Procedure for Presenting New Game Designs

1. A concept

This is the kind of chat down the pub 'I've got a really great new idea for a great game' - what do other people think. These ideas need to be thrashed out in a small document with a couple of sketches. These should then be presented to Philip. If these look good and there is enough time available, then time will be made in the working day to progress these ideas. If there is no time available, you will be informed as to the current work load, and suggestions made as to whether or not it is worth progressing with, perhaps it may be worth pursuing in your own time until time is available during the working day.

2. An internal game design - brief

During company time the concept will be defined in more detail and supporting sketches, drawing and renders will be added. This phase is recommended to be approximately six man weeks of work but obviously this will vary depending on the concept. During this time we will require the following information to be concluded:-

The above has been produced for most of the game designs we have already put together and anybody wishing to proceed with this should look at how the company has presented other games in the past as a great deal can be learnt from this. Take particular note of the seven page design document for Dragon Storm and the FMV render created as part of the game proposal for WarGames and the manpower and timing schedules produced for Whack & Roll.

3. A pre production phase

This can only be initiated when we have a buyer, as a result this is very much determined by publishers. During this period we must convince that publisher of the game potential to sign a full game design.

4. The full development phase

Provided we have reached this point we then need to ensure that we have the personnel to deliver promises on schedule.

Hints And Tips

Don't factory produce anything in the early stages. If you need characters, only do 1 or 2 to give examples. After all if the style is wrong it reduces the waste to learn that as early as possible. Ideally the pre-production phase should aim to have one or two levels of the game complete, this will introduce a couple of the characters, a couple of the scenes and scenarios, a couple of power ups, a couple of enemies etc., If the first level appeals to people then the full development phase will go ahead - if however, this does not appeal then we all face major problems.

Game Design in 10 Steps.

This is an extract from an article written by Peter Molyneux co-founder of Bullfrog, now Director of LionHead

In my opinion, game design is a unique creative endeavour.  Its partly like writing a film script.  It's partly like drafting a program spec. And its partly a job of art direction.  But the design has to inspire people - both those who will work with you and those who will ultimately play the game.  And it must also inspire marketing people, as these are the people who will be promoting your game to the public.

1. Thrashing out the Concept.

The first of several elements in the design of a game is, of course, the concept.  With all my games I try to come up with a concept which can be explained in a single sentence.  In Theme Park you design and build your own theme park.  In Dungeon Keeper you play the bad guy.  The minute you have to get into complicated explanations everyone else will start to switch off.  For me, the game design process always starts with the concept, then I work that concept around in my head, imagining how it will play and trying to anticipate the problems.  Then I'll write a brief two-page document that sums up everything.  It always helps to have someone to bounce the ideas around with.  Finally comes the day when you have to present your idea to other people, when you have to
hope that your idea will prove as inspiring to them as it has been to you.

2. Creating and Managing Your Ideal Team.

A good, happy team is essential to good game design.  You need to assemble a group of people who don't mind having their lives ruined. Working on a game, particularly toward the end of a production, is an intense, demanding and exhausting experience.  The team will also have to believe wholeheartedly in the game concept if they are to support the project to its very end.  It is also vital to that each team member is doing things they can and want to do.

3. Starting with the Basics.

So now you're sitting in the office.  The concept is in your head, your thoroughly written design document is on the desk in front of you and your team is sitting around you.  What's next?  Where do you start? Start with the basics.  Make sure you have the right libraries and tools for the job you are going to do.  And don't expect to do everything at once.  For this reason I always program a testbed version first.  This will have basic graphics but will test the gameplay.  I also like to get a multiplayer version of my testbed as soon as possible.  This means that everyone on the team can play the game.  If they all enjoy it - with the most basic graphics and levels - then I know we're on the right track.  Remember, testbeds don't always work, but it's always better to find that out at the beginning of a project than at the end, after you have invested two years of your life in something that is never going to work.

4. Play and Adapt.

The most important part of the development process is to play your game to death.  So even at the testbed stage you should test your design constantly by playing it continually.  Get as many other people as possible to play and listen to what they say.  If necessary, be prepared to change the design.  At this stage of the process the whole focus should be on gameplay, but stay true to your original concept.

5. Add the Graphics.

So you have a testbed that has had everyone hooked and up all night. Now it's time to add the graphics and sound.  The days of getting a friend to knock up a few graphics are long gone!  These days consumer expectations are alarmingly high, so settle for nothing less than state- of-the-art graphics and sound.  On their own graphics can't make a bad game good, but they certainly make a good game even better.  However, resist the temptation to interfere too much with the graphics.  Let your artists do their jobs.

6. Interfaces for the People.

Once the graphics and sound are in it's time to look at the interface. I find this one of the hardest aspects of game design.  My advice is: keep it simple.  An interface should be designed for the '10 second MTV' generation.  It should be intuitive and icons should be kept to a minimum.  I have never got an interface right the first time around. It's one of those things that should be tested and tested until everyone is happy with it.

7. The bit in the Middle.

Midway through development we come to my least favourite part of game development.  The doldrums.  The initial enthusiasm has worn off; the frantic finishing-off time is yet to come.  Now's the time to get people in to test the game and to start designing levels.  But don't expect them to be perfect.  And most importantly at this stage; don't loose faith.

8. Meeting the Marketing and MoneyMen.

Now levels are falling into place and you're approaching that exhausting time, working eighteen hours a day, with the whole team building together to get this baby out the door.  It's time to show the game to the marketing people.  It is vital that they like the game and understand the concept.  If it can be summed up in a sentence then even a marketing person should get it!  As the game starts to look better the pressure will mount  on you to finish the game.  Don't even think about it until you think the game is great.  Keep on playing the game.  If you don't enjoy it, its not finished.

9. Is it any good - really?

Reality check time.  Check the interface, get people who have never played the game to try it and watch them as they use it.  If they don't understand how to play within a couple of minutes, you're going to have to re-do it.  Are all the elements you imagine in there?  Play the game again and again and again.  Is it enjoyable?  If it is, reward yourself and do the end-of-game sequence.

10. The Final, Final Bit.

There are just a few more things to do before the game can be mastered. First you must check for bugs and fix them, and make sure you don't create more by doing so!  Test the learning curve and adjust is necessary.  Making a game too hard or too easy can sound death knell for a game that could have been great.  Once again, test the whole product again and again and again.  Then let go...

10. (And a half) Next!

Try to have another concept in your head by the time you've finished. Once the game is at the duplicators there will be an awfully big hole in your life... Remember, the concept is what will initially sell your game to a publisher, ensuring that you get enough money to set up.  It is also what will entice your team to join you.  But it is not everything. The most important part of the game design process is simple - just keep on playing the game.  If you find your own game unplayable or boring it's reasonable to assume everyone else will too.  I have played the games I have designed for thousands and thousands of hours and believe that any truly great game will have the same amount of playing time spent on it throughout its development.

Game designing is a long and sometimes lonely process, so don't lose faith.  Ultimately one person must be responsible.  By all means kick ideas about with other people, listen to what people say and observe other  people playing, but never design by committee.  It never works. Stick with your ideas and as long as you keep playing and enjoying the game remind yourself that you are on the right track.

The Future of Game Design

Looking to the future here are some trends that I think will start to emerge as we approach the turn of the century: