The Missing Role in Game Dev Teams

Having worked in multiple teams with various types of developers, I’ve noticed some continuously appearing issues in how the team works.

A usual game development team consists of designer(s), programmer(s) and artist(s), and often a producer. It is commonly the designer’s job to lead the project towards his/her vision, while the programmers and artists try to fulfill the requests.

Very often the programmers do all of the implementation, while the designers tell how everything should work and artists provide art to be put in place.

If the designers or artists aren’t technical, the programmers do all of the “hands-on work”, such as implementing features based on designers’ specifications and align menus and such based on artists’ mockups. That often means that the outcome will end up only somewhat as it was visioned to be. Most often programmers lack the ability to see beyond designers’ specifications, and lack the artistic eye required to create beautiful graphics.

It will then often result in a situation where the designer is complaining to the programmers that things aren’t working as they wanted, and the designer didn’t think everything through in the beginning, so now lots of changes are needed after the features are complete. This will lead into broken time estimations and therefore the team can’t fulfill all planned features in time (if a deadline was set).

The artists may be complaining to the programmers that the game isn’t looking like it should, and are requesting time with the programmers so they can show how it should look like, and then have the programmers make the changes.

So now everyone’s unhappy (especially the programmers) and things can really only go downhill from there. 

I can think of two ways to not get into that situation to begin with, but they both boil down to one thing: you need technical capability from a designer-artist point-of-view.

The first option would be to teach the technical aspects of game development to the original designers and artists. However, very likely there will be problems trying to force technical understanding down designers’ and artists’ throat. So, option number 2: place a person in the middle of the team. Someone who has understanding of all the fields and knows the game engine inside out.

 

Jack of all Trades

I like to think of this new role as “Jack of all Trades” – Jack, for short.

It would be Jack’s responsibility to…

  • Understand the designer’s vision and needs, and communicate it to the programmers and artists
  • Help the designer to design beyond their technical understanding
  • Work with programmers continuously to implement features as visioned
  • Come up with and test features and tools that are required to fulfill the bigger picture
  • Implement art hands-on in the engine, based on artists’ mockups and vision
  • Help developers understand each other in general
  • Keep up with the teams’ efforts and report to the producer (if need be)

 

Where to Find Jack

There are plenty of indie developers out there who have been in a situation where they just need to handle everything by themselves. Many of these would fit the role of Jack very well.

I’ve discussed with indies, and some even seem to have the problem that they would consider joining an existing company, but they wouldn’t want to be “just a programmer/artist/designer”, but instead they’d like to contribute to all aspects. The role of Jack in a big company would do just that, and the whole team would get healthier over time.

 

Or not, who knows, lol
Tuomas

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. It’s called tech artist/designer. We’ve been pushing this role also in UI dev. There are many breeds tho’ depending on from which direction they come from originally.

    1. Some tech artists/designers might be fulfilling this position, yes, but to be honest I don’t like that the “role of Jack” would include an emphasis on art or design. To me it kinda leaves out the programmer-relations. But sure, yes, artists and designers are usually the ones needing more technical capabilities than programmers, but often programmers also need better understanding on art and design.

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