Fall Semester 2016 has been rough, but the experiences I’ve had working on Brain Matters and The Fog has taught me a lot about working on a project like this, and more importantly, working on a team on a project like this.

Lets talk about what happened this semester.

Where am I now?

After all the ups and downs, I’ve ended up on my first choice team: 9 to 5 Games with their game Office Mayhem. I’m extremely excited about working with them for the spring semester.

My team’s game The Fog – as you can probably tell thanks to me being on another team – did not go forward to next semester. There were several reasons for this, that I will describe in the next section, but there were still good learning experiences I had from working as a member of Brain Matters.

The most important things I’ve learned from this semester are:

  • Passion for a project and team morale are two of the most important factors in putting out good work. Transparency and trust are the two most important.
  • Everyone needs to have thicker skin, and accept the criticism they get. Never get offended or take it personally, and seriously think about every piece of criticism; but remember that it is simply a suggestion. Ultimately it is up to you to act on it.
  • Much like the opposite of the above, don’t be afraid to criticize others. Be polite, and try to be constructive, but don’t hold anything back. The sooner a problem can be fixed, the better, and you do no one a favor by letting something bad slowly grow worse.
  • Don’t sacrifice your own health and well-being for the sake of the project – at least not often. You’re only making yourself miserable and your work worse.

How did I get here?

I made it on to 9 to 5 Studios because I’ve proven to the people in my year that I know what I’m doing, and would be a credit to their team. More importantly, however, I wasn’t afraid to ask. I saw people after the cuts, but before the merge, behaving as if asking to join a team was asking for a date to prom. And while it is slightly similar, confidence sells better than anything else.

As for Brain Matters… there were several reasons we were cut.

Our team wasn’t the best at communication, and we were plagued by motivation issues for almost the entirety of the semester. After an early slip up, our team just never seemed to recover. Meetings were depressing, with a gloomy atmosphere hanging over us.

This might sound stupid, but… all was lost. At least that was how it felt. It was incredibly hard for anyone to put out work at all, let alone good work, because the will to work on it was gone: swallowed by this air of doom.

(That might be a bit dramatic, but it really did feel that bad.)

And eventually, as a team, we decided not to present to the faculty to go forward to next semester. The problems we had then would still be there next semester, and on top of that we would be taking in new members, and if the original team was so distraught I can’t even imagine how someone joining the team would feel. It was for the best to not present.

What did I do?

You know, I’ve been making this sound really bad so far. And it was, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t do some work I was proud of.

For one thing, we used Unreal, which I had never used before, and now I can put on a resume that I’m familiar with the engine and can use it effectively. I’m very happy with some of the visual effects I made for the game, including a fog effect using what was essentially giant particles localized to a volume. I’m also very proud of the interaction systems in our game, from the base Interactable base class to the ItemProxies I used to render a scene to a texture for inventory images of the items, and the NPC class and dialogue system. Just like I always strive for, everything was modular, and everything was expandable.

As for the team dynamic issues, I didn’t manage to help very much, but I’m happy to say I don’t think I directly contributed to the horrible atmosphere. I never let the atmosphere get to me; sure, I was extremely stressed out, and sure I felt just as bad as everyone else, but I never let it affect my work. And although I wasn’t very good about hiding how bad I was feeling, I was always willing to let a team member vent to me about the problems they were having.

But like I said before, the most important thing I did this semester was learn from this experience. It might not be easy, but if I ever find myself in a team situation like this again, I will be better able to handle it.

What does it mean?

This project and this semester was a stepping stone in my life, an important milestone. The experiences I’ve had here will shape my future efforts, both in a team environment or in my own personal life.

I’m absolutely glad that I had an experience like this, and lucky that it happened here at Champlain, where the stakes are so much lower. To the entire Game Development department at Champlain College, thank you.

See you next semester!