Tactics for Game Design Part 2

Game Design Tips

Sketches by Joey Goodlow

Sketches by Joey Goodlow

My last blog covered some of the higher level items worth thinking about during the game design pre-production phase. Resources, communication, team size, and individual skills all play into how our processes work, but that's not the end of the road. Here are some tips to help maximize efficiency:

  • Decide what type of game design process will be followed (sometimes it's as simple as asking the right questions).
    • Who is the lead? Do you have more than one lead?
    • What design resources does the product warrant?
      • For example, a RPG needs far more story or environment design than a physics puzzle game.
    • What design input does Engineering have?
      • Some engineers perform better when they are integral to the design process and others wish to stay away so they can focus on implementation. Still, they should always feel comfortable having a say in what is feasible and doable within their timeframe.
    • What design input does Art have?
      • Note: I've seen it work with 1 designer, a team of designers and a team of designers with a team of editors and marketers. I've also seen it fail with all these structures as well. The most important thing is to commit to a style from the beginning and accept that some people may not elect to stay in the team. This can reduce a lot of stress or resentment later on in the project. Strife factors like those can cause inefficiency and possibly lead to failure.
    • How much will consumer testing play into the development process?
    • How much will competing products play into the development process?
    • Do you have a specialist in design for level design, story, feature, AI, multiplayer, and documentation?
    • How much time do you really have for design?
      • If you are in full production on a project, you may have a design team waiting, trying to decide what to make! Alternatively, you could have a group of designers stewing, working on catching up what should have already been completed.
  • Strategies and Tactics:
    • Let the Funnel rule.
      • Start out with lots of ideas, research, analyses and input, but ultimately funnel it down to one coherent vision. I like this one...a lot!
    • Let your fingers do the walking. 
      • Build it, play it, modify it, rebuild it and do this process over and over again until it is fun and marketable. This process is very resource intensive and prone to schedule slips...sometimes, major schedule slips. Playables, however, are always valuable, and they are made more valuable if they have a solid foundation from your game design.
    • Let the Golden Rule rule.
      • Set up standards to hit in all game development areas, including art, features, performance, platforms and (most importantly) fun. I like this rule, but be careful - it can over-simplify everything. It is easy to say "I want graphics like Uncharted 3", but good luck getting to that standard with a smaller sized team. I still use this a lot, but constantly put on my producer hat to try NOT to set the standard too high for the resources and experience of the group. Everybody loves Blizzard's cut scenes, but few people can match their expertise and resources. Pick your battles.
    • Min/Max Design.
      • This is a valuable trick, wherein you clearly define what the minimum viable project is to get the quality and vision out there. If the alpha and beta play testing agree, then release the minimal project. If they don't, you have a "Max" plan on hand to do the ultimate version of the game design. From there, the development leads have a wide berth to pick from in order to increase the quality and fun in the project. I really like this one as well.

Basically, any successful game will be a combination of creativity, technology and execution. As a producer or project lead, one may strive to not have any "weak links". Of course, it is easy to say we want to be strong in everything, but the reality is each part of development/publishing takes focus and resources. There are many strategies and tactics to get a great product and sell it; what methods one chooses may be based on past experience, advice or just "winging it". In any case, I find it doesn't hurt to research options...you can always disregard and choose which path is best for your team and project.  

The next blog, Tactics For Game Design Part 3, will include tips for actually designing the game!


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