Game Development Reference
Then he starts production. He assembles the game like a jigsaw
puzzle, each piece destined for a predetermined place as defined in the
Document. Months pass. Progress is slow, but the designer has faith in his
Document. Eventually, he lets someone else play it for the first time. And
that's when everything goes to hell.
Nothing plays out as expected. The hardest enemy falls to a simple,
degenerate dodging strategy. The player misses a tear-jerking story beat
because he's busy jumping on a desk. He doesn't understand the simplest
mechanic, and easily masters the most complex. He misses a key passage-
way and ends up wandering the same room for 20 minutes. He hates the
companion character, and only uses three of his 10 tools.
And good things happen, too. The player finds a new, more insightful
solution to a puzzle. He falls in love with a secondary character. And now
that the game is moving, the designer can see a hundred easy design op-
portunities. If he tweaked this character, a fascinating new strategy would
appear. If he combined those story beats, the scripted story would be purer
and more powerful. If he removed that resource cost, the pacing would
obviously improve. It all seems so clear now.
The designer's in a bind. On the one hand, he has the Document, into
which he poured so much love and time. On the other, he has the reality
of the game in front of him—both the unexpected failures and the ser-
endipitous discoveries. And these two signals point him in very different
directions. There is no good way forward from here. He must either trash
his Document or ignore his discoveries.
This designer's fundamental mistake is that he overplanned.
Here's another story that has happened many times.
A team starts a game. They have a quick meeting to go over ideas
and then they dive in. Artists start churning out character models, envi-
ronments, and concept paintings. Coders start assembling artificial intel-
ligences, world generation algorithms, and physics engines. Designers
build levels, craft interfaces, and wave their hands during increasingly
exciting blue-sky meetings. Progress seems rapid.
But over time, things start to sour. The game chugs along at an un-
playably choppy 10 frames per second because several programmers each
used the game's entire performance budget. Finding investors is hard be-
cause of the lack of a clear idea of what the game is. It turns out an artist
wasted weeks working on variations of a character who only appears once.
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