Guilded was a video game made over the course of a six month period, I was involved with the project for three of these months. Through plenty of challenges and the start of a pandemic, the team managed to produce a fleshed out game experience that would be released on Steam in early May of 2020. I am sure the whole team is proud of their work on Guilded and it was incredible learning experience for everyone. For myself specifically, I know that I was excited to work on my first team-based project where I was in a primarily narrative position.
During this postmortem, there are a few key things I would like to touch on, both from a personal and a team perspective.
- The on-boarding experience and how the team came together early on to ensure that everyone was on the same page
- The initial struggles of interdisciplinary communication that eventually led to much better overall communication from the team
- The process of revamping old game systems and prepping them for future content generation
- The utilization of work meetings to improve productivity and how they evolved over time
- The unique problems of generating narrative content for a game based on procedural generation
- The adaptation to the COVID-19 pandemic and how the team worked to continue production even among the tough conditions
However, before I get deep into the “what went wrong…” and “what went right…”, I would like to answer the question of…
What is Guilded?
Guilded is a single-player strategy game about characters, groups, and their stories. You play as the leader of an Adventurers Guild, where you send adventurers on quests, accounting for how well they work together based on their skills, personalities, and relationships with one another. With procedurally generated characters, narrative, quests, and items, every play through of Guilded is different from the last, and every ridiculous conflict will have varying outcomes. This unique strategy game is as much about progression as it is about the stories you create by playing.
As a game, Guilded focuses heavily on the player’s sense of progression and the narrative they develop for themselves as they play the game. Guilded is designed around being a laid-back management experience with challenges that appear in the form of both quests and relationships between the player’s adventurers.
The usage of procedural generation in Guilded is its core in many ways. The entire game was developed based around including randomly generated content in as many places as possible. From the adventurers, to the quests and to the events that occur on those quests as well. This was all done so that players could construct their own stories within a game of Guilded.
What Went Right (Personal)
1. Joining a new Team
As an individual who had never experienced the onboarding process in the past due to multiple different reasons. I think I actually adapted to it quite well. There was a lot to get used to though and I think arguably the toughest thing about all of it was learning to overcome the feeling of being less than the rest of the team. Before development really got started, I had a lot of issues trying to find my place in the team. I knew what I had been brought on to do for the team, but I was worried about stepping on the toes of other team members and this led to a lot of general anxiety in regards to changing parts of the game that already existed.
However, my team was incredibly supportive and understanding of my initial anxieties and they really helped me to work through it. Over a very short period of time (about a week) I was in and working on the project to the best of my ability. It was definitely an interesting experience and I’ve learned a lot from it.
2. Working to Communicate
Communication has been something I’ve been working on for a long time as a developer. I think that this project in particular was a good showing of my improvements over time. I worked to stay in touch both in person with my teammates and through online messaging boards like Mattermost. In comparison to a project I did about a year ago, not only was I much more involved in communication as a whole, but I reached out to people much more than I had in the past. This included scheduling meetings and calling for action among the team.
I’ve seen incredible projects breakdown due to a lack of communication and I’ve experienced this in my own projects in the past. I think a big showing of my communicative skills actually showed up when the COVID-19 pandemic started. The initial move to the fully digital development was rough on a lot of people on out team. I think I was actually able to adapt fairly well to it though.
There was still a bit of an outlier in terms of my communicative skills and that was my ability to simply be straightforward and make decisions on things. This is one of those communicative skills that I’ve struggled with in the past. That being said though, while I had trouble with this for a short time, I think I definitely improved in this over time. It definitely took some of my teammates calling me out on it to get me to fully notice it at first. But I am thankful that they did, since that occurred I have been working tirelessly to keep my words much more concise and be more straightforward in my communication.
3. Managing Time
Time management has always been arguably one of my weakest points as a developer. However, I am happy to say that looking back on this project, I have improved significantly. While I’m still not to the level I wish to be, I was consistently getting my work done by the end of every sprint and the only times I really had to push work into a new sprint was with a balancing task that had been severely under-scoped. I will still continue to work on this in future projects, but it is definitely nice to be able to look back and see how much of an improvement I’ve made.
4. More Quality and Confidence
With every project I work on, I get better at what I do. I think this is a natural thing for anybody, no matter what skill it is. People get better at what they do with experience. However, one thing I’ve lacked for a long time was the ability to be fully confident in the work that I do. I end up second guessing my own decisions and I feel like I’m not as good as my peers. This is something I knew I needed to work on a lot during the production of Guilded as this would be the last school-based project I got to work on before I got out into a real job.
This project definitely started off a little on the rougher side. Coming off of my first project that didn’t move forward with development and needing to join a new team was a weird experience for me. I had put so much time and effort into my previous project and when it didn’t go forward, it was definitely tough to accept at first. It led me to thoughts that I wasn’t good enough at what I did. However, these thoughts luckily didn’t stick around for too long.
As I worked to develop my skills even further, I began to gain confidence in my work again. One of the biggest pieces of this was definitely my teammates, and I’ll talk further about that a bit later. I think this whole experience has really just made me realize how important it is to have good people around you. If it weren’t for my team, I don’t think I’d be where I am right now. My confidence levels in my own work have shot up way beyond what they used to be.
What Went Right (Team)
1. Incredible, Supportive Teammates
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Adjective Noun as a whole is that the team all genuinely cares about each other. We all wanted to see each other succeed and we all worked to be supportive of one another. It was by far the greatest team-based project I’ve been apart of. We all worked really well together and when an issue popped up, the team would simply just discuss and tackle it. There was no real drama among the team and I think I really helped to push us forward as a team and as individuals.
2. Team Communication
The team as a whole was fantastic at keeping in touch with each other. Even when brought under extreme conditions like the pandemic quarantine, we still managed to not only keep in touch with each other, but we were able to kept to a relatively similar status quo as well. Online communication was shaky for some of the members of the team at certain points, and I know I wasn’t innocent in this regard. However, these issues were tackled as they came by the team as a whole.
3. Teammates with Drive
The team as a whole has been incredibly motivated to work throughout the development process. We have been working incredibly hard to create the best product that we can. Everyone on the team genuinely loved the product we were creating and everyone has a piece of the game they can point to as their own. It really does feel like the culmination of everyone on the team instead of just one person’s idea. I think this really helped to up the motivation of the whole team because it’s something we all feel genuinely passionate about.
What Went Wrong (Personal)
1. Early Interdisciplinary Communication
Not everything in our communication department went well to start off. One of the biggest issues that I had early on in development was having consistent communication with other members of the team. This really showed in my communication with the team’s artists early on. The specific instance that I remember was one that involved the adventurers evolved classes. I was working on revamping the adventurer classes and adding new “evolved” versions that would combine two base classes into a stronger one with elements of both. My initial descriptions of these characters were definitely not up to par and I lacked proper references which left our artists lost for the most part until it was cleared up.
2. Lacking Straightforward Communication
Another instance of my early issues while working on Guilded, I had a lot of issues just giving straight up answers. A lot of the “decisions” I made early on were always supported by “we could” or “we might want to look into” and nothing was ever concrete even if I was going to be the one ultimately making the decision. This occurred a lot while my overall confidence was on the lower end because I felt like these things weren’t my decision to make. This caused hold-up for for the entire team until I got around to actually resolving it.
3. Getting Started Early
Time management is always something I’ve struggled with, as I mentioned earlier. I had a reoccurring issue during Guilded‘s development where I wouldn’t get started on my work pertaining to the game until the middle of the week. While this was mostly caused by the ever present onslaught of work from other classes, I definitely could have balanced my time better to get a little done every day.
What Went Wrong (Team)
1. QA Testing, and the lack of it
This is gonna seem like a bit of a weird one as for the most part, this actually went great. However, the issue arose once the team moved to a completely digital environment. The team lost access to the Champlain QA labs and there was essentially nothing that we had that could replace that. While some members of the team attempted to send builds out to people, it was incredibly inconsistent and could hardly be seen as reliable. The in-house testing done by the team became the main source of QA, meaning that we were now having to dump even more time into play-testing and less on actual development of the game. This led to some unfortunate content cuts and some burnout as well.
2. The COVID-19 Pandemic
This is a bit of an obvious one but I think it definitely needs to be mentioned as it was the cause of most of the teams issues in the latter half of development. This pandemic not only caused the team to lose out on time to develop the project, but it also removed the ability for the team to meet in person. This was a massive blow to the team’s workflow as our in-person meetings were some of our most productive times during development. In addition to this, it just added stress to the team as a whole. This led to burnout which in turn led to less productive sprints. That being said though, it was a very valuable experience to be put through as a developer.
What Can We Learn From This?
Well there’s a lot that we can learn, both as individuals and as a team. I think one of my biggest takeaways from the constant issues I faced is that I desperately need to get some kind of scheduling app to better help me manage my time. Many of the other things I wrote about that went poorly were actually addressed by the team as we continued to develop the game though. There are a few outliers like consistent online communication and learning to be a bit more resourceful in strange situations like the pandemic. But I think we learned a lot as a team, and I’m sure everyone on the team will only continue to improve with time.