Lessons From Life on a Dev Team

It all started April 9th with the Demo Disc Game Jam, put on by the Dallas Society of Play (DSOP). That was my first time getting to work with a team to create a game. Usually game jams only last one weekend, which doesn’t really work when you work in retail.

This one, though, lasted for a month. I was thrilled to actually be able to participate for once. We ended up with a pretty good group of programmers, artists, a sound designer, and a writer (me). I knew some of the people from other meetups, but a few of the faces were new. It didn’t take us long to settle on not only an idea but an art style.

And we were off. We affectionately dubbed the game Woofenstein (since we borrowed some inspiration from Wolfenstein) and it was a 3D, low poly barroom brawler.

Not going to lie, half of the things that were included in the game started off as jokes. Some of them worked surprisingly well, especially some of the dog puns.

There were so…many…dog puns. It was ruff.

Along the way, though, I learned a few lessons.

Different skills are needed at different stages.

As a writer, I didn’t have much to contribute during the game jam. We didn’t have time to integrate a story or any sort of dialogue. I felt pretty useless at times, but I tried to make up for it by being supportive whenever I could.

I was also nominated as the project lead, which was awesome. My team was even more awesome, though, and practically led themselves. I couldn’t help but feel like I was nothing more than moral support. Imposter syndrome kicked in pretty hard.

Everyone was incredibly proud of how the game turned out, though, and most of our team ended up deciding to keep going. Now that we are no longer merely creating a demo during a short time period, I find myself with more to contribute. We are adding in a story. There are more moving parts now. We are starting to talk marketing and showing off at conventions.

Even though I did not have much to contribute in the beginning, since I stuck around and did what I could I find myself in a position to contribute even more. I am glad that I chose to stay along for the ride.

Because the ride just got a lot longer, and now I have something to bring to the table.

Be prepared for things to go wrong.

Things will go wrong. Technology will refuse to cooperate. There will be lapses in communication. Things will not be finished on time. That is just a fact of life. And you need to be prepared for it.

That is why you always need someone keeping an eye on everything. We almost didn’t have the game completely finished by the end of the jam (thankfully the end event was pushed back due to bad weather). We bumped into issues where people would be working on the same file and it would not save correctly.

Heck, my laptop died in the middle of the demo and we had to switch to someone else’s because I was a genius and forgot my charger.

The key thing is to stay flexible. Have plans in place for when things go wrong. Have people outside of the project who have more experience than you do that you can go to about any issues you may have.

And above all, communicate with people. If you make a mistake, own up to it. People may be frustrated with you at first, but it is better to deal with it now than later.

Note: there were no major hiccups, just a few small issues so far. Most of this is just general life advice.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew (especially if you are still on the last bite).

Feature creep is a real thing. One of the organizers at DSOP, Storm, stayed in communication with all of the teams to help keep an eye on things and make sure feature creep did not happen.

For those of you who don’t know, feature creep is when you keep adding cool little bells and whistles onto your project instead of focusing on the core fundamentals of said project. It is a slippery slope that is very easy to slide down, but it can tank your project.

By adding on so many new things to tackle you can easily find yourself completely overwhelmed with everything you have to do, especially if you are trying to do it in a very short time period.

Also, if you are not comfortable taking over a certain aspect of the project, don’t. Do not overcommit yourself. If there is someone else more qualified to handle something, let them handle it and offer to assist them. There is no shame in admitting that someone else is better than you at something. No one is the best at everything.

Don’t be afraid to share the load. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. That is what your team is for.

Things will change and that’s okay.

If I am remembering correctly, the original idea that was pitched was to play as a dog in a helicopter fighting another dog in a helicopter. So, dog fighting (the term for when two helicopters/planes engage in aerial combat) dogs. Then our lead programmer mentioned wanting to do something that felt like the older Wolfenstein. Then another game was referenced. A few other ideas were pitched as well.

The game we demoed was very simple. There were four players with identical (and very stylish) designs. You ran around beating up the other players, occasionally picking up health and weapons. We actually had a lot of fun designing the weapons.

When we decided to keep going with the game, things changed. We have been talking about updating and stylizing the art. We obviously renamed it, because if we published it under Woofenstein things would not end well for us.

We have started talking adding more levels, including some that were mentioned at the beginning of the demo development. I think we have even settled on a basic story for the game. There is still a lot of work to be done and I have no doubt there will be a lot of changes between now and then.

That just comes with growth.

Whatever happens, though, I will always be thankful for this experience. I have learned more about programming, development, and working on a dev team than I ever could have outside of this. I am very excited to see where this road leads.

If you want to follow along our journey, check out our Tumblr or follow us on Twitter (there isn’t a whole lot on there now but there will be in the future, I promise).

 

Review: The Book Thief

As much time as I spend writing, I spend more time reading. Everything from fiction to nonfiction, sci-fi/fantasy to mystery, both for fun and to educate/improve myself. I have a large library of books in my room that I have been reading for years. Since starting work at a bookstore, though, I find myself buying and reading more and more new books.

There is a certain thrill to opening a new book and delving into the story for the very first time. Of immersing yourself in a world that you are wholly unfamiliar with. I want to share that magic and share my experience.

So I decided to pick up writing book reviews again. I’ll be sharing old favorites and new favorites, as well as my recommendations for books on personal development.

To start off, I am going to share one of my all-time favorite books. I actually watched the movie before I read the book, but I fell so in love with the story that I bought the book the very next day.

“One of the most enduring stories of our time, The Book Thief is just a small story really, about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.”

The characters

The character you follow around most of the time is a little girl called Liesel. She has pretty blonde hair, dangerous brown eyes, and an undying love for words. This love starts when she discovers The Gravedigger’s Handbook lost in the snow. That begins her love affair with words and with reading.

She is taken in by a German couple, Rosa and Hans Hubermann. Rosa is constantly described as having a face that resembles crumpled cardboard and she is definitely a woman who believes in tough love. Hans is much gentler with Liesel and ends up being the one who teaches her to read.

I think part of why I love this book so much is that I identify with Liesel. When her life is turned upside down, she turns to books. She escapes into other worlds through the words with which she falls in love. It is something I have done many times.

The cast of characters is pretty small. You have Rosa and Hans, who we have already met, and you have Liesel of course. There is also Ruddy, a young boy who is the first to befriend Liesel. Everyone knows him. He is the mischevious, kind-hearted boy who lives down the street. Max comes along later, silent as a ghost. He remains hidden through, buried in the shadows with young Liesel his only connection to the outside world

There is another ghost as well. The mayor’s wife, a shadow in a robe, allows Liesel access to words beyond her imagination. We do not see much of her, unfortunately, but she still has an impact.

The narrator is my personal favorite. They are neutral by nature, but like us, they find themselves drawn towards the tale of the little blonde book thief. They provide us with a grander look at what is going on and add an air of poeticism to the story. I quickly came to love their interjections.

In fact, it is the narrator that captivated me so, because it is not often you find a story that is narrated by death in this way. Marcus Zusak definitely pulls it off, though, in a way most authors cannot.

The world

The book takes place in Germany around the start of WWII. We don’t get to see a lot of the fighting, but there is no denying the impact. You see the signs of it everywhere. It is subtle at first but the further along you go, it becomes unmistakable. The rationing. The Hitler Youth. The burning of unacceptable publications (one of which mysteriously survives). Jews hiding in basements. And then, later, the marches.

Occasionally the narrator pulls us out of Liesel’s story to show us what is going on throughout the rest of Europe. He is very tired of war, worn down from having to carry so many tortured souls into the afterlife. It is a unique, heartbreaking depiction of the realities of war told in a very artistic fashion.

Seeing the world through Liesel’s eyes changed the way I see things, ironically enough. There are moments when she describes the sky to Max, providing him an outlet to the outside world, and it is honestly beautiful. Everything about their friendship is.

The moral

This is a story of, well, stories. The power of words and how they can help us be more open-minded. How they help us not be afraid to do the right thing. How they help us connect with others on a deeper level than mere conversation or small talk can.

It is also a story of perseverance. From the beginning, Liesel is faced with a wide variety of challenges. She loses her brother. Her mother leaves her in the care of a German couple, never to be seen again. She is behind most of the children her age, mostly because she struggles with learning how to read. She has constant nightmares involving her brother and her mother.

But she keeps going. She never gives up. She keeps moving forward.

And I admire that.

The ranking

Note: I may end up adding some sort of numerical ranking system to these reviews, but for now I am going to try something different. Some books are roller coasters. Some keep you on the edge of your seat. Some are fluffy.

This one is a classic. The story is endearing and the characters are dear to my heart. There is this intangible…something that has made this story very important to me. I have bonded with other people over a shared love of this story.

One of them has a very unique tale of how he came to read it. His dad found a copy in the nightstand drawer in a hotel room in Spain. On it was a note saying to pass it on after he read it. He ended up passing it on to his son (my friend), who then passed it on to a professor.

Once you have read this book, you will truly understand just how perfect this is.

What are your thoughts? Did you like The Book Thief? Is there anything else you would like to see me include on my reviews? Which books do you think I should read?