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What I learned from my school project

Lessons learn from internship project in Level design formation.

alexandre delisle, Blogger

October 8, 2014

6 Min Read

Student at Work : Lessons in Game Development

First, here's a little something about me and my school.

I am a junior level designer who has gone back to school at 31 years old. Life gave me the chance to start anew and I decided to follow my heart. I enrolled in a Level Design vocational training program in Montreal at Campus ADN. Formerly known as Campus Ubisoft, the school has been offering since 2005 three post-secondary adult education programs in the field of game development, specifically 3D Modeling, 3D Animation and Level Design. These programs culminate in a 3-month game production in which the students of the 3 programs collaborate under the supervision of Montreal game industry working professionals. If you want to make games for a living, and speak/understand French, you might want to do a bit of sightseeing there.

In the beginning of our production trimester, teams of level designers had to pitch 6 different game concepts to the entire school - students, faculty members and staff. A vote determined the chosen one: a 3D plateformer involving morphing mechanics. We used tools of the trade including Unity3D engine for the game; 3DS Max for layout, modeling and animation; Zbrush for Character; C# and MonoDevelop for programming; Perforce for version control; as well an adapted version of Scrum for project development management.

Some LDs were doing the coding and I was one of them.

So here we were, nearly 50 students of 3 different trades, eager to test ourselves in a real production with real milestones.  As you can imagine, the experience of an all-junior team making a game was bound to include various difficulties and challenges. Whatever the pitfalls, I am glad of the many hard-earned lessons learned.

First Lesson - Teamwork 

For nearly one year, we were told that teamwork is one of the most important things on a production and we realise it is true.  It's impossible to make the best game we can if we are not working together.  By talking with each other, we were able to overcome the numerous bugs we generated and when we were in a creative pinch, bouncing ideas with those around helped us find a solution to our design challenges. 

I was more the ''if you want something done, do it yourself'' type of guy, but I learned that it is impossible to do everything by yourself, especially if you want to respect the deadline. Even with a lot of hours in a short amount of time, there is always something that needs to be done. Everyone needs to row in the same direction, trusting their teammate will do the same.

I took the double duties of coding and making a level. At first, when something needed to be done, I took it and put it on my plate. I was emptying my tank really fast. At one point, I realized that I wasn't doing the game by myself. I had to put some trust in my teammates and let them take their share.

Second Lesson - Meetings are Key

Even if it often seems to be a waste of time, communication is the only way to pass information, and meetings are one of the best vehicles to do it efficiently. Even if you don't talk most of the time, just listening helps you stay on the same page as everyone.

This was one of our mistakes; we didn't have enough meetings, and information didn't reach everybody. We were confident to give the info to the people who needed it, but often more people than what we imagined were affected by changes we made.

A great work structure can also prevent waste of time. To use a prioritization work design helps you focus on the need-to-have before doing the must-have and the nice-to-have feature in your game.

Third Lesson - Let It Go 

I knew that sometimes, even if we put hard work and time in a section of the game, it doesn't mean that it will make the final cut. 

For instance, although it was a requirement for completing a level, I spent some time finding an efficient way to make the collectible respawn after the avatar’s death. For the sake of the project, I had to pull that out at the end because it wasn't fun for the player to go through that process again.

At another moment, although 3 people worked long hours on a NPC (a modelor, an animator and I), we had to cut it off the game (and put it back in 3 weeks later). My level design was built around that NPC and it was a huge blow to my spirit. I learned to let it go, and I still did my best for the good of the game.

Fourth Lesson - Domino Effect 

Teammates are relying on you and you are counting on them. If you don't deliver, someone else's job can't be done. Yes, sometimes s*** happens, but overall, with a good workflow, some planning, and prioritizing, you can defend yourself against adversity life throws at you.

Also, we discovered the panic a small mistake can create and the importance of never pushing a non-working script on the server. A lot of time was lost, especially in the morning, when some scripting errors made everyone else unable to run the game. As programmers we had to double check everything so we didn't break the teammates’ workflow.


Fifth Lesson - The Greatest OCR 

At the end of the 15 weeks, we were tired, empty, and glad it was all over, but to get it done was one of the best feelings of accomplishment ever! I caught a glance of what mothers go through to bring a child in the world.  When I look at our child, I see the flaws, but I also see how much I gained from that pregnancy. The lessons I learned and the mistakes I made that I won't repeat are a small part of the reward. It was so rewarding that I wasn't able to wait, and with a couple of friends, we decided to create our own opportunity. We started a brand new project; it’s a turn-based game involving a S.W.A.T. team, some damsels in distress, and bad dudes in need of justice.

If I can give a piece of advice to those who haven't went through the process before, I would say find a riverfront, jump into the murky waters of game production and don’t resist the current. You’ll learn to swim soon enough, you’ll grow fins, and you’ll enjoy yourself immensely! You can take my word for it!


The game trailer of Shattered, a production of the Campus ADN class 2014 is available right here: http://youtu.be/XSVOsLbCTRI


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