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JimmyVegas

Designing from the ground up.

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Most people just seem to instantly go delving into programs trying to make a game in the hope they make something great. I'm not saying it's a bad thing to do, but how many games have been developed like that?

 

Sure, virtually anybody can develop a game in an hour, but how much effort, love, care and attention has actually gone into it?

 

So, when you're designing a game, how do you start off? I've always found that sitting with music on always gives me some form of inspiration. I grab a pencil, paper and start doodling, drawing and writing. After a few days, I notice I am building a bit of a folder. After a while I start to piece things together and see a game forming.

 

Only at this point to I pick up Unity and get digitally creative.

 

What have you found the best way to design a game from the very start? Any tips or advice?

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What have you found the best way to design a game from the very start? Any tips or advice?

In which context ? Single dev hobby games ? Indie games in a team ? Professional games with AAA budget ?

 

In a hobby context, my preffered way is to have a vision first, then get a friend and talk about your idea. This is feature-creep on extasy wink.png , which grants that your idea will never have any success tongue.png . Nevertheless, I often start to prototype game idea parts, this way I need to deal with the game design, flaws will come up, new ideas will be added on-the-fly, the game design explodes at this point (so easy to write all this awesome ideas down...biggrin.png ).

 

This is my way of handling it in a hobby context, I never said that it is a good way or works at all, but it is quite funny atleast laugh.png. The game design will change alot during development, it is like ripening, from a loose collection of great, revolutionary, amazing, awesome ideas to something feasible and working. Eventually you need to switch ofter to a more professional approach, if you want to make further progress.

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well, there are enough examples of quite high profile game, or at least successfull Indie titles that seemed to have been created in their core as a result of prototyping and experimentation...

 

For example Goat Simulator. Not saying that this game is the pinnacle of a well designed game (it isn't, intentionally), but it just shows that sometimes, some very successfull games can come out of just playing around with prototypes long enough.

 

And then there are the many, many games that went through a long design phase.... only to be pivoted into a competly different direction during development. I read somewhere that a very successfull RPG was originally planned as RTS (Can't remember which though)... a more recent example might be this:

When Wargaming worked on World of Tanks, they originally planned to create an MMORPG with Elves and Orcs.... ingame shots of the early prototype even show (ugly looking) fantasy scenery and orcs and elves. Then somebody had the idea to instead do something else (not surprising seeing how year after year another WoW clone tried and failed from 2004 onwards)... and as tanks are really popular in russia, they went with that. The rest is history, and WG is a rich company now.

 

 

So... I guess both can work. It depends on how you work best, and most probably finding a good balance between going into prototyping without a plan and planning forever without ever giving it a try.

In the end, as murphys laws say, no plan survives the first contact with the enemy, so the sooner you can achieve that, the sooner you can either improve your plan or come up with a new one.

Or to put it in the words of "lean startup": start experimenting early, fail fast, learn, and pivot if necessary.

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I generally spend years designing hobbie projects before writing a single line of code... and months designing after my first prototype before I even get to actual development...

It's a hobby. I can afford the time, and it makes for a better design.

 

Case in point, I've been working for years on my current project, and all I have to show for is two prototypes made in Dartlang (the game is actually made in Unity). But the designs... oh boy... man... have I got a lot of documentation (still sorting out through some of it as I keep simplifying the core concepts to their bare essence).

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I am the opposite of the OP. I get a vague idea and start coding. As I go I refactor and reorganise. If I tried to design up front I'd never get anything done.

I'm a bit more structured at work in that I try to get a very detailed requirement spec before I start, but then I design as I go.

For some of us, coding is designing. That's why we have the delete key. I can use my IDE as a design and prototype tool far better than anything else.

End result is king here, not method.

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For some of us, coding is designing. That's why we have the delete key. I can use my IDE as a design and prototype tool far better than anything else.

 

I suppose if you reach a level where using your IDE is as fast as iterating on paper, than that's a valid approach. Oftentimes, designing upfront is mostly a means to avoid losing time refactoring based on new requirements/features.

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You make a good point. You do not want to go too far into production without any documentation too guide you. At some point you will end up doing work for nothing. However,  you don't want to spend too much time developing concepts. Honestly man it depends on who you are and what your abilities are. If you are familiar with 3D design, 3D applications and programming then maybe it isn't such a bad thing to throw together a quick game just to test out your concepts. It's a balance. However if you aren't learned enough to test your ideas out right away then it probably doesn't hurt to spend more time documenting things and developing concepts. However be warned that there is something called "analysis paralysis". This is where you spend ALL of your time theorizing all of your game concepts and ideas, and not actually designing them. Eventually your ideas need to come to life so you can tell what is good and what isn't. There is a difference between something that looks good "on paper" and something looks good on the screen. You will never know that difference until you test it out. 

 

The best thing to do in any kind of production environment is too develop some goals and a schedule to help you stay organized, motivated and most importantly; actually designing something.

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Oftentimes, designing upfront is mostly a means to avoid losing time refactoring based on new requirements/features.

 

Absolutely agree, I was describing how it is for me, certainly not suggesting it is a panacea or the best way for others. And I would almost certainly benefit from more up front design too, at least in the day job. The real world in my professional situation means this rarely happens, sadly.

 

But I have also noticed that whenever I have tried to design in advance, as soon as my hands hit the keyboard, things start to change very rapidly. Maybe its a weakness of mine, but I just don't seem to be able to "see" all of the corner cases and details until I'm actually coding.

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For me, indie design is very fluid.

 

My current game started out as a completely different idea. I mentioned it to my friend and it evolved into a completely different beast (see my sig) the only thing similar being that items travelled on straight lines through junctions controlled by the player.

 

What I'm saying is for indie games keep the design short and simple and flexible. Crank out regular prototypes and invite feedback from trusted friends who are gamers not programmers. 

 

Don't go for huge GDDs like you'd see in AAA because chances are you're wasting a lot of time...

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I generally spend years designing hobbie projects before writing a single line of code... and months designing after my first prototype before I even get to actual development...

It's a hobby. I can afford the time, and it makes for a better design.

 

Case in point, I've been working for years on my current project, and all I have to show for is two prototypes made in Dartlang (the game is actually made in Unity). But the designs... oh boy... man... have I got a lot of documentation (still sorting out through some of it as I keep simplifying the core concepts to their bare essence).

Wow... Years?

 

That is dedication. I can understand wanting to design perfectly, but a lot of people would lose interest within a few months. 

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Most people just seem to instantly go delving into programs trying to make a game in the hope they make something great. I'm not saying it's a bad thing to do, but how many games have been developed like that?
I will reverse your question. How many games have you finished while "sitting with music on"? :D It's easy to point out problems of the "start with programming" method, but in practice, how many times which method worked?

 

When I look at my games, I truly regret "thinking too much", so far it NEVER paid off :D And my best games were the ones that I spend minimum to none thinking beforehead (dunno why, I don't want to create a theory here, but that are the facts, in my case at least). Also, frequently this overthinking/overdesign lead to a worse game in the end...

 

My tip would be: impose on yourself some sort of limitations (especially time) and do not be afraid to use a healthy dose of cloning (so far none my games suffered from being "too much of a clone" while some do suffered greatly from being "too original" - sorry, pure originality sounds great for marketing purpose only, but it will rarely make a fun game)

Edited by Acharis

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I generally spend years designing hobbie projects before writing a single line of code... and months designing after my first prototype before I even get to actual development...
It's a hobby. I can afford the time, and it makes for a better design.
 
Case in point, I've been working for years on my current project, and all I have to show for is two prototypes made in Dartlang (the game is actually made in Unity). But the designs... oh boy... man... have I got a lot of documentation (still sorting out through some of it as I keep simplifying the core concepts to their bare essence).

Wow... Years?
 
That is dedication. I can understand wanting to design perfectly, but a lot of people would lose interest within a few months.

Years is hardly impressive. Given these are hobby projects that require hundreds to thousands of hours to make and that I hardly get more than 0,5h daily on average, and that I have several projects at once (knowing fully the majority won't make it into production) this all makes sense.

Perhaps the average project scope is slightly larger than what you may have in mind however...
For example, I have been working on the same rpg 10 years and spent the last 4-5 years working on a 4X. Of course there were others along the way but most did not stick or were spinoffs (fighting game built from the 4x battle simulator for example which required minimal redesign for UI).

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