Presentation date: 24/10/2011

Travellers Tales started up about 20 years ago, and Arthur Parsons is a Game Director at TT (Travellers Tales), and has been for a number of years. There are only two game directors in TT Games, and games directors oversee the whole game, very similar to producers, and have a lot of say in the creative flow of the game.
Arthur has 15 years of experience, and has spent most of that as a part of TT. He started off in QA, and worked his way up; he didn’t want to start off in QA, but there were no degrees in gaming when he entered the industry, so this was his best way into the industry. He has been a designer most of his career, which he enjoyed more than QA. Fitting into the development team is also very important; “managing egos.” Companies change, and the team have to change alongside it.

TT has a quick turnaround on games, but they have to do this without also rushing the project. This surprised me as I first believed that when a big game or a game with a popular IP would get ‘special treatment’ compared to on original IP game. It just shows that developers must work as hard as possible to create a game which is the quality they need it to be, and it pleases the IPs. For most projects, they get 18 months or less to develop. It is rarely more than 18 months for development, but this is up to the publisher if the project is given more time.

Arthur explained that he felt that creating games for children in TT is very rewarding, and can make the development process fun and more playful than when developing an adult AAA title. In addition, the art style can play a big part in how the child likes and enjoys a game. He went on to talk about how his daughter tested levels for the ‘Lego HP years 5 – 7′, and he wouldn’t put forward a level design unless his daughter could complete it, unaided. This is very useful to the company, as it is the game’s target audience playing the game. This method of testing is really obvious, but clever; Arthur got the level feedback he needed to continue developing them, and as the feedback was from his children they were honest and could give him reliable and useful feedback.

TT has 2 offices; one in Knutsford, and the other in Wilmslow. TT prides themselves in being able to work well with IP’s and licensor’s.

Planning

Art style – The art style in a game is so important, as this is one of the key factors in drawing in an audience for a particular game. As the game director, Arthur doesn’t have much control over the art style. Emotion is also key with art in a game; it must speak to its audience. Limbo is a good example that a good art style is crucial; if you stripped the art away from Limbo, it would just be a basic 2D platformer.

Team – Working in a team is not always easy, and if there is a conflict of interest during development, this can show in the finished product. If a level doesn’t feel right, or it feels mixed, this is likely to be because of a conflict of interest; where designers/artists/programmers couldn’t agree on one idea. It is important to be able to reason your idea and give a good reason to why it should be included in the game.

High concept & USPs (Unique selling points) – Arthur and his team spent 2 months working out how to differentiate a new Lego game, from an old Lego game; this could be unique mechanics, different narrative, etc. It is crucial for a game to have a USP, otherwise what is the reason for a customer to purchase the game over another. It needs at least new mechanics within the game, otherwise all games from that company will be the same, and they wouldn’t sell as well.

Design – VERY IMPORTANT! The design of a game needs thorough planning, such as map plans, mechanic and metrics planning, how everything links, etc. The design doc for any project needs to be well-written and understood by each area; every department must be able to work from the design document.

Time-frames – This is how long you’ve got to create certain aspects of the game, and when deadlines need to be met to get the game out on time. This is crucial for publishers to get games out on time, however publishers can knock months off of a project if they feel it needs to be out earlier than first suggested.

IP approvals – This will be discussed further down the page.

Production and Quality

If the team can get all of the hard work done at the start, or near the beginning of the project, it means they will have time later on to add layers of depth and detail into the project. Designers need to have an eye for detail, as well as testers testing games; testers will need to analyse and help improve a game before it is released. It is also important that the whole development team feels that they have creative buy-in, which in the end means that team member will be more invested and work harder on the project. “Being flexibly creative”.

IP/Licensing

Knowing the IP, using the IP effectively, involving the key stakeholders, and think as a fan of the IP.
The IP’s for the latest Lego Harry Potter game were: JK Rowling and her advisory group, Warner Bros. Then most importantly ‘LEGO’.
They all needed to be happy with the game; adding humorous scenes involving certain characters would make some IP’s happy, but others not-so happy. Keeping a good balance is hard, but as long as the development team can reference books and films and give a reason for their idea for the game, it will most likely be approved. In addition, to keep LEGO happy, every asset and artefact created for the game needed to be realistic and creatable outside of the game.

The whole team needs to know and understand all the details surrounding the IP; they should be able to create the game using books, films and scripts as reference. Knowing the brand gets a lot of the work done for you already; characters and locations, are already created, however the development team need to be able to re-create them perfectly in ‘game-form’. In addition, being able to prove the team knows the IP can make the IP’s have faith in the development team. There is always regular meetings and involvement of the IP’s, to make sure they like everything about the game.

IP definitions
Original IP (Original games; splosion man, Limbo, Tiny Invaders, etc): Original IPs are risky to start, but gives the developers a lot of creative freedom when creating it. Original IPs often struggle to get funding and green lights from publishers as a publisher does not want to invest a lot of money in a huge risk which could either fall flat, or it could sell millions. One aspect of creating an original IP is a lot of money has to be budgeted for the marketing and advertising of the IP; as it is an original/new idea, customers will not know about the IP unless it is advertised to them through TV/Radio/Internet adverts/etc.

Licensed IP (Harry Potter, Batman, Racing games, sports games, etc): A licensed IP is something which has been licensed by a company; these licenses can be for cars, sports teams, literature, or comics. Using a licensed IP is not very risky for a publisher to do as with a licensed IP, usually the IP will come along with a loyal set of fans (and potential customers), which means the game will automatically sell, no-matter what is in the game. However the developers can often go through a tedious process of checking every detail of the game is okay with the IPs’ managers.

Franchise IP (Call Of Duty, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, etc): A franchised IP is essentially when a sequel of a game is developed; the more popular the game, the more branches of the same franchised game there will be developed. Franchised IPs can be of varying risk to certain publishers; developing a franchised IP’s game is not very risky because there will usually be a huge fan-base behind the IP, but it can be very risky as if the franchise doesn’t meet-up to the customers expectations (due to their being a previous game), franchises can lose customers.

My thoughts

I found Arthur to be very friendly, and explained IPs and Franchises in games extremely well. He also explained what it is like working for a big development company, and that it has its advantages and disadvantages. Being one employee in a huge business means your voice won’t always be heard, so you must make sure you always communicate with your head of department, and any other disciplines you are working with, as well as having a good understand and knowledge of the technology you are or will be using in the company. In addition to the company having advantages and disadvantages, it seemed that working with IPs during development can be extremely rewarding, but also extremely difficult.
Before the lecture I didn’t realise the lengths you have to go as a developer to keep all of the IPs happy when creating a branded game. In addition, I never realised that there is a lot of research that needs to be covered before developing a game from a franchise; for example, with the Lego Harry Potter game, the development team had to know the Harry Potter books and movies inside out, as if they missed any small detail in the game, the IPs and the fans will not be very pleased. It is extremely important to be able to understand what the IPs want from the game, and how they want it to be developed; obviously the developers have a strong say in the design and look of the game, but everything has to be given the ‘thumbs up’ by the IPs.
On another note, I really enjoyed Arthur’s lecture as I have always loved the Lego games, and I have always wanted to work for a company like Travellers Tales.


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