This is Game Development: Defense Grid 2

06/20/2013 by Russ Pitts | Source: Polygon
Hanging on the wall is a television screen. It is massive. In your home, this screen would be luxurious; ludicrous, even. Here it is merely functional.

The television is connected to a computer; on the screen, a complicated spreadsheet outlining every facet of the creation of a video game, step by excruciating step. The game does not yet exist. It is being built at this very moment. It's little more than a few lines of code. Some art. A wealth of documents.

And this spreadsheet.

In another year (give or take) the game will be complete. You'll be able to download it on your PC, your Mac or maybe your mobile devices. You might enjoy it — the people making it certainly hope that you do — but if you saw it in the state in which it currently exists, you wouldn't even know what it was.

Month by month, milestone by milestone, that bit of code, those pieces of art and design will multiply and coalesce. Slowly, following the steps outlined on the spreadsheet on the massive screen on the conference room wall, the pieces of a video game will be assembled. And at any point some little thing may go slightly wrong, derailing the entire thing.

This is game development.

I'm sitting at the end of a long conference table witnessing a planning meeting for Hidden Path's upcoming tower defense game Defense Grid 2. Halfway down the table sits Dacey Willoughby, the project's associate producer. She carries herself like a nurse: kind, but tough. Empathetic, but determined. She's done this before, this game-making thing.

Willoughby worked at Warner Bros. (on Lord of the Rings: War in the North) and other places. She owned a business with her husband (a smoothie shop — it didn't work out). She worked at Hidden Path once before, but quit (to run the smoothie shop). Now she's part of one of the most experienced small development teams in the industry, working to corral the disparate pieces of Hidden Path's next game into some semblance of order.

Right now the conference room is Willoughby's workstation. She's setting milestones: scheduled deadlines the team must hit or risk losing money. Technically, these milestones have already been set, but Willoughby is adding detail; describing, in writing, exactly which parts of the game will be finished and on what dates and by whom.

Over the next 12 or so months, the team members behind DG2 will hit or miss these marks. Willoughby hopes they hit more than they miss, and she has some reason to be hopeful there. The team at Hidden Path is composed mostly of veterans. In the game industry as a whole, the average "time in" for game developers is approximately five years. At Hidden Path, it's 12.

This veteran crew is now making the official sequel to its first (and only) original title (as well as a couple of other games that team members can't talk about yet). But the process of game development is complex. Things go wrong. Creativity, always hard to bottle, reacts poorly to pressure. People fail.

This is game development.

Polygon has been promised exclusive access to the Defense Grid 2 development team over the next year: its meetings, its milestones, its design documents. Everything. We will bear witness firsthand to how a video game gets made, from the ground up. Everything will be on record and reported.

Hidden Path has, in short, given Polygon total access to the development of Defense Grid 2, and we will get to follow along as it struggles to make the game that could make or break the independent studio.

Our reports will be published in installments between now and whenever the game launches (projected: 2014).

This is part one.

I'm sitting in a restaurant with the co-founders of Hidden Path. It's a little awkward. They're not used to press or visitors. And they're smart. Scary smart. The kind of smart where you understand all of the words they are speaking, but none of what they are saying makes any sense.

The kind of smart where, when tasked with making idle chitchat with a stranger over lunch, no one knows where to start.

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