Game Design and Development BasicsHi there! My name is Louis Kraml and I want to share with you some of thegame design and development basics I’ve learned throughout the years.Designing a game from scratch is a time consuming task, especially if yourun a small game development team. Actually, more and more peopledecide to create a full game by themselves, many of them beingdisappointed by their former team members.I’ve seen this happening quite a few times, and from what I know you can’texpect to meet more than 10-20% hard working, indie game developers.OK, so how do we maximize our chances of creating a successful game?
Everything starts with the brainstorming stage; what you are doing here canturn your idea into a successful project that actually gets completed, or intoa poor attempt that never sees the light of the day.It’s easy to get carried away: you might have so many great ideas flowingthrough your head! Right now I’m thinking at an RPG where you wouldhave your hero change its form from solid to liquid to vapor and back, as hemoves on along these danger-filled caves. Yeah! And he will enter somerooms where there will be several instances of him, and all these instanceswill have to work in harmony, discovering what buttons need to be pushedin order to open the gate to the next level.As you can probably guess, we could go on and on with this, and it’sactually recommended to do so at the brainstorming stage. Still, whenyou’ve gotten about 100 great ideas, it’s time to throw 90 of them out of thewindow! Yes, you read that right, you will have to give up and simply ignoremost of your fantastic ideas, because this will greatly increase yourchances to actually finish the game.“But my ideas are great!”, I hear you saying. Sure thing, but we are keepinga few of your BEST ideas, so your game will have increased chances ofsuccess. Not only that, but if your game is successful, you could create lotsof sequels that incorporate the previously brainstormed, unused ideas.So how do we decide what ideas should be kept? The answer to thisquestion is very simple: we will NEED some features, and we might WANTto have some features in the game.
As an example, we are going to need to have a loading / saving systemmost of the time; very few games don’t have them these days. On the otherhand, we could have a checkpoint-based load / save system, which savesthe game automatically when we reach a certain goal / area, or a game thathas a load / save system which allows you to load your own picture, tweetyour high score, craft a press release about your gaming performances,and so on.To begin with, you will want to keep the ideas / features that bring in a lot oforiginality, without needing a lot of development time. It is important to havean overall perspective of your project; if you want to include a museumexploration level, you would have to create at least 50... 100 (if nothundreds or thousands!) of artwork pieces that will be displayed inside it.If you work in a small team, remember to filter all the ideas with the othermembers of the game development team; you might find out that some ofthe elements (deformable terrain, to give you a simple example) might notbe possible to do using your game engine.At this point you should have a list with some great features that requirelittle time and effort and another set of great features that will need moretime in order to be brought to life. Don’t forget to ask yourself this questionobsessively: do I really NEED this feature in my game, or is it somethingthat I’d just like to have?Sure, you can add as many features as you like, but these features mightpush the project back for several months and even years. It helps if you area lazy person, doing it all by yourself; you should be able to identify thetime consuming operations.
What is your game about? Most times, you have a clear understanding ofwhat youre getting is about. Still, try and jot down the very core of yourgame. If you would have to use a single phrase to describe your game,what would that phrase be? What is so exciting about your game that theentire world will want to purchase a copy of it?Do not skip over this part, because it is crucial and it will help you refine thegame design process, making it much more efficient. Try and imagine thatyou have finished your game, and now one of your clients is looking at thegame box. What does it say on that box? Is the title and the description ofthe game so exciting that it makes the client pickup your game and rushhome to plate? Do not forget that these days the market is full with high-quality games, so the offer is very broad.By now you should have a list of ideas, a brief description of the game, andthe fantastic title and description for your game. It is time to do a realitycheck. Your friends and relatives are among the most precious testers youcould ever dream of having. Present your game idea in front of them andsee if that has gotten them excited.Sure, your grandma might not be the best person to discuss these matterswith, but if you have a few friends that have an interest in gaming, youshould get some good feedback, provided that you ask them to offerconstructive, and yet honest feedback.Heres an elevator pitch example: you are a princess looking for your frogprince. Your mission is to search the forest, solving puzzles anddiscovering the pieces that will create a huge poster with your belovedprince. As soon as all the puzzle pieces are found, the frog prince will bebrought back to life.
The following step of the process is to create a mockup of your game.Basically, you want to have a hand-drawn picture of your game screen.You dont need to be a skilled artist for that; even a black and white imagewill do the job. Make sure to include all the game panels and digits that willbe displayed on the screen at all times; this way, you will discover some ofthe parts that you have missed during the brainstorming process.Having this game sketch has an additional role: it will help you understandbetter what is happening in your game. Not only that, but you also have thechance to pick the best layout for your buttons, panels and so on. But thebest benefit of them all is the fact that now you will be able to evaluateproperly if your future game design project has the chances to be turnedinto a successful game project or not.If you still like the game idea a lot and your testers find it excellent as well,then you are ready to start working at the first game prototype. Thisprototype doesnt have to be perfect, nor does it have to include high-quality artwork, all there is to it is to highlight the great gameplay ideas thatyou have gathered during the brainstorming phase.The sooner you are able to create this playable prototype, the better.Fortunately, there are lots of game development systems out there, so yourtask shouldnt take more than a few days. Basically, you want to have thisprototype functional as early as possible because it will give you the energyto continue, as well as force you to discover some problems and maybechange minor parts of the gameplay, in order to speed up the gamedevelopment process or even adapt what you thought was possible to theexisting technology options.Once that you have your ugly looking, and yet fully functional gameprototype, it is the time to add polish trick. Resist the temptation to add amain menu, splash screens, and so on at this stage; they will eat a lot of
your time, which is much better spent by adding more actual features thatboost the value of your game.Now it could be the time to add high-quality artwork to your game. Howmuch video memory will your game is for 128 x 128 pixel sprites? Does thegame look well enough that way? If you can do that, go with higherresolution sprites; this will improve the aspect of your game. Dont forgetthat the project will use more memory, though.Okay, so now you have a game that is actually playable and looks decent.It is the time to start working at all the other features, but be very carefulwhile taking care of this part of the project. There is a very serious dangerthat might put to risk your game: you might like your game so much thatyou want to work at several features at the same time. Whatever you do,be sure to work at a single feature; then, after you have finished all thework at it, move on to the following feature and so on.Start by creating older levels for your game, for example. Then, move onwith all of the characters. Then, create all the 2-D graphics, for example.The idea here is to maintain your focus and actually get to finish all thegame aspects one by one, without multitasking, because that would be anenergy and productivity killer. It is essential to work at a feature until it ispolished enough and ready for shipping.There is a logical order in which these aspects should be tackled, ofcourse, so dont start creating the weapons for your characters before youhave those characters drawn or modeled.Dont forget to make backup copies of your game on a regular basis; resistthe temptation to overwrite the old copies with the new ones. Too manyprojects get lost this way because the developers didnt save an early copy,
so they have lost a huge amount of work by overwriting it. Many advancedgame developers will use version control software, but if you are juststarting out you can get away with it by simply saving your game prototypedaily, in a folder that has the car and they month and year as its name.Whatever you do, try and do your best to polish everything to perfectionbefore moving on. This way, if you run out of patience and you decide toship your game earlier, including only 50 of those 100 levels that wereplanned initially, you will have 50 well built levels, rather than having 70 soand so polished levels.Okay, so now youre getting is almost ready for shipping. It is important tolook back at some point and decide that the game is ready to be shipped.Sure, some of the features that were included in the game designdocument initially might not be available in the final version of the game,but you have a solid, fully working, great-looking project that is ready toheat the stores.While being enthusiastic is always great, it is also important to do somereality checks from time to time. Just look at the game credits that fly overthe screen at the end of a best-selling game type; you will notice that thereare hundreds of people that have worked at that particular project! Thisdoesnt mean that you should give up year great game development ideas,though, but rather to have a realistic approach and try to create a medium-sized project that has much greater chances to be turned into a solid,highly playable product.Louis Kraml, the author of this report, is a game programmer that likes toshare useful information with all the aspiring game developers. For moreinformation about Louis Kraml and his game tutorials, make sure to checkout http://louiskraml.org