Game production refers to the actual process of making a game. This process is highly collaborative and uses a Player-centric Design approach.
Much like how a game designer is an advocate for the player, the Player-centric design builds on the idea of user-centered design in which all your design decisions are made to meet the needs of the user or player. However, the player-centric design model goes further by also ensuring a certain type of player experience in the design and development of the game.
When using the player-centric design approach the key question being asked throughout development, is “What is the player experiencing?” Thinking about how the player will experience a game level, an interaction a storyline, and whatever else in the game can dynamically shift how the game is developed.
Successful teams know that it is important that all members of the team contribute to the design. Every member of the team should feel like they have a say in the direction of the project and that their thoughts, ideas, and suggestions will be heard.
Some best practices for collaboration include:
- Know everyone’s name – from the game designer to the individual artists and programmers everyone should know everyone on the game design team.
- Brainstorming sessions – during the design phase all for anyone on the team to attend and participate in the initial brainstorming.
- Suggestion lists – create an open list of ideas that may or may not be implemented through the production process.
- Weekly lead meetings – allow team leads to head up the meeting giving a diverse perspective on the project.
- One-on-one creative talks – allocate time talking to each member of the team about the creative process to give them a sense of value
- Ask for help – team members should feel open to asking their colleagues for help or advice on any one of their assigned tasks.
- Share authorship – use the term “we” not “I” when talking about the project; remember that everyone is a valued part of the project.
The player-centric design is an iterative process, which requires evaluation throughout the design and development. Can you imagine creating an entire game and only afterward evaluating its effectiveness?
Throughout the iterative process, the team will generate ideas for design/development, formulate those ideas into a prototype for testing and then evaluate whether to move forward with those ideas into development.
Let us say for example someone has a new idea to add an icon cannon to the space game your team is building. Once everyone is on board with the idea a prototype script and graphics for the new weapon are made and implemented in the current test build of the game. Everyone on the team tests out the new system and assesses its usefulness, novelty, and accessibility. If everyone likes the new weapon it goes into further development and is included in the game, however, if the consensus is that it is not working, then it is eliminated or put on the back burner to come back to after other key features have been developed.
The iterative process is divided into 3 to 7 stages across multiple disciplines. The Unified Software Development Process or Unified Process, defines these phases as:
- Inception: exploring ideas and or features
- Elaboration: developing prototypes and presentations
- Construction: prepare design documentation and begin development
- Transition: reevaluation, testing, and refinement
Agile “Scrum” Development
Traditionally in software development developers used to work in what is known as waterfall development. This is where the client or user presents their needs then the production team designs and develops a complete or near-complete product before any testing is done by the target market.
The waterfall method was often a long and drawn-out process that took years to complete and often fell short of expectations. In 2001 the Agile Manifesto for software development was created by a group of 17 technologists.
The new Agile development approach allowed developers to move more quickly and essentially broke the project into smaller irritative processes. The three major techniques in agile development include:
- Sprints – a set timeline (usually 2 to 4 weeks) to reach certain deliverables, each sprint is its iterative process
- Scrum Meetings – short daily meetings in which each team member shares, accomplishments, goals, and obstacles
- Prioritizing – creating a list of core features or tasks and placing them in order of importance to the project, ensuring key elements of the project are complete first.
- Scrum Boards
To help keep everyone up to date with the status of the project a scrum board is developed. The board can be physical or digital and is usually dived into columns:
- Tasks or Backlog – a prioritized list of tasks or features
- In-Progress – tasks that are currently in progress and who is responsible for them
- Testing – features that have been developed and are currently in the testing phase
- Completed– features or tasks that have been completed.
The scrum board is usually updated during scrum meetings.
Game Production Stages
Game productions are broken into stages, each stage has its own set of deliverables to be completed. These stages are usually illustrated in an inverted pyramid visualizing the scope of the project starting broad and then narrowing as the project reaches the end of the stages.
When thinking of the entire game development project as a single iterative process you will notice that the stages of the iterative process fall nicely into each of the game production stages.
The stages and deliverables of the game development process include:
- Concept [Inception phase, Iterative Process] – concept document, project plan, and contracts
- Pre-Production [Elaboration phase, Iterative Process] – Prototypes, Technical Requirements, and Design Planning documents
- Production [Construction phase, Iterative Process] – Features, Assets, Levels, Alphas
- Quality Assurance [Transition phase, Iterative Process] – “Gold Code” refers to the build of the game with all the bugs having been resolved.
- Maintenance [Transition phase, Iterative Process] – Updates, patches, and extensions
Game Production Deliverables
During each of the stages of game production, several deliverables must be met, these include:
- Concept Stage:
- Idea Generation – exploring ideas and or features
- Pre-Production Stage:
- Physical prototype – testing feasibility
- Presentation – optional step, however, if funds or buy-in is needed before moving forward. a presentation is made to stakeholders or team members
- Digital Prototype – rough development, test build
- Production Stage:
- Design documentation – once greenlit documentation on all aspects of the game or feature is prepared
- Development – all members of the game production team begin the actual development of the game
- Quality Assurance Stage
- Alpha and Beta Testing – reevaluation, testing, and refinement occurs