Toys ‘N Tyrants was my second workshop game for my undergraduate education, and as all cobbled together student projects it had a fair share of issues. I feel I’ve learned far more from the failures of projects I’ve been a part of than the successes. There would have been no Madhouse if we had not presented a slideshow instead of a vertical slice. I’m very proud of the team that worked on Toys ‘N Tyrants and I feel we succeeded in the vision we had from the outset. Now, with some distance from the project, and with some perspective I feel comfortable considering the reasons I could have done so much better. This is not a post mortem of the game itself, but rather my own contributions it.
What I did right
First of all, I feel I did what I was tasked to do very well. I took on the responsibility of making sure everyone on the team can get their work done to the best possible level. It was my responsibility to pull the strings with Unity, HackNPlan, and Discord to get work and communication flowing. At this, I feel I succeeded.
I also feel I succeeded at knowing when to reduce scope. Before Alpha the Creative Director and I had to make the decision to cut four enemy characters. We made the decision to either create a product with four unique levels, or a product with eight unique enemies.
This was the first project I had worked on with a strict hierarchal structure. I had a team of four other leaders reporting to me with the successes and failures of their team. These leads were invaluable to managing a group of 15 students all of whom were working remotely. Communication between leads was generally free-flowing. This did not functionally translate downwards, and easily constitutes…
What I did wrong
Communication quickly became a recurring issue. Members of the team felt leads weren’t communicating properly, and leads felt the team was not listening or engaging with our communication. During the process I felt this couldn’t possibly be my fault. I cannot control the way others communicate. Since then I have learned, it’s not a producer’s job to control anything. It was my job to facilitate communication. On that front I failed to convey my ideas properly, and lost sight of the fact that everyone wants to succeed on a team.
Expressing expectations is not something that comes easy to me. I expect great things from those who work with me, but with Aardvark Games we quickly established a precedent of low expectations. It was my responsibility to rectify this before it became a problem. Unfortunately, I didn’t see this until it was too late. Over the course of the project we put in countless hours beyond what we would have needed to had we been clear where we placed the bar as leadership on the project.
What I would change
How can I answer this question without mentioning scope? No scene makes a movie, and no line makes a scene. I don’t remember where I heard that, but I feel it rings true in games. That scene in games is the dreaded It’d be cool if… a phrase I love to hear in preproduction, but can easily result in feature creep beyond. The easiest change I could make would be to simply cut down sooner.
I’d also facilitate a more refined vision for the game sooner; one that can garner unilateral support among the team. Often in development it felt like five people were driving one car.
Lastly, I’d talk more to more people. This part is difficult because we all worked remotely. Communication channels were almost exclusively text-based and I seldom got to know the skilled developers working with me.
Ultimately, the project turned out well. We succeeded in most of our goals, and its pretty fun to play! Here is the itch.io page for anyone interested in testing it out. As is the nature of the beast for educational projects, we are no longer developing Toys ‘N Tyrants, but I always welcome feedback in any way.