When working on any software projects, such as game modifications, team work can be a crucial element to finishing it. However, when poorly managed, teamwork can kill a project. This article will try to help you with choosing between a team and solo work, and give you tips on development in teams.
Solo or Team
Working on a mod alone is entirely possible, but working in a team will make it much more bearable. Whether you need help with level design, programming or something else, having productive people around will make the development faster.
That said, do not assume working in a team is always easier than working alone; there are upsides and downsides.
- Teammates can concentrate their skills in a particular area (level design, programming, writing, etc.). The resulting output might have higher quality because of this.
- You get to combine the best ideas of many people.
- Others will notice things worth improving which you might miss.
- Teammates can push each other to improve, which results in not settling with mediocre effects.
- Teammates get to learn from each other.
- You will get less creative control
- You might come across conflicts in creative vision and the way the project is heading
- Some people may not work, or may not know what to work on.
- Incomparably more time will be spent on organisation.
- Deadlines need to be set - without them, the project will come to a stall.
Having a team requires managing it and making sure work is actually getting done, which is a considerable challenge.
You might choose to work solo, but that does not mean you can't consult other for ideas and feedback. If you can't or don't want to get people to work on your mod, even having someone to talk about it with is very helpful. Furthermore, participating in public discussions about modding can help you and others learn. This can be done in the modding channels on the Frictional Games Discord server. Share your work and ask questions!
Pitfalls of working solo
Asides from having to do literally everything yourself, one of the biggest issues with working solo is that there is no-one else who knows the project well. This means that if you get a bug which is specific to your mod (not an engine bug), you are on your own to fix it. This means that if you can't work it out, you will have to cut content and revert changes.
Another pitfall of working solo is not having anyone to confront your ideas. While this might sound good, it mostly means that your mod will be published with unrevertable design issues which might have been easily prevented at the start.
Working in a Team
Your first instinct might be to invite anyone who wants to help - however, a good practice is to keep the team small. Adding more people to the team does not mean more work will get done. The more people you have, the more time gets spent managing them.
You are not Kojima
"I have a great mod idea!!!1! It will have 3 custom monsters and 27 maps. I just need someone who can animate, model, paint textures, create sounds and add details to maps" -SecretiveMike47
This kind of a proposition might look like a parody, but is actually common. Someone with no actual technical or artistic skills has a "great" idea, and "just" needs to get basically an entire team to work while they will be the "idea person". Needless to say, don't do such things. If you're going to propose making a mod to people, you should always be the one that will lead by example - i.e. working on the mod as much as aynone else, if not the most.
Being a Leader
To put it shortly; a project without a leader will fall apart and will never be finished. Unless there is someone who leads by example: working hard and keeping the team communication alive, people will feel more and more okay with doing less and less work.
It is of course alright to have multiple "leaders". The more invested members are, the better. However, try to avoid power struggles.
As a leader, asides from raw development, your tasks will include organisation, handing out tasks and approving changes. All are crucial, as:
- Failing to assign tasks will create a situation in which a member has nothing to do and loses interest in the mod.
- Bad organisation will create chaos (especially bad when it comes to files).
- Without approving changes, your team members might introduce sub-par contributions to the project. On the other hand, not all changes need approval - as a leader you have to accept that you don't have total creative control anymore, and over-managing changes will result in a slow-down in development. Ideally, you should have teammates who you can trust with certain things without approving them.
Since most likely your team members will be coming from all over the world, your team is going to need an efficient tool to communicate. In the experience of the authors, Discord has proven to be a good tool for that. However, this is not necessarily the best choice. What matters most is that your team will regularly check messages, so choosing something familiar will be the best. Just make sure it's not something like e-mail or forums - these are okay for long-lasting discussions or announcements, but for development, getting results fast is very important.
Make sure to organise your communication. Whatever tool you choose, make sure there are channels of communicating important announcements and sharing resources in a way that will reach everyone and won't get drowned under responses to it. Ideally both the fast chat and important messages should be in the same service for the sake of convenience.