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Postmortem: Avalanche Studios' Renegade Ops
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Postmortem: Avalanche Studios' Renegade Ops

June 8, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

2. Minimize Documentation

So what is all this fuss about? Well, developing games is a very complex and somewhat chaotic process, as is the case when working with any product that is driven by vague terms like "fun", "intuitive", and "immersive". The problem with relying on documentation too heavily is that game development is a super-iterative process by nature. No matter how good the design is on paper, or in theory -- the process of getting those ideas to work as envisioned in the actual game is one of refinement through trial and error. In addition to this, any single, seemingly trivial change to a gameplay system potentially (and more often than not) has a huge effect on the game as a whole.

These factors largely counteract the notion of pouring time into the creation of awesome documents, since those documents usually become outdated the instant those ideas are tested in the game. This can lead to people spending a majority of their time rewriting and updating documents, instead of making the actual game!

We put as little time and energy as possible into documentation -- instead relying on verbal communication as our primary tool of communication and knowledge spreading, both internally and externally. As long as the documentation provided a high-level idea of the game and how it would play, we dropped it like a hot potato and got back to work.

Internally, we worked to create a culture within the team where open, free, and spontaneous verbal communication became a natural part of our collaborative. If anything ever was unclear to anyone, we preferred they took the time to talk about it face-to-face, rather than checking a document on the server that may -- or may not -- be up-to-date (and if they are up-to-date, that means someone is spending a lot of time updating all the documentation on a daily basis -- so either way it's a loss, in my eyes).

Externally, we were fortunate enough to have a very healthy, open relationship with Sega. We had regular conference calls with the publisher several times a week where the floor was open for any discussions to take place. Whenever a more pressing matter needed attention, we preferred to speak about it over the phone, rather than mailing each other about it.

In addition to this, any milestones that included any major documentation were accompanied by an audiovisual recording where I would talk about the process the team had gone through to arrive at the ideas and decisions presented in that documentation. This allowed us to maintain a very manageable level of detail on the actual documents themselves, as I went in to the gritty details verbally instead -- and it was material they had constant access to and could share with other stakeholders.

3. Focus on Core Mechanics

Another important decision we made from the very beginning of the project was to put a lot of effort into the core mechanics of the game. We simply didn't have the manpower to produce an endless amount of features to an acceptable level of quality, so we needed to have a neat little package of core mechanics that would hold up for as long as possible instead. Regardless of the scope of the project, I believe that the core mechanics of any game are the most important factors in making a great game.

We defined core mechanics as the simplest possible definition of the game in terms of mechanics. With Renegade Ops, we had decided to do a top-down vehicular shooter, so the core mechanics were fairly straightforward to discern right there: a top-down camera perspective, driving vehicles, and fighting enemies. The bare necessities of each of those three mechanics would make up our core mechanics. Every other mechanic and feature in the game would then support that core in one or several ways -- such as upgrades, narrative, missions, etc.

This is how we defined the core mechanics of Renegade Ops:

Core Mechanics

  1. Player Perspective (Top-down view, Camera placement and functionality)
  2. Primary Interaction (Vehicle driving controls, Aiming / Shooting)
  3. Primary Challenge (Enemies, Health system, Destruction, Health pick-ups)

The narrative, however, is not a core mechanic (the story in Renegade Ops is presented using 2D comic art panels that fly in off-screen while the characters dialogues can be heard) and it is a good example of where we chose to put a lot of focus and energy on something that really was not a part of the core mechanics, and it cost us quite a bit of production.

I like how the narrative turned out -- I especially love the 2D art that Giorgio Cantú produced for the game -- and feel it injects a healthy dose of flavor and attitude into the game as a whole. But if we were to turn back time, we would have most likely gone for a simpler solution in regards to the game's narrative.

That being said, we still managed to have a strong focus and succeeded in delivering a set of core mechanics that we are happy with. Succeeding with core mechanics is very much a matter of priority. We agreed that we would not put any work on upgrade systems, secondary weapons, button-mash sequences, or similar -- until the basic driving, shooting, and enemy behaviors were at a level that was comparable to the competition.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

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