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Postmortem: American McGee's Grimm
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Postmortem: American McGee's Grimm

January 22, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

What Went Wrong

1. Defining production roles

Although we hired a game designer during the pre-production phase of development, he functioned primarily as a technical level designer, responsible for game AI. Most important game design tasks fell to the creative director and the producer.

We didn't have a truly dedicated person documenting design features and creating guidelines.

Initially, this did not seem to hurt production. But as the production team on Grimm grew, we realized not documenting rules, standards, naming conventions, designs and not updating production pipeline documents negatively impacted production of Grimm.

Likewise, we did have a lead level designer, but we never compelled him to take the lead.

He was not responsible for the overall quality of the level design; level reviews were always headed by the creative director, not the lead level designer.

Because of these missing and ill-defined roles in the production process, testers sometimes had difficulty explaining to level designers why some things were considered bugs because they didn't have a rulebook; animators were never given a default bone system and the art team never had a UI design document.

Level designers did get episode design documents, but these documents were not always detailed enough and a lot was left to the level designers to figure out as they went along. Grimm turned out fine, but if we had put more time in defining everybody's role in the grand scheme of things, things might have gone a lot smoother.

2. Pre-production team

A good pre-production team is focused, hard-working and committed to spending countless hours prototyping the main features of what will become their game. By those terms, the pre-production team at Spicy Horse was pretty inadequate. In fact, until we actually started building a prototype, we did not have any programmers, sound designers, producers or level artists!

The lack of programmers, especially, had a negative impact on preproduction. Not having a programmer meant that ideas could not really be tested, or that new features could not be implemented, so until we actually started building our prototype level, we never really knew if our core mechanics would work well (which they didn't).

It proved to be pretty difficult to start up a new studio, find employees to start up a new development team and start pre-production on a game that was supposed to be released just a year later. Still, this is a problem that is difficult to avoid if you are making your first game as an independent studio, and in the end, everybody at Spicy Horse did a really good job working with the means that were available to us.

3. Working in China

Although setting up shop in China has been a good experience overall, there are still many annoyances about living and working in the People's Republic. There's continuous honking right next to our windows; extremely hot weather and broken air conditioners; annoying security guards and stolen bikes.

These are all minor annoyances that people have to learn to live within China, but which obviously had no big impact on the production of Grimm. The two things that did have quite a large impact on Grimm were language and culture.

Although most of the expatriates already knew Chinese or were studying it, there was still a language barrier when talking about very technical things. Add in the differences in culture to that, and you get a pretty powerful combo of confusion. To avoid loss of face, a Chinese employee will not say that he only understood half of what his expat colleague tells him. This leads to misunderstandings, and ultimately to a lot of time lost.

We encountered a lot of these problems working with the outsourcing team that made all our 3D models. The same mistakes would be made over and over again because the modeling team didn't understand the comments we made on their work, package names would have spelling errors in them, etc.

Towards the end of the project, these problems gradually became smaller, as Chinese artists started to understand English better and expatriates became more proficient in the Chinese language. More bilingual support, both at Spicy Horse and at the outsourcing studio, would have helped a lot in the beginning, though.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

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