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Portfolio Game Polish

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#1 Gooble   Members   


Posted 20 February 2012 - 07:44 PM

Hi all,

I've been working on my portfolio for game programming for the past few months (though I haven't set up a website for it yet) and I've got a few simple games under my belt (Minesweeper, Checkers, Tetris). The big question I have though is, how much polish should the games have before it looks good on a portfolio? For example, my version of Minesweeper has a File Menu, and lets you choose between difficulty levels (partially because I worked on this with a partner who did some of the GUI), but Checkers and Tetris are completely void of those menus, i.e to create a new game, or to quit, or anything like that (though of course you can press the X to exit).

Often what happens is after I've got the majority of the gameplay working, I tend to move on to a different project (which is what I'm doing now - my first C++ project) and I forget about the "little things" like menus, alternate modes, and options. Should I focus more on these other points, or is it good enough to have just the gameplay implemented?


#2 Ravyne   Members   


Posted 20 February 2012 - 10:15 PM

Polish is incredibly important in standing apart from the crowd. As they say in game development, first you finish 90 percent, then you finish the other 90.

"Polish" doesn't mean having feature parity with similar retail products. It doesn't even mean looking like a million bucks -- it means, for the most part, not having any loose ends, and making a strong presentation. You should aim for your demos to be a pleasure to play with. There shouldn't be any corner cases that your program doesn't satisfy, you should take all reasonable effort to make sure your app doesn't crash if the face of bad data, that it fails gracefully when it does fail, and that you expose all the relevant dials and knobs for them to tweak. Graphics and UI should be "clean" (not just thrown together, properly aligned, etc) but they don't have to look like you've got a dedicated art or UI staff.

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#3 freakchild   Members   


Posted 21 February 2012 - 01:52 PM

‘Loose ends’ is actually a great way of describing one element that is important to a polished presentation. Basically the app should work cleanly and do what it is supposed to do without error messages. You should be able to boot the app and get into the game or demo without issue and you should be able to quit the game and terminate the app in the same manner. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest polishing these areas – they should just work and work well/cleanly.

But that is just one element and yes, specific polish is more important in other places.

I would say that any demo should have the necessary features, but be careful with unnecessary or incomplete ones. It’s okay to gray out options that you haven’t yet implemented if they are not essential, but it’s also likely better to remove them in the first place. Don’t let people guess as to why something is not implemented or not even polished for that matter.

Placeholder, clean artwork is okay but bear in mind that not everyone understands what is placeholder and what is final by looking at it. Not everyone will read documentation so this point can be a challenge to get across. If you are using placeholder, force this point in the user path with a splash screen and ‘art is placeholder/wip’ type message even if you don’t intend working on it any further.

While we’re on that topic…while I certainly do not think it is essential to do anything other than clean placeholder for demos, it’s a simple fact that more final artwork is also always going to look better and show something in a more positive light. If you can afford it, then why not actually pay a little for someone to add in a little bit of polished artwork? If your demo is appropriately scoped, the artwork should not be extensive so it should not cost a lot. If it is extensive, then your demo is either going to be very impressive due to its scope (even with placeholder artwork) or it’s too widely scoped and you can’t possibly polish it or present it well, even in the non-art sense.

Which brings in another point - demos are also best when they are planned and scoped up front to avoid a situation where you can’t do something you’d intended to the best of your ability and available resource. If you are sticking with placeholder artwork, make sure even you can do that well or the demo is of the nature where it does not need good artwork. If you are paying for some artwork, make sure the demo is scoped so that you can afford it. If you plan certain features (technical or otherwise), make sure they are within your skillset and/or R&D them first to be sure.

It’s okay to show small demos. I would also say that it’s also okay to show demos that focus on one element (and are not a full game) and focus on polishing that one element - provided that it is clear where the focus is and why polish on the other items is not and should not be important. If you can’t do that, it’s another demo to take with you for interview and guide someone through as opposed to letting someone loose on it on their own and getting the wrong idea.

Tying a few of these points together…placeholder/clean art is okay and don’t feel you have to do more than that, but there are places where more than that might work better than not. I would say a good rule of thumb is that a focused demo of some technique is going to show exactly as that and not offer ambiguity in terms of what you are trying to present - placeholder is okay. While placeholder is still okay for a game, something that is more widely scoped than a focused demo is at risk of looking more incomplete. A more complete game demo, is basically incomplete without artwork and that ambiguity will show through quite strongly. If you’re doing a more complete game, I’d go further with the artwork.

For your checkers demo for example, I would say that if you’re trying to show AI then that’s one thing, but if you’re trying to show off a complete game then that’s another. One should focus on the technique and the other should focus on the overall presentation. Bear in mind that some people might wonder what the point of a checkers game or demo is if it doesn’t show a strong focused AI technique or is otherwise not a well-polished example of what you can do. Thus, I’d also say…if you’re doing a simple game, go further with the artwork or turn it into a more focused demo.

A couple more points…

Bear in mind that showing videos of your demos gives you the control and can offer you better focus (focus on the demo, and guided focus for the viewer) than putting the demos up for someone to install and play themselves. For any app that has risk elements that may not be understood, or where you know you really should be present to guide when played live…the control of a video is a great idea, instead of ‘releasing’ the app into the wild.

Also, don’t overlook clean, well formatted source code that follows a good standard. If someone is interested beyond the demos you want to be able to present the idea that you’re well organized under the hood, even if not asked directly. You may also not be asked about this up front, but if the topic comes up in a subsequent interview then being able to speak to what you did in your demos will have considerable value, as will be able to back such statements up.

#4 Telastyn   Members   


Posted 21 February 2012 - 03:08 PM

Should I focus more on these other points, or is it good enough to have just the gameplay implemented?

As long as the game runs without major issues, that's okay. It might not be enough to wow people; having slick demos or technically challenging demos do that. If you have 3+ items in the portfolio and all of them lack polish, I will assume you lack polish. If you have 3+ items in the portfolio and one of them is well polished or show an increasing amount of polish (or better yet, some clearly common/reused elements) then I can write off some of the unpolished games as beginner stuff or stuff that got dumped for more interesting stuff.

As the other posters have said, polish is hard. Almost everyone can work on interesting things. Do you have the disipline to work on that annoying tedious stuff to make things slick?

#5 mdwh   Members   


Posted 22 February 2012 - 08:39 AM

Videos also have the advantage of being easier to look at, than faff around installing an app (and no risk of getting companies to install an untrusted executable). And you avoid the dreaded problem of it not working on their machine because there's some library that they don't have, or buggy behaviour because they have a different make of graphics card or whatever to what you tested on.

I'd be wary of letting something as important a job interview depend on that kind of risk. Whilst obviously the program should be there for them to download if they look at your website, I'd make sure there are things like screenshots and videos; when it comes to submitting a CV or attending the interview, I'd focus on things like descriptions of what you've done, "X number of people downloaded it", or reviews if applicable. And these days it's not hard to bring a laptop or netbook, so you can show them it already set up, on hardware that you trust it to work on.

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#6 Gooble   Members   


Posted 22 February 2012 - 08:40 PM

I'm getting the impression that I definitely should put that little bit more effort into making the games I've made more "complete" - instead of leaving them the way they are, which I guess would look sloppy.

The video idea is really good, I hadn't thought of anything other than screenshots on the website - I'll make sure to include videos on my website.

It looks like I have a lot of work to do, but it's good to know that I can also make focused demos. I've been trying to create a full game out of thin air, and I haven't gotten very far but if I just make a focused part of it instead - that might be more worth the effort.

Thanks for the answers.

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