Reflecting on the Road of Trials

On the Road of Trials, my team and I set out to concept, flesh out, and prototype a game concept in a month and a half. The basic ideas stemmed from the gamestorming work in the two weeks prior, and we set out on the Road with mutual trust and map in hand. We have worked together well, and I would change nothing about our team composition or the strengths we bring to the table. Though it may have been driven by necessity as much as desire, I do not regret my choice to remain in this course.

We began by setting expectations and evaluating the work ahead. In establishing our agreements, we were clear and direct, but not rigid or overly bureaucratic. The most important thing for any team—any relationship, really—is communication, and we remained in regular contact once our initial roadblocks were resolved. Our first mistake on this road, however, was our evaluation of our game concept.

In the prior section of the course, we were instructed to narrow down to two or three concepts we would be happy to work with. Instead, when our discussions highlighted several ideas which seemed compatible, we decided to consolidate them into a single, centralized concept. Unfortunately, we had such faith in each other that we consolidated without thoroughly clarifying which components of each idea we would maintain. As a result, each of us—particularly those whose ideas were folded in—worked through the early steps primarily from our individual perspectives.

Our second mistake was the order in which we undertook the Trials themselves. We decided our approach using the information we had on hand prior to a client meeting. While the three primary Trials could be effectively approached in any order, our nebulous starting position muddied our approach. Storyboarding first allowed us to draft ideas and essentially extend our gamestorming, but starting with concept testing may have allowed us to hone the idea before beginning in-depth design work. This, then, would have made both storyboarding and achievement planning clearer, and led us to a stronger concept moving into the prototyping phase.

I am of two minds about our approach to each assignment. Taking on one discrete section or task each made it easy to know who was responsible for what and hold each other accountable. However, working on collaborative projects largely in isolation (or sprinting to stitch them together hours before the deadline) enabled us to continue moving in incongruous directions over time. My primary hesitation here is that I do not know how we could have done it better. Ideally, we would have had extended, collaborative work sessions throughout the week. We are participating in an entirely remote, mostly asynchronous masters’ program, though, forced to plan around jobs and other demands of adult life. We have been fortunate to have as much time to work together as we have.

The final point I would change is another attribute of our approach to the assignments—one which I recognize in my approach to solitary work as well. Week by week, we took on whichever project was due next, saw it through to completion, then submitted it and moved on to the next. We did not begin the next leg of the journey until the prior leg was well and truly settled. This has been problematic at the current juncture due to the proximity of design document and prototype deadlines, but it also hindered our ability to iterate on feedback. I wonder whether this could have been mitigated by two-week intervals between deliverables. At the same time, this could have enabled us to simply procrastinate every other week.

I am naturally self-critical, and my writing thus far has been heavily focused on areas of improvement. I want to make very clear that I hold nothing against any of my team members, or even the collective team separately from myself. We have worked, risen, and fallen together; this is the nature of the work we do. Many of these are stumbling points I have noticed in myself, and there is every possibility that I have simply become mired in our weaknesses and threats and failed to put my faith in our strengths and opportunities. I also find it much more fulfilling to begin with the negatives before concluding with positives, knowing that the first and last parts of a work are what we remember most clearly.

I took notes on all our meetings and shared them with the rest of the team. This included the next steps and action items for the week ahead, down to individual responsibilities and any solo work we had to take care of. On storyboarding, I sketched interface concepts, and on concept testing, I helped set up the external testing instrument and had one person work through it. As of this writing, I have not directly contributed to prototype development, but I will before its deadline arrives. I was more hands-off with regard to the assessment planning, but took that time to start synthesizing our notes about the game to clarify what we were actually working on.

Concept testing stands out as the most unfamiliar process which could be applied to entertainment games as well as educational. I have extensively playtested games I have worked on before, but rarely taken outside input before I had something playable to show. It would not necessarily work for every idea, but a great many good ideas could be refined into great concepts through such early testing.

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