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Game Production on Ember Sword


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We’re innovators here at Bright Star Studios. That goes without saying if you know anything about Ember Sword. In the spirit of that, this blog post is a break in our traditional format. We plucked our Executive Producer Loren and our Project Manager Allan away from their busy schedules to interview them about the process of producing Ember Sword. This blog sheds light on some of our chief development practices, habits and working structure. It also borrows some quotes from the two interview participants, as rephrasing wouldn’t do much justice to some of their unique views on game production. Let’s get into it!

Hot take — making a game is hard frigging work. Spicy, we know.

But, as far as collaborative endeavors go, game development is about as demanding as it gets.

So how do we at Bright Star Studios go about creating an expansive project like Ember Sword?

Well, we’re all big fans of taking a look behind-the-scenes on a project, so we decided we would shine some light on the daily goings-on here at BrightStar.

We got our very own producer Allan and executive producer Loren together and asked them some hard hitting questions about game production in general and about Ember Sword specifically, so strap in.

What are your roles & responsibilities?

“Mostly project management. Well, being a producer on a game is a bit different from being a producer on a movie, for example. I’m more of a project manager than a money manager. Doing more stuff along the lines of getting problems out of the way so that the team can focus on their core strengths and responsibilities” — Allan

Loren is also involved with the financial management, but as a Founder there’s few things he’s not involved in when it comes to Ember Sword.

“The role of Executive Producer can sometimes be a little bit nebulous.
Sometimes these fields overlap, although I am involved in the financial matters, my main role is building out the product and game vision itself.” — Loren

How are roles and tasks assigned?

The answer to this particular question was given via the form of a few colorful analogies, namely — Hats and Lego bricks. Yes, it’s just as fun as it sounds.

So, hats.

If a team happens to be in excess of a hundred people, then it’s quite easy for those working on a given project to have a laser-focused job description. However, if you have a small team working on a big project, then things can get a little more interesting.

In this particular case, Allan defines roles and responsibilities as “Hats”

“Maybe sometimes you’re wearing like 15 different hats, but as the team grows and we find a need for more and more specialists you take off some of those hats” — Allan

Loren, has a different, equally colorful analogy.

Building with Lego bricks!

“When you start here, I’m going to give you like 4–5 different colors of Lego bricks, and you’re going to have to build the best tower you possibly can”

Okay, sounds like fun.

“But what you have to realize is that we’re growing pretty fast, so pretty soon there’s going to be specializations, so I’m going to come by take away your blue bricks and expect you to continue building an even bigger tower with other colors”
“This is going to go on until you’re left with just red bricks, because that’s the thing you’re most epic at. Letting go of bricks can be hard for some people, but if you can handle it, it’s extremely rewarding”

What Loren is referring to here, similarly to what Allan said with his hats analogy, is the changes a team naturally undergoes as it expands. You might have started out doing a few different things, and you were spectacular at one of them, great at two of them and sort of OK at one of them. As more and more people come in, they get to specialize in the things you’re not that great at because, turns out, they’re killing it with that stuff . Meanwhile, you get to focus on the stuff you’re truly epic at, thus, the team grows, becomes more efficient and the game you’re making gets more kick-ass by the day.

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Working from home vs. Traditional work environment

The IT and development space has always needed to overcome the hurdles of working with someone who might be halfway across the globe. Scheduling meetings and aligning time zones can always be a giant hassle.

However, after Covid, these things became more commonplace, and this type of working environment became not only completely normal, but also something which is expected.

Quick disclaimer:

“We don’t like Covid, we don’t like that illness” — Allan.

Overall, unsurprisingly, it is quite beneficial not having to consider the geographical particularities of each individual employee and team member. This has always been the way Bright Star has operated, only now it has become more standardized and widely-adopted, as was mandated by the lockdowns.

“That being said we’re building towards having larger groups in more centralized office locations, because that way of working is sometimes beneficial” — Allan

The key theme here is finding the proper balance and moderation between these two approaches to working. Yes, working from home is convenient as all hell and you don’t have to get out of bed as early, but, sometimes, with creative projects especially, it can detract from the magic a little bit.

How does building Ember Sword differ from other projects you’ve worked on?

“Let’s start with the obvious, we’re building an MMORPG.
That’s already a totally different beast!” — Loren
“Building a ship as you’re sailing across the ocean.” — Allan

This is usually the case when going about a project like this.
The large and expansive world, combined with the blockchain integration and other decentralized mechanics are almost entirely bespoke technology built for Ember Sword, and we’re building up as we’re making the game. And that process requires focus and, sometimes, sacrifices.

Probably one of the hardest things about game development is killing your darlings, and, while not as crazy as the terminology employed would imply, it can still be pretty hard to get used to.

Essentially, when you’re working on a big project, your mind will flood with ideas, great and brilliant ideas about features and mechanics you’re going to put in the game which will definitely make it the best game anyone has ever played.
However, the harsh reality of the matter is that sometimes, even the good ideas just don’t gel well with the rest of the game, for a myriad of different reasons. The concept might be too demanding, or it might not fit with the rest of the game mechanically, or it wasn’t that great to begin with.

Here’s how Loren puts it:

“You might find that what you originally thought was this amazing feature is actually detracting from other parts of the game. So yeah, sometimes you have to kill your darlings”
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The day-to-day of developing Ember Sword

“We run sort of an adapted SCRUM” — Allan

Now, odds are you might not have heard of SCRUM, so here’s some context.

Yes, SCRUM does sound like something a pirate might say mid cough, but it’s also an invaluable organizational tool employed by the IT Industry. Let’s hear Allan explain it.

“It’s basically running sprints.
A sprint is like 2 or 3 weeks, and you plan for those 2 or 3 weeks in detail. Broken down to an individual level.”

As gamers, we often see the finished product and cannot fully comprehend the amount of depth and complexity even the simplest features mandate in order to be enjoyable.

“Most gamers can see a character walking on a screen and see some nice armor or cool loot, but we see animations, textures, how many skins do these swords and shields have etc.. Plus once these things are built as assets, implementing them is another thing with a programmer” — Allan.

With that in mind, there is definitely a lot of work that goes into producing a big game like this and, as game makers, we like to gamify stuff. And, in a sense, SCRUM does that, where tasks are laid out at the beginning of a sprint, and you have this entire visualisation of the process, be it a Trello board or other such visual aid. It can be incredibly motivating and satisfying to get all of the tasks across the board.

When is a game considered done?

“Never”- Allan

Okay, crude. But, seriously, he has a point.
Ember Sword is intended to be played for years and years. Let’s hear Loren explain it:

“We want to create something that will really stand that test of time. So, when is it done? Well, we would hope — never. We want to keep creating, building, and improving”

The real question here is, because we have adopted this iterative process approach, how will features be put into the hands of players? The answer to that can be found within our quarterly release model, elaborated on in “Building Ember Sword with The Community”

“What if we get a few thousands people into this world? How are the servers going to respond? We want to make sure we double check this. Of course we ran it with bots, but as soon as you let real life humans in there, they’re going to find a way to mess with your code” — Loren.

Iteration is a normal process when building an MMO, and as more of the game is created and made accessible to the community, proportionally, more of the team will be moved to the role of live support, where they will monitor how the game is holding up and making sure everyone is having as good of an experience as possible.

That being said, there is so much more we can talk about when it comes to game development as a general topic, as well as building Ember Sword as a project, but that’s a different topic for another time.

Wrapping up

Thank you for taking the time to read through this, rather large, post.

We barely scratched the surface of what goes into making a project of the breadth and scope of Ember Sword, as well as the daily fun activities we partake in here at BrightStar while we bring Ember Sword to you.

In the meantime, in case you missed it — check out our previous blog post discussing updates regarding the community land sale, and showcasing just how awesomely powerful our community is.

Until next time, everybody.

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Game Production on Ember Sword was originally published in EmberSword on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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