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Feature Creep

Stopping the feature creep during game development isn't easy, but I've got some ideas.

Feature creep. We've all been there.

When multiple creative minds get involved in a project it happens. It just happens. Everyone on the team has good ideas, fun ideas. Ideas that seem "perfect" for the game. But the problem is, eventually, there's too many good ideas running around to really refine the core mechanics and concepts for the game.

Every game has a feature that sets it apart. For Halo it was the multiplayer, for Assassin's Creed it was the stealth element, for Gears of War it was the combat. These things are the things that at the beginning of the development period, someone said "this is the key." Cut those games down to their core: Halo is an FPS, Assassin's Creed is a 3rd Person Adventure, and Gears of War is a 3rd Person Shooter. Been done. Been done to death. What separated them was the way the games worked.

What set them apart was focusing on their defining features, which meant slaughtering all feature creep. Lets say you're making a platform game. A platform game can be made with nothing but squares. You've got platforms, and a player. Jump jump jump. No biggie. But that's boring. What defines your platform game? We'll say that in our platform game your character can change form in order to manipulate the environment. So let's look at our features list now:

  1. Movement (Left Right Up Down)
  2. Form Change

Simple. We've got two features, really. Just two. That's NOT a lot, is it! So we'll flesh it out a little more to have a more complete game:

  1. Movement
  2. Form Change
  3. Buttons
  4. Levers
  5. Bad Guys

Still, only five real features, with our key feature being the form change. Cool! Let's take to to the rest of the team and see what they have to add.

  1. Movement
  2. Form Change
  3. Buttons
  4. Levers
  5. Bad Guys
  6. Bounce Pads
  7. Lava
  8. Guns
  9. Vehicles
  10. Spike Pits
  11. Bosses
  12. Puzzles
  13. Collectibles
  14. Unlockables
  15. Power-Ups
  16. Hidden Areas
  17. Secret Levels
  18. Challenge Levels
  19. Jumping
  20. Customizable Characters

Aaaaaaaaahhh, smell that feature creep. Smells like missed deadlines and going over budget, doesn't it? The features list has literally quadrupled in our example. Scary, isn't it? This is what happens when your creative team gets excited, so in actuality, this is a good thing! The team is on bored, they're ready to make this the best damn platformer ever. But there's not enough time to make all of this and get the game polished the way you want it.

My solution to this is to trim down the list to the essentials, and the stuff that you've got the time and budget to do. Like so:

  1. Movement
  2. Form Change
  3. Buttons
  4. Levers
  5. Bad Guys
  6. Bounce Pads
  7. Lava
  8. Spike Pits
  9. Bosses
  10. Jumping

Now, we've still got more features, but if you really look at this list, a lot of the features here can be condensed into our original list. Jumping can go into movement, lave spikes and bosses can technically go under bad guys. Which leaves just bounce pads, which could TECHNICALLY go under movement, really.

We've focused our list. BUT, this is a tender spot. Because the ideas that we've cut were from the creative team. A quick way to demoralize a team is to say no to their ideas. A better answer, is not yet.

Make a list of all the additional ideas from the big list above, and put it in order according what would be most beneficial to the game to what would just be fun. Make note of what core aspects they affect.

For example, with Customizable Character option, what does that effect in the realms of gameplay? Can you customize the forms that your character takes, or just his looks? Once you get that settled, get into production. As your core features get refined and settled, start moving effort into the extra ones, in order of importance.

Polish, then move on to the next, and the next, and so on. If a feature isn't working, and you're running out of time/money, scrap it. When your game ships, your core features will be solid, your defining feature will be polished, and the extra features you've been able to add will help set it apart.

You've got to keep your goals in site and focused, and work on your foundation before you build the house. Once that's done, the sky (and your deadlines) are the limit.

Good to be back, guys. Talk more soon!

Aaron

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