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Endless Space: When Triple-A Developers Go Indie

November 29, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next
 

Building the Core Team

In parallel with the funding, the most critical element of any creative enterprise is to get great people. We put together a core team of leads (who would also be investors) for each discipline. Breaking down by role, they were:

Admin

  • Their finance whiz, to act as CFO and help plan budgets

Content

  • Romain de Waubert, COO and creative director
  • Corinne Billon, first as a consultant, then as an employee, to be the art director
  • Arnaud Barbier, lead technical artist, who left and was replaced by Mathias Grégoire
  • Me, to be the writer/narrative director

Tech

  • Mathieu Girard, CEO and producer
  • Eric Audinet, an experienced game coder, as lead programmer

In addition to the core team -- with an average of eight years of experience in the industry -- the decision was made to bring in relatively inexperienced but very high quality "juniors" to fill the other roles.

Programmers, artists, designers, and an associate producer who all had from zero to two years of experience in the industry were hired. The theory -- validated by the final product quality and aggregate reviews -- is that the leads had the knowledge and abilities to bring the beginners along and get the best out of them.

GAMES2GETHER

From the start -- and even before -- we were convinced that game development in the 21st century had to be done in close cooperation and coordination with the fans and the community. While engaging the community may seem like a "no-brainer", there is an enormous difference between setting up moderated public forums and actually tracking, responding to, and prioritizing the community's suggestions in a way that is open and transparent.

For that, Amplitude made another key acquisition: Max von Knorring. Max was an up-and-coming marketing whiz at Ubisoft who we seduced into trading a brilliant career path for poverty, uncertainty, and stress. In compensation, we gave him the title of "director." Max ended up heading marketing and communications and developed the entire community interface concept. His brainchild was that interested members should be able to watch, track, and support the development process to the point of voting on features and commenting on game design. Known as "G2G" (GAMES2GETHER), the community interface had two guiding principles:

  1. Publish the game design documents so the community could immediately see and comment on the ideas, plans, and directions of the studio. This would help provide direct access to the dev team and start a communication loop between the developers and the players.
  2. For those less interested in detail or lacking in time, there would be a series of regular votes on the forums so that they could still be heard and get engaged in the game development.

We launched the G2G site as well as official forums that were designed to support and promote these interactions.

And did it work? Well, let's put it this way: Max had to create a special award, Space Ninja, for the three hardcores who figured out the web address and signed into the forums before they were open and announced (Alderbranch, Sharidann and Znork, are you reading this?).

While we were still in alpha, we had such astronomical growth on the forum that we had to bring someone in full time to help manage the community. During the beta phase of the development cycle the forums had over 20,000 members, with hundreds on-line at any time, and we broke the 30,000 barrier just before launch. Even better, a number of particularly engaged fans and modders, excited by the game and G2G, volunteered to help moderate the forums. Enormous thanks to:

Alderbranch
DannyD
Davea
Nosferatiel
Raptor
Sharidann
VieuxChat

Scrum Production

One of the first decisions that the core team had to take was to select a development methodology. In that fourth-floor apartment in Paris, the team had a number of discussions on waterfall versus RAD with bits of Scrum and maybe iterative/Agile or whatever, and there was a lot of back and forth about what the opportunities and the challenges of the different methods were.

In the end, the team decided to go with Scrum, "sprints," and "user stories" primarily because it was iterative; testing and building and changing the design mid-stream seemed like something that would be critical to keeping the project manageable. That was also a good match with Unity, as the engine permits updating and prototyping on the fly.

We covered one wall of the studio with a white board that we used to show progress by discipline. Our Associate Producer, Laurent Lemoine, had the dubious pleasure of leading the daily 10 AM Scrum meetings where everyone explained what they did yesterday, presented what they planned to do that day, and exchanged ideas and offers of help. Mathieu and Romain acted as the "customers" for the Scrum, creating an enormous spreadsheet of the user stories that were slowly whittled down, week-by-week, over the course of a year.


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Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

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Comments


Mark Sheppard
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A really great article. We have some amazing parallels with you guys in terms of our experience to-date and our approach, so we have a lot of respect for everything you achieved.

We're all huge fans of Endless Space here—it's a great fun game, especially in multiplayer.

Congratulations on your success; it is very well deserved! :)

Chris McLeod
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Excellent read. Congrats guys! I'll have to give your game a try. Would love to hear about your marketing strategies.

Jeremy Reaban
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"Stars, spaceships, aliens, and galaxies should be way cooler and more modern than the simplified, comic strip look of many previous games."

That's actually been one of my problems with almost every 4x game since the Master of Orion/Magic days - instead of hand drawn art, everything is 3d. For planets/etc, that's fine, but for aliens, you run into that uncanny valley problem, things look like mannequins, and starships that aren't detailed simply look like toy models. Ends up giving the games a very sterile feel.

Mike Ferguson
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This is a fantastic article, thank you for the writeup! Loved that you covered both the startup process and your dev process, lots of great insights throughout.

As a long time 4x fan I've been meaning to check the game out for a while but had to skip it until the steam free weekend showed me the error of my ways. After an hour of 4x heaven I helped push the post release emperor sales percentage up just a tiny bit. Feels like the game I'd been waiting for ever since I got tired of the original MoO, can't wait to dig into it more!

Congratulations on your success, and good luck on your future projects. I'm really glad that you are treating the game as an evolving product after launch, can't wait to see where it goes from here!

Sam Smith
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I've been reading (and lurking) postmortems on GamaSutra for years, but this article was so well written and was such a great, interesting story I had to sign up to comment.

1. Congratulations! Your story was so compelling (and matches my own story of a aspiring game developer), that I immediately purchased your game! I too have selected Unity for the exact same reasons you have.

2. Thank you for giving relatively new developers and designers a chance to work on your games! It was heart warming to hear how you picked up employees with such low experience - not enough project managers take chances like this. They clearly paid off, probably financially too.

3. The way you involved your community in such a positive way was amazing. Good work!


Thank you! If you have a blog or a twitter account, please post it here, so that others can continue to follow your great work!

James Yee
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I bought this game when I saw it on STEAM while it was still in Beta. I'm glad I did. Of the 3, 4X games I bought (Sins 2, Endless Space, and Legends of Pegasus) last year Endless Space was my favorite as it worked better in it's Beta state than the other two did as "launch" titles!

Steven Stark
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and look at that, it's 50% off at steam right now. talk about good timing. :)

Thierry Tremblay
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Bought the game and it's the first 4x since Master of Orions 2 that got me into the infinite "just one more turn" loop. Thank you for this postmortem, I wasn't aware this game even existed!


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