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In the game development industry, there are times it's easy to forget that you are even working because you are so passionate about what you are making.

Arun Kumar Kadaganchi, Blogger

June 27, 2023

7 Min Read

Introduction

The Guildhall at the Southern Methodist University (SMU) is renowned for its rigorous learning and comprehensive curriculum encompassing Art, Design, Software, and Production disciplines. A standout component of the program is the Team Game Projects (TGP), where students collaborate across disciplines to create fully shippable games, fostering teamwork and experiential learning opportunities.

Starting Small

TGPI is an exhilarating course that allows students to create fully playable Android games in self-organizing teams of five. My TGPI team, called “Team RazzMaKazz”, consisted of an artist, a programmer, and three level designers (including myself). I was determined to make a game that would truly stand out. With no designated leader, we embarked on an exciting four-month journey.

Finding the Core Idea

I was very eager to dive into the new project. During the first crucial days, our team brainstormed ideas for the core and theme of our game. Encouraging everyone's input, we fostered a supportive environment where ideas could flourish. It was then that our programmer suggested a game mechanic involving projectiles reflecting off walls to eliminate enemies. The entire team instantly liked this concept, and we wanted it to be our core gameplay mechanic. Collaboratively, we delved into enhancing the core idea and solidifying our game mechanics.

Playing the Bad Guy

To maintain focus and prevent the idea from unraveling, I took on the role of the "bad guy." Armed with previous experience, I diligently turned down ideas that veered away from our core, providing logical reasons for their dismissal. Simultaneously, I supported ideas that aligned with our original vision, strengthening them. By the end of the week, we had some seriously brainstormed mechanics that went deeper into our simple yet strong core idea. Excitedly, we prepared to pitch our concept at the Proof-of-Concept Technology (PoCT) milestone. Our team's hard work paid off at the PoCT milestone. We stood out among the other groups by infusing music into our presentation and received very positive feedback from our stakeholders. The greenlight ignited our passion further, and we were ready to pour our hearts and souls into making the game happen.

Work Ethic and Team Norms

Despite having a mix of experience levels, our team fostered a lively work environment. I maintained an aloof work ethic, going above and beyond tasks and occasionally taking it easy. We embraced unique team norms, such as a push-up penalty for mistakes or issues. We even coined the term "juice" for the HDMI cable, and I became the resident "juice head," showcasing my dexterity skills while playing soundtracks from my favorite games and movies, which became a source of amusement and camaraderie. Rather than a source of stress, our TGP I hours were something we eagerly anticipated—a space where we indulged in doing what we loved. The commitment and dedication we exhibited were evident in every aspect of our final shipped game, resulting in a solid, fun experience complete with captivating visuals, immersive sound effects, and more.

Acting Leader, Passionate Workplace:

Although I was a Level Designer on the team and I never held the official title of leader, I took on the role of acting leader. By establishing a passionate workplace environment, I energized the team and pushed them to exceed their limits. Together, we achieved more than we could have individually.

I was thrilled by the idea of working as a Producer on our next TGP, where our entire cohort of 50 would work on an Arcade racing game as a small-scale studio. The idea of collaborating with a larger team fueled my passion even further and heightened my excitement for this ambitious project. However, little did I know that it would prove to be quite different.

Moving to a Larger Team

TGPII was an enriching and transformative experience that allowed me to lead a team of 20 talented Level Designers. As someone passionate about driving success and energizing teams, I was excited to take on this new challenge. However, I quickly realized that my initial approach wasn't resonating well with my peers. It was a humbling experience that pushed me to reflect, adapt, and grow as a leader.

I learned valuable lessons in my experience, some of the lessons include the following:

1. Navigating Initial Challenges

At the beginning, my enthusiasm and eagerness to connect with the team sometimes missed the mark. I struggled to adapt to a team that had so many different personalities. Clapping my hands to gather attention and start our daily scrum, for example, was perceived as rude by some. It was a valuable lesson in understanding different perspectives and adjusting my actions accordingly.

2. Embracing Restlessness and Finding Balance

As a naturally restless person, I often found it challenging to stay seated without work for more than a few minutes. To address this, I would constantly move around, assisting others or checking on their progress. While my intentions were good, this habit inadvertently hindered my peers' ability to focus on their tasks. I had to strike a balance between my restlessness and providing the necessary space for my team members to work efficiently.

3. Improving Communication and Efficiency:

During the initial stages, conducting the daily scrum with a 10-person team proved inefficient. To enhance productivity, I introduced concise communication techniques. By delivering prioritized tasks and announcements succinctly using less words but conveying more, I promoted quicker responses and minimized disruptions. This approach saved time and encouraged the team to provide concise updates, resulting in improved leader member exchange and team efficiency throughout the project.

4. Learning from Feedback and Growth:

Receiving peer feedback is an invaluable opportunity for self-improvement. While it was frustrating to realize the unintended impact of my enthusiasm, I remained determined to channel my energy in a way that would make me a better leader. I took these insights to heart and made a conscious effort to be more aware of my communication, ensuring that it remained respectful and empowering.

5. Acting and Building Trust:

Armed with self-reflection and newfound confidence, I set out to become the leader my team could trust and rely on. I adjusted my communication style, confidently delivering the daily announcements with credibility and clarity. I became more efficient with my time, ensuring I stayed productive without distracting my teammates. Additionally, I embraced alternative communication methods such as instant messaging for minor inquiries, reducing disruptions while maintaining effective collaboration. As our game progressed toward the Beta milestone, I witnessed the growing trust and confidence my peers had in me as a leader.

6. Aiming Higher and Rallying the Team:

During one instance I had to decide to cut the scope of our game which would impact on four members of our team. To address this, I formulated a questionnaire and conducted one on one’s with each of them to understand their sentiments towards their work and ultimately empowered them to make the decision themselves. This left the affected team members happier and strengthened their trust in me as their leader.

Maintaining consistent discipline for more than 10 weeks, I could see a notable increase in the trust my teammates placed in me. This led to a willingness to rally behind me, enabling us to meet extremely tight deadlines and deliver builds on time. With efficient and succinct leader member exchange, I was able to keep the entire discipline of level designers on target throughout the development schedule and achieve our goals with a high level of team efficiency.

Conclusion:

My experiences in TGP I and TGP II as an energetic and passionate leader were transformative, taught me valuable lessons in leadership, teamwork, and personal growth. Being energetic and very passionate about work thrived well in a small team of 5 but took a long lesson for me to get used to multiple personalities, channeling my energy to useful, non-disruptive ways to build efficient work environment and trustworthy leader member exchange. I learned that leadership is a continuous learning process that requires adaptability and introspection.



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