Today I attended a small conference for students in the beautiful city of Leeuwarden. Unfortunately I had to leave early, but I did get a chance to listen to a very inspiring talk by Jan-Jaap Severs, a game developer. The audience consisted of mainly web development students, so Jan-Jaap’s talk was not about game development. Instead he tried to find a subject to talk about that would be of use to this audience. He found it. His talk was about things he learned form making rapid prototypes. There were tips about teams, about workflow, about skill set and about designing a product. The similarities between the issues we have in the web world were striking.
Jan-Jaap works in a small company. In order to keep everybody busy they can’t work with hyper-specialists. Apart from their specialty everybody needs to be able to do something else. He gave the example of concept artists. There are many, many concept artists, but there is not that much work for them. So concept artists have to be able to do more than just make up wonderful stuff: they have to know how to build it too. This is a trend we see in web development too, where we start to expect designers to be able to write code too. It sounded like this is better accepted in the gaming world, but it could be that Jan-Jaap’s company is an exception.
During a 48 hour long game jam, they decided to use a certain tool that they had no experience with at all. They needed it because the result would be much better with it. His excellent tip was to not let the result of your work depend on your skill set. Learn new tools, new skills, if the skills you have are not sufficient or good enough for the medium you work for. This is a definite pet pieve of mine. I won’t mention a certain photo editing tool that’s still been used broadly to design websites with, because some people get upset if I do. But if you won’t listen to me, at least listen to Jan-Jaap and look around you for better software. It exists.
He showed how you can create, and play a pinball game with just some simple, elementary forms like blocks and balls. It was perfectly playable. Working from the content out, from the essentials first, gave him the ability to keep working on it without depending on design details. These details are built on top of the basics, they can be added later. Of course I loved seeing progressive enhancement being used in a completely different field. It’s just a very clever principle to work with, not just on the web.
There were more similarities. It appears, for example, that endless discussions exist elsewhere too! Another similarity is the workflow: The gaming industry has moved from waterfall to more agile project management approaches too in the last few years. They too have clients who find it hard to adjust to this new way of working.
A very refreshing presentation. Great to see that others look for solutions in the same direction. It confirms my idea that we should look at what others are doing.