Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The Designer / Developer workflow

When I was Lead Programmer on The Darkening (or Privateer 2 as it ended up being called), a group of us spent some time at Origin Games in Austin Texas. One lunchtime (a Tuesday), there was a gathering in the canteen. Do they call them canteens in the States ?

Anyhow, it was quite the thing to allow anyone in the company no matter what their actual job title, to make a pitch to the company/ their colleagues . The day I was there, a guy (artist/designer) ran a movie he had put together in 3D Max. It formed part of his pitch for a game idea he was proposing. For it's day (1994) it was awesome!. Imagine NewYork, night time, ally way. Fire escape to your left. Steam (yes computer animated steam in 1994!) rising from grids in the road. It was beautiful, absolutely beautiful. Everyone in the room was looking at this thing and waiting to see what he came up with next.

I'll tell you. He told us his working title. "Hobo Killer". 40 jaws dropped. And if there had been a pin, you would have heard it.

I remember a game called Magic Carpet which had a very clever animation system for flying around terrain. It was fabulous. However, once you had flown around for 5 minutes there was in fact nothing to do. 'Gameplay' was rubbish.

During the Christmas holidays we invested in a number of computer and console games to help the Stirpé family bond.

My wife Julie (quite the accomplished equestrian) bought My WII Horse 2. Looking forward to getting 'clear rounds' when showjumping, she was non-plussed when asked to muck out and groom her horse. This was, as the game stressed an 'important part of the rider / horse bonding process'.

Whoever the consultant was on that game, they had too strong a voice !

Can you imagine my son Alex happily cleaning his MP-40 before getting stuck into the Red Army in Call of Duty 5? I don't think so.

I have known developers spend months developing a component that did exactly the same thing as a component that they could have bought from a reputable software vendor for less than £200.

One potential client balked at paying me for a day's one to one consultancy to help him realise a spreadsheet that he conceived and after electing to do it himself was still trying to 'crack it' 12 month's later.

Let's talk movies.


Worst film in the history of film. Sorry Kurt Russell (loved Escape from New York!) and Sean Pertwee. But it was awful. It must have started with one of those fabulous fantasy art concepts of a rusted aircraft carrier listing in a desert. Now I grant you, this was/is an awesome vision to take in. But from that concept we extrapolate a plot and film so awful that I am squirming in memory as I write.

For those who haven't seen it, the reason that there is an aircraft carrier listing to one side in a sand dune (and it did look fantastic) is because all junk (including misfits like Kurt) have been transported to a 'dump' planet. So rather than recycle all that useful steel, you transport it to another planet (using a spaceship smaller than the aircraft carrier) and drop it somewhere else.

It's not that I am a Green or anti-sci-fi. I love sci-fi and can cope with fantastic and outrageous. I just don't do 'stupid'!

Incidentally I have just had a memory. Before we were married, I took my wife on a date to see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. While we were walking back to the car I said to her, "Of course, the tank was travelling far too fast. It had a top speed of 10mph!". I get the look that says the next date is in joepardy. "So." she says. "You have no problem with a 900 year old knight and the bringing his father back to life with the cup of Christ, but a tank travels too fast and you're complaining ?!"

Why do we let a designer implement a concept as clever as it is useless in practice or allow a subject specialist/consultant to include a feature into a game because it is 'authentic'. Never mind the developer so focused on a problem that he cannot see the solution/alternative smacking her/him in the face.

Do you know, I am sure that I had a point that I wanted to make when I started to write this half an hour ago but for the life of me I cannot remember what it was.

Is there an actual point to this piece? Apart from a series of anecdotes that is.

Perhaps it's this. Having spent quite some time delivering training in both Silverlight and WPF worldwide for the past 2 years, I would caution designers and developers alike to avoid getting giddy. Particularly the developers. Now that they are free from the limitations of WinForms, they can push WPF to the limit and produce applications that are truly stunning and cutting edge.

But will they be so extreme that users will actually avoid (or be unable to) use them? I have seen a lot of 'Buttons' in the last two years. Some of them actually looked like something a user might actually think of clicking.

No. That's not it. At the top of this piece I thought I might warn of pitfalls when designers and developers collaborate. If fact, most times each group (and I include client/subject specialists here too) tempers or inspires the other and what is produced is a good or even great product.

However once in a while, one 'faction' will get away with something they shouldn't and you end up with something dire.

So. No actual 'Designer / Developer workflow' to speak of then. I promise to do a piece in the future showing how easily designers and developers can collaborate using tools such as Expression Studio and Visual Studio.

See you soon

Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"

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