Game Development Presented by Jason Kratzke
What is a Game? • Many conflicting definitions • Set of interesting choices? • Engaging play? • Narrative? • Only one consensus: rules
Game Rules • Have many different purposes • Restriction • Freedom • Balance • Good rules = fun!
Evolution of Game Development • Began with small teams • Originally not commercial • First game for consumers: Spacewar (1962) • Team sizes grew • Games became complex • Planning/process necessary
Game Development Cycle • Preproduction • Concept • Requirements • Implementation Plan • Production • Testing • Postproduction
The Teams • Art • Visual and audio experience • Design • Game features and world • Engineering • Implementation and asset pipeline • Quality Assurance • Test plan and balance
Preproduction: Game Concept • Often begins as a simple idea or question • Must be expanded • Target audience • Genre • Platform • The most important decision for a game
Competitive Analysis • Identify competition • Strengths vs. competition • Weaknesses vs. competition • Exploit strengths • Downplay weaknesses
Game Pitch • Make publisher(s) excited for the idea • Create early prototypes • Polish prototypes within their limited scope • A good prototype can create early hype • Listen to publisher feedback • Present competitive analysis
Preproduction: Game Requirements • Requirement quality is important • Gaming market is competitive • Prevent function creep • “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” can lead to severe function creep
Creating Requirements • Gathering is different • Customer is entire audience • No designated person to get requirements from • Entire team helps • Remember past games • What has worked and what hasn’t?
Feature Decisions • Features should fit game concept • Not the other way around • Even great-sounding features follow this rule • Example: futuristic shooter game • Team member visualizes/describes the greatest turn-based combat feature ever • The feature would be completely absurd in the game; do not include it.
Importance of Features • Features must be prioritized • Important (core) features must be done before “frills” • Cuts down on “function creep” • Game must distinguish itself from competition • Game-specific features impress publishers
Preproduction: Game Implementation Plan • High probability of failure without a plan • Just like any software! • Game-specific planning • More art than other software • Balance testing • Extra prototypes
Planning for Art • Games require enormous amounts of art • Levels, characters, objects, music, etc. • Concept art – introduces visual style • Assets needed early on • Early builds can use placeholders • Even placeholders must be created first • Scheduling voice actors
Important Game Milestones • Alpha general criteria • 50% art done (rest placeholders) • All core features finished • Code Complete – no more feature revisions • Beta – anticipated by many • When game features (minor and major) finished
Production • All game assets are created and integrated • Stage most often associated with development • Would be difficult without preproduction • Relies heavily on good plan & hard work • Requires strong team skills
Production: Artists’ Work • Art is extremely important for games • Visual and audio work together • Defines the game’s atmosphere • Inspires emotions to involve players • Art must support the game’s concept • Example: colorful, strange artwork for a game of absurdity (e.g. Katamari Damacy)
Other Benefits of Good Art • Draws in those who do “judge a book by its cover” • Makes games feel more realistic or fantastic • Minor gameplay complaints can be overshadowed by powerful art or music • Great interface art improves menus
Production: Designers’ Work • Constantly reviewing features • Features as implemented must match “feel” of the game • Tweaking and improving features • Occasionally feature must be redesigned • A complete redesign is expensive • Should only be done if the feature does not fit with game concept as was thought
The Game World • Designers expand the game world • Create all major and minor world details • Most important done in preproduction • Gaps (and gaping holes) filled in during production • Story development draws in players • Plot must still support game concept
Story Detail • Level of story detail depends on game • Games based on reality need little background • Fantasy requires building entire worlds • Role-Playing Games (RPGs) need rich worlds, characters, and history • Well-known example: Final Fantasy
Level Design • Level – the area or context of a player’s actions • Traditional “levels” or locations in a larger world • Levels define the gameplay experience • Often what makes or breaks a game
Artificial Intelligence • Comes in many levels of complexity • Desired effect determines implementation • Examples: A guard patrolling around a building needs simple AI, but a tough computer opponent in a strategy game requires complex AI • Can add to immersion
Player Rewards • Important for motivation • Types of rewards vary • Meeting the challenge • Gaining power • Changing the game world • Many others • Must be meaningful
Game Balance • Balance: remaining between extremes • Extremely important in games • More important in multiplayer games • Most important: risk vs. reward and power balance • Risk vs. Reward: make no choice clearly superior or inferior • Power: maintain challenge without creating frustration
Multiplayer Considerations • Multiplayer balance: difficult yet rewarding • All players must have equal opportunities for success • Imbalance = boring for overly powerful, frustrating for less powerful • Communities form • Decide how to support game’s communities
Production: Engineers’ Work • Implement features according to plan • Software • Hardware • Ensure hardware can handle features • Features may require redesign if hardware is inadequate • Worst case: feature goes unimplemented due to hardware/software constraints
Asset Pipeline • Pipeline allows assets (art, music, etc.) to be added to games • Sometimes simply involves converting files • Require specific organization • Must be kept as simple as possible • Short pipelines avoid human error
Production: Quality Assurance • Create test plan for all features • Test features as soon as they are available • Game-specific test areas • Fun • Immersion • Pacing • None of these are quantifiable!
More Balance • QA is also concerned with balance • Some game aspects are quantifiable • Balancing on these can be achieved through mathematics • How does one balance those that aren’t? • 1. Testing! • 2. Modification! • 3. Back to step 1! • Total balance – almost impossible • Must decide what is close enough
Testing • Generally starts during production • When production ends, testing continues • Important testing deadlines: • Alpha: ensure features fit the game • Code freeze: no new features to be added • Beta: Remove most of the elusive bugs • Second purpose: increase game visibility • Final goal of testing: ready game to be shipped
Alpha Testing • Purpose: ensure all features fit game concept & work together • Starting point varies • Normally when 50% of art assets finished, all core features implemented • Primary question: Do the features make the game feel like a fun, cohesive whole? • Generally done by in-house testers
Code Freeze • Also known as code complete • No new features to be added • Generally occurs after alpha finishes • Does not mean the game is done • Only means functionality is set • Interactions between functionality must be verified • Balance is generally not complete
Beta Testing • Final thorough testing effort • For games, usually done by players • Useful for finding obscure defects • Great way to test game balance • Adding new features during beta: danger • Easily leads to function creep • Need clear system for reporting issues
Finishing Testing • End-of-testing goals • Remove remaining defects • Except those deemed “will not fix” • Create release candidate • Check release candidate against entire test plan • Console manufacturer/licensor approval • Finally, create gold master
Postproduction • Plenty of work left • New features, fixes added in patches • Defects left behind in games are exploited • This can destroy balance! • Most online games are expected to be patched • Review development process
Postmortem • Important questions • Did we achieve our goals for the game? • Were the project’s expectations realistic? • What went right? • What went wrong? • What lessons did we learn? • Player feedback answers many of these • Continually improve development process
Conclusion • Games require planning • Usually more than other software • Games are different • Art and music • Balance • Emotional appeal • Most importantly: Fun!
References • Chandler, Heather Maxwell and Rafael. (2011). Fundamentals of Game Development. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning. • Flynt, John P. (2005). Software Engineering for Game Designers. Boston, MA: Thomson Course Technology PTR. • Kremers, Rudolf. (2009). Level Design: Concept, theory, & practice. Natick, MA: A K Peters, Ltd. • Schell, Jesse. (2008). The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses. Burlington, MA: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.