Thinking Of Game Design As Maps..

The more detail you put into the design phase of any games development process, the more chance you will have of reaching the X. Treat it as though you're searching for the holy grail. I know because I've spent years not doing enough design.

The X being the treasure; in project management this would be the 'release', the final production of your project. Having a clear, concise design stands you in better stead of actually producing the goods when it comes to actually developing it.

~80% of game developers will skip the design part because they're excited to start making it. They'll get a great idea for a game and immediately want to run with it.. I've been there. The trouble is they'll likely either fall at the first hurdle, or hit brick wall after brick wall along the way, because they never even glanced at a map.

A detailed design ideally would focus on ensuring you've a clear route from start to finish and include*;

  • Project details
  • Critical
    • is there a character?
    • is there a world?
    • is there a story?
    • what platforms will you be releasing to?
    • what software / engine will you use?
      • if you haven't already done so it's a good idea to look to which language or engine on a per project basis as it makes sense to find the best fit for the project; e.g. using Ue4 to produce an fps. Or game maker / construct 2 if its 2d.
  • Rules of play
    • what can the player do?
    • what can't the player do?
    • is there any progression? does the player level up?
    • what defines the end game?
  • Timeline of major events (more for story fueled games).
    • where does the game start?
    • what happens in between?
    • where does the game end?
  • What is absolutely Critical
    • is it a specific art style?
    • is there a specific mechanic or pattern that runs through the game?
    • think about what defines your game, strip it right back until you have only the essential elements left; this is what defines your game.
    • this is where your focus should be {when you do eventually get to development phase} as the rest is superfluous. Stick to this path first. Reach the end goal! At the very least you will have a working game.
  • Mechanics of the game, does the player have to endlessly avoid lava or collect specific items, save the world etc.
    • will these require additional skills / knowledge
    • are they realistic mechanics?
  • Input / Screens / UI you are likely to need.
  • The End

*design requirements won't be the same project to project, so its a good idea to tailor a design structure relevant to the project you are currently designing. Don't be afraid to also explore different design & planning tools / software, what works, what doesn't; design aids, prototyping & more!

Once you have a good overview of the game design, you'll be able to go ahead and start making asset lists, this is where a big portion of game dev will be spent. The bigger the game, the more assets required. The more assets required the longer it will take.

Asset lists in place, you should perhaps work on a plan of attack. Assigning deadlines is often a good idea, but only if they spur you on, or you may find yourself putting them off, and off.

Its worth thinking about the amount of man hours required to achieve each aspect. Guestimates are potentially a good idea; or base it from past experience. Place some weight. Get an idea of just how long it will take you;

Other good questions to ask yourself throughout the design process;

  • is this project 'too' big. (you probably won't see this until you start mapping it out)
  • will you require extra help?
  • are there potentially areas you could cut back on?
  • Anything else critical to the project?

Other good info to include;

  • budget requirements for each element (if applicable)
  • how will you market the game? what routes to market.
  • how will you make it accessible to all or the majority?
  • how will you test the project along the way?
  • how will you handle support once its released?

A good design will also;

  • prevent you burning out from overthinking
  • increase your focus throughout the development
  • make it easier to track and manage development
  • clearly highlights when the project is 'ready'

Final Note: The more detail you provide; the less brick walls you will face along the way, the more chance you will spot issues before they become issues or tackle them way ahead of time as a result.

Good luck, now get mapping.