Black Rock's Ideas Factory
Wednesday, 13th April 2011 at 7:59 am
Black Rock Studio let its staff’s creativity run riot for an entire week. Lead programmer Jeremy Moore explains why...
There’s a saying that everyone has a novel in them waiting to get out. I don’t know if that’s true, but I have a theory that everyone working in video games believes that they have a killer, incredible game idea that would be a massive success if only they could get the backing.
Recently at Black Rock Studio, we had the chance to test my theory. Everybody in the studio was given a week where they were paid to develop their own dream game concept into a fully-fledged game pitch.
If any of the pitches were good, then they’d have a real chance of being funded for further development. The event was called Concept Week. Not only was it a lot of fun, it had the potential to be pivotal in deciding what we work on as a studio during the next few years.
The plan for the week was to form a number of teams, but this time each would be tasked with generating a single game idea and creating a professional pitch for it. Everybody at the studio was involved, including developers, producers, directors and admin staff. The teams themselves were self-selecting. We were given a fortnight’s notice of the event, and in that two-week period people advertised their ideas and skills on work newsgroups, at the water-cooler or over a pint at the pub. If you liked someone’s game idea then you asked if they needed your skills on their team.
Most of us had never given a game pitch before, so the week was a good opportunity to see and understand the pitching process. With 27 teams the presentation time was limited. Each team would be given five minutes in front of the rest of studio on the final day of the week. The pitches themselves could be presented in any way that we chose. A simple PowerPoint presentation, a tech demo, some artwork, a story, even a group song – there were no limits.
Even ideas that broke away from our studio focus on driving or high-end consoles could be pitched in Concepting Week. Fundamentally, we realised that there was no point in having an event like this if we then restricted the teams’ scope for innovation.
GETTING BUSY WITH IT
So what was the week like? Like our previous Mini-Game Week, the studio was a wild, busy place of ideas and excitement for five days. However, there were some differences between Concept Week and Mini-Game Week that only became apparent once we were underway. One was that artists’ skills were at a premium during the week. During Mini-Game Week, everyone contributed massively, but it was coders who were usually most in evidence late at night crunching to get their game finished. For Concept Week, the pitch presentations were always going to require strong visual design. That meant that a great artist was on each team’s most wanted list (luckily we have lots of them), and they were made to work hard.
As with Mini-Game Week, many people got to work with others in the studio that they wouldn’t usually work with. Also most of us were getting a new perspective on how a game studio works. By looking at new game designs and thinking about how we could market them as well as make them, we gained an insight into how marketing and design decisions get made.
The range of the final presented ideas was breathtaking. Some of the ideas involved new IP; others gathered IP from across Disney and brought them into new game designs. Some pitches didn’t just consider game ideas, but also new hardware, fresh research opportunities and new retail models for the studio and the industry. Some of these ideas weren’t on our radar at all before the week was proposed, but are now being talked about seriously by everyone in the studio.
So what did we do when the week was over? Four ideas have been considered further. Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, I can’t reveal what those ideas are, but we’re all really excited about them. I personally have made the move from a lead programmer role on our Core Technology Group to be part of the prototyping team and am really looking forward to helping develop the ideas.
Hopefully one day, one or more of the ideas will become a released title. At that point, at least one person in our studio will have seen their personal game concept finally become reality.
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