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  • A Comprehensive Guide To Successful University Group Projects

    [05.10.18]
    - Luke Haslett

  • Approaches to Quality Assurance

    Quality Assurance

    Quality Assurance (QA) is the process of testing highly complex software, like games, to identify any incorrect behaviours, visuals, or experiences.

    Lots of testing means lots of opportunities to discover issues that can be dealt with as early as possible, which then improves the overall experience. This means it's something you're going to want to be performing as early as your first playable build milestone.

    Testing Methods

    Because you are unlikely to have a dedicated testing team, an obvious approach is to just have your entire group test the game. I find it effective to devote half your allocated time together every few weeks to do this. Not only does it help everyone see the progress and results of their work coming together, but the different crafts people bring to the table can help them spot things that others may have missed.

    Alternatively, in your communal working space, setup a computer with the game running and instruct everyone to spend at least 10-15 minutes a week testing. This takes less time from their working day, which they'll probably be happier about if they don't like having to test, and also has an added benefit of being available to passers-by or members of other teams to come over and playtest.

    Bug Reporting

    When it comes to getting feedback about the game, you're going to want an efficient way to communicate the discovered issues. I recommend getting a document together for your testers to fill out as they play through the game.

    Here are some points for consideration on this document:

    • Outline

    Provide a brief summary of the issue.

    • Expectation

    What was expected to happen.

    • Reality

    What actually happened.

    • Screenshot

    If the issue is a visual one.

    • Replication

    How to make the issue occur.

    • Impact

    Out of 10, how much does this affect the experience.

    I'll also note that, ideally, if you can have playtesters recording their sessions then you can learn a lot more about the player's behaviour in your game.

    Iteration

    Review your feedback often, like as a batch once a week. When you do so, setup another document that breaks down the feedback into relevant categories like art, design, level etc. Log whose responsibility it is to clear the issue, and give each bug an ID so that it's easier to track once allocated. You won't need to write the same bug multiple times, but bear it in mind when assigning a priority value.

    Here's an example Feedback Review from a previously completed project.

    Software

    I wanted to take a header to briefly go over software that, although not all mandatory, should be worth consideration.

    Industry Standard

    This is a list of software that you should expect to use on a regular basis from university to industry. If you're not familiar with any of them, then I implore you to do yourself a favour and learn them. You don't have to be a master at using them, but you do need to be confident in understanding how they work.

    • Microsoft Word

    I shouldn't need to mention this one, as it's obviously well known. But if you're not familiar, you're dangerously behind everyone else.

    • Microsoft Excel

    Again, you should know this. It's used for spreadsheet development, and probably applies to designers more than anyone else.

    • Microsoft PowerPoint

    Presentations are a common procedure, especially in university, and this is the most accessible way to produce them.

    • Adobe Photoshop

    A graphics editor used to edit and compose images. Everyone should know how to use this, even designers and technicians, because the ability to quickly throw together an image can accurately convey a better vision than if you were to describe it.

    • Google Forms

    A super simple and quick method of putting together a survey that's easy to use and share. Additionally, it looks good and organises results into easily absorbable charts and lists.

    • Online Storage

    Online storage provides a convenient way to drop and share files that you can access anywhere. Example services include Google Drive, OneDrive, and Dropbox.

    Other

    The software in this list isn't as important, but I still feel they're worth looking into, in case they offer a solution you prefer.

    • Trello

    An online task management tool that allows you to organise information into boards, lists, and cards. Visually similar to using a post-it note system.

    • JIRA

    A task-tracking and distribution tool that allows a task to openly pass through team-members in a pipeline. This is popular in quality assurance testing.

    • Slack

    This is a cloud-based toolset that allows teams to communicate across different channels, similar to Discord.

    Research Resources

    To be blunt; you need to know how to research. If you're stuck and can't figure out how something works, then you have to look for the answers, don't wait for them to come to you.

    I've seen so many students not doing the work because they ‘weren't shown how to do it'. This is, quite frankly, a cop out. If you think you can get away with this in industry, you're going to be in for a shock.

    So, here's a quick list of go-to places for research:

    • Wikipedia

    You're probably under the belief that Wikipedia is an unreliable source, due to its content being open for editing by anyone. This is true, when it comes to academic writing, but if you scroll to the bottom of the article and start reading through the cited references, you'll find they're a good starting point in your research.

    • YouTube

    YouTube is brimming with more content than you have time to consume, literally, and a lot of this content comes in the form of tutorials. With a few suitable search tags, you can look for channels dedicated to your area of expertise and learn new things, or validate the knowledge you do have.

    • GDC Vault

    The Game Developers Conference is the biggest event for professional developers in the games industry, and the website has an archive full of presentations from all aspects of industry. This is a great site to learn what works and what doesn't from those who have the experience to back it up.

    • Gamasutra

    Gamasutra is a site dedicated to hosting user-created content about video games, in the form of: news, essays, blogs, game post-mortems, advertised jobs, and contract work. It's a rich source of information that's become a leading platform for enhancing discussion through journalism.

    • 80 Level

    This is another source for tutorials, interviews and articles that focus on providing information on the recent trends of the game industry.

    • The Library

    No, seriously. Every university has one, and it's full of reading materials catered towards your courses. It's true you can source these materials online, but usually the library is free. You also might find they provide others useful services, like my library has the latest games available to rent.

    Motivation

    Money

    When it comes to working on a group project, the largest difference between university and industry is the average level of dedication you see, and this comes down to one incentive: getting paid.

    On average, students tend to lack the sense of urgency when it comes to doing the things they need to, and this primarily comes down to money. In the UK, we have a pretty amazing loan system in place that provides us with plenty of income to cover everyday expenses, and then some. However, I believe this system gives students a crutch to lean on, which relieves the pressure of normal life where we need to be considering affording rent, bills, food, etc. This in turn breeds complacency.

    So, if we're talking about money, let's rephrase this into promoting a sense of rationalisation. During my bachelors I received roughly £16-17k a year from loans and maintenance grants. Then I probably had around 230 days from the start of my first semester, to the end of my second semester. This means I'm spending at least £70 a day to be in university, every day, including weekends. So, if I decided not to work one day, that can be perceived as though I'm paying £70 to take a day off. If you have trouble finding motivation, apply this logic to your situation and ask yourself if you can afford to pay £70 to take a day off, because I find it really hard to justify.

    Mental Health

    Another factor at play is mental health. In the game industry, it's sadly all too common to find people suffering from disorders like anxiety or depression, and these can contribute to not feeling able to find the motivation to do anything. But I'm nowhere near qualified to talk about this.

    What I can suggest though is that you try to communicate your issues to your lecturers and team, whilst also seeking out your support system. Your university should have services and advisors available for students to benefit from if they're experiencing difficulties. If you feel problems are growing, you're overwhelmed, and struggling to cope, don't stick your head in the sand, contact your wellbeing advisors.

    Personal Philosophies & Other Points

    I've added this header to serve as a collection of points and personal philosophies that I wanted to make but didn't feel like they fit anywhere above.

    Have fun

    This is honestly the key, and it's so simple. You're making games and exercising the talents you've chosen to hone, so have fun doing it because if you're seriously not enjoying your work, you should think about whether or not this is the right direction for you. Moreover, if it's no longer your passion, it's okay to quit. Don't waste time not doing the fun thing. Find your fun. Even if in 10 years' time you realise that you do enjoy making games, but you didn't when you dropped out, you can still go back to it and you'll probably do better at it because you'll be going in with the right attitude.

    Friendly Competition

    I'm not a naturally competitive person, but when it comes to academia I've always gravitated towards having a close friend that excels at being among the best. This helped me because I began to see their attitude and abilities as a goal for me to match and do better. Now I have the mindset of always looking to improve, because if there's someone better than me then I'm not working hard enough.

    Be a "Yes Man"

    Why don't you try saying yes more? See a local game jam event being hosted? Say yes. Notice someone reaching out to collaborate on a project? Say yes. Your team want you to focus on an area you have little experience in? Say yes.

    Breaking out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself to do more is great for your personal development. You'll build communication skills and in turn build more networking connections. It'll also strengthen your portfolio and give you more talking points in an interview.

    Personally, I love to collaborate on personal projects with friends from different skill backgrounds. Especially artists, because we both bring something completely different to the table that feeds into each other to create a better-quality result.

    Crunch-time

    The idea of crunch is a very double-edged sword, and a lot of people will shudder at the thought from PTSD. But what I want to consider is the idea of "healthy crunch".

    I haven't yet undergone the standards of crunch as an industry professional, but personally I've found the crunch process to be a positive stage at university. This is because I've kept to a schedule that has allowed me to hit all the most important aspects of my projects, leaving crunch to be a time for polishing the extra parts. I've also seen others thrive during the crunch period, because pressure can sometimes breed innovation.

    But to each their own, and again this is just my own perspective at a university level, and I'm well aware of the horror stories that get shared about some company approaches.

    Communication (again)

    Let's take a moment to address how essential it is to possess good written and verbal communication skills.

    You're going to be working with a team of people, and you're going to need to share a vision in order for the project to move forward. This means being able to either explain the concepts, or ask enough questions to understand the concept.

    Your team won't be around you all the time, some may be from a foreign culture where their knowledge in your language isn't as experienced as yours, or you may even have some distant-students who solely work on their course online. In any case, you need to be able to articulate during written discussion with proper spelling and grammar.

    Don't speak in slang, it's confusing to people without a shared background.

    Dyslexia is real, and I acknowledge that, so research ways to cope and manage it. If it's causing an issue between you and others, make sure you that you communicate your condition, it'll help others understand.

    Also, don't be the college kid that uses a thesaurus on every other word to find the biggest ones. It doesn't make you look clever, it makes you look stupid, and the more experienced you become, the more cringeworthy it appears. Stick to simple sentences that get the point across. The less words the better, as long as it's conveying the right vision.

    Group Conflict

    This is where communication also feeds in, but more so it's how you handle the situation and your emotions.

    Conflict can happen, and it can feel pretty heated, but you need to raise grievances correctly. For instance, yelling and speaking over people isn't constructive, that's what children do. Adults have a conversation, listen to each other's point of view and then discuss those points in a diplomatic way.

    If you are having a hard time dealing with your emotions, suggest taking a break to process your feelings, then return to the conversation with a fresh head.

    If no resolution can be achieved, that's when the management hierarchy needs to pull rank and make a decision about the subject.

    Lack of Team Contribution

    From time to time, it can feel as though you are the only one putting a significant amount of effort into a group project. That is why having a strong faith in your management should ease the scope to mitigate the damage.

    For the culprits themselves, unfortunately there's not a lot that can be done about this as you can't force someone to work, and it's not your place to. But if the situation becomes unbearable, speak to the staff overseeing the projects about moving to another team if possible.

    Lecturers

    Your lecturers are there for guidance if you need it. They've been through what you have, and come out the other side. They've also chosen to stay in academia and drive their craft forward with a role that constantly researches new techniques.

    So, if your own research falls flat and you're not sure where to go next, ask a lecturer for advice and they'll surely have a catalogue of resource materials to point you in the right direction.

    But also remember, this isn't high school. You can't repeatedly ask lecturers to help with your work or give you a one-to-one meeting on a lecture that was given to a whole class. If you've exhausted your research, and really need help with your work, save this for when support sessions are hosted, unless otherwise stated.

    Conclusion

    So, there we have it, that's my guide to successful group projects at university, with a focus on game development.

    To re-iterate, this is all related to my perception and opinion. If you feel differently about any of the points I made, that's absolutely fine, I hope it at least challenged you to think about your stances and affirm them. If even one point was new to you and helped you improve your approach, then I feel my guide has been successful.

    For any queries, you can find a contact section on my site at lukehaslett.weebly.com.

    Thanks for reading!

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