Games In General
Games In General
Harry Ravenswood (Lead Designer, Kuju Entertainment) gives expert video advice on: What is a developer and what do they do?; What are 'easter eggs'?; Why do developers put easter eggs in games? and more...
How much do games cost to make these days?
Games are getting more and more expensive to make. It also depends very much on the platform that you're using. If you're looking for handheld games, increasing up, they're probably about $500,000 or about £250,000 upwards, to about $1,000,000 or £500,000. That's for a standard title, but then if you're thinking about the big console AAA titles, you're talking millions of pounds, anywhere from three million pounds to six or seven million pounds. It seems to be getting more and more expensive to make games these days, as the games are getting bigger and the game consoles are getting more powerful. The expectations are raised and that's how it's going at the moment with games.
How are games funded?
Games are funded in a number of different ways. If you are lucky enough to be a developer with some money behind you, you can develop your games with your own money and that usually means you've got complete credit control. For a lot of studios, independent studios, it's kind of work for hire, so you'll either pitch for work to the publisher or the publisher will come to you if they have worked with you in the past and say, "We've got this game, we'd like it to make it for you and the budget is this." You've got the other ones, the big, big companies who are both publishers and developers at once, who can internally fund themselves as well. There's also increasingly going to be some money provided by governments around the world. I know at home in Australia, there are small amounts of money for small start-ups to fund games. That sort of thing seems to be happening a bit more as well.
What is a developer and what do they do?
Developers are basically people who make the game. They're the studio, the coders, the artists and the designers who actually sit down and put the game together. Developers work over the course of couple of years, usually, and deliver to the publisher, who will actually disseminate the game and put it on the shelves.
What is a publisher and what do they do?
A publisher is usually who is providing the money to make the game. The developer gets the money from the publisher, and over the development of the game, the publisher will be scrutinising it, offering feedback or making certain requests. They'll also be looking to market the game at certain points as well. Finally, when the game's finished, the publishers will be the people who organise getting the game out on the shelves.
What positions make up a game company?
A lot of people are required to make a game, right through from people who make it through the people who manage the process. The people who make it are coders, so they're the programmers who actually write the lines of code that make the game work. You have artists, who are obviously providing what we see and what we interact with in a game and the environments, the characters, etc. Then you have the game designers, who push that all together into some sort of coherent level or design. Then you have the QA people, the quality assurance. They are the people who will be testing the game constantly during its process, during its lifetime. They are finding all the bugs, finding all the things that aren't working quite as well as you might like them to. Then you have the game producers. The producer is a project manager, but they also often work alongside the lead designer as their right hand man or in collaboration. They'll be making sure the game project is running on schedule, that we're resourced properly, that we're aware of our milestones. Then you have management level - the studio heads who run the game studio and look for new business. Finally, there's HR and the regular sort of workers you might find in any other kind of office.
What's the basic process for making a game?
There's no single process to making a game, really. At the moment, I think game designers, or game development I should say, is going through a number of experiments and different philosophies are coming out to do with project management. There's agile game development, and there's standard, typical project management, classical cascade project management. But the ideal way I've found to make games, the one I've enjoyed in the past, is to actually come up with concept and get a small prototype team together - that would usually involve a coder, an artist, a designer and a couple more people, depending on the size and scale of the project. You get the concept of the game working well, the core game play right, and then once you've established that, you roll into full production, and that's where you hire everyone, and you know what you're doing, what you're going to make. You start pushing forward with full game development. You start building your levels properly and in earnest. You'll be building final art assets, you'll be consolidating the game code, you'll be testing the game, and you'll have a goal in mind, a final release date, that you'll be working towards.
How is a game 'coded'?
Code teams are structured depending on the sort of game project you're trying to make. Often, you'll get code teams where individuals will have personal responsibility for certain areas of the game, and they might work quite closely with the designer perhaps, who has the same responsibility. You also have the code team members who will be looking after specific levels, providing support, directly, for the artists and designers. If they have trouble getting something working, ideally there's someone who's of use to aid them. You also have a lead code, the lead designer, who will be overarching, scheduling everybody, making sure that the game build is working and rolling properly and keeping things on track.
How does all the code, art and sound effects come together?
All the bits and pieces that make up a game - code, art, sound effects and the levels themselves - come together in what we call a pipeline. We have a process by which there's a sensible order in which things sort of come online. Initially, a game level will just be literally a paper design and that will be put together by the designer so that they'll get a basic idea of how they want their level to work. At that point, you'll probably talk with the artists and the coders and say: "This is how I want my game level to work. This is sort of the specific functionality I might require from it." You'll talk to the artists and say: "This is my idea for this game level. It's set on a beach (for example) so this is the art that I'll need for it." Once you get the basic building blocks of the level working, the game designer will just use placeholder assets, assets that are just thrown away but might be in the form of grey boxes, whatever it takes to get the level working. Once it is working, that's the point where you'll actually start involving the artists, and say: "Its time for you to make the game level look great." We don't want to do it the other way around if I start changing it around. Artists will get involved at that point. Sound and the other elements, I think, are something that is constantly ongoing. You require sound for so many elements of a game that you need to get started on that from the get go. There's no sort of obvious point where it is too early to put the sound in. You can start putting placeholders in, at least initially, and then start polishing those over the course of a game. For code, it's in response to the core features of the game, so you get those right at the start and then respond to any specific requests that might be happening along the way.
Do you think videogames can be addictive?
I think addiction is a matter of personality rather than the actual object itself. Someone can be addicted to video games just like someone can be addicted to film, potentially. I think addiction is more about the personality of the individual.
What is a 'milestone'?
A milestone is a point in development, that can be set internally or externally, where we want to be at a certain point. We say that the game needs to be working to a certain standard by this point, and usually you'll have multiple milestones throughout the game development. Often you work for monthly milestones. By the end of this month, we want this to be working, by the end of this month, we want something else to be working, and by the end of the third month, we're going to show the publisher how we're doing it. You get the snapshot of the game at that milestone and the publisher can assess how we're tracking against our expectations. It's a very useful tool internally, too, just to keep the game team driving forward so you don't lose momentum.
What is 'crunch'?
Crunch is an affectionate term to talk about working overtime in the game industry. Crunch is when you're getting close to a milestone, usually, and there's still lots to be done. You start working long hours and possibly weekends. You don't want crunch to last too long. It can burn you out, but it's a reality.
What does 'going gold' mean?
Going gold is the final stage before the game gets released. Prior to that you had, usually, two key milestones which most studios work to. These are the alpha and beta stages, which are various points at which the game is almost finished but needs some bug fixing or something like that. Going gold is actually when you've done all of that and the game is complete and ready to send off to the printer to get released. Going gold is the last point in game design, and its' usually cause for celebration when you actually go gold.
What should the game look like at Beta stage?
At Beta stage, the game should be very, very close to being released. You should have no further changes being done to the levels or to any of the features. At beta stage, you're merely hunting out bugs. I say merely, but there are usually lots. It takes you a good few months to iron out all the wrinkles in a game.
What are 'easter eggs'?
Easter eggs are hidden, usually funny little items that the development team have put into the game for the player to find. A good example of an Easter egg would be Prince of Persia - Warrior Within. This was a game that came out a few years ago and one of the secret hidden weapons you could find was actually Rainman, who's a character from another game. You could actually find his hand, just stick it on your belt and run around. You've got a weapon that really doesn't fit with the universe, but it was kind of fun and other gamers knew what this Easter egg was.
Why do developers put easter eggs in games?
I think developers put Easter eggs into games just for fun. It's a nod and a wink to the fans; it's a nod and a wink to the players. An Easter egg is usually a little bit cheeky, but it's good fun and they're always meant in good humour.
Are games art?
I think some games can be art. I know that's not a really nice definition of art, but for me, some games can achieve that level. The majority fall short, but I think over time, as an industry, the art in games continues to develop. We'll see more and more sort of hitting that level. Some interesting games, like Rez, were approaching art, and in fact won art awards. Rez was a game that was done in Japan, which is about a very simple shooter, but it was set to a soundtrack. It was synesthesia, basically, it was an experiment in that, which is about seeing music as colour. It was a cool game as well. It crossed the genres of games and art.
What are 'bugs'?
A bug is any little issue in a game. I say little, but they can be really massive as well. A bug could be the game just crashes, hangs, for whatever reason, and these are priority one bugs. We get rid of those as soon as we can. Bugs can also be just little, odd, very unexpected things, like pressing a button and suddenly the character does a 180 spin and no-one knows why. That's a functional issue. A bug in a game could be an art issue as well. For example, suddenly the clouds are not travelling in the right direction, for whatever reason, on one level. There's hundreds of little things that can go wrong with games and that's what bugs are.