Helping with Your Game Dev Homework

Hi Blog!

Recently, a student (I’ll leave out details) emailed me these questions about the process of game development and how to get started. I haven’t posted since MAGfest, so I decided to answer them here too. That way anyone who is interested in answers to some basic questions can see them. I think beginners to game dev make a few assumptions that there are hard and fast answers when there often are not, especially since there are so many routes to game development. Everyone is going to give you slightly different advice, so here is mine.

I was asked:

“What are the stages of game development?”

Like many of the questions here, there’s no completely accurate answer to that question, because this depends a lot on the game project that you’re working on.

But, generally, a game goes through the phases of:

  • Pre-Production, where concept art and design documents and such are being created, then
  • Prototyping, where individual parts of the game can be made, be it sketched out levels that are playable, individual mechanics broken down,  some placeholder art put into the game, etc
  • Playtesting, which can happen any time during the prototyping phase as well and can be done checking both for bugs and for if the game works well and is fun
  • Full Production, where art, music, assets, and final code are added to the game,
  • Additional Testing
  • And finally Launch.

Many games these days also go through a post-production phase where additional content is created and added to the game (such as DLC). Other games are “games as service” where the game is always in a state of development and being changed and added to and patched (think a game like League of Legends that is all about its community and regular updates). This is becoming a popular way of keeping a game fresh and always monetizing.

“How are each of the parts of the game developed?”

This totally depends on the size of the game project.

I was watching this Post-mortem/Mid-mortem series the other day which is three microtalks about the development process of three different (independently developed) games. It gives a good answer to this question and it’s totally worth anyone’s time to watch!

A general answer, again, is someone does code, someone does art, someone does sound, and then these things are layered into the project. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be different people. Or it can be a LOT of different people. A big team for a big game… or a small team working for a long time, if you feel like going that route. Or, maybe you are not working with all the elements I listed; I make interactive fictions sometimes, and they don’t have any art or pictures or sound. I always tell students to start with smaller games because it’s so easy to overscope before you really understand scope.

Please see also:

“How is the game compiled together in a cohesive form?”

That one is a real hard question to answer in any concrete way. Hopefully, it’s compiled into a cohesive form because if there’s a team working on it, they have good communication with one another. Communication is important in game development. Bigger teams will have design leads and producers, etc, to keep everyone on track and moving in the right direction. It’s best for the game to be cohesive while it’s a work in progress, rather than the idea that it will end up cohesive at the end. But I’m sure you’ve played a game or two that felt stapled-together, where that process fell apart at some point.

“What is necessary to successfully market a computer game?”

Persistence, luck, a quality product, a lot of networking, a willingness to put yourself out there often, a willingness to be OK with failure.

It helps to find the right audience for your game: people who will genuinely be enthusiastic about your game and discuss it through word of mouth. If you know who your audience is, you can advertise to them.

There’s no magic bullet and nobody has entirely solved this. Discoverability and people getting their game “noticed” is one of the biggest hurdles to successful indie development today. There’s no one orthodox path to a successful game marketing push that I know of because games are such a hit-driven market. If you happen to get noticed by one big-name YouTuber, it may be all that you need for marketing. This is also a moving target and what works now may not work in a few weeks.

Finally, this was the synthesis question to bring everything together:

“What is necessary to successfully develop a computer game?” 

My answer to that is: mostly, a persistence and willingness to try.

Oh, and if you’re developing a computer game, you probably need a computer. So, persistence, willingness to try, and a computer. (Most any will do, if you’re just getting started, but scope is the most important skill for a student to learn starting out, and how to break a project into smaller, doable chunks.)

Along these lines, there’s a blog entry I’ve been stewing a while that is essentially an intro to blogs that I enjoy reading about the practice of game design (not just game development). I’ll post that up some time soon as a follow up.

Hope all the students out there are having a great semester!