WHAT: Mobile reboot of branching narrative "serious" game for kids.
WHERE: Produced by the Emergent Media Center of Champlain College.
WHY: Teach kids age 8-15 how to be an ally against bullying and violence against women by using the Sabido storytelling method and fun touchscreen minigames.
WHEN: Shipped for Android in Summer 2018.
WHO: Hired as the project manager in Summer 2017.
Became the Creative Director in charge of a changing 5-7 person student team.
I am immensely proud to say that in seven months, after inheriting a broken build with no product backlog and incomplete design documentation, I led my team to a stable, feature-complete build.
Righting the ship and setting a course.
I started my position as manager with five team members: two programmers, two artists, and a writer. This was Breakaway!'s third official semester in mobile development. The teams before me were made up of only a couple of people - usually an artist and a programmer - who were focused on iterating on some of the game's myriad systems. We had two holdovers from the previous semester, and the rest of the crew was as fresh as I was.
We had no product backlog. We had spotty documentation. We had a broken build. We also - at the time - had no designer. This was the first game I had ever worked on. There was some wide-eyed terror among the group.
I stepped up. I worked overtime to become the product expert, digging through design documents and ancient code from the original game. I developed a diagram of all the systems:
I created a complete product backlog and production timeline alongside my teammates and stakeholders. I met with professors and professionals in the field to better myself in scrum team management. I asked permission to make creative decisions on behalf of the project and was granted that privilege: I was promoted to Creative Director.
I now was not only managing the team but working alongside them, rooting out design holes and crafting instructions.
The team soldiered on and by the end of Summer, we had a very strong foundation for our game and a gameplan for the rest of development. But I lost my team. The uncertainty at the outset had worn them out. I learned that some of them had been assigned tasks that were above or far below their skill set, leading them to frustration and disappointment. I learned how to do better.
A fresh year, and a fresh team of recruits. The EMC was so impressed with my management that they kept finding me more money for the team. At its peak, I had 7 full-time and contract students working on the team. I learned to subdelegate.
The new team picked up where the last had left off. Some of the work we did:
Complete revision of the original script.
Art update from 2D sprites to 3D models and animations.
Complete game mechanics redesign of four minigames.
Implementation of seven (!) episodes, each with ~30 minutes of gameplay.
Incorporation of dynamic skills system which influences match gameplay.
We were feature complete by the end of month seven. Every team member signed up to return for the final phase of development.
Staying the Course
or: my love affair with post-its
Bringing it Home
As of writing, we are T-minus three months from our ship date!
The entire team is engaged with testing, bug-fixing, and polishing, with the game going through a QA lab every week. We've brought on a UI designer to overhaul the look of the game. I am again working alongside the team, this time as Narrative Director, poring over every episode with our artist, polishing and rewriting the narrative scenes.
We'll be commencing focus groups at our local chapter of the Boys and Girls Club in a couple of weeks. It'll be good to get the game back into the hands of its intended audience.