I want to make Video Games: The Process - Phase I
Hello everyone, let’s have a quick recap first. You can skip ahead if you do not want to!
In the previous post, we briefly discussed the three key roles of Video Game Development namely, The Game Designer, The Game Artist and The Game Programmer. We discussed how video game development is a team effort and what roles every team member fulfills in a brief summary!
Following that, we should be discussing each of the 3 roles at more depth. However, to do that, we need to understand what working process do teams follow to finish their games.
If you want to check out previous post about the basics of the 3 key roles, click HERE!
Don’t Make Games Boring for Us!!! I just want to make Games on my unique idea!
Well, yeah! Most people who think they want to make games do not realize that the Video Game Industry is a business which makes products called Games! It’s hard to accept but that is the harsh reality. Similar to all products, to make Games, there is a process the industry follows as well. The terms I am using may vary from place to place but the core method stays the same.
Gaming IS NOT EQUAL to Making Games!
Game Development, from scratch to finish is quite a lengthy process and is divided into 3 main phases.
Pre-Production -> Production -> Post-Production
To keep your reading session short and sweet, we will just discuss about "Pre-Production" in this post. Of course, the newer business models of Early access and Open Beta play around with this model to maximize profit and do not really follow the usual procedure. However, we will discuss about them later.
To understand these three phases, let us compare Game Development to something we can relate to on a daily basis (at-least watch people do) and that would be "Cooking".
(Preparing all ingredients to begin cooking, similar to game design development)
Cooking is a way for us to be creative and use our ideas to create something we think would be nice and then serve it to people hoping they would like it as well. It’s exactly the same with games.
If you have ever cooked or watched someone cook for you, do they just put whole vegetables together and they magically turn into delicious dishes? No!!
Before we start cooking, we prepare things which are required to make our dish! Examples could be slicing and dicing vegetables, boiling ingredients, making pastes, etc. A preparation stage, basically in which we ready the things we need to start the actual cooking because once the cooking begins, we will not have time to do any of these things.
Similarly, in Game Development, we have a preparation phase called "Pre-Production".
In Pre-Production, we prepare the things that are absolutely necessary to begin making the game. We build the foundation of the game. The main jobs to be finished in this phase are:
Many newcomers underestimate the value of research before thinking of a game. Well-done research can make quite the difference in whether your game is loved by millions or hated unanimously.
Research, really? What else, pie charts and statistics as well?
Well, yes! It may sound dull and uninteresting but making a game without research is like shooting an arrow blindfolded, especially in today’s market where game titles fill the stores to the brim!
But the question is what do you research on?
The first and the foremost things you need to focus your research on is Target Audience. Most of us do not have a fan base like Assassin’s Creed or Battlefield or one of the MOBAs. If we make a game, people will never just blindly buy our games! The second thing is, many new developers want to make games they personally like. However, if you want your game to succeed and make money, you need to make games which other people like!
Thus, to make games which succeed and make money, you need to first select who you want to make games for!
But I want to make games for EVERYBODY!
That seldom works! Your players fall under multiple groups over a variety of categories. I am not going into detail as that’s for another topic but I’ll give you a few examples:
On a broad scale, your audience can be divided into the following categories:
Age: Kids, Teens, Young Adults, Adults (can be further subdivided into range)
Gender: Male, Female, Gender Neutral
Specific Genre Enthusiasts: Action, Platform, Puzzle, Casual, Strategy... the list goes on
On a psychological level, your audience can divided into more categories:
Different Play-styles: Killer, Achiever, Socialist, Explorer (can be further subdivided)
Different Personality: Anti-Authority, Impulsive, Invulnerable, Resignation
Different Motivation: Competition, Cooperation, Story, Completion
There are other categories as well:
Region: Asia, Europe, America, South America, Africa, Australia (can be further subdivided into specific countries)
Access to platforms: Only PC, Only Console, Only Mobile, All three, any two out of three
Your “Everybody” can include a mix and match of any of the categories and the above list contains only a small sample of categories.
A simple example would be:
If I tell you to make a game for Male audience, if you only think of explosions and shooting each other with bazookas, you would missing out on a huge number of people who like to play other types of games such as casual.
Similarly, if I tell you to make games for females, if you think of hearts and fluffy things only, you probably not have any audience at all as there is a vast female population who play all other genre of Games, including shooting each other in the face with Rail guns!!!
Thus, if you have an idea, you need to find out first, who is the person who is going to play your game!!!
(Sample small-scale research of people who play Endless Runners)
Once you know who you want to make games for and what kind of games they like, next comes Brainstorming!!!
I know how to Brainstorm ideas! I do it all the time!!! I am a thinker!
By brainstorming, I mean brainstorming as a team. However, if you are working alone, you still need to dedicate at least a couple of hours for this with a few people. Brainstorming doesn’t mean staring into the distance while having a hot shower and a bulb lights up over your head!
Brainstorming means you and your team sitting with a notebook or a whiteboard and just throwing ideas out related to what you researched upon. After an allotted time, look at the ideas and mix and match them to find your Game Idea.
NO!!! My idea is not going to be random ideas strung together! Mine will have story and finesse!
Firstly, a good brainstorming session means most ideas should be along a particular line, if you have researched well enough. Secondly, let’s talk about a few games.
Super Mario Bros.
Still considered one of the best designed games.
The Idea: “Plumber goes on adventure to rescue princess kidnapped by Giant turtle Dinosaur while crushing creatures and eating mushrooms!”
One of the highest grossing Mobile Game till date!
The Idea: “You have candies. You mix 3 of them to create explosions!”
The current latest gaming trend taking over the market.
The Idea: “Players kill each other in a big map, which gradually becomes smaller and smaller till one player survives.”
As you can see, in the beginning, game ideas are actually quite simple. Story, Amazing graphics and challenging levels are woven around it. Thus, use the brainstorming session to get your core idea from a huge pile.
Also, keep notes of your Brainstorming session in case, you need to go back and look for another idea to support your main idea.
(It's simpler to get a good concept if we have a huge pile of ideas to begin with)
After you complete your base idea from Brainstorming, it’s time to give it more flavor. With brainstorming, you define a simple way to define your game. In conception phase, it’s time to conceptualize the idea even further.
In conception phase, first you need to answer the following questions.
Who is my main character/player character? A mysterious hooded man with amazing wrist knives or an Italian plumber or even a really fancy rectangle?
What is the world/universe the main character is in? Is it a magical world infested with creatures from your dark nightmares or is it the country you call home?
What is main objective of the player character? Beat the big bad evil person for world peace or the classic rescue the princess?
What are the main challenges that the player character will face in order to achieve said objective? Enemies, Bosses, Mini-Bosses, Puzzles, Spikes of Death?
What rewards will the player get after defeating each challenge? Power-ups, stars, a pat on the back? *if your answer is, “more of the story”, you are setting yourself up for disaster*
If you can answer these questions, you have a simple core concept of the game!
Once the simple concept has been decided, you need to start document it in writing. Once you have written down the simple concept of the game, it’s time to add more details to it.
Here, the process splits into two ways and both ways should be covered.
The Design Route:
In this route, you and your team need to define even more aspects of the game by answering the following question:
What actions can the player character perform to overcome the main challenges? Walk, Jump, Run, Punch, Super Ultra 3 Combo Punch, Can shoot bullets infused with the tears of vengeance?
How will the player control these actions? Button Mash on Keyboard, Button Mash on controller, Play normally on either of those? Simply tap on mobile screen? Press 10 buttons at a time to execute a super ultra secret move?
What actions do other entities perform in reaction to the player actions? Attack back, Unleash combos of their own, run away and hide, attack in choreographed patterns for ease of understanding?
What are the rules that define this action and reaction? Knock back effect on hit, damage on hit, immunity from the boss's omega attack because the player consumed the potion of badassery?
The Art Route:
In this route, you and your team need to define more art-based aspects of the game by answering the following questions:
What is the mood of the game? Is it comedy, action and explosions, dark or just bright and cheerful?
How does the world look like? What do the inhabitants look like? How do other things like trees, buildings, water, etc that inhabit this world look like? Reptilian creatures? Cats? Cubes? Humans share the world with other creatures from fantasy? Ruins? Undead architecture?
How does the player character look like? How does he/she/it stand out? Weak and timid? Badass with a scar? Badass with a hood or other things covering the face? Cute? Red Hair?
Once all of these questions have been answered, you will have finished defining your “core” gameplay.
Core gameplay: The smallest action repeatedly performed by your player to overcome the challenges in your game.
(Concept Art for an ancient alien rune)
Just a note, this does not have to start after documentation. It can run parallel with the Art Route. Once your core gameplay is defined, you and your team should start coding in an Engine of your choosing (Construct 2, GameMaker, RenPy, GoDot, Unity, Unreal, etc) and make a prototype of the core gameplay.
No matter how complicated the game is, if you cannot prototype your core gameplay in a weeks' time, the game is really big for your team to handle. You should start thinking of cutting down things you have defined and retry again!
Prototyping does not mean you need to have art in it. Even the most complicated games can be prototyped using squares, circles and other basic shapes available with ease in any of the engines.
Once the prototype is done, it’s time to test if it works. Make people play your game. Friends, family, your relatives who you don’t speak to! Make everyone play! Are they having fun? If they are having fun playing only your core gameplay, you game is going to be successful for sure!
(Simple prototype for rhythm based game)
People are often shy of showing off their prototypes because they think it wouldn’t compare to the big guns! That’s not true! Your game is made for other people to enjoy. Unless you make other people play your game, you will never know whether it’s good or bad!
This is just the Pre-production phase of Game Design. Pre-production phase is usually the phase that takes the longest time because of re-iterations (re-doing because something went wrong). Do not be afraid of re-iterations. Making a perfect game concept in 1 shot is a mythical ability. However, the amount of time invested in pre-production is inversely proportional to production time. When we discuss the Production phase in the next post, you’ll realize that if you do a successful pre-production with your concept thoroughly defined and have spent quality time on it, your burden gets considerably lower later!
And thus, the magical journey of a Designer, Artist and Programmer begins to create an amazing Game!
Hope this post helped you in learning some new things! I would love to receive your feedback in the comments!