Insomniac Games welcomes its summer community intern Brandon Winfrey, more commonly known on the internet as Mucudadada, or as “that guy who baked the Ratchet cake for Insomniac’s Community Day.” Brandon will be spending his summer away from the University of Southern California at Insomniac, blogging and creating videos about working at a videogame company.
I don’t think I’m built for a normal 9 to 5 job. I came to this realization during the summer of my sophomore year in high-school when I landed a small job at a local newspaper doing data entry. Now, if you know anything about me – you know that “data entry” is the exact opposite of what I should be doing. I’m far too – uh – eclectic (read: scatterbrained) to be anywhere near efficient at the task. However, I did it (“If Spiderman can work at a newspaper, so can I” was my literal reasoning). Day in and day out I would go to work and plug away information from surveys about what the residents of Memphis’ favorite Mexican Restaurant was (El Porton – it was always El Porton). When one survey was done – all the other data monkeys and I would shift to a new one. It felt like a mind-numbing machine and I was a mere gear – a really rusted, ineffective gear. Kinda like Carmine – hey-oh! (Carmine Must Die!)
That’s why I was a little timid when I first started at Insomniac Games. My corporate dealings had not gone well in the past, so I wasn’t totally sure how I would manage at a developer where deadlines are a necessity. I thought Insomniac was another machine. It must be with how many games it manages to craft, right? I envisioned all 200 employees working on a single game right up until it was done. Then, everyone shifted gears and worked on the next game till it was done. The idea of development was exciting and all, but was the entire studio just going to be centered on one game? I like a little more spice in my life (specifically, paprika).
Yet again, my assumptions have been wrong (seeing a pattern?). The way projects are managed at Insomniac is much more organic than my former print employer. As opposed to everyone in the studio being solely focused on one game – they are spread out over various projects. Here at Insomniac – there are always multiple undertakings in development. This means that each one goes through a lifecycle that has its ups and down as far as developmental focus goes. Moreover, each department (art, programming, designing, etc) has its own time-frame on a project – so, one may be done before the other. There are a ton of variables constantly in flux. (Did you mind just go to Aeon Flux? Mine did.)
It’s a well structured flux, though. The company sets an incredible pace for releasing quality games. Remember the Tools of Destruction days? At that time, Insomniac released Tools of Destruction in 2007 and then turned right back around the next fall and released Quest for Booty and Resistance 2. No small feat. How did they do it? – By properly delegating people to specific projects. So, since art has to be finished before the programming, etc of the game – after art was locked on Tools, a few artists transferred to Quest and the others went to R2. Meanwhile, the designers, programmers, and QA put the last bit of polish on Tools. After the whole game was finished, the remaining people split up into Quest and R2 – a few even went into the pre-production stages of A Crack in Time!
They made this while also making game 3 other games. That's reason to dance.
Is it like this for every game? Nope! Again – the process of creating a game at Insomniac is organic. Every project is different and demands unique schedules to make them the best they can possibly be. For instance, some games might require DLC – people have to stay with that project as long as new content is coming out. Moreover, we are constantly experimenting with the game design process. The only way to get better is to keep tweaking and improving how you do things, right? (I’ll go ahead and answer my own question – Right!) So, that’s what goes on here. The result is organic growth that consistently produces better and bigger games. And we, as gamers, generally like those, right? (Right!)
The biggest thing to take away from my stroll from ignorance to enlightenment is that each game in a development studio has its own peaks and valleys while it is being made – and, generally, different games overlap and inverse each other. While Game A is at its height of production tons of people are on it – while Game B may only have a few. However, after that Game A is in its DLC days, there will only be a few people on it because everyone has shifted towards focusing on Game B. (Note: “Game A” and “Game B” are not actually titles of future Insomniac games. Or are they?*)
While all this “learning how a game dev studio operates” thing may be interesting – let’s get back to focusing on what’s really important to everyone– my own personal happiness. If you’ll remember (and if you don’t, your memory’s worse than a JRPG protagonist’s), I was nervous about becoming a part of another corporate machine when I started at Insomniac. However, as you have seen, that’s not how it works here. The amount of projects in production ensures that my rabid mind never gets bored. There is always a fresh variety of ideas and content circulating – so one particular project never gets stale. A natural energy radiates from the company because of the scope of creative discussion within the office. I like energy! It helps me do my best work. I feed off of it like a *insert simile here*.
Could this creative drive exist if the company solely focused on only one project at a time? Maybe, but I know that I’ve learned that correctly balancing the ebb and flow of a game development cycle is greatly aided by being able to shift workers from project to project as needed. It gives people a break and allows them to flex a different creative muscle. The creative process is about giving a mere idea life, so it makes sense that it should be organic and constantly growing. At Insomniac, I’ve come to learn that it’s definitely possible at a major company.
I take back what I said about not being built for a 9 to 5 job. If the company is anywhere near as creatively structured as Insomniac – I’ll be fine (AND dandy!). It fits into my “eclectic” nature. Plus, I actually work from 10 till 7. That fits into my “stay up way too late watching 90’s X-Men and sleeping in” nature. Win-Win!