Development Teams

So, I know that a lot of games take a really long time to make, and that it can be tedious. I mean, to avoid boring the person playing the game you may have to describe the same thing three times in varying levels of detail without repeating or contradicting yourself.

In other types of games, I see groups of people working together. More than just two. You may have a couple of writers, a couple of programmers, some artists, people doing graphics, etc., and this isn’t always major studios. Sometimes groups get together to collaborate for games.

So, what I’m asking is, why are IF collaborations usually just two people? Why not a team of five or six people? Maybe two people work together on plot and puzzles, one person fills in details and descriptions, and a couple people work on the actual programming of the game. You can send the text to be displayed upon examination or various other actions to the programmers.

Basically, the same thing that a writer/programmer duo does, but on a larger scale. Games could either be made more quickly, or much larger games could be made. Not to mention that working on a project is, in my opinion, much more enjoyable when you have other people to talk to and bounce ideas off of.

Also, if you could get an artist in there, a well-placed image once in a while can add impact to important moments in a game, I think. Title scene, when you first approach the haunted house, etc.

I’m guess the absence of development teams is due to the fact that text games aren’t typically made for profit. You’d really have to amass a group of people just doing it for the joy of it. Further, being involved in the programming side of it affords the writer of interactive fiction a deeper understanding of how their game works, and avoids them having to implement their vision through intermediaries.

That all said, I’ve helped produce two prizewinning games through different partnerships, and I’m currently taking part in two collaborative projects, the TMBG Tribute Album, and IF Whisper 5: the benefits of working with others are clear to me, but then so are the downsides. When you work with other people you agree to forfeit full control of the creative vision for the project, and you leave yourself open to different levels of quality and commitment from your co-creators.

It’s at least conceivable that a larger collaboration with people having more specialised roles could produce something interesting. I remain open to being convinced.

I think one possible factor is that, in IF, there tends to be just one story, which goes just one way or a few variants of just one way.

With other kinds of computer games, there’s often room for multiple storylines, side quests, distinct “levels” with their own character, and so on. More room for a multitude of authorial voices.

I don’t think it’s the main or deciding factor, but it might be somewhere in the mix.

Personally I’d love a texty game with a real sense of multiple storylines to explore … and I think a mult-author approach to such a thing would be groovy, provided someone could stand at the middle and herd the cats. I’m no cat-herder myself, but I’d be a willing member of the miaowing herd.

That’s one major problem. Larger-scale collaboration would require a lead dev with the established community respect to draw in a talented team, the management skills to keep them committed and productive (on a wholly voluntary basis), the will to impose a coherent vision on a bunch of unruly creatives, the design skills to come up with an appealing and workable concept, and the technical skills to do as much or more actual work than anybody on the team (because this is how volunteer projects inevitably turn out).

Someone that skilled a) is rare, b) has the ability to write more modest games on their own, with considerably less hassle, and c) probably has a demanding day job.

This seems a little chicken-and-eggy to me – isn’t part of the reason that IF games don’t have multiple storylines, side quests, etc., that one hobbyist author working alone usually doesn’t have time to create all of that stuff? Or at least that’s the feeling I get when I contemplate writing something with multiple storylines etc.

I think it’s an “adventure game” thing. It was true even in the commercial years of text adventures, and it was then true of graphical adventure games in the 90s … and in recent years, with the return of graphical adventures (the NDS has featured many excellent new ones), it remains true in modern games, modern games with large teams on their credits list.

But again, I’d be happy to be part of an exception :slight_smile:

There is a place for works with a single authorial voice. After all, single author novels are still predominant.

I’m somewhat qualified to answer this question…

The primary requirement to build IF in a team is money. Cold hard cash. If you have cash, you can pay people not to work at a “regular” job and instead work on IF. From there, the floodgates open. If one had cash, they could hire game designers, writers, artists, programmers, managers, and all of the other important parts of any normal product development business.

Given all this, you would be successful at team IF development.

Would this make for a successful company?

No one knows. No one has had the people and the money.

David C.

Did you infer some suggestion to the contrary?

Not really… I know you all know that’s true. But matt w’s post kind of sounded as if everyone would want to produce works with either distinct authorial voices or parts with distinct characters if only they had more time or a team.

Now as to IF - Alabaster is an example of a story which did have a very big branching story line. Success or not?
Victor is keen to have contributions to Kerkerkruip too, which would be more suitable for those wanting sidequests and characterised levels.

A success as a game; rather mixed as a collaboration.

  • Not very structured. The organisation was basically Emily (concept, code, design, much of the writing) and Everyone Else (writing). People didn’t have special responsibility for sections of the plot or the world, or for specialised tasks.
  • Emily has said that a major problem with the project was that she didn’t give herself enough authority to edit or reject additions to the game. As a result, the end result is kind of uneven; even allowing for the game having multiple endings and different versions of reality, there are certain threads of the plot that are really not in keeping with the overall tone of the game. (IF Whispers, of course, has this problem to a much greater degree.)
  • Not really a case of many-hands-make-light-work.

So, personally, I’m not interested in collaborations of more than two unless someone has the clear authority to decide what’s right for the game. And uses it.

Likewise. The cat-herder would need to be epic, both as a maker of IF and as an individual. And really, the other cats would have to be worth a butt-sniff, as well, or why leave this comfortable sunlit porch to begin with?

Hm, what I was actually thinking was that it would be nice to produce something with lots of branching and sidequests if I had five autonomous copies of myself to work on IF. I very much like the unified authorial voice, but who’s going to do all the work?

True, though possibly misleading. I mean, I put out a hook and invited anyone on the internet to send me content for it, and I would not have been remotely surprised had I gotten files and files of obscene jokes and pop culture references. Instead of which, people who participated did take it seriously and did submit good stuff, at which point I felt like the project deserved to have more polish put into it, in keeping with the effort my collaborators had shown. But I also didn’t feel it was in the spirit of the thing for me to edit people’s prose too ruthlessly, so I left things as they were other than to correct typos and standardize spelling and punctuation in a few places.

So the challenge of that project came partly from deciding midway through to try to take Wacky Social/Technical Experiment and turn it into Actual Game That Works. And then deciding to add the procedural illustration, which took quite a long time in itself; our illustrator was also much more dedicated, professional, and careful than I had anticipated, and wanted to achieve something that was well beyond the scope of my original expectations.

But I agree with the take-away here, which is that if you want to build something with multiple participants and you want that thing to be tonally consistent in the end, you need someone who is in charge of being Keeper Of The Vision and making sure all the component bits line up and slot in properly and work together. And that is a lot of work. (That is true even if the other contributors are being paid.) It’s not especially easier than writing a small game yourself, and it requires an expanded skill set.

I think having an IF team with different people doing art, sound, writing and programming can be a good idea, but the bulk of the work for a game falls in the writing and programming areas, which can also be tightly bound to each other, and the writing is the least divisible task to my eyes.

Mixing different people’s writing into one channel that is supposed to be expressing one voice is freaking difficult. That’s why nearly all novels are written by one person, and when a novel is written by two, it’s often like a husband and wife team who can live in each other’s pockets. So that’s the practical block for me, that the biggest part of the work is the least divisible part. Though it’s also true what was said in this thread, that the whole IF team thing hasn’t been tested as much as teams in other genres.

I did consider doing absolutely everything on Six, but decided for time and sanity reasons to have someone else do the illustrations, so I invited Katherine, whom I met at Sydney GameJam, to do them, and she did a wonderful job. This just leads me to a little sidenote - annual Gamejam events around the world are a fantastic way to meet game developers with different skills, and to form teams and networks. Everyone who’s helping me on my games atm, and everyone I’m helping on theirs atm, are people I met at gamejam events.

Interesting. So far, in my (admittedly still limited) experience, I’ve found that I log at least as many game-design hours as I do writing hours and programming hours. Programming takes a slight lead among the three for me, but I chalk that up to my own poor skills in that area (I can spend hours banging my head against an implementation problem that a real programmer can probably breeze through in minutes).

After those (which are the “big three” for me), tasks like feelie production trail in at the end, though with one WIP in particular, feelie production is looking like it’s going to match the writing hours.

I contributed a couple of quips to “Alabaster.” One limiting factor I remember was not knowing where the scene was supposed to be leading. The quips I added were deliberately vague and didn’t really lead anywhere, because I wasn’t sure where the story was going. I felt like I was working blind. There was just a setting and one defined character (plus the PC, who was not well defined), and that was all. It’s tough to write dialogue when you only have one and a half characters, with no clear plot or ending! I could have invented a storyline and pursued it, but with no feedback and no editing power, I didn’t feel comfortable doing so. Perhaps that was my failing, but there it is.

A problem with any project that has many people involved is making sure everyone’s on the same page, working toward the same vision. This problem is easiest to manage with one author, and gets exponentially harder the more people you involve. It can be solved by dividing up the work, being clear about goals throughout, and having a supervisor who makes sure things stay consistent. But that’s a lot of effort and most of us don’t care to go that far, I suppose (or we don’t have minions – I mean, teammates – to share the work with…)

Yes, quite – my point here was really that the project went in ambitious directions despite my total failure to do the appropriate groundwork for such a thing. But some of the interest of it (for me when I was editing, anyway) did come from trying to patch together a story that made sense of these diverse contributions; an experience a little like improv or tabletop storygaming.

However. If I had set out from the beginning to make a collaborative game with the aim of its being solid and aesthetically pleasing, I would have gone about it very differently, and one of the differences would have been making a road map with the collaborators first.