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A Primer for the Design Process, Part 1: Do
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A Primer for the Design Process, Part 1: Do

June 30, 2000 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

For every game that sets the high-water mark in design and/or game play, there are dozens of titles that don't. Why is that? I've discovered a number of possible reasons. Many games are made by people who shoot from the hip instead of taking a good and proper aim at success, many designers are relatively new to their jobs and aren't certain what's expected of them, and few development companies have established a formal design processes for creating and implementing a game.
Books and magazines are only now dedicating themselves to the craft of game design. Because it is an inherently creative task, everybody thinks they can do it. If that were true, there'd be more games out there with better control, better AI, more user-friendly front-ends, game mechanics that the average 12 year old can immediately pick up and play, and less games clogging the clearance bin at Software, Etc. A harsh reality story a friend of mine likes to tell regards a VP of development-type for a larger developer/publisher asking why he should invest 1.4 Million dollars in his project versus simply investing it in the stock market. The answer? The possibility of an astounding return on investment provided the game is well designed, on time, and fun to play.

This primer for the design process is broken into three separate sections: Do, Think, and Need. The first article explains what you need to do to get ready to make a game, the second looks at what you need to think about while you're making the game, and the final piece examines what you'll need to do the task.

What to Do:

The primary task of the Designer is to design the game. That sounds simple; it was meant to. More goes into designing a game than writing frilly paragraphs about just how cool you think your idea is, just more is required than writing a massive, hernia-inducing tome of endless and unnecessary detail that no one but the author can bring themselves to read.

Good design is about the implementation of ideas and details. To know what you need for your game, you need to know what's going on around you. You need to know what the market might support and what the market is sick and tired of seeing. You need to know what your company (or those funding your company) may or may not want to see. In short, you need to start by asking some questions.

1. Asking questions

This is as simple as it sounds, you need to ask questions before you begin to write your design doc. There are a lot of things to consider while you're cooking up ideas for your next platinum-selling title. By no means is this list all-inclusive. Some questions might be irrelevant to your respective situation -not all games need the same considerations- while some projects might require additional questioning. Determining which questions to ask is one of the most important parts of your job.

What are the current trends?

What are current trends in design? Scan the trade-mags and look at what and who are causing a buzz. As technology gives us the ability to push more polys, build and view larger worlds, light them in real-time, and maintain an acceptable frame-rate, we see that gamers are expecting more from their entertainment. One way that certain creative companies have kept the ongoing interest of gamers is to blur the lines between established genres. It helps us to challenge what's become "accepted" and push the veil of innovative design.

Screen shot from WWF Warzone

Trends can also exist in things like options and utilities-how the competition is empowering the player by giving them more control over their game play environment. One standard now being called for in the wrestling genera is the need/want to create custom wrestlers from the ground up. This became the most talked about feature on the US side with WWF Warzone, and now THQ and EA both incorporate more "player-empowering" concepts into their titles.

 

What is marketing looking for?

This could be restated as, "What are gamers looking for?" Look to the marketing experts, they should have a good idea about what people want. They do the focus-group testing, they should be compiling data from this feedback. Also, consider what the market can stand. "Me-too" products usually sell much less than the product they're emulating.

What current tools do we have access to?

For example, look at what motion capture did for animation. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating an "all motion capture, all the time" game world, but that kind of data is an excellent way to build a foundation that your well-paid and well-respected motion editors can start from, tweaking the motion to fit the design after the fact.

3D authoring and world-building tools are still probably the most prevalent example of things that can help or hinder the design process. Preexisting tools can also give you jump if you need to either prototype a concept in a hurry or if you need to race to make the Christmas buying season before you loose the license for your game.

Tools give you a way to either prototype a design to get an idea across. They also allow you to get a job done with less hassle. Recycling technology is not a bad thing, unless the only thing your company can hype is tech with no game play.


Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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