Hi, my name is Ethan and I am new here. I am new to Wisconsin, I am new to educational game development, and in October 2016 I was new to Filament Games. The past six months have taught me more than I could possibly recount in blog post form, but I would like to use this opportunity to share some core takeaways.
Filament brought me in as an assistant to Abigail Rindo, our esteemed Production Director at the time. To say that I was fortunate to begin my venture into educational game development under Abigail’s tutelage would be an enormous understatement. As a seasoned professional in multiple fields of the game development industry, Abigail demonstrated a holistic knowledge and love of the craft. And over the course of my first several months she patiently conveyed that knowledge to me, a noob.
Making educational games takes time. One of the first crucial lessons I learned about educational game development was the perpetual balancing act of quality vs. time. This notion of creation within limits is not new to me by any means. In my time as a sonic artist and graduate student I studied miniatures as a compositional form and even composed for the Canadian Association of Sound Ecology. I learned how to embrace the limitations of time and resources and treat them as affordances. With the world of “is it possible to...” and “what if...” stripped away, the simplest and most elegant paths reveal themselves. Filament Games is no stranger to this idea either. Case in point.
Surely, developing digital learning experiences comes with an entirely different set of objectives than composing a work of sonic or visual art. Composition is typically a solitary act, whereas much of game development requires a team of diversely skilled individuals. There are also numerous stakeholders, each with a vision for how the game will most effectively fulfill a learning objective, and reconciling those perhaps disparate visions tends to be a time-consuming part of the process, which leads me to my second lesson.
Making educational games takes communication. Agile wireframes mock up our architectural spike, so backlog your sprint velocity in scrum and we’ll commit user stories to push the release candidate’s slack. Understand? Me neither.
Every microculture has it’s own language and during the first several weeks at Filament Games my head was a slurry of new nomenclature. I came from a world of paradiddles and polyrhythms, of pinna and partials, and now I was in the world of paper prototypes and the art pipeline. Communication was difficult at first, but immersing yourself in a language is the quickest way to learn and in no time I was backlogging with the best of ‘em...er wait?
All joking aside, the ability to accurately and clearly convey ideas is critical to the success of an educational game development studio. As mentioned above, defining a clear central vision of how the game will engage students and what the student will gain from that experience takes a fair amount of time. That amount of time seems to increase as more people and perspectives are involved in the process. Fortunately, Filament Games is comprised of some really smart people that have developed stellar communication skills. And those people bring me to my final lesson.
Making educational games takes people. I recall a meeting in the first week of my employment at Filament Games in which Abigail was going over studio allocation, and expressing concern for employees who had recently been putting in a lot of extra time. She spoke of them like brothers and sisters, “Oh you know how Cheryl is, once she gets on a roll you just can’t tear her away from her desk.” Ok, so I made that line up, and no one named Cheryl works at Filament right now, but the point is this: educational video games are made by living, breathing, humans - humans that sometimes get stressed and doubt ourselves, or that can have moments of superhuman creativity or productivity.
We use terms like “resource” to abstract an individual’s role when planning, but in the end no one “resource” can simply be interchanged with another. Abigail taught me that a good producer has not only the hard knowledge of budgeting, scheduling, and spreadsheet virtuosity, but also the soft knowledge of individual team members’ idiosyncrasies and personalities. The ongoing harmonization of those two factors when approaching efficient teamwork are again, part of our fluid development process.
So, if there is a core takeaway after six months at an educational game development studio it would be this; if talented people have the right amount of time to properly communicate, they can make extraordinary things, but if any one of those three factors break down, so will the project. As a new producer I’ve often struggled to identify what exactly my role is in a development team and how much of my energies should be put into which areas. I am still discovering this, but with Abigail’s guidance in mind and the direction provided by other experienced and skilled Filamentarians, I am excited about what’s to come.