Tuesday, May 1, 2012

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):

  1. Be prepared for anything and always have a backup plan.
  2. 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
  3. Don’t try to pack too much content into a single 60-minute session.
  4. If you’re going to try group activities, give explicit directions.

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