Sunday, December 15, 2013

Game Production Cycle

It strikes me that there are a lot of people who don't know the basic steps for creating a professional game.  The game production cycle.  So here it is in "brief":





Scratch Idea - This is your "napkin" idea.  It's very brief, one sentence to a short paragraph or two.  When inspiration strikes, this is what you scribble down in a hurry.

Sanity Test - You pitch the idea to others to see what they think.  Pitch to at least 3-5 other people.  Don't worry people won't go running off with your idea.  If you are that worried pitch to people you trust a bit more.  Also make sure the idea includes a unique aspect that people love enough they'd pay money to play.


Initial Scoping
- In broad strokes you figure out the 3 top features of the game, and based on that and the scope of the game how many people you'd likely need to get it completed.  For your purposes, determine what a prototype of the game would take to create in terms of talent and man-hours.

Pitch - This is a short pitch to either your publisher, investors, your boss, or anyone who will be the deciding factor in making this game a go.  Preparing the pitch will take anywhere from a couple hours to a couple days.  The pitch itself should be no more than 15 minutes in length.  Strong pitches are often 1-5 minutes and catch someone's attention immediately.

Preproduction - This phase covers the next two areas, Prototype, and Initial Design Document.  It's all about distilling the "fun" of the game.  It's very common to either ignore a preproduction phase, or just rush through with one iteration. Not that this is a good idea.  Just be aware this happens a lot.



Prototype/Vertical Slice - This is "slice" of the game when it's done.  It includes a level that has all the core features of the game, and an example of major forms of gameplay you'll see there.  It's messy, and art isn't final, but when playing it you get a very good gameplay sense of how the final game will be.  This is also the time to ensure the concept is "fun".

Start Design Document
- You detail all the broad strokes for what the full game must include.  After the basic framework is laid out, all the major features must be decided.  Start filling in the details, maps etc, while full scoping is done in parallel.  The document must be readable enough to give to the investors/publishers or anyone funding or backing you as until the game is made.

Full Scoping - Take the high level Initial design and very careful figure out how many hours it will take for features to be done.  This is daunting, you must be conservative with estimates.  After you show it to someone else to check over the work, a safe bet is to double the time allotted.   It will still be wrong.  This is one of the largest reasons waterfall fails.  If you are using agile, plan out the first sprint and release plan.  Remember your release is never more than 2 months away.  Ensure whatever investors you have understand it's "pay as you go."

Milestone - These are MAJOR features that need to be completed in terms of programming or content.  A milestone should be anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months to complete.   If they are larger, they need to be broken down or cut.  After all the milestones are complete you have all major features complete, meaning you are at Alpha

Alpha - You are feature complete.  The build doesn't look pretty but you can get from the beginning to the end of the game via critical path.  All major features are in the game.  They may not be working 100% but they are there.  This is the time art and final content gets feverishly dumped into the game.  Features are FROZEN at this point.

Beta - The game should be "technically" releasable.  If you had to release today you could, but it will likely not receive top reviews.  You enter into beta when the team can't find any major bugs for a day or two.  This is also the point where bugs get marked as "will not fix" or "As designed".  All final assets should be in the game.

Release - After an extended period of time to ensure no other major bugs are fixed.  Final tuning, polishing and bug fixing happens at this point.  This is where gameplay is tweaked as you finally have a fully working game to look at.

Post Release - I didn't show this on the chart, but it's still rather important. Just after the game is released you have to be glued to the forums, and anywhere to get user feedback.  Any troublesome bug has to be jumped on immediately.  Any major user concerns have to be addressed immediately.

Again these are broad strokes.  But that should be enough to get some of you going on your own projects.  If you have any questions feel free post a comment below or send me an email.


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