Continuous Training

Having wrapped up the bulk of the work on Capuchin Capers, preproduction planning has begun on At the Crossroads, our next title. At the Crossroads will utilize quite a few aspects of the Unreal Engine that we have yet to work with in a game. Which raises an interesting question: Should we push on into production and learn on the fly, or should we train ourselves up before production starts?

This may, at first glance, appear to be nothing more than a question based on your world-view, but there is more to it. Time is a resource. How much time will be spent developing with a new technology if you are constantly required to stop development to research how to use that technology in a specific use-case? How many times does this have to happen before you’ve spent more time in this manner than would have been spent taking a course or two on the technology? This is the situation that I have been facing since preproduction on At the Crossroads has started. In particular, the Gameplay Ability System has made me rethink my approach to this key question.

The Gameplay Ability System, or GAS for short, is a system designed by Epic from the ground up to build entire sets of abilities for Action, RPG, MOBA, Battle Royale, and many other game genres. Because it was meant to be used in such a wide range of situations, the GAS is fairly complex, with many pieces that interact with one another. Attempting to watch some Youtube videos and read a few forum posts would be detrimental when trying to implement such a complex system. The number of times that we would have to stop development to scour the Internet for an answer to a problem would be large. And, the amount of time spent doing that research would quickly out-pace the amount of time spent taking a course on Udemy and truly studying up on the GAS before production began.

There are many aspects of game development that will require you to ask yourself the question above. The GAS is just one example. For another example, lets take a look networking in Unreal. Networking, which is known as replication in Unreal-speak, is not a trivial task and requires a deeper knowledge of not only how replication itself works, but also Unreal’s Gameplay Framework. If your knowledge of the Gameplay Framework is lacking, and you were making a single-player game, you could just put functions and variables wherever you wanted. When it comes time to implement replication, however, you are likely to be in for a world of pain and suffering. The time spent undoing a lot of work that violates some of the design principles of the Gameplay Framework could easily be longer than just going through one or more of the courses on Udemy or Unreal’s Knowledge Portal.

Technology in general, and game development specifically, seems to change at a break-neck speed. Thus, the requirement to learn these new technologies is never-ending. As game developers, we will always have to retrain ourselves to keep our skills sharp. Whether it be a new app that we need to use to created assets, or a new system in our game engine of choice, learning and working with new technologies is an endless part of our lives.

In the end, it all comes down to how we want to spend the most precious currency that we, as indie developers, have: Time. It may be tempting to jump into the deep end, and sometimes that can work for the best. But we always need to spend that most precious currency wisely. We only have a limited amount of it.

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