logo

May 10 2016

NDCS Workshop 2016

Workshop Summary Recently Guerilla Tea teamed up with the National Deaf Children’s So...

May 10 2016 By: Charlie Close

NDCS Workshop 2016

Workshop Summary

Recently Guerilla Tea teamed up with the National Deaf Children’s Society and Abertay University to run a game development workshop with a group of deaf children.

There were several objectives we wished to achieve during the day. Primarily we wanted to show the group that game making can be for everyone, no matter your background or situation. We also aimed to introduce some of the core game development principles and procedures without the need for any prior knowledge.

The day started with a short registration, including the group receiving Guerilla Tea T-shirts, making each of them honorary members of Guerilla Tea for the day…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This was followed by an awesome introductory ‘warm-up’ game coordinated by the NDCS staff, involving quick reactions.
We then ran through what the day would involve with short introductory talks from ourselves and Abertay. Alex gave a light hearted introduction to what code is, what it does within game development, and how our favourite games are underpinned by maths. Matt introduced visual design in games and the role that artwork and artists can have in game development. The talks culminated in a great inspirational speech from Abertay Lecturer Ryan Locke about why we love games and how that love can translate to game-making and one day game development as a career, and the routes made possible through courses at Abertay University.

From here, we split the group into the children interested in programming and those more keen on the art side, then put together the coders and artists into small teams of three or four.

Before jumping into anything technical, we began the day’s development with an initial design session for all the teams. During the prior week, we had put together the bare bones of a top-down endless runner game, and the design section essentially involved each team filling out a worksheet allowing them to come up with themes for the various parts of the game. They had a chance to choose the setting, the type of player character, the enemies and a selection of power-ups (we had pre-defined the functionality).

This workshop was actually run in a slightly different fashion to our previous workshop. Naturally during the course of a day, there was only the time to create a single type of game – the top down endless runner – but we wanted each team to give it their own flavour and theme, so by the end of the day we’d end up with a series of games, rather than one single product. We’ve found both approaches work very well.

By the end of the design session there were a lot of different themes for the game, involving various settings and some creative ideas for characters and enemies.

The day was then divided into two development sessions separated by a lunch break.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With a creative vision established for each team, during session one the programmers moved to a separate room to work with PCs, while the artists remained to begin creating the art assets for the games on paper. The programmers essentially got a very basic introduction to Unity, involving the layout, prefabs, transforms and the creation of game objects. Towards the end of the session they started on some basic code. The artists worked on creating line drawings for each game asset, ticking off each item on a list as they progressed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ryan and Matt used the lunch break to scan in and crop all the images.

After lunch we began session two. The artists moved through to the computer room, where they began working with Adobe Illustrator to add colour and some more detail to the assets. Session two for the coders involved writing the bulk of the code for the game; essentially the slightly more complex areas which made the whole game come to life. The result was a top down infinite runner involving three lanes of movement. Players move a player character from lane to lane, avoiding obstacles coming down the lanes, while trying to collect power-up items such as extra lives. The player’s score is recorded as the distance travelled which is displayed on the game over screen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGuerilla Tea along with the excellent staff from the NDCS overlooked and helped with both sessions, and by the end of the day, each team had a working game, complete with unique themes and their own artwork. The day finished with a short evaluation session, and the group got a chance to showcase their creations.

 

The Day’s Creations

We have compiled all the games created during the workshop into a single mobile application for both iOS and Android. There is also a web version.

Download the game on iOS, Android or play on the Web.

3

 

Workshop Resources

To run the workshop smoothly we created various documents and worksheets to keep things on track and moving forward. These may be of interest, particularly if anyone is thinking of running a similar event at some point in the future. Find the documentation at the link below:

Workshop Documents

The main take-away for running a workshop with any group of young people is to put in the hours of preparation before the day itself. You absolutely must pre-design and build the skeleton of a game of your choice, with the caveat being it must be incredibly simple. Think endless runner, space invaders clone, breakout game, etc but in all honestly the endless runner has worked well for us. During the workshop you essentially re-build the game step-by-step from a code side. For art, drawing on paper and scanning in the images proved to be the best solution for ourselves, and was the most fun in general for the group taking part. We did however include the basics of Adobe Illustrator to colour the scanned images which also worked very well.

 

All in all, the day was a great success and everyone taking part thoroughly enjoyed a taster of game development. A huge thanks from Guerilla Tea to the National Deaf Children’s Society, and to Abertay University for hosting the event.

View Full Post 0 Comments
Feb 17 2016

Dead Man Switch

A few weeks ago Guerilla Tea took part in the Global Game Jam 2016. The end result of...

Feb 17 2016 By: Charlie Close

Dead Man Switch

A few weeks ago Guerilla Tea took part in the Global Game Jam 2016. The end result of our 48 continuous hours of game development was a multiplayer game, which we named Dead Man Switch.

The game functions as a 3 player, cross platform multiplayer game, which uses the concept of a dead man’s switch to create some frantic gameplay.

The game’s setting is an underground bunker, which we gave a sinister & unsettling appearance.

DMS1

Each player takes on a different role within the game:

Hero
As the hero you’ll play on PC (also with VR support), and from a first person perspective navigate through the underground bunker. The objective is to find your way to a room containing a broken piece of machinery, fix it, and then quickly return to your starting position to press the dead man’s switch within a time limit.

Navigator
As the navigator you’ll use a tablet device, and see a map of the bunker with all relevant points of interest marked. It’s your job to speak to the Hero, giving them directions to get the machine fixed, and then back to the dead man’s switch in time.

Villain
As the villain you’ll also use a tablet device, and your job is to stop the other two from accomplishing their goal. You have a handful of tricks at your disposal to impede. You can turn off lights, seal doors and block communication…

DMS5

It was an ambitious game to try to put together at a game jam, but after a monumental effort from art and code it all came together incredibly well. The gameplay system worked as intended; fast paced a good synergy between the different roles.

Another successful GGJ!

View Full Post 0 Comments
Jan 06 2016

2015 Review

The start of a new year and a chance to reflect back on 2015 and the various activiti...

Jan 06 2016 By: Charlie Close

2015 Review

The start of a new year and a chance to reflect back on 2015 and the various activities and developments.

2015 turned out to be interesting with a lot of unexpected events. The first week back after the Christmas break began with a visit to the Scottish Parliament to showcase our work at a special event.

Alex and Brian joined the STEM Ambassador scheme early in the year and have been helping to run and promote CoderDojo, involving a series of workshops aimed at teaching programming to young people and raising awareness of the games industry as a viable career option.

In terms of projects, the first part of 2015 involved continued work and the eventual release of Mixkit, a mixtape creation and sharing application.

This was followed closely by a small project for the V&A, and we also teamed up with Connect2Media who picked up our previous year’s release, Mind: Brain Training. We re-worked the game implementing various design modifications, and it was re-published onto alternative Android app stores.

Late June Guerilla Tea turned 4 years old, so we celebrated in the usual fashion…

GT4Cake

We had a pleasant surprise about a month later when the V & A featured our work on Genes in Space on a giant comic strip at the waterfront construction site of the V&A Museum of Design Dundee.

GTVAComic

From the summer onwards our time was taken up by 2 major projects.

Firstly, Metal Hammer: Roadkill, a mobile rhythm-action game where players smash through the hordes of hell to a licensed metal soundtrack, including Suicide Silence, Sabaton and Epica. The game was released initially during October and work is ongoing.

MHRK

During development we received invites to the Classic Rock Awards, held at the Roundhouse in London. A star-studded evening of food, wine and music, plus we met Alice Cooper…

Alice Cooper

Our second major project was Iwo: Bloodbath in the Bonins. A PC and tablet hex-based strategy game and a digital version of an existing board-game. We worked with the publisher HexWar, and the game was released on Christmas Eve 2015.

Iwo will be coming to Steam in 2016.

IwoBlogScreen

 

2015 was awesome, here’s to a successful year ahead!

View Full Post 0 Comments
Oct 15 2015

Metal Hammer: Roadkill

Today marks the day that Metal Hammer: Roadkill is unleashed on the world! We’ve been...

Oct 15 2015 By: Charlie Close

Metal Hammer: Roadkill

Today marks the day that Metal Hammer: Roadkill is unleashed on the world!

MHRK_marketing_FacebookLinkPostLaunch1

We’ve been working alongside Team Rock Games, Nuclear Blast & Metal Hammer on the project, and it features artists such as Suicide Silence, Epica, Sabaton and more!

Metal Hammer: Roadkill is a rhythm-action game where players rip through the hordes of hell populating insane locales including Riot de Janeiro and Westmonster…

MHRK_marketing_FacebookPostPostLaunch3

The enemies spawn to the rhythm of the music, and the combat gameplay becomes a fast-paced finger tapping task, keeping you in time as you aim for a ‘note perfect’ performance.

MHRKScreenshot

Download for FREE!

iOS

Android

 

View Full Post 0 Comments
Feb 16 2015

VR Development

A new year brings about new opportunities and 2015 is going to be interesting. One of...

Feb 16 2015 By: Charlie Close

VR Development

A new year brings about new opportunities and 2015 is going to be interesting. One of the main focus points for the year ahead will be to give some rightful attention to virtual reality development.

Our mission statement as a company is ‘to integrate areas of study and interest with innovative game design and development’. From the very beginning we’ve been taking on projects which have helped us grow and represented our business goals in terms of this statement. Early on we worked on a medical study aid called Ward Round, applying game design techniques. Our breakthrough came about a year and a half ago when we began working on Play to Cure: Genes in Space, which released early last year. This was a successful project and basically the epitome of our mission statement. This year we’re looking to combine our experience in the serious game space with virtual reality development, and are looking to find new ways of creating products which have engagement akin to video games, but also have a practical end use.

As game developers we are extremely well versed in creating immersive environments, which have a wide range of bespoke interactions.

There is a lot of scope for the use of virtual reality within training applications and we’re keen on exploring new VR based methods of solving problems. For example, being totally immersed in an environment has a wide range of possible applications to any industry which involves working in dangerous environments, such as the energy industry and its various sub-divisions. There is a vast scope for what we can achieve here and it can be tailored to suit specific needs.
The virtual training world can lead a user through specific tasks, which can be easily repeated, and context specific interactions would play a major role. These are all aspects that lend themselves to the domain of game development; we can script certain situations such as emergencies within a simulation also.

On the opposite end of things, we are looking to incorporate VR into our original IP, and we’ll be developing a number of prototype experiences this year, which we’ll consider carrying forward.

Speaking of prototypes, we’ve used the last two game jams to experiment with off-the-wall game concepts, where VR support breathed new life into the experiences.

First time around we made Just One Trip, a game about addiction where the challenges modify depending on whether you take the easy way out and give in to temptation.

JOT1JOT2

Then this year we made ‘What Have We Done!?’ which was all about the development process, but with an Oculus it became completely outrageous. Have a read about the process here.

GGJ9

View Full Post 0 Comments
Jan 26 2015

Global Game Jam 2015

The Global Game Jam 2015 is over for another year and it’s genuinely been the most en...

Jan 26 2015 By: Charlie Close

Global Game Jam 2015

The Global Game Jam 2015 is over for another year and it’s genuinely been the most enjoyable jam we’ve attended yet.

With the office equipment boxed up and moved temporarily to Abertay University, and the core dev team stocked up on a range of healthy snacks and caffeinated beverages, the 48 hour game making marathon began.

GGJ15_office

 

The theme of this game jam: “What do we do now?”

This opened up a lot of possibilities and we set about on our normal brainstorming process, although in the end we decided to do something a little different…

Instead of taking the theme and trying to fit a game concept around it, we decided to literally apply the theme to the process of building the game.

Firstly, Brian quickly hacked together a random word generator, primed with a long list of words established during the usual brainstorming session. Every two hours it produced a word telling us what we do now, so that’s the jam theme covered in a nutshell!

Art and code then set about building something which related to the word, and spent some time putting it all together into a coherent whole.

During the 48 hours, the words we had to work with were Nature, Klein Bottle, Window, Mountains, Misery, Cookie, Camera, Blue, Survival, Lever.

Admittedly, ‘nature’ was a good starting point, so we put together a lush environment, but after that it essentially it became a video game interpretation of dada…

 

We ended up with a random Klein Bottle

GGJ9

 

A UniPig… The ability to ride a critter that’s a cross between a Unicorn and a Pig.

GGJ10

 

And a Mountain Launcher… Yes, a gun that shoots mountains!

GGJ6

 

And many other weird and wonderful things.

 

The reason this particular jam was so enjoyable was down to the process. Although we got a strange mash together of different objects and gameplay, the fact that every few hours there was a completely new problem to solve kept the team interested.

The game itself assumed the title ‘What have we done!’, and it’s something that could never really have been made if it’d been pre-planned in the normal way, even if we’d tried to go as crazy as possible with ideas.

It’s easily our most trippy experience to date, and with the Oculus it’s just a little insane…

 

View Full Post 0 Comments
Jan 05 2015

2014 Review

  We’re back in the office after the Christmas break, and 2015 is shaping up to ...

Jan 05 2015 By: Charlie Close

2014 Review

 

We’re back in the office after the Christmas break, and 2015 is shaping up to be an exciting year. 2014 was a challenge… Here’s (briefly) how it panned out!

Throughout January we finished off the development of Play to Cure: Genes in Space, and released the game to the world in February 2014. This involved a trip to the launch event hosted by Dara O’Briain in London, social media erupted (at least in London!) and the day was awesome in general. The game was covered extensively by the mainstream and games press, and in the month after release it had processed 1.5 million samples of genetic data. The project eventually got a feature on ‘The One Show’, and the coverage from ‘I Fucking Love Science’ was also a huge boost…

infographic v_12 (football) - small

In the end, the game surpassed its download targets fivefold and picked up numerous awards, some in tandem with other citizen science awards via projects such as Cell Slider: The Digitals, Mobile Marketing Awards, BCS & Computing UK IT Industry Awards 2014, to name a few.

Here’s a post-mortem article on Gamasutra which goes into detail about the science underpinning the project, along with some positives and negatives.

Throughout 2014 we managed to boost our portfolio of original IP, with a number of game releases spread over the year. This included working with Windows Phone 8, which became our most popular platform largely thanks to the excellent team at Microsoft.

We gave our first original game, The Quest, a complete overhaul including full re-skin, and re-release.

Promo Image 558x558

We launched Staking Claims on iOS & Windows 8 after an Android release a few months prior, and followed this with Array, a challenging logic puzzler. Next project out was Mind: Brain Training which is a collection of brain fitness games.

Finally, our experimental game Incandescence, came out after a good amount of press coverage. The game was inspired by finger drumming, and of all our original games in 2014, it was the most downloaded.

Screenshot 4 480x800

These projects have seen updates since release, with further updates planned.

Here’s our portfolio with more on each game, along with download links:

http://www.guerillatea.com/portfolio/
 

Our producer Mark represented the company at Develop Conference during the summer, and gave a presentation about our work with the Windows platform, and we made it to the finals of the Develop Awards in the Micro Studio category although unfortunately didn’t take home an award on this occasion.

We also enhanced the work-for-hire side of the business during the year, and have expanded our client base with new partners, and continued projects. This has been an on-going process, and we are now in a strong position to hit the ground running in 2015.

Hope everyone had a great holiday and all the best for the year ahead!

View Full Post 0 Comments
Oct 16 2014

Incandescence Live

Incandescence has gone live today, October 16th, across iOS, Android and Windows Phon...

Oct 16 2014 By: Charlie Close

Incandescence Live

Incandescence has gone live today, October 16th, across iOS, Android and Windows Phone 8. It’s a small game and more of an experiment than anything else. Screenshot 3 480x800The game has been difficult to classify in terms of genre. It’s a rhythm game… sort of. It basically takes finger drumming as a habit, and twists it into a game. Rather than trying to describe it, you’re best taking a look at the gameplay in this short trailer video.

It’s a simple game; there are no upgrades, but as the score gets higher, the music will build up and the visuals will get more intense and trippy. As we built the game, we began to realise that the simple gameplay quickly becomes a test of physical stamina in the arm, and how long you last can be dependent on how sore your arm gets. Screenshot 4 480x800If you’re an habitual finger drummer, then check out Incandescence for free on the following:

iOS

Android

Windows Phone 8

View Full Post 0 Comments
Jun 16 2014

Coming Full Circle

This entry was originally posted on the Microsoft UK Developers Blog. View the origin...

Jun 16 2014 By: Charlie Close

Coming Full Circle

This entry was originally posted on the Microsoft UK Developers Blog. View the original HERE.

It’s odd how things tend to come full circle… The development story behind ‘The Quest’ is evidence of this.

The four founding partners of Guerilla Tea met in 2010 on the Professional Masters course in Game Development at Abertay University. During the first semester we were randomly put together into a team and given the brief of building a small game prototype titled ‘The Quest’, and by chance we were assigned to work with the Windows Phone 7 platform.

After a night of brainstorming we hadn’t fully settled on a design to carry forward. We wanted to make a puzzle game and we kept coming back to the idea that ‘to be original is to return to the origin’ and when it comes to puzzle games the origin for all of us was the Rubik’s Cube so we kept returning to the idea of a game based on the Rubik’s Cube mechanic. This lead fairly swiftly to the core Quest mechanics.

Before settling on anything, we went out to the local shopping centre and bought a Rubik’s Cube along with some paper stickers, and applied them to cover over three of the colours on the cube. The result was the very basic physical prototype shown below. Needless to say, the gameplay mechanic worked incredibly well. You could actually play by holding your finger against a specific tile, rotating the cube to align specific coloured tiles, and then sliding your finger along eventually reaching the goal, which we’ve marked with the ‘X’ below.

Physical_Quest_Prototype

With the core of the game working, we needed to make the whole experience a little more vibrant. We decided to go down the light hearted humour route, and wrote a brief story around the game.

Our hero would be a brave but bumbling knight, who we aptly named ‘Steve’. He would be tasked by God to retrieve his favourite tea mug, otherwise known as the true Holy Grail. God would grant Steve the ability to manipulate the surrounding terrain in order to aid him on his quest.

And from here, the overarching story neatly fitted into the gameplay mechanic. Steve stands on the Rubik’s Cube-like world with varying terrain such as grass, water and mountains covering the individual squares. The player taps on squares to move Steve, and the idea is to guide him over the terrain to the goal square (ultimately containing the tea mug). Rotating the segments of the cube world allows the varying terrain types to align ultimately creating a path for Steve.

To add additional depth and complexity to the gameplay, we added special ‘transition’ squares which allow Steve to move between two terrain types. These transition squares became specific vehicles, such as a sledge which links grass and mountains.

By the end of the first semester, we had created a vertical slice for the game. Here’s a screenshot from ‘The Quest’ in its university project form:

early_Quest_1Our prototype was very well received in academic circles, and was shown at a number of conferences by academic staff from Abertay. In 2011, it picked up a Creative Loop award under the ‘Best Computer Game Concept’ category.

From here we moved onto other university projects right up to the end of our course, and The Quest remained as a great portfolio piece to take forward.

It was only after the course had finished that we managed to return to working on The Quest. In the run up to Christmas 2011, our CEO and producer, Mark, worked some magic and managed to secure the IP for the game back from Abertay University.

Over a period of 6 – 7 months, while Guerilla Tea was a very new indie studio finding its feet, we fully rebuilt The Quest in Unity for an iOS and Android release, expanding it from a vertical slice of gameplay, to a fully-fledged commercial game. Unfortunately at this point, despite the fact that the prototype worked wonderfully on the Windows Phone 7, the platform just wasn’t commercially viable yet so we were only able to release on iOS and Android.

From here we became BAFTA nominated, and in April 2012 The Quest was released as a premium app for Android and iOS. It was also featured in the New and Noteworthy section, and was generally well received, picking up praise from Pocket Gamer:

“The Quest takes a well-known concept in the form of the Rubik’s puzzle and gives it a fresh new challenge by adding in the task of getting Steve to the mug of tea. In this respect, the game is something of a triumph – few puzzlers have grabbed us in quite the same manner.”

Things were looking good, but despite being an excellent first release for the company, The Quest didn’t perform quite as well commercially as we’d hoped.

 

Fast forward 2 years…

 

After stabilising and growing the studio with a series of work-for-hire projects, including work on the Beano and Dandy brands, and most notably Play to Cure: Genes in Space for Cancer Research UK, we returned to working on The Quest in early 2014 to mark the second anniversary of the original release. This involved a full re-skin and we also took this chance to include a third Egyptian themed world which had been previously built but sat gathering dust without ever actually being included within the 2012 release for iOS and Android. Seeing the re-mastered version, it was refreshing to see how far we’d come in the intervening period…

The updated version was launched on iOS and Android in March 2014.

new_Quest_1

We’d been keeping an eye on the Windows Mobile since we first developed The Quest so when we saw Microsoft and Unity holding a porting day in Glasgow just a few weeks after we had re-launched The Quest we sent some of our coding team through to participate.

During the day, all current Guerilla Tea titles were for the most part ported successfully to Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. We met some incredibly helpful people from Microsoft, and over the next few weeks, took the chance to polish and finalise the Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 versions of our games.

Firstly, there was The Quest, but we also ported our casual strategy title Staking Claims over to Windows 8. It’s a digital remake of the classic pencil and paper game, Dots and Boxes, which took up a lot of time during our rainy school lunchtimes years ago.

This was something we’d been looking forward to for a while so we wanted to make it a bit special so we decided to launch our new logic puzzle game Array on the Windows Phone 8 marketplace along with our ported games. Eventually we’ll move it to iOS and Android but for now it’s a Windows Mobile exclusive.

The Quest had a slight name alteration for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8, becoming The Quest: Anniversary Edition, and has now come full circle, returning to its roots for a release in May 2014 on Microsoft’s platforms.

Guerilla Tea began with the four of us working ridiculous hours on PCs set up around our producer’s kitchen table, while at the same time holding down part time jobs to pay the bills. We worked hard and managed to get our start with some small projects for DC Thomson regarding the Beano and Dandy. From here we began to build up the studio with a balance of original IP and work-for-hire, and eventually Guerilla Tea became a full time job for us all. We also moved out of the home and into premises in Dundee city centre, and expanded our art and code teams.

Our recent major project was the hugely successful Play to Cure: Genes in Space developed for Cancer Research UK. We are going strength to strength and continuing to work on a variety of interesting projects, including a series of original titles.

Everyone at Guerilla Tea has been incredibly impressed with the Microsoft support operation and it’s been a really smooth process to port and launch our games onto Windows and Windows Mobile. We’re now nearing completion of our next game, which is to launch on all our core platforms simultaneously; Android, iOS and Windows Mobile. I have no doubt that other developers will do the same.

View Full Post 0 Comments
Apr 17 2014

Guerilla Tactics

The original post “Guerilla Tactics – Handling Unfamiliar Terrain – How to deal...

Apr 17 2014 By: Charlie Close

Guerilla Tactics

FB BannerThe original post “Guerilla Tactics – Handling Unfamiliar Terrain – How to deal with Clients” was written by Alex for a blog on MobileCamp Dresden. Take a look at the original article HERE.

So, let’s talk about clients. I know a lot of indie game devs frown at the very thought of working for hire. And let’s be honest here, if we could just do our own stuff without ever having to worry about how we pay next month’s rent or get food on the table, most of us wouldn’t even bother talking to someone outside the industry. But the reality is, we’re still running a business and we need to make money. And unless we’re producing the next Flappy Bird or whatever magical timesink is currenly floating on top of the app store charts, we need to have an eye on our revenue stream.

 

Now, I’m no expert, but we’ve been around for about 2.5 years now and worked with a whole bunch of different clients from a variety of industries. The most notable ones were DC Thomson and of course Cancer Research UK, with whom we developed the hugely successfull Play to Cure: Genes in Space – the world’s first mobile game that actively helps with finding a cure for cancer (seriously, how epic is that?!). But all of that still doesn’t make us the ultimate authority in the field of B2B relations, so don’t take everything I’m writing here as gospel. It’s just how we do things at Guerilla Tea because we found they work for us, and our clients.

Now, with that said, let’s get to the question. How do we deal with clients that don’t have a games background but want to develop a game? (Note: most of this is applicable to pretty much any client regardless)

 

1. Know the territory!

This is probably the most important part when working with a new client. Do your homework! It’s a bit like a job application; the better you know who and what you’re dealing with, the easier the whole process will be and the less friction will occur once you actually start working on the project.
The first thing we did when putting together the pitch for Genes in Space was researching the other companies involved, their experience, past projects and so on. For example, we knew CRUK had already sucessfully launched a serious game on the web called Cell Slider together with Zooniverse (of Galaxy Zoo fame), so we knew they had some experience working with external developers and had people with the technical background to understand the implications of running a backend system for several hundred thousand users. This was great for us since it allowed us to be more technical and therefore precise when writing the pitch. If your client doesn’t have a technical background, it takes a lot more effort to explain what and why you’re doing things, so be careful and make sure you adjust your language appropriately (and *never* try to hide knowledge gaps behind tech lingo)!

Maybe even more important than researching your client is doing the research for the project itself. What is it? Why do they want it? What and who’s problem does it solve? How? For Genes in Space, this involved me digging through every academic research paper on BAF Data, detection of Copy Number Variations and related subjects that I could get my hands on. I didn’t become a Geneticist overnight, but at least I got a good enough understanding to be confident about the project requirements. As a side note here, don’t be afraid of researching subjects that you don’t have previous experience in. My knowledge on genetics before that was basically 7th grade biology and watching Jurassic Park, but by constant cross referencing and a lot of help from Wikipedia I still managed to get a decent enough understanding of the subject. You don’t need to know everything about it – that’s your client’s job – you just want to know enough to communicate effectively and make sure you understand what it is you’re supposed to be doing.

At the end of the day, this will keep both you and your client happy because you will have a lot less misunderstandings that cost time and money to resolve. The more you know about your client and the subject, the easier it is for both parties to find and realise a common vision!

 

2. Control communication!

Keeping clients in the loop is important. Keeping clients that don’t know about games development in the loop is a lot more important. Look at it from their perspective: they just shelled out a lot of money to a company they never worked with to build a product they don’t fully understand. Of course they are nervous, so the better you keep them informed about the project, the happier they will be.

We acomplish this in multiple ways. The first one is to have regular conferences with the client (usually weekly). If possible do face to face meetings, but if the distance is too large, Skype and Google hangouts are two viable options we use regularly for that purpose. The more often you communicate directly, the easier it will be for both of you to spot problems and address them before the project veers off track.

You also want to give your clients at least some access to your internal scheduling tools. Trello and Asana are really good for that, but if your tool of choice doesn’t support this behaviour, an up to date spreadsheet on Google docs will do the job as well (you should still get a better tool though, because yours is obviously crap). This will reduce unnecessary communication overheads because everyone involved knows what you’re currently working on and when a certain feature is supposed to be implemented.

Finally, having an iterative development methodology works incredibly well with that. This way your client always has the latest stable version of the game for testing, and necessary changes can be fit into the schedule with very little friction. You don’t have to use any of the heavily formalized methodologies like SCRUM for that. We’re using our own homebrew mixture of agile and waterfall which gives us enough stability in terms of cost and time projections, but still allows us to act and react very flexible on changing requirements. Anything that gives your client enough input into the development process should work.

 

In addition to keeping up client communication, make sure you don’t forget to talk to the most important group of people: your target audience. Most of the time this will be your players, but it doesn’t have to be that way. For Genes in Space, our main audience were not the people who played the game but the researchers that had to use the analysed data. We therefore made sure to run any changes we made to the data analysis by them first to verify that it was still accurate enough. We also sent them regular samples of the data to see if we needed to improve anything. That’s not to say that we didn’t do regular playtesting sessions as well to make sure the game was fun and accessible, but those were not our main priority.

 

3. Hold your ground!

The last lesson we leant when dealing with clients was probably the most difficult one, but it’s absolutely crucial if you don’t want your project to turn into a nightmare of Lovecraftian proportions: you need to learn to say no. I know this is hard. It requires being somewhat confrontational and it can be incredibly scary because that clients money could be the only thing keeping your company from going belly up. But if you think that a client not getting the feature they wanted is bad news, wait till you see what happens when the deadline slips for the 3rd time because the project is choking from feature creep, you’re nine months late and your code has more bugs than a roadside motel bed because all those nifty little features were glued together by spit and good hopes, without any proper planning whatsoever. That is when you should be scared.

Now, I’m not saying you should just tell your client to bugger off when they have an idea for a new feature. But if it doesn’t fit into the schedule or would be too costly to implement or is just a generally bad idea, you’ve got to deal with that. Explain the situation. Look for compromises. Maybe you can get that new feature in if you remove another one that is less valuable. Maybe you can come up with something that is less costly but emulates almost the same functionality. In the worst case, tell them that you will have to adjust the schedule and costing of the project if they really want the feature in. Whatever you do, just don’t simply say “yes” because the client asked for it; that’s the express lift to developer hell. Stay focused on your goals. Keeping the project on time and on budget is infinitely more valuable for everyone involved in the end than a little disappointment every now and again.

Also, don’t just watch out for the client. Your team members are just as prone to come up with potentially damaging features. However, they are usually easier to deal with since they have a better understanding of the development process. When we were building Genes in Space, Charlie (our designer) had a lot of ideas that I’m sure would have made the game a lot more exciting to play. Making a game fun is his job after all. However, we needed to shoot a lot of them down because they would have meddled with the accuracy of the data analysis. For these cases, I recommend having one team member as a dedicated “guardian”. The job of the guardian is to make sure that whatever is proposed does not interfere with the main goal of the application; a bit like a vision keeper, but with a much narrower focus. Take the person with the best understanding of the project’s goals and give him the authority to veto every new feature if it violates these goals.

Now, as I said at the beginning, this is just the way we do things. It took us a while to get there, but for now it works pretty well – for us and our clients! However, we’re still prone to making mistakes at one point or the other, so if you use a different process that might help us or have a good idea that might improve the ones we have, we’re looking forward to hear about them. Maybe in a year or so I’ll write an update for this post to see what we’ve learnt in the meantime.

Alex out.

View Full Post 0 Comments