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Lon F

The endless tweaking curse

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The endless tweaking curse: getting caught up in continuously testing your game levels over and over and changing this and changing that, ultimately stopping development all together. You end up second guessing yourself and even changing things that don't need to be changed. You change things simply because you yourself have become bored with experiencing it too many times or you have gotten so used to testing the levels, they become easy and you make them harder. What you end up with is features you don't need and levels that are too hard for the beginner and a game that never gets finished because you have imposed yourself with too much to do. I created a 3 level freeware game called Pencil Whipped back in 2002. The premise to this game was simply to progress through the levels enjoying the humor and situations. The world was black and white simulating a world that had been drawn with a pencil. Seemed simple enough. Originally the characters were flat drawn sprites that lent well to the drawn concept of a 2D/3D world. They animated like a flip book where you have two drawn pictures one on each sheet of paper where you flip the first page back and forth and simple animation would ensued. Here’s where I started to add features that really didn't need to be added. Pencil Whipped had been voted to be in the 2002 IGF. I thought to myself: “this game is too easy and looks too simple! I'll change some things before I go to the IGF with it”. I decided to make animated 3D models of the characters instead of sprites. Big mistake. It took forever to model characters that animated with bones, but looked like a 2D sprite. The enemies still performed the same A.I., sounded the same and died just as fast. Was it worth it to waste an entire week to model, skin, rig and animate just one character so he would look a bit cooler during his 5 second existence? And this was just one character, I had about 10 to do that way. What happened was I got burned out and stopped development all together. I’ve recently put it all back on the PC again. Maybe its too little too late, but I’m going to finish the game. I’m going back to the original sprites, adjusting the animations and timing issues to be compatible with faster computers and easing up on the difficulty. I can concentrate on creating more levels and not get wrapped around the axel with features that don’t really need to be added to the game. EDIT: I guess my question is have any of you had similar situations as this? Do you think keeping things simple and to the point for your future customers is more important than continually satisfying yourself with your creation? Where is the fine line and when do you know you've fallen into that trap? Lon [Edited by - Lon F on May 8, 2007 10:56:54 AM]

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Finding the place to draw the line can be tricky, and this applies to many aspects of game design. I had to do the same thing with some 3D models I'd been working on; I could have kept working on them for months, but that would have gotten in the way of getting other things done. I suspect that this is one area where having a schedule that you stick to can help; if you only have a week to design the level before you have to move on to the next bit of content, then you really can't spend all your time working on that level. There's other, more important things to get done.

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In the professional world this is solved by marketing. They announce a ship date and start promoting the game. Now you have a deadline. You *must* stop tweaking 1-ish month before ship, give engineering a few weeks to fix bugs, then it's off to the presses.

No game is ever "done". Anything creative can always be made better. Just realize that when you get to the micro-tweaking level it's more or less time to release you baby into the world.

-me

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One thing I’ve noticed, especially with popular mods such as Counter-Strike, Natural Selection and Day of Defeat, is that over time they tweak so much until all the classes are practically the same.

It’s kinda annoying when you are all hype of the next version of your favourite mod and the change log just consists of things like “adjusted pistol damage from 1.45 to 1.65” – no real features added, just obsessive compulsive minor tweaking.

No doubt I will end up doing the same thing with the damage levels in my game though.

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Yepp, been there too. Once the game is playable I end up wasting time on minor details whilst play testing instead of finishing the rest of the major parts. It is however not always a bad thing, sice you achieve a certain high-quality polish. It's also tons more fun than building the 'hard' parts [smile]

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I totally remember that game! I have no memory of how I came across it or why I downloaded it, but I definitely remember having a fun time with it. Just take your original premise and run with it, people will play it and enjoy it because its just fun.

About the tweaking curse, I have experienced that myself. I was making a falling-block puzzle game for a while and I kept getting frustrated with how easy it was and trying to come up with ways to make it harder. Then I started showing it off to other people and watching them play.. they sucked. I had played so much of it that I could just play indefinitely without ever coming close to dying, but after so much tweaking to make it harder I discovered that most other players would die in just a couple of minutes.

The only solution that I've found is to gather some friends to playtest the game in its current state, note their comments to give you direction, and then go back to working on it yourself.

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A thought just occurred to me and I was wondering if anyone can help me out. As I mentioned before, after many years, I’m picking up development of my project again but I don't have Vista and I was wondering if anyone with it could test to see if the game will even run on it. Here's the link to an old version of t he game. A quick test will suffice.

Download

Thanks!

Lon


[Edited by - Lon F on May 15, 2007 10:16:24 AM]

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Feature Creep is a big problem. I would say it contributes to a lot of games being abandoned (or at least new indi games). The reason being that you start to develop the idea and then new ideas come to you and you want to add them into the game (because they are good ideas), but then while adding them more ideas come, and so on and the development time extends out beyond the patience of the team and the project is abandoned.

My solution to this is to create a "Feature Creep" repository. This is a Document/Directory/Database/Spreadsheet/Whatever where I place all these extra ideas. I can work on them in my spare time and if (and a big "if" at that) there is time and desire of the team to add in any of these ideas after we have completed the core aspects of the game that we start looking to implement these extra ideas.

By having a place where you can put these ideas down it assists creating a sense of completion to your desires to include them in the game, and, by including them in a location where you can revisit and actually work on them (if you have time). It also allows you to keep the creativity and energy that these ideas bring to a project.

Another bonus is that it can act as a filter that gives you (and your team) more time to assess these ideas and determine if they would be a worthwhile addition to the game.

In the case study in the opening post, the idea of adding in 3d models to the game instead of the 2D sprites would first have been posted in the "Feature Creep Repository" and then over time the models would be constructed and animated and then a separate compile of the game would have been made where the concept was demoed before the final inclusion into the game.

It would allow you to assess the impact on the work load and could be abandoned at any time without effecting the actual game compile (as any modifications are completely separate from the main development until it is decided to include it into the core development).

The fine scale tweaking that goes on can also be included as part of the feature creep repository process. Each tweak should be filtered through the feature creep repository before being entered into the core system. Although it does slow down the addition of each tweak it should speed up the development as you will spend less time in the tweak->test->tweak->test->tweak cycle. It forces you to break the cycle and think more about each tweak instead of just changing the data and testing.

If you are working with a team, it also forces you to justify the tweak to them. IF you can't justify the tweak to the rest of the team then you need to reassess the inclusion of the tweak.

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