The Irresistible Lure of Documentation
Everyone likes writing documentation right? It's the reason why we got into the games industry and captures the heady excitement that drives us forward each day. It's the lofty pinnacle of of a working week, a task to relish and savour. Mmmmmmm....sweet, sweet documentation (insert Antonio Banderas GIF here).
Of course this is all a horrible lie (yup, the title was a bit misleading wasn't it, sorry). Documenting your work and processes is as dull as ditch-water. It's something you have to summon immense mental strength to even consider starting when there are other much more exciting tasks that you'd much rather get on with. But it's essential, for us anyway, even more so since we've gone indie. Today, we're going to explain why.
Well, before we discuss the 'why' let's have a quick look at the 'what', what exactly are we documenting? It can be broken down into the two following areas:-
- Design Docs (covering all aspects of the game design including mechanics and plot)
- Process & Workflow Docs (covering how we do things in Maya LT and Unity)
So now onto the 'why'. Simply put, there is only so much information you can hold in your brain at any one time.
This issue is now exacerbated and made documentation more important by the fact that we've gone Indie. In indie games development you have to wear a lot of hats. Not actual hats (although you can if you like) but the metaphorical hats of different job roles; Producer, Artist, Animator, Designer, UI Artist/Designer, Effects artist. Being a two person indie studio we both have a number of different roles we dip in and out of, picking up as and when the project demands. That's a lot of information and working practices to hold in your head at once! Any reasonable amount of time away from any particular area (we may not look at UI for a month) might mean coming back to it cold without the foggiest idea what's going on like a rusty old rust-bucket from Rust-Town. You already learnt how to do it once, don't make yourself do it again you potato.
Also working in Unity and Adventure Creator is new after 15 years at Sony and that brings a whole lot of new ways of doing things that are fresh to us and haven't yet sunk into our deep brain tissue.
And so far we're really only talking about a single brain's ability to remember stuff. Now we've got two brains between us (hopefully) and humans haven't yet developed mind reading capabilities so it's essential that we have documents to share information between Tom and I. Not only does this mean that one doesn't have to waste valuable time learning how to do something that the other already learned but it also means we're consistent in how we're tackling something or creating artwork.
Now, your docs don't have to be the exhaustive, formally written or spectacularly presented. As long as you and your team can understand it the you're onto a winner. The act of writing docs itself, committing something down in cold hard text can actually help to solidify something that might have been a little woolly. We were both on the same page about the broad plot for Röki but it was only the act of committing it to page in a more formal manner that exposed some areas that needed work or parts we had failed to tackle. All in all it's a great big massive win.
Ultimately it'll save you a massive amount of time in the long-run. There is a certain pleasure and peace of mind that comes from knowing that you've got your practices/design recorded and to hand to refer to when you need them. It's might not be sexy or make you feel like a 'Gamdev Rockstar' but you know what, it'll stop you feeling like a right royal plum when you've forgotten how on earth you did something and have to work it all out again from scratch. So don't fight it, bask it it's powers and submit to the irresistible lure of documentation ;)
Alex & Tom.