If you’re currently working in a games studio, how does this sound to you – do you fancy quitting your current duties for a week, and leaving all the frantic, arduous production churn behind you… only to experience the full cradle-to-gold-master-grave production cycle in just five days on a wholly original concept?
Madness, right? Not so, according to the team at Disney’s Brighton, UK-based Black Rock, which late last year did just that – suspending its projects (such as recently announced off road racer Pure and its unannounced titles) and dividing the studio into small teams charged with making minigames in just one week.
Develop has exclusive insight into the unique, and some might say peculiar, take on a team-building exercise, with a development diary from one of the software house’s coders and a Q&A with the studio head.
"We split the studio into 17 teams consisting of six to eight people each and mixing people up with those they hadn’t worked with before – different departments, different floor.
"We made sure sure that we had two coders, two artists on each time and that the other slots were filled with designers, admin people, directors, our recruiter. And then everyone stopped their duties for one week and were set about making minigames," explains studio founder and head Tony Beckwith in our interview.
"It reinvigorated people creatively. Change is as good as a rest as they say – and people plugging away at big things like AI systems or physics models were allowed the opportunity to take their mind off it, guilt free, for a week, and just apply their skills to something else," he added.
Speaking in his development diary of the five days and its protracted production cycle, Black Rock’s Jeremy Moore added: "What was surprising is that working on a game for one week turned out to be so similar to working on a game for two years. We encountered in microcosm the same cycle of pre-production/ production/crunch, the same tensions over issues in game design, the same issues in working as a team and managing our work flow. And finally we all felt a similar feeling of pride and relief when the game was finally out of the door."
Of course the burning question is, team bonding aside, whether the project will have a wider implication – will other studios take notice? Could consumers ever get to play these prototypes?
Said Beckwith: "That was never a goal – we told people not to try and make a game they had always been planning to make or what have you, because it’s all about fun and there didn’t need to be a commercial output.
"That said, we sent all the ideas through to the other studios in the company and there is one Disney project being worked on which contains lots of minigames so who knows one or two might be a good fit for that and get through. Plus, we’re looking at hiding a few of the games in our upcoming projects as Easter Eggs or unlockables.
"In a bigger sense across all the studios they all know about minigame week now, and they’re evaluating the possibility of doing it, too."