One of the things I get asked about a lot is how to deliver a game on time and on budget. This means ‘spec-ing’ up a game as well as having the right tools, trying to avoid scope creep whilst making it fun. Then getting it to release without breaking the bank. Of course, it depends on the length and complexity of your title, the quality and scope of your tools, the size of your team and ultimately the severity of your taskmaster! However, whether you are a one-man-band or a small studio, certain rules and good practices apply.
I have listed my favorite 9 practices that I have used to help me deliver on time below:
- Keep the scope of the game as small as you can but keep it fun!
It’s important here not to short-change the end user. Whilst it is vital to keep the scope of the game down – this needs to be realistic. The game should be long enough to charge good money, but seem fun and good value for the end-user. It should allow you (the creator) creative expression, but be small enough to make and manage. Quite a balancing act.
Here I like to focus on two or three key mechanics and polish them well so the game-play feels good. This proves both the idea and the fun. Make it clear in a simple demo or level. Communicate the heart of what you are making, and what you want to offer the player.
- Use technical tools to make things easier and boost your production speed.
Download an existing game engine (Unity, Unreal etc), grab UI templates, batch your graphics and palettes where possible, plug in 3rd party physics and AI. Here you are trying to get a head start. There are a whole bunch of tools, engines, templates, and examples out there that can be used for your game. Thankfully, there is no need to re-invent the wheel and write all your code from scratch. Some game engines even come with templates of full game examples built-in and they supply the source code for free! These tools speed up asset creation, give you a starting code base. You have an edge if you can focus on your gameplay and the fun!
- Farm out what you can, particularly time-consuming, expensive, repetitive tasks.
Recently I have been outsourcing portions of development. With the right external team, you are able to get game assets made quickly, at reasonable prices. You don’t have to manage a large team in-house either. It’s very important to look after a good team, pay them well and negotiate fairly with regard to change control but also if they deliver late or incorrectly they will fix the problems on their own dollar, at no cost to you.
- Map out a production plan and development pipeline.
It’s really important to have a plan. Detailed milestone deliverables, both game and technical designs and a production plan for the process. Even if you don’t stick to the plan, it gives you a framework, an overview and an idea of the scope of the game. You’ll also need an asset repository, project management tool and a backup system. If you have a paying client or publisher for your game, the more descriptive the milestone deliverables, the better as it makes things clear for everyone.
5. Design levels for re-use but without losing fun!
Some genres really lend themselves to level reuse; for platform games, for example, objects can be rearranged, hazards and obstacles re-ordered. Gameplay can be made faster and progressively more difficult in code, tiles can be re-colored and reused. In some games, the terrain can be procedurally generated and populated. Multiplayer games (e.g. Battle Royale) rely on the players themselves to generate the replay-ability. Whatever your game genre, try and think creatively to reuse and repurpose without the losing fun and your originality.
- Once you’ve got your game-play and fun right then build out the rest.
Before making a whole bunch of levels, establish the core mechanics and make sure the game ideas on paper are as playable and repeatable as you’d like in a demo or prototype. Polish the prototype mechanics as close to final as you can before embarking on further levels You don’t want to be doing this at the end of the dev. Believe me, as down that dark path, you can end up with a 3D walk-through instead of a fun game. If you can make something with a ‘Wow’ factor right up-front, your publisher/funder/supporters and team will be instilled with confidence for the project going forward.
- Avoid Scope Creep!
This can be a tricky thing to do if you have a paying client as there can be ambiguity when arguing who is responsible for game content. Negotiate and renegotiate with your client. Let them pay for the scope creep. Make sure your milestones are clear and descriptive. Any additions should then hopefully be obvious. If you don’t have a client and will self-publish then unless the feature is going to add significant units to your sales then save those extras for version 2.0!
- Remember in the games business, Christmas is in August!
If your game is due out for Thanksgiving and Christmas, you need to make sure your game is finished by the end of August of that year. That gives time for a soft release, feedback, polish, and patching. As a professional developer, you will of course been marketing the game already but a final marketing push for launch should be undertaken here too.
- Once again, don’t forget the fun.
Just what is the aforementioned elusive ‘Wow factor? I think it is a game that, for starters has a unique mechanic or idea that resonates with the audience. It must play well, look good and feel right in your hands. The camera, narrative, and GUI should support a main experience. The game should be fun to play with and be very hard to put down. Open and end each level with a bang! If you focus on these elements, generate ease and fun and avoid the grind, you could have a hit on your hands……
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