In the past 8 years that we have been working as an independent game developer, we have tried various methods for handling the overall game development process. Starting with no methodology at all and continuing to agile methods and various customized versions of SCRUM for our team. Our development process has been evolving every month and we have been learning very much during this time, mostly learnging it the hard way.
One very important aspect of designing a development process is its dependencies on the project and the team. It all really depends on these two and this is probably the reason we can not find the exact same process work for different studios and customizing a methodology for every team is very important and advised.
The following variables affect the development methodology as related to the project:
- Project Scope
- Various Project Risks (Technical, Design, Business, Human Resource, External, ...)
- Project Duration
And considering the development team, these variables influence the selected process:
- Developer Experience
- Communication Between Developers
- Familiarity With the Selected Game Project
Here are the top three things that have really worked well for our development process for our latest title, Children of Morta.
1 - A Fixed Weekly External Playtest Session
We started playtesting the game from the second week right after the project start. Even us, ourselves, were skeptical about this and whether any meaningful testing can be done by people outside our team that early in the project. The results were fantastic! Not the results for the test itself, any gameplay test during pre-production and most of the production phase brings shame and tense feelings for the developers when done by external people, however, getting valuable feedback that early in the project was fantastic and it really helped in prioritizing the project tasks and making sure we can find the essence of fun in the game very early in pre-production.
The serious playtest at the end of the week which was observed by the whole team (6 developers), assessed the current state of the game and prepared us for the detailed plan for the next week. We use one week sprints and have plans for the main milestones but come up with the task details on a week by week basis.
2 - Honest Feedback on Design Decisions
We invited the developers from the other teams in our studio on a regular basis to provide feedback on the design decisions and ideas that were going to be used for "Children of Morta". The team would listen closely to the feedback and then decide about their actions. The impotant aspect here was that the feedback from other developers, even the more senior developers, was given to broaden the view of the developers of "Children of Morta" and were not necessarily converted into action plans. We wanted this small team to have full control over their creative decisions.
Honest feedback, which is often times not what the developer would like to hear, is quite important and the team needed to show quite a lot of maturity in order to hear this type of feedback.
3 - Tools for Task Management and Team Communication
Here is our workflow and how we used certain tools in order to follow the process.
- Regular weekly team meetings to come up with the main project milestones and prepare the high level spread sheets and design documents. Google Docs proved to be an invaluable tool specially for enabling distributed document sharing, peer review and revisions.
- Setting up a project task board using Trello (http://trello.com) for the coming week. The main project communication between team members, if not done face to face, was done using the comments feature of Trello. This digital board can act like the SCRUM task board for managing the sprints but can also enable proper asynchronous communication between team members with proper notification mechanisms.
- Adding all minor tasks and issues to Mantis Bug Tracker (http://mantisbt.org) . We allocated a portion of the weekly developer time to taking care of the issues in the bug tracker. This allocated time was increased as we moved from pre-production to the production phase.
- Using physical Post-It notes when main deadlines were really close. Nothing beats the old school colored pieces of paper when ultimate focus is ncessary.
The above three have been very influential for a smooth development process for our team so far. This game is still under development and we hope to share more from our experiences as we proceed.
Game Debut Trailer:
Game Story Trailer: