This is about managing my time while being apart of an indie game studio. The funny thing is that this isn’t a typical team of adults making games in their basement. This has not been an ordinary team since the day I shared the first prototype of our first game with my sweet, wonderful and caring children. They poked fun at my creation and when I challenged them to do better, we started our journey of making games as a family.
So, each one of us has a part in making our games. I talk to Anabel about what I envision artistically and she is able to create what I envision better than I could have imagined. Isabelle writes and helps drive the story. Christian is the sound effects person and roadie for trips that require packing a desktop. He loves our first Pelican case almost as much as I do. Brigit tests the builds and tries to get a unicorn into every project we discuss.
So you must be wondering what the heck I do on this team. Since this is a team of one grownup, three teens, and an eight year old; we do things a little differently. These game making activities are made into school activities or around school work. I use tools from my days as a Software Developer with Oracle previous to my starting DB Attic Studios.
So these are the tips that we live by:
- After breakfast each morning, we run a SCRUM style meeting where we talk about what we are working on and any issues that are holding us up. Then we talk about the project, gaming-related events we could go to, and any ideas related to making games. Sometimes the conversation goes in unexpected directions but it is fun.
- One important thing that I have is a business logbook which basically has handwritten notes on what is going on, plans for the future, and notes on features I am working on. Recently, I attempted to move to an electronic version but I must say I needed the handwritten notebook approach. I use the electronic approach for feature design work and then those are kept in a central location for the team to have access to.
- Outside of our daily Scrum meetings, I sit with Anabel and talk about the animations after she stores them in our central server. Then I implement the code for their usage. Afterwards, we go over these together. Sometimes when the concept is not quite what we are aiming for, Isabelle and the others sometimes get pulled in. For the writing of the dialogue and story line, Isabelle works on it, with some input from me, or we have a brainstorm session, normally over a meal or a dessert. Sound effects tend to be from Christian who receives a list of required sounds then works on them by himself. Sometimes we work together to collect sounds.
- Outsourcing isn’t always a bad thing. While making our first game, we spent a great deal of time creating original tracks but have since started using outside licensed music. That removed the pressure of creating original music and we were able focus more on game making activities, such as coding, level design, story line, animation, sound effects, fun dialogue, and all the other pieces to making fun interactive experiences for our players.
- Make quiet time to look at the entire project from alpha to release and have a timetable to release as well as a breakdown of each phase, including time needs. You should be sure to keep in mind and holidays, family events or industry events that may affect work time. E.g. if we are going to be attending a conference, depending on the conference size and time, we will need to add some recovery time to the calendar. I do not put a soft release date in the schedule to work with due to all the possible things that may come up. Instead, this is kept internally and only shared with the team as a “This is what we are shooting for” date only. In this case, my job is to get the game designed, out the door, and all the interesting bits in between, while teaching my kids about the areas of the business they want to learn about.
- From the large project view, take a month-at-a-time approach and plan what features get done. Since my goal is to finish each project in a year, I break the project down into months and then the focus is narrowed to something much smaller like 2-3 weeks at a time. One tool that is useful here would be Jira when the game goes into production. During pre-production, everything is mostly handwritten notes, drawings, diagrams and charts. I find the creative me likes to write and draw stuff out by hand initially, despite the cool tablet tools that I have. Nothing beats the feel of 22 lb or greater paper and a fountain pen.
- Prioritize what pieces of the puzzle need to be worked on. Using Jira can also help here, or you can simply go through what needs to be done in the current sprint, and figure out which one will have the most effect.
- Backup your data to an external server–this has saved me sleep many times. Git is your friend here.
- Be selective about which events are worth your money and time. Rather than going to every event that you can find, you can instead go to events that will help your business and use time spent at useless events to get your game completed. Saying no to any activity that pulls you away and doesn’t help you in other areas of your life will be good for you as an indie studio.
- Working without distractions is always a good thing. Turn off all notifications and keep your focus on what you are doing.
- Start your day with a full night’s sleep behind you as much as possible. This goes a long way for productivity.
- Delegate tasks to other members of the team. We are working on our second commercial game and we are more experienced in working as a team. Each person is also getting better in their area and I work as the person stoking the fires. This time around Anabel has taken on the Art Direction for the project and I support her as needed. Isabelle has taken on a bigger role as the Writer of this game. Same with sound effects with Christian. This is a big step from being involved in every step during the first game.
- Make time to play your favorite video games. This one is the hardest for me but with the help of my youngest team member, I make time.
- Take time to have self-care day or days on a weekly basis. Working all night multiple days in a row on a game does not make it any better than if you took the time to sleep and then start back in the morning. Rest in between events or busy weeks is also important.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I hope that some of these tips can help you in some way. You are probably wondering where the other four are…they are coming, or maybe it is a test to see if anyone gets this far. 🙂
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