's most ambitious action game explains how the final battle almost broke the game.

"We tend, as an industry, to put off content to the end of the dev cycle, and certainly we didn't," said Smith about creating the endgame of Ragnarok. "We didn't start the paper maps for the Ragnarok battle until two years into what was then a three years production, and it was not going to be enough time. This is also very common, right? Because all of you have heard it. Everybody knows that "conventional wisdom," that of the people who play your game, only 10 to 20% make it to the end, right? So putting your time and money there doesn't make sense, right? Well, I'm going to push back on that because I don't think that's the case anymore."

Bringing 'sus' vibes to a new perspective with Among Us VR

With the massive success of Among Us, Innersloth expanded the game in big ways, including a trip into VR made by co-developer Schell Games.

"[Developing for] VR is no easy feat, even with an established IP like Among Us," said Rabbitt. This notion underscored the general theme of the panel. The jump to VR was not only an entirely new perspective for Among Us's 2D top-down perspective, but it also led to a rethinking of how specific actions and visual elements that players were familiar with had to be designed for the Oculus Quest 2 and other VR devices. Jennifer Rabbitt started off the panel with a candid look back on the lead up to the announcement and release of Among Us VR. Starting with 11 devs in-house at Schell Games, the dev team eventually grew to over 40, including staff from Innersloth and outside vendors to support the transition to VR. This game was also Rabbitt's first video game, and she leveraged her experience in product management in the tech sector for Among Us VR.

time bandit character and time crystals

Time Bandit is an idle game that examines how employers steal your time

Time Bandit is an idle game about factory work that asks the player to examine how employers are stealing their time. And maybe they can steal a little time right back.

I have been working on Time Bandit for so long that it now makes up, by far, the largest part of my background in making games. I know that this means I’m doing the thing that everyone knows you’re not supposed to do—work on a huge project for a really long time. But a large part of what I’ve enjoyed about making Time Bandit has been learning so many skills, and to some extent, I don’t see the difference between doing that with one large eclectic project and a bunch of small ones. I think I probably would have learned even more doing the latter, but still, a lot of that advice seems to be concerned with efficiency and it’s not worth overthinking what you "should" be doing if you’re doing what you want anyway.

I also just enjoy really living with a project—getting lost in it and coming out different on the other end. With all that said, I’m definitely going to rein things in a bit next time around. I just didn’t quite know what I was getting into when I started this.

How Tiny Tina's Wonderlands' development embraced interdisciplinary cooperation

Gearbox's Kayla Belmore and Matt Cox discussed their efforts to make development on Tiny Tina's Wonderlands as frictionless as possible between the production and design departments, and later the whole studio.

Cox brought up three pillars of development during Tiny Tina: scope-minded creative direction, quality-minded production, and whole health advocacy. For the first two pillars, he talked about the importance of making achievable design goals from the start of the project. “The goal is not to have no scope [creep],” he said. “The more you can prepare and buffer that from the beginning to the best of your ability, the better [the game’s] development is going to be.” Further, he stressed that transparency with team leads at all times was critical, along with reporting issues early on.

“We want all the teams to be very aware of the challenges every moment of every milestone. [...] Every choice affects more than just you in your seat, and that’s an okay thing to teach in the design department.”

Haber Dasher steers alien invaders with a massive co-op hat controller

Haber Dasher is a sensible controller for well-dressed pals, where two players use a giant hat to help an alien blend in on Earth.

Building a hat this large that was also light enough to wear was a really unique and interesting challenge. I had to do a lot of materials testing for everything from the base and construction of the hat to the materials and coatings that cover the outside of the hat.

One of the biggest challenges was just working at this scale. For example, I had to cut the base of the hat on a CNC machine because it was the only tool I had access to that was big enough to fit the foam that forms the brim. The structure of the hat is a chicken wire and foamboard base covered in sculpted spray foam, lightweight spackle, and then painted black. I also created or adapted patterns for and sewed the fabric trimmings and head holes myself. The whole process took about seven months from start to finish.

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About the Author(s)

Danielle Riendeau

Editor-in-Chief, GameDeveloper.com

Danielle is the editor-in-chief of Game Developer, with previous editorial posts at Fanbyte, VICE, and Polygon. She’s also a lecturer in game design at the Berklee College of Music, and a hobbyist game developer in her spare time.

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