The Sky & The Limit
There is an uncomfortable similarity between making a movie and making a video game.
Not really in any of the practice (unless you’re doing a heavily CG movie), but the similarity is there.
When you start a film, you’re writing the script and planning how it will be shot. You’re putting stuff in. Same at the beginning of a game. When we were penning our design document, we were dreaming up features, some only vaguely defined, but features and gameplay elements nonetheless.
As the engine begins to take form and you start to be able to, y’know… *play* the game… you start to dream up more ideas. The fortnightly (sort of) meetings or random coffee breaks would often result in a handful of ideas, one or two of which might end up in the melting pot – especially if one of those ideas is very easy to code and could, say, be knocked together in a few minutes while the shine of the idea was still there.
It’s a really great way for a game to evolve organically – not right for every type of game, but one that’s basically a sandbox with some fun toys in it? It’s really worked for us.
Nothing’s changed except that we’re nearing the end of the project – or, at least, the beginning of the part where features start getting the axe in the name of practicality. Or, if not the axe, we’re at least shuffling them into dreams for post-release content, or even mythical paid DLC. (Wait, are we even thinking that far ahead? Ugh.)
Every day we’re all in the office, we get more and more cool ideas. “What if we had [objects] that did [actions]! Then the player could [get/do]…”… hopefully you get the idea.
That’s a pretty common thing these days, and increasingly so – one of the joys of working on a sandbox-style game. Problem is that this kind of feature creep, while fun, doesn’t help you reach an end-goal. Not in an environment where you need a Version 1.0, like you do on a mobile platform like ours. Sure, we can (and certainly will) roll out new features along with the inevitable bug-fixes, but increasingly awesome new ideas go on the “post-release” or “mythical DLC” pile, for the simple reason that if we kept adding new features to our to-do list, we’d never release anything. Ever.
When you’re making a film, there’s this three-step process: you write (which involves creating, then culling before you end up with a final script), you shoot (which is – often – much more linear) and then you edit (which has the same assemble and then cull process).
Making this game has been a much longer version of the same process, like anything creative.
And we’re nearing the “end” now, which means, honestly, it’s getting depressing.
Bouncing between excitement as the game gets more and more playable, with positive responses from playtesters buzzing you through six hour debugging sessions… and having to turn down or put off new ideas that you know damn well kick arse.
But a thought occurred the other day – this limit we’ve hit, the one that forces us to turn down ideas and even cull a few that are already in-game but just don’t work for the experience we’re now aiming toward… it’s important.
If our team was smaller, and if we didn’t have deadlines to hit for various reasons, it’d be easy to just keep building forever.
So every time I find myself getting morose about awesome feature ideas we can’t use… I just think of how nice it’ll be to actually finish this project – something which wouldn’t happen at all if we were left without constraints.
Oh… also, my original idea for this article was to list a few things that kept me excited and got me through the more frustrating parts of this type of development…
In short? Making-of videos. Especially stuff about video games or awesome tech stuff, if I can.
Like the awesome Minecraft documentary. Or the other spectacular project by the same fine filmmakers – Double Fine Adventure. Or maybe even this awesome documentary on interactive fiction – Get Lamp. There’s a ton out there.
(Seriously, though – watching Tim Schafer keep his shit together with a $3M project in a similar stage to ours is extremely beneficial to my own sanity!)