Artifical Mind & Movement is one of Montreal's largest independent game development studios with over 500 members of staff, and a portfolio of licensed titles including Indiana Jones, The Sims, Iron Man and Scene It? Earlier this year, the company also released its own original intellectual property, WET, with publishing partner Bethesda.
Here, A2M's senior director of development services Liza Wood discusses how WET has acted as a calling card to show off the creative talent of the company, why Canada is a vibrant games development community, and how the Montreal International Games Summit is an essential event for promoting the region.
Q: For those that aren't too familiar with the business, can you give us a brief overview of Artificial Mind & Movement?
Liza Wood: Artificial Mind & Movement is quite a large independent games developer in Montreal. Part of out business is contract games development where we develop licensed IP. Recent titles include MySims Racing, and Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings. The other part of our business is developing original intellectual property like WET, which came out in September.
In my role as senior director of development services, I'm responsible for three areas that are common services to all teams. One is the technology team that builds the technology for our Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 games. The second is the user experience team which design and build all the menus and HUDs for the game, and the last is our outsourcing project manager who co-ordinates all out outsourcing needs.
Q: A2M is going to be at the Montreal International Game Summit later this month – can you give us a brief overview of your session there, and what you're hoping to cover?
Liza Wood: The session is called Things I Swore I'd Never Do To Someone Else and it's essentially focused on some of the best practices of building relationships across teams or even within a team. Game development is a multi-disciplinary project - you're working with artists, you're working with programmers, you're working with business people. And the whole thing is also very stressful. It's really important that, especially during times of stress, that you have strong relationships between the different functions within the team or even across the teams, or if you're in an even more distributed environment, across companies or studios. So I'll be picking a few things from experience having worked in highly distributed environments, and looking at what are the best practices to build those relationships so that when it gets to times of stress, people are working together across those boundaries.
Q: What would you say are the worst practices during development?
Liza Wood: One of the big ones is down to communication. Don't assume that the other person is psychic. You should never expect somebody to just magically know something without communicating prior. Provide regular communications so that people around know what's going on so they're not taken by surprise when you come up to them and need something right away. They need to know the context, the background and why you're standing there, not that you're standing there asking for help and they have no idea why.
Q: I guess the crunch period is also a big problem – what's your advice on lessening the problems at the end of product development?
Liza Wood: The best way to avoid crunch at the end is to plan as much as you can up at the beginning. It's about being as pro-active as you possibly can and being vigorous about the early stages of the game development. Spending time to really develop the content and having good ideas, putting plans in place – especially with the leadership team – to be one step ahead of where production is at today. When things are going ahead on production, the leadership team should be thinking about how to get to the bug-fixing and polishing stage, and putting plans together to deal with that most effectively. That's the best way to deal with having less of a crunch period at the end of a project.
Q: What's the importance a local event like MIGS to a company in the Canadian region?
Liza Wood: A lot of the thinking behind MIGS – and I really agree with this – is it's really about showing what Montreal is capable of and how big the games business is here. That's really important because Montreal's games industry is a growing and vibrant industry, we have a lot of creative people and a lot of good talent and it's very important to showcase that. To show that this is a real business, it's a big business, we have a real presence here and frankly, Montreal makes great games.
Q: Do you think the talent is overshadowed by the tax incentives of the area?
Liza Wood: It depends on your point of view. I know in terms of the creative community and programming community that build the games they don't really think of it like that. On the business side managers might view it that way, but those who live and breathe the games, that build the games, they're just focusing on the quality titles they put out.
Q: You most recently released WET with Bethesda – were you pleased with the reaction to that, especially as it was a big push for an original game for the company?
Liza Wood: We're very pleased with it. We've got a lot of good talent hear at the studio and it's good for the team to be able to put something out that is original and showcases our talent and the ideas we have for games. It's great, WET was really important for us to get out to the world and show off what we're capable of. We can do mature titles and we can do our own IP. We were confident, mainly due to the relationships we've had in the past and the work we've been able to do with contract development. I wasn't at A2M when WET was conceived so I can't comment too much on feelings going into the project, but I know that when were shipping the team were very confident of the final product.
Q: Are you like to develop more new IP going forward, and how do you intend to balance that with your contract work?
Liza Wood: It's about balance and we're developing in both areas going forward.
Liza Wood is senior director of development services at Artifical Mind & Movement. Interview by Matt Martin.