Mike Bithell on why it is important to be aware of the gaps in your game development skills

What do you suck at?

I bet you’re an awful business person. Or you suck at programming. I’d put good money on your rigging skills being somewhat lackluster. I’ve seen your landscape concept art, and if I’m being completely honest, I felt it was somewhat below par.

Apologies for the somewhat aggressive opening. I drink too much coffee. But I hope you take my point. As teams shrink, and everyone juggles ever more jobs, having a few strings to your bow is an increasingly attractive quality in an employee.

If you’re an indie, then wow, is it even more true. One or two people need to cover all bases, and that’s a lot of pressure and responsibility.

And you suck, at something.

Being aware of the gaps in your skills is, in my opinion, one of the most important skills you can have. It’s not a fun skill, it’s never pleasurable to look at where you’re lacking, but it’s vital. And only you can do it, because how dare someone else criticise the brilliant job you did on that character art. It’s at least as good as Fez.

The good news is that if you can identify that gap, that limitation, you can work around it, fix it or avoid it. There are a bunch of solutions

Fix it with money – Easy. Pay someone to do it for you. It gets done, you hit your deadline, and your game rocks. The obvious problem is the money bit. You probably don’t have it.

The second issue is if you buy skills, you’re not gaining that skill yourself, so you’re doomed to pay again next time that gap needs plugging. But, if you’ve got the cash, why not? And you will still learn through the act of collaboration.

Fix it with learning – Slow. Become good. I’m not a big believer in talent, and have very little time for people who say ‘I wish I could draw’. You could, if you’d invested as much time and training in it as a pro.

It’s very trendy to quote Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule (if you spend that time learning anything, you’ll master it) but yeah, you can still achieve a lot in an hour a day for a year.

An example from my work here is that I had zero modelling skill until about a month ago. I can now make chairs. They’re wonky, and there are some very dodgy triangles on one of the legs, but next time I need a low poly chair, I’m sorted. The cost here is time. And if you’ve got a deadline, it might not work.

Fix it by changing the problem – Tricky. My last game, Thomas Was Alone, was about rectangles with feelings. As I mentioned before, I’m not much of a modeller, and I can’t draw. I realised I had to work with simple shapes to get the game made.

It then became a case of researching geometry in art history, getting some awesome colour palettes, and generally making the most of the situation. It worked, and the game’s simplistic aesthetic became a calling card. Sometimes the best solution is to change the question. Kobayashi Maru.

I tend to go for a mix of the last two. I choose a couple of fights on each game (last one was coding and polish, next is AI and user-generated content), learn those and work out ways to minimise risks elsewhere. But your situation will differ.

Above all. Embrace your weaknesses, because if you don’t they’ll make it into the game.

And, as I said, you suck.

[Interested in contributing your own article for Develop’s readers? We’re always on the lookout for industry-authored pieces on development-related topics. Email craig.chapple@intentmedia.co.uk for more details.]

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