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Learning to plan and when to let things go

Knowing how to proper plan things out and when to let go of the ideas that you want to create in order to get things done.

This last weekend at the 2016 Global Game Jam was a really fun and exciting experience.  Seeing all the games that were created by the people that were at my location at the UC Davis campus was awesome.  Also getting to look at the games that were made by all the other gamers and game developers from around the world amazing.  The creativity and skill of some of the teams was just mind blowing.  This weekend was also a learning experience for me.  It showed me the real importance of proper planning and knowing when to keep ideas and when to let them go.

 

Planning

I learned in school that you should always have a plan when going into a project.  Now this is one thing that I have always been really bad about doing.  I've done this with creating my environments and even with my latest game a month projects.  Most of the time I get an idea and I just jump right into the engine or 3D software and I start creating.  I never take the time to actually sit down and write things out.  Or when I do actually sit down and right things down, I don't know when to stop and move on.  I get so focus on what I'm working on that at the moment that the project never moves forward.  

Example:  This last month I finished my first game Dungeon Door, then I set out to make my next game, a combat racing game.  Now since I've never been really much into racing games or actually made one before I started looking at tutorials on how to make a racing game.  Next thing I know an entire week has gone by and I haven't even written any ideas down, opened an engine, opened a 3D software program, written any code, or even remotely having to do with my game itself.  

By not doing any planning or scheduling I lost valuable time in creating my game.  One of my flaws is that I like to be a perfectionist in my work or I want to jump right into creating the final product, without the skeleton being in place first.  Without the skeleton or structure of the game being made first things tend to not work out very well or it becomes a giant disaster.   

How I should have and will be starting my game design process from now on

 1) Brainstorming - Like many other designers and artists, ideas are always coming to me.  When I'm on the bus, when I'm watching tv or a movie, when I'm playing another video game.  I need to start my projects, even though I'm giving myself a deadline of one month to complete them, by sitting down and actually writing things down.  I will also be since I'm on a much shorter schedule than most games I also need to give myself a time limit of maybe 1 - 2 hrs to brainstorm.  Then take all the ideas that I have collected and start trimming them down, until I have come up with my core game mechanic.  My MVP.

2) Game Flow - Once my core mechanic has been established, I will then take maybe 1 - 3 hrs and start creating a basic game flow using simple visual drawings only.  By using simple drawings I should be able to get the core gameplay down visually without sacrificing a lot of time.  

3) MVP Build - Once I've got all the brainstorming and game flow done, I will start working on my MVP.  I will give myself at least a couple of days to get the MVP up and running.  One key thing is that I will not use any art and stick with just simple primitives to convey what I want.  Once the MVP is done I will do some set dressing to make it look good.

4) Add One Thing at a Time - Once my MVP is done technically I could ship the game at anytime I choose.  Here is where I will slowly add the other features that I want.  With my last game I tried to implement to many things at once. Like I was trying to create both my regular missile and my homing missile, without having even one of them functioning properly.  From now on I will only add a new feature when the previous feature has been finished.

 Know when to cut things

Another thing that I learned at the game jam is that if something that you want to add to the game is taking to long to implement, you are better off just removing it entirely and moving on.  Going back to what I was saying about creating my missile system.  I must of waste like 3 or 4 days just trying to get a missile to work.  This is not good production.  I now know that I should of just cut it out and moved on. 

Know my own skills

Most of my game background comes from the art side.  I can do a bit of coding, but I am not as skilled in programming as I am at art.  With my latest project I was trying to hard to learn core programming and code so much of the game myself that it slowed down my progress as well.  If I want to be a game designer I need to learn that I just can't create everything myself, especially if it isn't something that I have created before like a racing game.  I didn't realize just how complex creating a racing game actually was until I started building it.  Keeping my games simple will allow me to improve my skills and make me a better designer.

I hope that by following these steps that I've set for myself that I can not only improve my design skills, but the overall games I create themselves.

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