Designing Your First Game

In this lesson, you will take your game from an idea to a plan. To do this, we need to design the project so that you can get the idea across quickly, and then add in more features once you have a working prototype.

Scope

The first thing we will do is try to make the project as small as possible. The goal is to design something that you can make a working version as quickly as possible. This takes some of the pressure off, and allows you to start testing it from a play perspective to keep improving it with play in mind.

MVP

This smallest version of your project is called theĀ Minimum Viable Product, the absolute simplest version of the project that does only the things it needs to be a game. One of the benefits of Game Jams is that they help you focus on what you can accomplish in a short period of time. You can harness this power by asking yourself what the game would look like if you had to finish it today, then what it would look like in a week. Once you have an MVP, it is always possible to add more, so it is to your advantage to make this truly the minimum possible, and then plan to expand from there.

Vertical Slice

A vertical slice takes your MVP a step further, and builds out one experience of your game to its full potential, complete with the art, sounds, mechanics, and special effects that get your full vision for your game across. A vertical slice is not the whole game, but the idea behind it is to be able to show what your fully finished game would look like, to get people interested and understanding your intention for the project.

Iteration

Iteration, in a technical sense, refers to code that loops back through itself repeatedly. In the broader view of game development, iteration is repeating the process of developing, playtesting, and improving your design. Your game will improve each time you iterate over this process, so the sooner you get it to a playable state, the sooner you can start improving it.

Design Questions

You don’t need to have a complete blueprint before you start building your game. One of the best parts of working in a digital medium is how easy it is to undo your changes and start back over from a different point. However, to save time and to make sure your game gets finished, it’s a good idea to decide on some core aspects of your game in advance, so that all the pieces work together to create the whole.

Game Mechanics

You can design a great game by thinking first about what the player should be able to do. Giving players the ability to try things that are out of the ordinary, physically impossible, or never before thought of is the driving force behind many games, and keeping this in mind will help you focus on the fun and power and in your game.

Goals and Losing

Once you have player mechanics, the next step is to think about their goals. This could be how to win, or score points, or any sort of goal system that you devise to give players an interesting thing to work towards in your game. You also need to think about what happens when players don’t meet that goal, or do something that requires them to start again. How much of their progress toward the goal will be saved, and how much will be reset is an important factor in a game, and can help your create the level of challenge that inspires players to keep trying.

Art Style and Environment

Choosing the artistic style for your game ultimately comes down to storytelling. What do the props, space, and colors of your game tell you about why we are here and what the player is trying to do. Besides the look of the world, you can also take the opportunity to consider the audio, and the general feeling that the artistic aspects of your game should support.

Features for the Sequel

Since you have scoped your game down to a MVP, you should also take the time to keep track of the ideas that you set aside in the process. You may have lots of ideas that you can’t incorporate into this project, and those are just excellent starting points for future games or later additions to your project. Keeping track of these dreams will give you a source of inspiration for the future.

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