Working within an international team, the story so far
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
A blogpost about Black Matter and their upcoming title: Hell Let Loose.
Starting as a student in environment art, I always thought that companies were quite linear and localized. A tall building in a city, packed with specialists and enthusiasts from all over the globe working day in-day out on creating a game or an experience with a lot of passion and heart for the games and community. Thinking this linear and never considering looking up other variations in the industry was a mistake on my part. Games created in the industry can be made and played for more than a single reason: for fun, education, experimentational or medical purposes and much, much more. For the past time I have been working within a team that is focusing on the passion, historical and creatively-fun side of games, packed with a hint of educational and experimentational touches here and there.
- Every day I learn from all the team members about their unique talents, workflows, and about game design more generally (Pennella, 2017).
Earth, the final frontier. These are the voyages of Black Matter.
This backstory starts in 2010 when Max (founder and director of Black Matter) was horrendously sick due to the altitude while skiing. Later, snuggled up in front of a warm fire, the creative juices started to flow, and after finishing a hot cup of coffee (read: about 20+ cups), he decided to write a long game design document about what type of game he wanted to create. When he got back in “the down under”, he worked for a while in the film industry, watching the years go by–growing a few grey hairs here and there—but luckily the document and feeling always remained.
In 2015, the process of developing his idea into a fully functioning game was set to start by sharing his freshly created landscapes on the Unreal Forums, and about two months later Rick (3D Lead) joined the team. For over a year, they spent each spare minute in building on the original landscape to make it bigger and better. Then in June 2016, they decided to bring Roman and John in as they needed a great technical programmer to code the backend and John to strategize the market, thus finally forming Black Matter. A year later, from January till March, the working Alpha was developed according to the documents Max had written at the time, and they all set sail towards June to announce their flagship title Hell Let Loose.
Sharing and Caring;
Black Matter is mainly formed from a passion perspective and being a part of that team makes me share that same passion too. Since its formation, more and more passionists and enthusiasts have joined the development team to share their expertise, vision on subjects and quality in their work. In general, the work of developers speaks for them, but after weeks or months of chatting, one starts to wonder who they are, in both real and digital life.
- Always back up your work! Also, I personally feel that the more I look at my own work, I find the more I can improve on (Davies, 2017).
The team consists of developers from all over the world: Australia, America (California and New York), Russia, England, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Belorussia, New Zealand. Because of that, all have their own history to share, some country specifics to teach and stories to tell. Working in a team that is not located just around the corner or a train ticket away sounded strange and very far away to me at first; so many questions popped up. Do we share the same language? Are there time differences and cultural differences? Do we share the same spice palette or, more importantly, are we all using the same keyboard layout? Who knows?! After weeks and months of creating art, chatting, talking and exchanging some baking and cooking recipes, I finally got most of the answers on various questions that were floating in my mind, and in the process, I learned a whole lot more than just the basics.
- When compared to an office environment it is much more dynamic and heterogeneous. I love that the team is a melting pot of so many people from across the globe focused on making the game an absolutely amazing reality. I have learned tons! The other team members and I often talk about each other’s culture and what certain things are. I feel far better versed on the cultures of Europe, Australia and New Zealand now than I ever was before (Pennella, 2017).
The different time zones are quite challenging in most cases. Keeping in mind when other team members from (for example) Australia or California are sleeping or working is quite important (Ostrolucky, 2017). We all need to be flexible when developing the game. As a team we played various gameplay sessions of Hell Let Loose to see the progress, to speak to each other, to chat or to team up to battle against the other developers. However, finding the right moment for all time zones to be online was quite a debate. After setting all differences aside, the decision was made to start the matches at 02:00 am. I either had to get up very early or stay up late; ultimately staying up late was usually the best way for me to join in for a match and to meet up. This was a big lesson I learned: when working in an international team, insomnia will be part of one's life, but honestly, it is more than worth it.
- The most interesting thing I find in working within an international team, are the people from different counties who speak different languages. We can link up and make something that everybody likes together. I think for me as Russian the biggest difference is the politeness of the foreign people (Fomenko, 2017).
Broaden your horizon;
The world is a huge, amazing place, and working with a decentralized international team really gives the opportunity to build relationships and learn a lot about all the team members and the community behind them with regard to their way of life and their story. Some of the team members were not even part of the gaming community before but were part of the historical war community or even had a job totally unrelated to the gaming industry in general (for example, law enforcement, the British Army or the CG movie industry), while others could be compared with “Batman™”, a normal job during the day and forging the tools needed to develop games and assets during the night.
- Being part of an international team has its unique challenges, but ultimately allows each member of the team the chance to collaborate on a project from the comfort of their home - setting their own hours and working at their own pace. It also allows us to look beyond location-based hiring to work with international world-class artists and developers from anywhere in the world (Rea, 2018).
Only sharing knowledge is good, but I personally like to share experiences and traditions too. By doing so, I am not only gaining knowledge but also broadening my look on the world. Nowadays, some of the team members remember me as the guy who loves “potato croquets” and “fried doughballs”; the guy from the country that has cheese, wooden shoes, weed and windmills. While others have taught me that, for example, Australians normally spend their winters tanning on the beach and eating ice cream, while on the other side of the pond Americans had a very cold, almost frozen, solid winter in 2017. Sharing information broadens one's look on the world. Talking about more than only technical subjects provides the opportunity to learn that countries, for example, have little to no hands-on reference to weapons or actual world war memorabilia, while others have a complete tank, bunker or small museum in their backyard, stuffed with accurate reference material. Sometimes specific subjects may appear to be common knowledge and easily accessible, but in real life they usually may prove the contrary. Having all these members living in the right places and a community that has a connection to the required historical and accurate data makes working a whole lot faster, easier and better.
- I’m from the United States and I love people... different walks of life, cultures, and experiences are part of what makes our world and society such a beautiful place. This leads perfectly into what I love about working with Black Matter. We all have a unified goal, to collaborate across the globe and provide the best realistic gaming and community experience around (Schunior, 2018).
- There is not a day without learning new techniques, tools and personal connections (Ostrolucky, 2017).
As far as Hell Let Loose, we are all trying to make ourselves as much available to the team and community as possible. This often means early mornings, long nights and working weekends. Most of us have a full, regular working week to go through, spend time with family and friends, but all gladly have a lot of time to spare to work on the project, to research unknown fields in game technology or to bake/cook a newly received foreign recipe. Having the right community living in the right locations scattered around the world enabled us to have continuous access to real life reference, locations, assets, namings and more. Working within an international team not only broadened my knowledge and vision on subjects but also that of the community and the Hell Let Loose developers. Games cannot be made with just pure rules. In my opinion, the passion, the team, the community and the collaboration and shared experiences between them form the foundation where games originate from.
- It does not feel that I am tucked away at the bottom of the world being able to work with an international team. It has been a childhood dream come true since my days of the commodore 64, to work on a game, now I am able to do it all within the comfort of my own home. Looking forward till the team gets together and we finally get to meet each other in person (Martin, 2018).
After quoting some of my fellow developers and members of the community, let me end with a quote from myself, “Always remove your hand out of the grilled-sandwich maker before you close it (Flu, 2016)”. Trust me, it will make your life working with a mouse, keyboard or tablet a whole lot easier when your hands are not wrapped up in bandages.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog; I hope this blog will broaden your horizon in the same way mine has broadened. -Danny Ivan Flu, Environment Artist
Hell Let Loose: https://www.hellletloose.com/
About Me: http://www.dannyart.nl/