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Producers Of The Roundtable: Getting Coders and Artists to Communicate


December 26, 2007 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

[Gamasutra is partnering with GameProducer.net, a game production resource, for a series of Q&As named 'Producers of the Round Table'. The Round Table is a place for producers who work in game industry to present their opinions in response to questions, and the first article in the series dealt with 'practical scheduling for games'.

In this installment, which deals with programmer and artist communication, participants include Peter O'Brien, Producer at Bizarre Creations, Ben Gunstone, Production Director at Stainless Games, Harvard Bonin, Senior Producer last at Electronic Arts, Frank Rogan, Producer at Gas Powered Games and Amer Ajami, Producer at EALA.]

How do you get coders and artists to speak the same language?

Peter O'Brien: Get them in the same room and start a dialogue. This might be a meeting, it might be a seating plan that is permanent or flexible. It can even be an email - either way, get it started. Another way to make this happen is to use technical artists... you know, the rare breed that can write scripts, shaders and tools to help workflow. Most importantly, don't block the communication because you are a control freak.

Bizarre Creations' Project Gotham Racing 4 for the Xbox 360, on which Peter O'Brien worked as producer

Frank Rogan: There are many tactical things you can do to break down these walls:

  • Regular team meetings and team events.
  • Cross-disciplinary teams that tackle discrete segments of the project (e.g. a "character" team made up of artists, animators and engineers).
  • Agile production methodologies that zero in on daily and weekly blockers, which are most often the result of cross-discipline dependencies communication breakdowns.
  • Open office layouts that foster hour-to-hour communication. In the best places I've ever worked, most everyone sits in one giant room, making for always-on working conversation.
  • The usage of production assistants as the team's "expediters" that swallow up thankless, repetitive tasks and ensure that every blocker is either dealt with immediately or brought to the attention of the producer who, face it, can't be everywhere at once.
  • Identifying that rare breed of technical artist that can truly build bridges between art and code and help set up effective pipelines, and fostering the careers of those people.

Is it important to have some people in the team (technical artists, artistically inclined coders) who can translate?

Peter O'Brien: Technical artists can be an excellent addition to the team. They are your sweeper, able to focus on areas for any time the job requires. They can act as a conduit to executing critical workflow improvements and can be critical throughout the project if utilized.

I don't think the word "artistic" is the correct term to use from my perspective. I know that I work with creative coders and artists; the most creative individuals inspire, or maybe just influence, one another to get the best solution. I'd say a lot of the success I see in the studio is down to coders who think creatively to empower either designer or artists. Vice-versa, the designers and artists should respect the code by understanding how it works. Understanding leads to further creative use or solutions to the system.

Ben Gunstone: Artists versus programmers -- it's an old one, but it's a goody! To be honest, it's an issue that can occur anywhere in a team, and it's always down to poor communication. The communications can be improved by all the people you list above: a technical artist, a designer and a producer. It can also be handled by the Lead Art or Lead Code position.

If you have professionals of both trades, then there should be a certain amount of respect for each other in the team. Both sides need to understand the wants and needs of the other side. Again, with good communicatons and planning in place, this should be an easy task.

Or is that partly the job of the designer -- how do the designer and producer fit in there?

Peter O'Brien: Does the producer actually have to be the conduit here to understand the different working styles? As stated earlier, designers and producers can get in the way. The best use of Designer and Producer is as catalyst and arbiter. Communicate the vision or establish a process. Put simply: Know what needs to be achieved and see it through.

Harvard Bonin: Generally, I believe, producers endeavor to hire talented, good artists and designers, et cetera. Our job is not to move the hand of the artist or designer, but rather, to make sure they know the direction that the company wants to go. In other words, provide a direction, point, and then trust in them. And then make sure they don't violate that direction. Yeah, yeah... that's philosophy.

At the same time, our job is to guide. They are being paid for a job... and so are we. We try to understand the objective and then help people achieve that. We are no good in our job without fantastic people to help us all get there.

 


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