When Assembly Language Turned Into Assembly Lines
When I first started my career in game development, programming was much simpler than it is today, and I was able to develop my games in BASIC (Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code), with certain functions such as graphics and AI pathfinding done in assembly language. Games in general were much simpler than today’s games, and I was able to do the game design, art (such as it was) and sounds all by myself.
However, over time, games became larger and larger in scope, and more people were needed to develop a game. The lone developer was replaced by a two- or three-person team, which gave way to a half-dozen member team, which in turn evolved into a twenty, then fifty, and eventually a hundred-person team. Now a major AAA game title might involve over a thousand people, sometimes with several studios and art houses working together.
The production values of games also evolved, and so-called “programmer art” could no longer cut it. Therefore, development teams needed artists who knew how to draw, animators who knew how to animated, writers who knew how to write, and audio engineers who knew how to compose music and create sound effects.
Even these disciplines gave way to sub-disciplines on large-scale projects. The design department might be comprised of a lead designer who oversees system designers, content designers, user interface designers, level designers and writers. The programming department might be lead by a technical director who supervises the engine, physics, artificial intelligence, user interface, audio, multiplayer, and tool programmers. The art director in charge of the art department manages concept artists, texture artists, 3D modelers, riggers, animators, and environmental artists. The sound department might have different professionals specializing in music, sound effects and voice over. Each of these developers need to have their tasks scheduled and coordinated so that everyone works together as a team, and so that responsibility would fall to a producer or director, often assisted by a project coordinator and/or production assistant.
Each of the game’s thousands of assets, whether they be character animations, game levels, or cut scenes, might involve many different developers as the asset goes through conceptualization, design, production and implementation into a team. Creation of these assets involve an assembly-line kind of process, called a pipeline, and an individual developer might spend his or her time on the game just doing one step in this process, over and over again.
Many people who aspire to work on AAA games imagine themselves as having complete creative control over the entire game, but that’s not how major games are made nowadays. If you want to work in the game industry, you need to be able to take satisfaction in simply contributing to the game, even if your role is confined to creating the textures for all the rocks, tweaking all the attributes of the items for sale, or programming in the buttons for all the menus. You will likely be part of an assembly line, and your source of pride needs to be in the entire team’s collective work on the game.