April 2, 2013 1:00 AM | Staff
Jamie Cheng, founder of Klei Entertainment, creator of the XBLA games Shank and Mark of the Ninja had strong words for any game maker who might claim that working extensive overtime is an intrinsic part of making 'art'.
Speaking at a GDC talk in San Fransisco today, Cheng said: "I find it disingenuous when game developers claim that the reason they work a whole load of overtime is because they are trying to do something new. To hide behind 'art' as a shield for poor process is wrong. You will screw with future developments by taking this approach."
Indeed, while producing mediocre games is a quick way to sink a company, "employing an unsustainable development style will suffocate one over the long term," said Cheng.
He explained that, following a difficult development process during the creation of one of the company's earlier titles, Shank , he made a promise to himself that he would never put himself or his team through crunch again. "I realised that not only do we need to build great games but we also need to find a way to do this without ruining our lives in the process," he said.
Klei's founder said that, "while there is no template to making games, there are theories we can use." He argued that the greatest waste of time in game development is when teams expend energy on building the wrong thing. He likened the process to a team chopping down trees in a forest. Teams need someone to climb to the top of a tree and check whether you're in the right forest. "Often we don't want to cut work we've already done, even if it's wrong, due to the sunk cost."
Cheng encouraged developers to focus their energy on figuring out whether they are in the wrong forest as soon as possible, else risk building upon bad assumptions. "The key to this is to create a theory, test the theory, learn from failure, make adjustments and repeat," he said. "Many talks examine how you need to be able to cut features from your game to make the development more manageable. The way in which you know what to cut is through a solid theory that you've tested your assumptions on."
This process proved successful for Klei, who built Mark of the Ninja in 16 months with minimal overtime for the team. "Creating processes that allow us to create art is the key to successful game development," he concluded. "When you have good processes you are more free to think about new things because you are not just flailing around not knowing where you are headed."
[Simon Parkin wrote this article originally for sister site Gamasutra]