Proper Preproduction Planning Provides Positive Performance

With Capuchin Capers essentially wrapped up, planning for our next game can commence. Through the last two projects, I have tried to formulate a plan in some way. In Odin’s Eye, I did some level planning, storyboarding, and concept art. But it wasn’t nearly enough, and the project was much harder as a result. For Capuchin Capers I decided that more planning needed to be done before the majority of work was started. But, much like Odin’s Eye, not enough preproduction planning was done and there were points when the project suffered as a result. As I may have mentioned in a previous post, the cinematic storyboarding should have been done long before any character modeling was started. Because I didn’t do that, Suzy’s bone structure didn’t support some of the movement I wanted in the final cinematic shown to the player when they win Capuchin Capers. I made it work, but it was far more difficult than it should have been. Proper preproduction planning would have prevented that.

For our next game, At the Crossroads, we are working to do much more preproduction planning before the first line of code for the game is written or the first polygon is created in Blender. We have some concept art already generated for the creatures in the game, with more to be created and added to the game design document. I can’t stress to you how much easier it will be to create this game once we have everything planned out ahead of time. We’ll know exactly what animations, assets, code, textures, and so on that we will need before we start. Code development in particular is going to be considerably more clean and tight as a result.

An added bonus to a well-made game design document is the feel of legitimacy that it conveys when you are looking at it. If laid out properly, with a nice selection of fonts for the main body of text as well as fonts and backgrounds for the title and headers, it gives a feel to the project that starts everything off on the right foot. The text styles created in the design document can also be used for the instruction manual, if you plan on including one. This is nice, because after reading the game design document for months, or even years, you will know if the text styles selected will cause problems with people’s ability to read the manual…aside from everyone’s natural reluctance to read a manual, of course.

But don’t feel as if the design document, or preproduction planning in general, will stifle your creativity. You don’t need to document every step the player can take in the game. This may lead to a game that feels too formulaic in nature if you do document every small detail. By capturing the significant details about the game, like how many maps there are and how they’re structured, what monsters are in the game and what their major attacks are, as well as other high-level details, you will have an excellent idea of the steps needed to build your game. Another example is dialog scripts. Writing scripts for dialog is very important if you are hiring voice actors/actresses to do the dialog. How much dialog will there be? How long will the recording sessions take? What inflections do the voice talent need to put on certain lines of the dialog? Making these decisions while standing in a recording booth that you are renting by the hour is a bad time to realize that you didn’t think this through as well as you should have.

When we are done writing the design document to a stage where we feel comfortable to move into production, we will have a document that is over twenty-six pages long (it’s current length at the time of this blog post). We will have several terrain studies written to document the various biomes where the game will take place. We will have a document outlining our marketing strategies and the steps needed to realize them. And, we will have proper storyboards detailing the major shots in the cinematics for the game. Will this be a complete, step-by-step guide to making At the Crossroads? No. It won’t. But it will give us a very good idea of everything that is going to go into the game.

Surprises in life can be fun; surprises in development are almost always painful. Plan accordingly.

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