Kicking it off
Some time ago, I talked about the behind the scenes peek of Double Fine's successful Kick starter. This documentary, filmed by 2 Player Productions, has followed the game's development process from the beginning, and has been an unprecedented look at how a real small game studio runs its business.
Starting with the end of the Kick starter which net them almost ten times the amount they were asking for; we've seen them recruit a team, create a core concept for them game, work on designing the game tools, develop the concept art and feel of the game, and finally start bringing it all together to create the first playable incarnations of the 'Cloud City' level of the game. They have also found the time to release a number of shorts, dubbed 'side quest', which feature some of the programers or artist on the game in more detail.
Just recently, they have released their 7th major installment in the series, titled "We'll Handle it". The episode features some of the harsh realities and difficult decisions a game studio has to make in the face of a looming deadline and a dwindling budget. We are shown several meetings in which they talk about how much of the studios success and independence is riding on the completion of this project. After reviewing the current state of the project and crunching the numbers, they realize how it is likely that release dates will have to be pushed back, some of the design creep scope will need to be cut, and that they will possibly have to look for additional revenue to ensure that the project is done right. Though the theme was a little dark, there was still a slightly optimistic sense that this was ground they had treed before, and while unpleasant it was something they would be able to handle.
This episode, more than any of the others, shows how far this documentary has gone towards being a more authentic look at the game development process, as appose to many of the glorified 'Making of' videos which often try to portray a more glamorous image of game development.
Before that last episode was released however, Double Fine took a two week break from their normal projects to participate in an event they have dubbed Amnesia Fortnight. Two weeks out of the year, everyone drops what ever project they are doing to come together and create prototypes for potential future products. Anyone in the company, regardless of their job, can pitch an idea. The top ideas are taken and developed into rapid prototypes over the next fortnight.
This is a process a lot of good companies use (including Google) that often leads to future products and innovation. It allows new team members to be put into a team lead situation, and gives people a chance to prove themselves outside of their normal roles. It's a way to invigorate employees creativity by allowing them to develop their own projects and ideas.
This practice is also the reason Double Fine was able to avoid massive layoffs, when one of their last big budget titles was canceled a few years ago. Instead of having to send employees home with nothing to work on, they were able to pitch several of their fortnight projects and spin off several small teams to develop these smaller games that wound up being successful hits.
This year they decided to showcase the process to the public. Using the humble bundle format, they allowed people to pay what they want for a chance to vote on which of the ideas would actually be made, and get a finished copy of all of the prototypes at the end. They also live streamed the whole process.
While the event is already over, you can still see watch the archive of their live stream. For people who did back the project though, 2 Player Production took the footage and in the spirit of the rapid prototype theme, distilled it into a series of 30 minute daily videos.
While the videos themselves are a bit more off the cuff than the kick starter monthly episodes, they get to show a much closer look at the ground floor level of the programers and team leads. A lot more time was dedicated to direct interviews or team meetings that we don't normally get to see. It was also incredible to see five teams get a chance to create and lead their own vision of a project, as it is not a chance many people in the industry get.
I really hope they compile these videos into their own series, and make it available to the public as it is yet another brilliant view of behind the scenes design and development process within the industry.
Speaking of 2 Player Production releases, they are about to release a feature film documentary they have been working on a while now called Minecraft: The Story of Mojang. Releasing on Dec,23,2012, the film will follow how the efforts of a one man development team (Markus Persson aka Notch) eventually broke out into a multi multi million dollar hit game. He know owns his own studio called Mojang, is working on a number of new titles, and is very much still a complete programing nerd (in a good way).
Mojang had it's own rapid prototype live stream during a 48 hours game jam.