Game Development Reference
before. So, within a few more loops, the level starts working both mechani-
cally and artistically.
Now we expand the loop even more to include other development dis-
ciplines. Text boxes get replaced with real dialogue. Audio engineers do a
pass on ambience and scripted sounds. We look for ways to express world
narrative through the space. Writers redo dialogue. Finally, testers bang
on it for a while, we fix the technical bugs, and it ships.
That's one way to develop shooter combat. Other iteration loops might
look very different from this one depending on the project and the goals
being pursued. This particular process was mechanics-driven, which is
why it started with a combat designer working on balance and pacing.
Another game might demand a narrative-driven process, where story
beats are iterated first, followed by mechanics. And then there are entirely
different kinds of design problems: character design, interface design, and
systems design each demand a different method. Some will be tight loops
done by one person. Others will have large loops lasting weeks, involving
10 different people. Some developers test alone, others over the shoulder,
others with automated data metrics, others in purpose-built labs.
But no matter what kind of loop is being employed, iteration still
runs on the same basic principles. It exchanges deep planning for reality
checks. It tests the broad structure before investing in detail polish. And
it requires that designers not get too invested in plans for the future, and
instead adapt continuously to unpredictable test results.
How long should our iteration loop be? Should we test every day? Every
week? Every month?
If our loop is too long, we're overplanning. Developers end up worry-
ing about problems that don't exist, or missing problems hidden by their
assumptions. Too short a loop, and we're underplanning. We lose time on
unnecessary work and can't get a group of developers working together.
We have to find a balance between these by choosing the correct planning
The PLANNING HORIZON is the length of time a designer plans into the
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