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How Leti Arts’ Lead Game Designer Brings Games To Life

How Leti Arts’ Lead Game Designer Brings Games To Life

Kindly introduce yourself and what you do 

Hello, I’m Yash Soad Saxena from India, currently serving as a game designer and game producer at Leti Arts Studios in Ghana. My journey into the world of video games began during high school when I pursued a diploma course in video game design. This passion led me to further my education at DSK Rubika Pune. Video games have been a part of my life since childhood, starting with classics like the Old Nintendo console and DOS-based games. This deep-seated love for gaming-inspired me to pursue formal education in the field. Since 2016, I’ve been actively involved in the video game industry, starting my career as a game design intern at Try Hard Entertainment Pune. Over time, I progressed to the role of a game designer. In 2020, I joined Leti Arts, where I’ve been involved in managing projects, designing games, and spearheading new product initiatives. Currently, I lead several in-house projects, including Puzzles Scout, Sweave Africa’s Legends, and Karmzah. Alongside these, I also oversee consultancy projects, where I’ve taken on roles as an art director and project manager. Furthermore, I’ve played a key role in our business development endeavors, which include setting up partnerships like Gameloft publishing and integrating HTML games on platforms like Ayoba. These experiences have been invaluable in shaping my career and fueling my passion for the gaming industry. 

Can you walk us through your journey to becoming a game project manager and how you manage the balance between creative vision and technical feasibility when leading a game development project?

My journey to becoming a game project manager was not something I initially planned. My passion has always been designing video games, particularly focusing on creating new mechanics and core systems. Even during my college years, I was drawn to learning how to bring these ideas to life using visual tools like Photoshop and Illustrator, as well as experimenting with a visual scripting engine called Construct 2. As I gained experience in these areas, I realized that I had three main career paths within the video game industry to consider. However, I felt that leveraging my existing skills and experience would be the best approach. With guidance and encouragement from our CEO, Mr. Eyram Tawia, I transitioned into the role of a game project manager. What excites me about this role is that it allows me to maintain my creativity while also considering the technical aspects of the project. I can collaborate closely with both artists and developers to effectively communicate my design ideas and achieve exceptional results. Moreover, my diverse experience across various aspects of game development has provided me with a solid understanding of the technical feasibility of concepts, enabling me to make informed decisions and guide the project towards success.

Yash Soad Saxena

What strategies do you employ to build and maintain a strong, collaborative team environment among your developers, designers, and other team members? 

A key strategy to foster collaboration within the team begins with laying a solid foundation from the outset of the project. Rather than diving straight into brainstorming sessions, I prioritize cultivating a healthy gamer conversation. By shifting the focus away from the technical aspects and towards shared interests and experiences in gaming, everyone feels more engaged and invested from the start. This sets the stage for strong team chemistry. Following this, we transition into a structured brainstorming session where every team member’s voice is heard, and ideas are thoroughly evaluated. The selection of the best idea is carefully considered to ensure that it aligns with project goals and objectives. Once the idea is chosen, the next step is to select the most suitable collaboration tools for the team. I prefer using Trello for project management, Miro for active collaboration on projects, and platforms like Discord or Skype for real-time communication. These tools facilitate seamless communication and ensure that everyone understands their responsibilities. While these strategies cover the majority of our collaboration efforts, the remaining 10% involves actively engaging with the team to address any challenges they may be facing. By promptly addressing issues and removing obstacles, we save valuable time and keep the project moving forward smoothly. 

In your experience, what are some common pitfalls in game development projects, and how do you work to prevent or mitigate them? 

In my experience with game development projects, I’ve encountered a couple of common pitfalls that can hinder progress if not addressed proactively. 

Scoping: One major pitfall is inadequate scoping at the project’s outset. When we fail to fully define the scope, essential elements may be left hanging, leading to complications later on. It’s crucial to meticulously consider all features, animations, visuals, and possible integrations during the scoping phase. By doing so, we ensure that our project remains well-defined and manageable within the specified timelines, ultimately resulting in the delivery of a polished game.

Communication: Effective communication is paramount to the success of any project. It’s essential to meticulously plan meeting schedules, identify important deliverables, and clearly communicate each team member’s responsibilities. Particularly during fast-paced production phases, communication can become challenging, leading to confusion and delays. Additionally, dependencies between tasks can exacerbate the issue. Maintaining efficient communication channels throughout the project is critical for avoiding unnecessary delays and ensuring smooth progress. 

How do you approach managing stakeholder expectations and ensuring effective communication throughout the development process? 

Managing stakeholder expectations and ensuring effective communication throughout the development process are crucial for the project’s success. It begins with identifying all stakeholders involved to establish clear project objectives, goals, deliverables, and, most importantly, timelines. Efficient and timely communication is essential. This means regularly sharing updates and seeking feedback for design, art, or code fixes. Addressing these issues promptly is vital for the project’s success. Ignoring feedback at any stage may result in difficulty accommodating changes later, as time is always ticking. Lastly, it’s important to prioritize self-care after the project ends. This includes getting proper rest, engaging in conversations with friends, and enjoying the food of our liking. Taking care of ourselves ensures we’re ready for future endeavors and maintains overall well-being. 

Throughout your career, you’ve managed various game projects. Which one stands out as the most enjoyable for you, and what factors made that project particularly memorable and gratifying? 

Selecting a single game from my career as a standout favorite is a daunting task, as each project holds invaluable lessons and memorable experiences. However, one project that truly stands out is “Shkorey,” a collaborative effort with 8d Games, a studio based in the Netherlands renowned for its impactful serious games. Working on “Shkorey” was a profound learning experience for me, as I had the opportunity to glean insights from the talented team at 8D Games. From brainstorming techniques to project setup, I absorbed invaluable knowledge throughout the collaboration. Personally, I led the visual direction and UI/UX design aspects of the game, alongside remarkable team members like our Lead Artist Kwadwo, who created stunning character artwork, and Alfan, who contributed to the UI design. Together, we delved deep into cultural and architectural elements, infusing the game with rich symbolism and meaning. From selecting the color scheme to incorporating cultural symbols into UI silhouettes, every detail was meticulously crafted to resonate with players on a profound level. These details excite the player as they find a lot of local symbolism, bringing memories of their place!

How do you stay current with industry trends and emerging technologies, and how do you incorporate these into your project management strategies? 

For me, staying updated with industry trends is a constant challenge, but it’s crucial to remain informed. Claiming to know everything about what’s coming up or being completely up-to-date would be unrealistic. However, there are habits we can develop to help us keep pace. Firstly, I’ve been following game developer websites since the days when Gamasutra was known by a different name. Alongside that, I regularly visit websites like IndieGames.com. These platforms offer valuable insights, including work-in-progress updates, developer logs, and interviews, which help me stay informed about industry trends. Secondly, playing new games and learning from them is essential. It allows us to see what’s evolving in various genres and update our design bank with fresh ideas. When I don’t have time to play games, I often watch gameplay videos as an alternative. While it’s not the same as playing firsthand, it still provides valuable insights into game mechanics and design. Most importantly, we need to be adaptable. Proper planning for rest periods during project scoping is crucial, as is planning for skill development or training programs internally. Understanding the specific talents required for a project helps us anticipate needs and ensure we have the necessary skills in place. By incorporating these habits into our routine, we can better stay informed about industry trends and adapt to the ever-changing landscape of game development. 

What is your approach to managing risk and uncertainty in the ever-evolving landscape of game development? 

Throughout my experience managing game development projects, I’ve learned several strategies to mitigate potential risks and streamline the project management process. By addressing these key points, we can make project management a more straightforward process. Firstly, it’s essential to identify potential risks early on in the project. Anything that we anticipate might go wrong should be noted and addressed proactively. For instance, if we require specific talent for the project, we should ensure to hire them before the project commences. Similarly, if certain features necessitate research, we should pre-plan accordingly. Secondly, flexibility is crucial, and I’ve learned this over time by following agile project management techniques, particularly through iterative development. This approach allows us room to accommodate changes requested by the client or arising from the development team. We can quickly pivot and adapt to meet client needs as they arise. Thirdly, effective resource management is paramount. We must accurately assess the resources required to achieve the project’s goals. This involves properly scoping out the project based on client information and evaluating the available resources at hand. If we have the necessary team members to achieve the project objectives, we can proceed with confidence. Otherwise, we must plan for proper hiring to fill any gaps. Lastly, regular review and revision of the project are crucial. This includes conducting weekly or monthly reviews involving the full team and the client. These reviews ensure the timely delivery of the project and help us maintain alignment with the client’s interests throughout the development process. By consistently reviewing and revising the project, we can address any issues promptly and ensure a successful outcome

How do you prioritize and balance various aspects of a game project, such as quality, budget, and timelines, to ensure a successful outcome? 

Balancing quality, budget, and timeline is a significant challenge for any project lead, testing our skills to their limits. To effectively manage this balance, we begin by establishing a clear goal or vision for the project based on thorough research into key features, scope, and technical requirements. We provide trade-offs by offering examples based on multiple game references, which are identified through benchmarking against project goals and objectives. This task falls to the design team, who conduct extensive research into existing games similar to the project in question. They assess the required budget, desired quality, and scope of the game, providing valuable insights for decision-making. Once the design team completes this process, we gain a clear understanding of the final vision for the project. This clarity enables us to make informed decisions and allocate resources effectively to achieve our objectives. Lastly, given the ever-evolving nature of the industry, it’s essential to stay updated with the latest trends and insights from fellow game developers. Thankfully, numerous video game communities offer valuable resources and collaboration opportunities. Platforms like Reddit are particularly useful for finding insightful discussions and resources related to game design, project management, game art, and development. 

What advice would you give to aspiring game project managers looking to establish themselves in the industry and create standout projects? 

While there are numerous video interviews available offering valuable advice, I’d like to share some insights based on my experience. Here are a few key points I always emphasize: Firstly, trust your team and maintain clear communication with both clients and your team members. Building trust fosters a collaborative environment and ensures everyone is aligned toward the project’s goals. Secondly, establish clear goals for your team and break down the work into manageable tasks. Effective task breakdown is a fundamental skill for any project manager and helps in planning and execution. Once you’ve broken down all the tasks, you can efficiently plan the project using the resources available. This includes allocating tasks, setting timelines, and monitoring progress to ensure everything stays on track. Additionally, it’s essential to plan any necessary training or hiring of freelancers well in advance. By anticipating these needs early on, you can ensure that the project has the required resources and expertise to be completed successfully. Effective Communication, Flexibility with Adaptability, Risk Management, and Iteration.

Any last words? 

In conclusion, I express my deep gratitude for the incredible journey of over 3 years here at Leti Arts. The environment is truly exceptional, providing ample freedom to explore various aspects of artistic expression. I am particularly drawn to the studio’s core mission, which focuses on promoting African folklore through modern mediums of art. At Leti Arts, we strive to reimagine African stories in video games, comics, and artworks, a pursuit that I find deeply fulfilling. One of the most rewarding aspects of my tenure has been working on serious games aimed at making a positive impact on the real world. These projects have offered invaluable experience and allowed me to contribute meaningfully to important causes. I couldn’t envision being anywhere else, as Leti Arts has offered me countless opportunities for growth and development. I must acknowledge our CEO, Mr. Eyram Tawia, whose positivity and enthusiasm have been instrumental in propelling our creative endeavors forward. His experience and vision have guided us through challenges, fostering a warm and supportive environment at Leti Arts. Speaking of the environment, I thoroughly enjoy working with my team. It’s a real treat to collaborate on these amazing games, where the entire team operates as a single unit. Despite working from many kilometers away, I have always felt at home with the Leti Arts team. We function as a cohesive family, ensuring mutual support and effective collaboration to achieve our goals.