Learning In Progress #6: Contractor Kits

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and a fair amount of work lately building perfect modular kits for my contractors so they can get started quicker and have to ask fewer questions.

The idea is that I’d like to have one single ZIP file that contains everything a new contractor needs to get started on his asset type.

So that leads to the question — what does a contractor need to be able to do his job? That’s a big list, so let’s give an example. If I were to hire a new animator, this is the type of data I would put in a contractor kit for him:

  • Technical specifications. For each asset type in my game, there is a guidelines document with detailed technical specifications. For animators, I made another post called On Contracting Animators that has a good list.
  • List of animations. There’s a complete list of animations for characters, creatures and other animatable objects that I store in another, separate document. I break down each type of asset into characters, creatures, animated objects, and miscellaneous. From there, I break each down into structured lists divided by their role in the game. For example, creatures are either Melee (hand-to-hand combat), Ranged (attack with guns or bows), and Caster (magic user). Each role has a unique animation set, so I list all the animations in each set. This is especially useful for when I want to create a new creature, before I even outsource it I can say “Okay, Fat Ogre 3 is going to use the Melee and Ranged Animation Sets.” I don’t have to decide which animations it has one by one every time I want a new creature, because I already figured it out beforehand. Then when I send the list of animations to the animator, I can simply copy and paste those pre-made animation lists. Time savings ahoy!
  • The exporter. I include a copy of our proprietary 3DSMAX exporter plugin, along with simple installation and usage instructions.
  • The tool. I include a copy of our proprietary Model Editor, along with simple usage instructions so the animator can create usable assets for our engine. Why should I have to?
  • Animation samples. I have directories set aside that offer example animations of every sequence for each type of creature and animatable object. There’s a directory for the Melee Animation Set that has sample animations for every sequence in that set, and so on for everything else that needs an example. I *never* leave gaps in reference for things like this.
  • Style guides. I include the style guides relevant to the race of creature he’ll be animating, so he can see the other members of that race, their size in relation to each other, and get a sense of their attitude.
  • Scale guide. I have a MAX file demonstrating the scale of the object in the world so the animator can get a better sense of scale and how to animate what it is I’m giving him.
  • FAQ. I’ve assembled a brief FAQ full of common questions I’ve been asked by my contractors. One very important note I’d like to make about the FAQ: It was a huge breakthrough to me to realize that every time I talk to one of my contractors to explain something or answer a question, I’m generating documentation. Everything I say is usable. So I just remember to write it down in one document, organize it, give it a coat of spit-shine, and my project is better-documented. 🙂 Documentation doesn’t have to be a big ugly mess that I have to sit down for hours and do… it can be incremental. (why answer the same question more than once?)

I have all these files set aside in a special ‘contractor kits’ directory under another subdirectory specific to them. For example in C:workcontractor_kits you would find Character_Art_Production_Kit, Animation_Production_Kit, Environment_Art_Production_Kit, etc. Zipped copies exist in each of these directories so any time I have a new hire, I simply copy and paste the ZIP and that’s everything they’ll need to know, in detail.

This is an awful lot of preparation and organizational work, but considering my circumstances (straddling art directorart managerproducerartist roles simultaneously) it saves me a LOT of time. Or, it will, once I finish putting all of them together. 🙂

To the contract smArtists out there — what kind of information and resources do you wish YOU had from your clients?

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