I didn’t think that I knew much about the ideation process and how to get those ideas to prototype, but as I sit an review this presentation and think about it, I might be being a little hard on myself. That said, I would very much like to spend some time learning some other techniques but I will share what I do at the moment.
Why would I want to play it?
I start with this as I know that to go a really good job at something like this, I really do need to love what I am doing. That’s not to say that I don’t through myself into thing’s I don’t like if I have to but let’s look at the best case. Whats the reason I want to play it? I want to know this as I think that a lot of other design decisions come from the answer.
How should the player feel?
Should they feel in control, out of control, safe, threatened, excited, intrigued, and so on. In my short experience, the fewer things I am trying to implement, they better my chances that I could deliver.
What the main problem they are solving?
For instance, in Serial Link: Get out of the building, killing everything you have to. In the Hostage Rescue prototype: Get the hostages out, dont get killed. Keeping this in mind helps me to know if whatever feature or improvement I am considering is adding to that core issue or not. This conversation with myself or the other team members would be the one that should lead to the core mechanics and define the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of our player solving the problems.
What does the world look like in style or level of graphic content?
What should the thing actually look like on screen to match the other things that I have already decided on. I don’t have a lot of experience with art and artist’s in this area, as my level of skill has dictated that I spend more time looking at the core mechanics of the games I have worked on, but I think that might be changing now. I do try to draw some parallel to something I already know about though like, ‘it should look like Alien’ or ‘it should sound like Bullet Time from the Matrix’ that sort of thing. Its not a design although it does communicate what I mean at this early stage.
How close is it to the ‘real world’ or at least the feeling that its grounded?
I like grounded games. I like to see fantastical things but get the sense that, yes, that could sort of happen. Splinter Cell is a good example of that sort of thing. Although I am aware of rare occasions where one man has caused much enemy devastation, its not the norm. Sam Fisher makes it look like another day at the office, but the way that its presented for the most part, makes it quite believable. As far actually doing this? Its more by feel and gut I think but if I had to narrow it down I would say that its physics. I dont just mean thing realistically bouncing around in the level, but things like animations that look heavy enough, occluded sound, light doing what your brain thinks it should do, that sort of thing.
Using ‘User Stories’
I didn’t know that these had a real name, but it turn’s out that I use ‘User Stories’ to do most of the design work. I imagine playing the game and say something like ‘the player jumps over the wall while firing the small machine pistol at the mech in front. Black liquid spills from the multiple piercings that the rounds cause, forming globulous splatter patterns on the surfaces it hits. The player lands, quickly taking aim with the defensive measure he had in the other hand and throws it to the floor while shooting at the other threat in the room…’ There is lots of information there that would inform lots of different aspects of the design and would probably be enough to make a start on a prototype!
Bits and pieces
However, the above is quite high level and once you really start digging in, you can find that there are details missing that you really do need to know. This is where I might use a mind map and word association exercises. I really like a good thesaurus and I find it very useful to see key words or phrases expressed differently as they can send your thoughts of into places where there are more answers and ideas. Scope becomes the enemy here though as I often find that I am coming up with for too much stuff!
Other ways I could do it…
Theme, World and Story. This is not a way that I have explored design before as I think that I am much more naturally drawn to mechanics, so the user story suits me much better. This could satisfy an itch I have had for a long time though. I would like to write a little. I don’t know if I would be any good at it but as with most things, the more you do it the better you get. Now that I think about it, this really might be an opportunity to exercise that desire and see where it goes. I do have to be careful though as I am in danger already of creating a to do list that I know I can’t complete! I wonder though…
Slow boil approach. This made me smile because for me this is the ‘you don’t have time now because you have agreed to these other bazillion things you have to do, so when you sitting on the loo, you can thing about this one…’ Now I can rest knowing that there is a proper name for my lack of execution opportunity! Although there is that part about the research… I like my version.
Creating something based on an existing Intellectual Property. I have never done this so my opinion is just that about a relevant as a guy who is considering these things and reflecting on them… Wait a minute…
IP and trying not to get sued
The best ‘pro’ I can see is a ready audience and a very well defined set of expectations. Having tried already to make a game (and continuing to) I think that one of the biggest challenges is the ‘what is it’ one. With Batman for instance, we know what that is, we can relate to what a game about Batman should be like way before we see a single frame of the finished piece. This is reassuring to the money people too as they can measure customer interest in such a venture much more easily.
The worst ‘con’ is almost exactly what I wrote above. The customer has a notion of what your thing should do, how it should do it, what it should feel like and so on. As far as the developer goes, its not really ‘your thing’ at all. I suspect that when developers are working on title that are backed by an existing IP, the scope in which they can be creative is reduced so much that to some I can imagine that its quite a limiting and choking experience. But if you want to turn a con into a pro (and I like doing that) then if this kind of project is in the hands of developers who already are one of those customers, one of those fans, then they should know just what to do with it. Assuming that they are competent developers that is. Like me. Ha! Well, Im trying to be…
I do have an IP based project in mind that I would love to work on. John Wick. I would love to (and probably will) tackle the puzzle of just how to make the player feel like John Wick. I would like to isolate sequences from the movie and come up control systems and mechanics that would allow the player to recreate them in game. It would be a huge project really but I think that it could be broken down into something that could be started… I have a couple of ideas already about how I might do about implementing this but that’s for me and little brain right now. Further to this, I have just come across the part of the presentation that talks about using a ‘Requirements animations’ or ‘Ripomatics’ where you take footage from movies, game, television or music to outline what the game should do or how it should feel while the player is using it. The movies are the obvious place to draw this from, its just nice to know that there is a term floating around to covers it.
Increasing the number of iterative cycles
This is a very important lesson I think. Making sure that all the areas of a game (as thats what Im here to make) need to be equally developed as much as possible. By that I mean that if the game has buying, selling, swapping and item storage as core gameplay mechanics then I really like to make sure that there is one single active goal in each one of those areas. In an ideal world, or development session, I try to complete the task in ‘buying’ and then move onto completing the task in ‘selling’ and so on. Sounds simple but how many developers struggle with ‘feature creep’ and in particular feature creep within some narrow scope? It used to happen to me all the time. The first time I tried to solve it was to list all the major areas of the project including the traditional ones like animation and audio and so on. Then I listed all the areas that were specific to the game I was making. So, in Serial Link they were something like
- Psi Powers
- Soldier AI
- Squad AI
- And so on…
Then I had just one thing that I would want to get completed in that area to move the game on. Once all of the tasks had been completed I would move onto a second cycle. Any other ideas, and lets face it there are always ton’s of them, were recorded in a kind of Idea Dump. Then that could be used to populate the next cycles tasks in the various areas. However, there was the problem that you (the developer) could still choose what you wanted to work on in any given session as there were many, many active tasks. That lead me to Kanban.
Kanban is the most complete development tool I have found that fully supports the idea of iterative development although I don’t think that it looks like that from the outside. I think one of the biggest challenges that I have faced and still do really, is making sure that I deliver complete features at a time. There is a version of Kanban that was presented here and its just a little different from the Kanban information that I had come across before in that there were three things that he did a little differently. The first is the Work In Progress (WIP) limits that stop work being pulled from the right of the board relentlessly, killing the boards ability to provide focus. The next is the inclusion of a ‘finished’ sub-column within each of the main column’s. This is a great addition as you more clearly see where the hold ups in the project are happening. And the last one is very clearly defined ‘Done Rules’. This is the part that makes sure that work does not slip through that is not to the right standard. Having the done rules stated clearly leaves no ambiguity when the team member is deciding whether a work item is done or not. Having a ‘build’ column with a small WIP is the key to making sure that the project is being developed in iterative cycles. That combined with making sure that tasks are being selected from across all the areas of development like I talked about earlier makes sure that the whole thing is growing and not just certain (using the developers favourite) parts. So that takes care of the ‘prototyping’. Having another column called ‘User Test’ with a small WIP (like one or two) will only allow a small number of builds to happen before the project must be tested by some defined audience. That audience would depend on what the project is and how far through it the developers are.
There isn’t a scrum part to this thinking… I just really liked the image and thought it close enough.
I have no other plans at the moment on how I can improve my ability to develop in iterative cycles aside from the constant refinement of the ideas and tools that I am already using. If I sense that they are not sufficient for some reason, or I inadvertently come across information that makes me question my approach, then I will respond to that.