Monday, June 17, 2013

Discussion chapter begins

I'll be at some point discussing the value of soft/interpersonal skills in a game development context.  Question is, do I draw a parallel with straight IT which also has a strong team focus (and if I do does this mean that the large volume of feedback from respondents that emphasises the value of team focus is just par for the course in any IT related field), or do I explore the notion that this parallel is spurious?  The interdisciplinary nature of game development marks the kind of team focus required of its exponents as specialised; IT requires a team focus as products require teams to design, produce and manage them, but straight IT typically offers a reasonably homogeneous skill set among the team members.  Game development features interaction between markedly different skill sets, such as programming and art, or audio and game design.  Summarily, the technical and creative are mashed together in a Venn diagram-ish kind of way.

Does this set game development teamwork apart from what might be termed 'generic' team work?  I believe it does.  It is important to improve one's capacity to work and interact effectively with others in pursuit of a common goal, regardless of skill set or discipline.  This should hold true for any career aspirant.  Where game development differs (and as such must be catered to in order to maximise the value of a GDE graduate for instance), is the nature of that interaction.  Grouping students together randomly in a GDE setting is not satisfactory; grouping students of differing skill sets together in equal distribution is required.

In short, if a group of 30 students is to be divided into 10 groups, those groups will ideally be composed of one artist, one programmer and one designer, though the presence of the third is debatable given the tendency toward smaller studios and therefore a more democratic design approach.  The conundrum of the specialist designer is a side issue for now, but does affect the makeup of a typical GDE-focused student team.

The importance of this equality of distribution is established through the responses from respondents, especially those interviewed.  Numerous references to the difficulties in getting the technically minded and the creatively minded to mesh highlight the need for team-savvy graduates, familiar with the pitfalls of interdiscplinary interaction and the tendency toward frustrating impasses.

The above highlights a need to properly define the terms used when referring to disciplines and how they interact.

Jessup (2007) defines multidisciplinary in a team context as the utilisation of skills and experience of individuals from different disciplines, with each discipline approaching the problem (project) from their own and their disciplinary perspective.  In this sense, game development is multidisciplinary as the three key legs of the development tripod (design, programming and art) are each distinct and arguably do not overlap.  Designers are concerned with the mechanical and rule defining aspects of the development process, mapping out the internal logic of the game irrespective of its final format.  Programmers are concerned with the transposition of those designed elements into code, managing the technical constraints and maximising efficiency.  They are concerned with the practicalities of making the game playable on the target platform (excluding physical games or board games for moment).  Artists are concerned with the aesthetic representation of gameworld components; characters, environments, styles, themes.  Their discipline identifies most closely with the generic notion of creativity.  Audio is obviously a major component for any major title and the role of the audio designer could be categorised as falling somewhere between each of the three major disciplines.

Game development is however also interdisciplinary.  Jessup (2007) defines an interdisciplinary approach as as the integration of ostensibly separate disciplines or disciplinary approaches into a single unified approach.

Though the above GD disciplines are distinct, it is only in concert that typical game development process can take place. A job description that has become increasingly common in game development studios is that of the technical artist.  The role of the technical artists is to act as a link between the wholly technical programmer and the (almost) wholly creative artist.  This role embodies the interdisciplinary nature of game development, but even without this role, artists are expected to have an appreciation of the limitations, resource management issues and structural challenges faced by programmers.  Likewise, programmers are expected to have a handle on the restrictions faced by artists and a feel for the value of art in a qualitative rather than quantitative sense.  Designers lie somewhere in the middle, but, as pointed out by a respondent, a successful designer should have sufficient technical skill and be able to produce their own prototypes, else their designs will suffer from a lack of appreciation for the technical constraints imposed by whatever code base or platform they are working on.

Exponents of each discipline must be able to converse and confer with each other in order for the development process to move forward consistently.  They must successfully integrate their respective disciplines and unite in the pursuit of the finished article.

To return to the original conceit, that being the importance of defining game development team focus as different to a more generic team focus in straight IT, the key role of GDE should be to expose students to this type of team structure.  The differing skill sets and personality types that tend to accompany them do not necessarily meld easily.

I'm noticing the need to better establish my definitions for these roles (art, design, programming).  A bit more reading is required.  The lit review will likely absorb the bulk of this stuff; it's important to define what design, art and programming in the game context actually is and I need to justify the marking of these three roles as The Big Three.

That should do for now.  As I progress, I'll write more specifically about that which I am looking at currently, rather than writing tangentially.

A brief recap: the first major theme is the negative perception of GDE, which the above does not really cover.  BUT, the notion that educational institutions are where this GD specific team focus should be instilled is perhaps not spoken of by respondents.  Their focus tends to be skill based, what unis and colleges can offer them in terms of technically skilled graduates (particularly the comment about it being better to use free or inexpensive online resources rather then get a GDE degree), but a strength of education should be the capacity to expose students to the 'studio' way of thinking, working and interacting.  I'll carry that theme on in the skills section most like.  Possibly best to leave pointing this sort of thing out until the summary sections though.

Next, I address more specifically the negative perception of GDE, pulling out comments in aid of exploring the theme.

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