GDC 2012: Art Director / Lead Artist Roundtable
Day 1 - Wednesday, March 7
3 Day Attendance Stats:
Wednesday -116, Thursday - 90, Friday – 57
First of all, let me state once more how much I enjoy attending and speaking at GDC. This was my fifth opportunity to speak at GDC, but the first time heading up this specific roundtable. I want to take a brief moment and thank everyone who attended the roundtable series, especially those who put forth the effort to attend each session. I also want to extend additional thanks to the Conference Associates who helped run these sessions.
On with the notes…
Day 1: “The best laid plans…”
Candidly, I found the first day’s session to be both painful and frustrating. I also want to apologize to those who attended the first day, as I feel that that session was below my expectations as well as those of the organizers of GDC.
My initial plan had been to turn that day into a kind of mini-poster session where we would get a small handful of topics posted around the wall, assign individuals into groups by interest and then do breakout sessions. In hindsight, this was far too much for a mere 60-minute roundtable. To add further complication, conference speakers were banned from posting anything to the walls due to union regulations. As a result, I had to quickly scrap my plans and take the roundtable in a different (and unfortunately more chaotic) direction the first day.
While ultimately we were unable to pursue any topic in depth, we were able to use the first day as a genesis for ideas and issues. I proposed a single question to the attendees: “What has been the most significant issues that have impacted your work over the past year?”
Here were the topics in response (in no particular order):
- Art’s relationship with other departments
- Dedicated code support for art issues – Artists communicating tools needs
- Maintaining naming conventions
- Middleware’s impact on art style and development
- Marketing’s impact on development cycle and timeframes
- Accountability for doing the right thing - exposed processes and decisions
- Building an environment for constructive critique
- Grey-boxing: how much art is needed to test gameplay
- Creating and maintaining style guides (both for internal and external teams)
- Building a knowledge center
- Maintaining documentation throughout development cycles
- Change Management – impact to art assets
- Scope Creep
- Crafting Art Pipelines
- Art Directing remote teams
- Maintaining relationships between Art Director and Artists
- Micromanagement vs. Ownership – trust building
- Art style consistency across platform variety (console, pc, mobile, web)
- Developing art in absence of clear gameplay
- Adjusting quality across the full development cycle (later content looking better than early content)
- Consistency in art process – maintaining quality bar
- Career development for the tam
- Maintaining speed of production
- Art Directors/Lead Artists – time management for themselves
- Maintaining Morale – in the face of big changes
- Clearly communicating the framework for creativity.
As you can see from the list, this was way too many topics, and this list has already culled out a number of similar/duplicate issues that were voiced. One of the downsides of not being able to post topics on the wall was that scope creep became my challenge.
Again, while I don’t feel the first session was successful, I do feel that the genesis of these ideas helped fuel the following two sessions, which were more organized and more productive for attendees.
Big Takeaway / Lessons Learned (for myself):
- Be prepared for anything and always have a backup plan.
- For future sessions, bring a small handful of macro-themes (style guides, career development, recruiting, cross-department conflict) from which attendees can pose specific topics
- Don’t try to pack too much content into a single 60-minute session.
- If you’re going to try group activities, give explicit directions.