Monday, December 1, 2008


In my last blog post, I mentioned that I have been recruited to work with a group that is building a new NWN2 module. To the best of my knowledge, nearly all of us have not worked with any of the other group members before, so some of the growing pains that we’ve been experiencing involve learning how to work together. The fact that the members of the group are scattered across several states or even countries doesn’t make it any easier.

In this group, I’m the head of the scripting team, but I have also been deeply involved with creating the story, painting concept art, and making 3D models. (More on those in a later post.) During our meetings, a lot of ideas get bandied around, most of which are rejected in the course of our discussions. Only a few ideas are eventually approved, usually with modifications suggested by other team members. As a member of the writing and art team, I’ve had my share of rejected ideas as well as approved ones, although there seem to be more of the former than the latter. As head of the scripting team, I’ve had to accept and reject the ideas of other people.

The way I see it, the key abilities of the lead position in any team is being able to discern what ideas to accept or reject and being able to convince the rest of the team to follow one’s lead. In both cases, having a proven track record for delivering quality products is a must, whether those products be scripts, writing, area designs, or art work. The team lead must have a very good feel of what works and what won’t and must be able to motivate the rest of the team to do what needs to be done. Considering that we’re all unpaid volunteers, these are challenging tasks indeed.

Thus far, we’ve employed two methods of decision making: voting on which of several suggestions to implement and having the team lead make the decision after hearing the pros and cons of each issue. Each method has its place. When getting the support of the team is at stake or when trying to get a sense of whether a new idea will be widely accepted by our players, putting the issue to a vote is a good way to resolve it. On the other hand, if a particular decision will have a significant impact on the work that other people produce, or if there is a risk that some part of the module may become incoherent if the wrong decision is made, the team lead has to make that decision after due consultation with the group members who will be affected by it.

In both cases, it is the team lead who chooses which method of decision making to employ. The leader calls the shots, but if the other members of the team aren’t happy with those decisions, they just might quit. For the team lead, it isn’t enough to be competent in one’s field. It is also important to keep open channels of communication with the rest of the team. Each time a command decision has to be made, the team lead must make a check on his Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate skills.

Working in a group entails sacrificing one’s independent vision and direction to accommodate those of other group members. Make no mistake about it; this kind of sacrifice can be painful, especially to a creative person. Nevertheless, when the people who comprise the group are very talented, that sacrifice is worth it. Even a module of moderate size can be done much better and faster with several people working as a coordinated team.

I have high hopes for this new group I’m in. If our first module is well received by the NWN2 community, it might be the start of more modules to come.

Picture Credits
The painting in the pseudo-motivational poster shown in this blog post is by Dieric Bouts, a Dutch painter from the 15th century. The quote at the bottom of the poster is attributed to Doug Smith. I'm not sure who he is, but I think he's this guy. Combining the painting and the quote to make this motivational poster is the work of my twisted mind.


Wyrin said...

interesting stuff, and I know some of the issues you mention. still no more clues on the project?

a favourite teamwork poster form an old somethingAwful ...

Frank Perez said...

OMG, Wyrin, that's one shocking teamwork poster. LOL

Regarding the project, I'm afraid I'm not allowed to discuss anything related to the story yet, not even a blurb. I don't even know if I'm allowed to identify who the rest of the project team members are. What I can do is offer a behind-the-scenes tour of what we're doing. Some of what I'm planning to write may be of interest to RPG/adventure game designers in general.

E.C.Patterson said...

The mystery thickens... Intriguing. Can't wait to hear more about the project, even if it's just the names of who's involved. Best of luck as you continue to manage your part.

Frank Perez said...

Hi E.C., I've been given the green light to reveal the rest of the team members. It turns out that our identities weren't supposed to be secret after all. Stay tuned. :)