Connecting the Dots

Connecting the Dots
The Small And Agile Approach

Shannon Drake | 7 Aug 2007 14:15
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For decades, every game was a unique snowflake. Teams started from scratch every time, reinventing the wheel with every game, as each one required a new engine, new art, new everything, and that all had to happen before the designers got to the part where they made a fun game. Times are changing, though, and the craft has advanced enough that third-party developers can specialize in art, physics or engine design, and enterprising game companies can focus entirely on the hard part: actually making a good game.

While any change in the way an industry works meets some resistance, Finland's Remedy Entertainment, maker of the Max Payne series and the upcoming Alan Wake, has embraced the new model, and Remedy's Production Lead, Lasse Seppänen, is one of the people in the thick of these changes. Lasse is well-traveled, counting 10 years in the gaming industry, as everything from a designer to producer, senior producer and head of studio. Remedy hired him two years ago, he said, to provide the team with more structure.

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Remedy's team is unique: It's smaller than most, with only 32 people on staff, all of whom are senior or highly experienced. According to a presentation at GDC, Remedy focuses on keeping the team small and engaged, which keeps them nimble and able to change direction to whatever makes for the best game. "Every team member is focused on shipping a masterpiece," reads one bullet point, while another reads, "No politics, no egos, no empire building, no nonsense."

The building block of this approach, according to Seppänen, is the organization. "You can do a lot of Dilbert stuff in my area," he says, "unnecessary bureaucracy and stuff like that, but at the end of the day, it's really all about taking the right people to the positions and letting them run with the ball. I think that's very, very key to my approach." Much of this work is tricky, as those coming from hands-on fields like programming or art may not have management experience or training, and they need to be groomed into the role.

What lets them keep their team small and focused is the rise of outsourcing and middleware companies that lets Remedy license, say, an engine or physics package, rather than building a team two or three times larger to cover old ground. Seppänen says outsourcing isn't just a matter of lowering costs. "We are a very quality-oriented company. We put a lot of work into it before we start the outsourcing round." He walks me through the process, using car models as an example. "We would first make a car ourselves, and figure out what we want to do, what the limitations of the technology are and how we work with them." Remedy figures out exactly what it wants and then builds a model as an example, while also providing two documents. The first is a technical document, and the second is a creative briefing with examples of cars the team might use as a basis for the model.

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