Author: Mark Benis

Mark Benis

7 April ’18 – Dev Blog #4: Back from GDC!

Hi folks,

A couple weeks ago I went to my first ever Game Developers Conference (GDC) with the hopes of learning a bit more about indie development and bringing that wisdom back home to my team, and boy did I learn a lot! In this blog I thought I’d talk a bit about those little nuggets of knowledge that I found and how they applied to our team.

Overall GDC was incredible. I got to catch up with old friend, meet a bunch of awesome people, and hear some seriously inspiring and educational talks. One of the highlights was “Practical Tips for Growing an Indie Studio” by Alex Kennedy, founder of Failbetter Games. He had a whole slew of techniques that I could apply to my own team, and the two that stuck out were the idea of assigning a “buck” to tasks and flagging — excuse my language — fuck ups.

Alex described the buck as the person who is solely responsible for getting a specific task done. He pointed out that if multiple people are responsible for something, it’s easy for one person to assume that the other will complete it and vice versa, and in the end communication breaks down. Thus, it’s best to assign a single person — or a buck — to each task and have them be responsible for making sure it is completed.

Though I hadn’t consciously thought about this idea before Alex’s talk, I realized that our team has been assigning bucks all along and reaping the benefits of this organizational technique. For example, when we started this blog we knew that we would want to rotate who writes a post every week. Initially we said that whoever wanted to write one would just post it on the blog, but that felt too confusing and two people might end up both writing something for the same week — not the worst thing but not very efficient. So we decided that every week we’d choose one of us to post here and share their thoughts about development; we were effectively assigning a buck without realizing it! This is a pretty basic example and assigning someone a task isn’t a revolutionary strategy, but I do think that being aware of exactly what techniques we’re using and codifying which ones are actually effective is essential for long-term team growth.

Another of my favorites from Alex’s talk was the concept of flagging fuck ups. It’s a simple idea — tell your team if you’re not going to make a deadline or if you’re having problems — but at its heart lies a much more complex problem. Telling people you work with that you’re fucking up requires a great deal of trust in a studio environment. If you feel like you will be punished, ridiculed or fired for telling your co-workers that something is wrong — whether it’s your fault or not — then you most likely won’t say anything until the deadline is actually upon you or the problem bubbles to the surface. This can create all sorts of stress in a team and ultimately builds your studio on the shaky and unstable grounds of dishonesty. Not good. My takeaway from Alex was to create a studio environment built on a foundation of trust in which everyone can feel safe and comfortable sharing their mistakes. There’s few things that make you feel more vulnerable than revealing that you’ve fucked up, but it’s an important step in forming a team that can work together harmoniously and efficiently.

There was so much more about Alex’s talk that I found helpful, so I definitely recommend checking it out in the GDC Vault if you get the chance. Right now we’re working on a new intro section to TWGR that we’re planning on showing at an expo next month — more details to come soon!

Mark B.

Mark Benis

9 MARCH ’18 – Dev Blog #1: Where the Story Begins

Hi there,

We are Mark Lohmann, Martín Isla, and Mark Benis (that’s me), the “three Ms” behind the dev team Moon Moon Moon — welcome to our blog! If you’re reading this I imagine you’ve come across our teaser art, facebook page, twitter account, etc. However you may have landed here, thank you for your support and interest in our game The Worst Grim Reaper! We’ve been sharing snippets of our progress these past few months and your feedback has been wonderful and humbling. So much so that we’ve realized how isolating game dev work can sometimes be, and our team unanimously agreed that we’d like to involve the community and share a bit more of what we’re doing behind the scenes.

So what this means is that going forward, we’ll be doing a weekly development update! Every Friday one of us will post here to share our progress and talk about anything interesting that we’ve been discussing as a team. We’ll switch off on who writes the blog so that you can always get a unique perspective on TWGR’s development, whether it be focused on art, programming, writing or music. If anything this will be a place for us to jot down our thoughts as we go, but I think it’ll be a pretty cool window into how a small indie team functions with some useful tips along the way.

Since I’ll be up first this week, I thought I’d talk a bit about how I got attached to this project, why I’m doing it, and how the game’s story has been coming along.

I’d like to say that I met (the other) Mark and Martin in a fateful encounter with a shooting star overhead and all the planets aligned, but it was nothing quite as exciting as that. I first came in contact with Mark through a reddit post in which he shared a Unity demo showcasing a dynamic lighting system.

Initially I only hopped on to help write the soundtrack — since composition is my main skill — but Mark’s conceptual ideas for the story resonated with me on such a deeply personal level that the game became so much more to me than just music. Without giving too much away I coincidentally had work experience related to the overarching theme of the game, so the story ideas flowed naturally and freely. I found myself staying up late to scribble thoughts in a notebook and type up a draft of the script. If there’s anything I learned from this, it’s that inspiration can hit you in the most unexpected ways and it’s on you to follow it wherever it takes you.

After lots of brainstorming and back-and-forths, I think we’ve landed on a story worth telling. But above all, it’s a story we need to tell. If you’re a fellow game dev, artist, composer, what have you, find that idea that you can’t get out of your head. I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with people who have taken those kind of ideas and turned them into a reality, and that kind of passion is something I think about quite a bit now that I’ve found my own personal project to pour my energy into.

Our story may be blocked out for the most part, but we’re not quite ready to share the details yet. However, we’ve been doing some pitching prep for our partnership with the Dutch Game Garden Incubation Program (more from Mark about that later), so I thought I’d leave you with our simplest logline:

The Worst Grim Reaper is a narrative-adventure game about the connection between one terrible Grim Reaper and the people fated to die on his list.

Not much I know, but you need to start with a bare-bones structure before you can add a bit of muscle to it! (puns intended by every fiber of my being)

I had the opportunity to take a prototype of TWGR to a local expo in NYC hosted by Playcrafting — one of the best organizations out there that supports game developers in my opinion — and there we got some great feedback on our climactic scene (as well as a few gasps!).

Here I am showing our “super duper early build”

From player comments it was apparent that TWGR’s narrative was nowhere near as clear as we wanted it to be. For every person who understood exactly what was going on, there was another who brought up possibilities that I had never even considered. The fact that we had not implemented all of the dialogue that I had written into this build may have contributed to the confusion, but I think there was a deeper truth here:

Stories should be complex, nuanced and emotional, but above all they need to be understood.

There’s still so much we can improve on, so I’ll be doing story rewrites/clean up over the next few weeks. In the future I think I’ll go more in depth into my scripting process, especially since our game is non-linear and that whole setup comes with quite a bit of baggage.

Up to this point our collaboration has been full of coincidences: finding Mark’s reddit post, having oddly applicable work experience, getting two Marks on the team and all of our names starting with M… and believe it or not lining up our names with Moon Moon Moon was completely unplanned. Mark started a band with the same name back in 2014 years before Martin or I were even in the picture, and I doubt he ever expected to move into game dev with two other M-named nerds.

If I had to guess how lucky we were to run into each other, I’d say we met under a slightly foggy night sky with three or four planets aligned… eh, five tops.

That’s all for today’s post, but our new development blog is just the beginning. This page is part of a larger overhaul of our site, and a teaser trailer is on the way so that you guys can meet our characters and see the game in action. Next up will be Mark who can tell you all about his beautiful pixel art and his business/marketing work with the Dutch Game Garden — thanks for reading and stay tuned!

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