Author Topic: An alternative approach to game making & planning.  (Read 7703 times)

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Reives

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An alternative approach to game making & planning.
« on: May 17, 2009, 07:04:49 PM »
Disclaimer:
This is not the optimal way of doing things for everyone, but I do believe that it could be a beneficial approach to some where it applies.




An Alternative Approach to Game Making & Planning.


Lately, I've been hearing a lot of the advice "prepare and plan everything before going into it, so you know where you're going" to new game makers, mostly directed at the story aspect of their projects.

I think while that is a standard and well accepted approach, it actually may not be the best fit for many of us casual/amateur game makers.

~~~

Let's face it, the percentage of games never reaching the completed stage in amateur game making communities is frighteningly high. Part of this is that these people (we) make games for fun, without corporate objectives or monetary incentives attached.

I think most would agree that this "fun" is most evident in the rush you feel when you've just started out on a project. You are excited over all the things you can do, and the innovations that come with it. It's a new world, and the possibilities are endless - characters, stories, you are the mastermind and you are in control of it all. You spend days working out the delicate story and dramatic scenes down to every detail, then proceed to make it come to life.

And so you make it, day after day, following the pre-established script that you've set for yourself. And as with all things, the excitement from the initial stimulation gradually fades away, and you realize that you're mindlessly working on something that is old as you can remember, while tempting new and "better" ideas pop up left and right while you're singing in the shower.

At this stage, some may be a trooper and endure through it with a rare discipline while acknowledging it as labour, and others may desert it for the new and "better" ideas.

~~~

When you take the detailed pre-scripted approach, you become two entities: the mastermind and the peon. However, these two entities are not working along side of each other. The mastermind comes in at the start of the project and lays down the rules, then you're stuck with being the peon following it for the rest of the trip. You are now no longer in control; the you in the past is. Like a worker under the eyes of an eventually annoying supervisor, you follow the script, having less and less room for the joy of innovation, and dream of that one day, you could be that mastermind.

But wait, you can! A voice says. Just start with one of those new nifty ideas you've been cooking up before going to bed, and you can get all the juicy innovative action again! Very tempting indeed.


Large scaled, formal work teams often, if not always, successfully follow this detailed-prescripted approach with great results. But these firms are under an entirely different model from us casual makers of one or a handful of people. They have incentives, e.g. monetary, that makes them fine with treating things as just labour, and hence do not run into the problem of "losing inspiration" since it was not a primary dependency to begin with.

~~~

So as should be obvious by now, the approach I am suggesting for some is to not plan things out in detail, and especially not writing out a script. That doesn't mean that you can't have a skeleton of the main turning points and twists so you can set it up early on (which is still mandatory), but do not do devoted planning for anything beyond that.

This way, as you go, you will be constantly making innovations and satisfying the creative desires, while comfortably committed to the same project. The mastermind and the peon works alongside of each other. The spark is constantly kept alive, as you're never just typing a script into another platform.

Got an awesome new idea while you're in the middle of the project? Try to incorporate it into the current project (provided that it's not far-fetched in the context)! Perhaps as a side story in one of the towns, or perhaps even a town itself that the main plot needs to pass through anyway. And if an entirely new and better direction of the story suddenly comes to mind, there is not much lost and a lot to gain (a brand new drive all over again) when you change path from the current progressive position, if that were to happen.

~~~

Now, of course, this isn't for everyone. If you can reach the end of a project through solid grinding, then a detailed pre-planning has many obvious benefits. But for those who have tried and not worked out, and those who are fueled primarily by creative innovation, this method may be worth a try. Or even better, find a comfortable mix of the two that's most suitable for you! The main objective is to view yourself from a third person perspective, do not be fooled by the "I can DEFINITELY do this this time!" rush you'd certainly get at the start of a project, and act to actively increase the incentives for continuing in the future when that initial drive is over.

Quintessence was more or less made with the "one vague main plot, make as you go" approach, and I certainly felt it helped a lot at the darkest times.


Again, this is just a suggestion that may or may not work for some. Feel free to disagree.  :reivsmile: Cheers, and thanks for reading!



mepwnn

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Re: An alternative approach to game making & planning.
« Reply #1 on: May 17, 2009, 07:36:16 PM »
The first section describes me perfectly :'(

This is some interesting stuff, and I never would have guessed Quintessence was a "Make-as-you-go" type of thing.
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Vasha

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Re: An alternative approach to game making & planning.
« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2009, 08:55:39 PM »
Yeah, it's really professional-like for a game like that.

I've done a bit of pre-planning, but, like you said, my game is going to be (for the most part) done as I go. This is the third time I've started, though, so maybe that's not such a good idea for me? This new version seems like it's going to be good though.

Lunarea

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Re: An alternative approach to game making & planning.
« Reply #3 on: May 17, 2009, 10:54:03 PM »
I do have to caution people that if you start a project that allows for a lot of creative freedom, you have to be prepared to work and rework entire scenes - because it's very likely that what worked as an intro when you started the project might no longer work when you're on chapter 23. This is especially the case when a project begins in the middle of the story (or the end, even!) and the rest of the game is a progression to that point and/or past it.

Reives

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Re: An alternative approach to game making & planning.
« Reply #4 on: May 17, 2009, 11:03:05 PM »
^That's definitely true, and something that one should be careful of. Quintessence's intro itself is obviously an example, having been through numerous revamps. :p The good side of it is that you get to apply things you've learned along the way to make it better. But if you get dragged into a loop of constant revamps, then it's just as bad as the worst case in the alternative. All in all, I think the optimal goal is to aim to complement the existing content rather than change its roots when progressing through it, to minimize the chance of that (along with a conscious restraint).

zekallinos

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Re: An alternative approach to game making & planning.
« Reply #5 on: May 18, 2009, 10:28:28 AM »
I like how you describe the Mastermind/Peon that are two identities that eventually diverge. What you are saying makes a lot of sense (and it probably works - you have Quintessence since what, 3-4 years?) - although I hesitate going down that path. There's something less certain about the expected final result with it. I've made plenty of crap in the past, and don't really want to make another crap (which I'll consider crap when I become better by making the said project, but...).

It depends somewhat on the type of the story, too. A rather linear story, something like Enex (first one that comes into mind) can probably pull off with something like that. But there are other types of stories that heavily reliant on small details, and intertwining. Without planning everything down, it would be easy to mess up.

Although I didn't expect you to have five full notebooks of planning, I'm surprised, too, that there's a lot of "unplanned" stuff. Can you give examples of things you had not planned at all?

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Re: An alternative approach to game making & planning.
« Reply #6 on: May 18, 2009, 11:23:20 AM »
HmÖ In my story writing tutorial I suggested a different way, but not too different.

1) Collect ideas.
2) Create a story outline.
3) Plan the very beginning of the game.
4) Try to fill the gaps while making the game.

But I never thought of what you described so well. But it is definitely true: You donít have much motivation if you just work out what you planned before. However, feelings of success motivate in any case Ė at least that is my opinion.

Nevertheless you have to consider that you donít have great ideas everytime you need them. If you are not satisfied with your ideas, this can be quite demotivating.

zekallinos

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Re: An alternative approach to game making & planning.
« Reply #7 on: May 20, 2009, 09:53:51 PM »
I've though about it again. Remember that we are making a game, not writing a book. Even if you plan the entire story beforehand, that doesn't prevent you from designing the game on the fly, which is a entire aspect of game making by itself (and isn't necessarily being a peon).

Reives

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Re: An alternative approach to game making & planning.
« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2009, 12:10:30 AM »
That is one of the main reasons of why I said that it only applies to some people; those fueled primarily by the creation of scenarios rather than game mechanics. And from what I've seen, there are a good number of those in this demographic, which makes sense since RPG is more or less the most story-oriented game genre.

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Re: An alternative approach to game making & planning.
« Reply #9 on: May 22, 2009, 10:12:45 AM »
I've never really worked on a game before, but I've written pretty long stories, and I know that sometimes you can have a point A and point B, and they seem to work, but then as you fill in the details, you realize that there are some things that just don't make sense. I think most stories have plot holes, and good story-tellers know how to minimize them, hide them, or rework them entirely. One story, I would basically write whatever part I was in the mood to write at the time, but it eventually became obvious that this led to horrible plotholes. Not saying that Reives' method isn't workable (it's rather the way I've always written), but if you want to make your game believable and enjoyable, you really have to work hard to make sure that everything fits together as best it can. And I think some stories are ultimately simply unworkable. If you come to that point, don't bother with it anymore, just dump it.
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Re: An alternative approach to game making & planning.
« Reply #10 on: May 22, 2009, 02:03:29 PM »
  The trick is to fill the game's plot with so many plot holes that it is totally transparent and there is no real plot, and the players make it up themselves.  Examples are Braid, The Mirror Lied, and Ice.
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Re: An alternative approach to game making & planning.
« Reply #11 on: May 22, 2009, 02:08:05 PM »
That's not enough for some people, and it's certainly not enough for me. There are ways to sidestep plotholes (for instance, if you know there's a scene that can't be realistic, you describe it in less detail after it's already happened) I think I kind of see it like poetry, you can either write in prose, and sidestep the limitations of poetry, or write in poetry for a different experience. One isn't better than the other, and it's a different challenge for each, but there are people out there who like both.
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Lunarea

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Re: An alternative approach to game making & planning.
« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2009, 02:22:33 PM »
Some game plots can be done entirely "on the fly", but they need to be very linear and very simple. They start at the beginning of the story and have virtually no foreshadowing of the end (or portions of the story leading to the end). This is completely acceptable when you're making a game where the story isn't the main focus: a simple dungeon crawler, a puzzle game or a first person shooter. If the story is essentially there to introduce the characters and set the mood while the player is focused on the game mechanics, you don't need to bother with much planning.

However, it's really hard to use this technique with a complex and involved plot. It's not impossible, but like I said earlier, it involves a lot of backtracking and reworking of scenes on the behalf of the author. You have to be prepared to accept that the game will probably take you twice as long to finish making because of that backtracking. But a complex story involves foreshadowing and character growth, so it will be necessary to go back and make sure you got it right.

If you'd rather not backtrack, consider planning out your main game plot and leaving the "on the spot" creating for side quests. You can be just as creative with said side quests, but don't have to worry about whether they will need to be reworked - especially if the focus is on a minor character that doesn't have much growth.

Reives

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Re: An alternative approach to game making & planning.
« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2009, 04:09:51 PM »
That is along similar lines as what I suggested in the first post:

Quote from: Reives
That doesn't mean that you can't have a skeleton of the main turning points and twists so you can set it up early on (which is still mandatory), but do not do devoted planning for anything beyond that.

It'd certainly be rather pushing it to make the entire plot as one goes if one expects anything complex, but that doesn't mean that the planning cannot be thinned without damaging the plot.

Instead of "In Tun Town, Bobby hit Johnny across the face for not fetching him his favourite drink when he just got a call that his cat died, and so he said 'HAY! That's not cool!'", what's planned can simply be "In ___, Bobby upsets Johnny.", and leave all the details to when that part is reached.  ..Okay, horribly constructed example, but you get the point. :P

The bottom line of what the first post is suggesting is to simplify the pre-scripted main plot and their twists to the simplest form possible, and leave as much to be spontaneously generated without taking away the pre-constructed twists for the central plot line.


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Re: An alternative approach to game making & planning.
« Reply #14 on: May 22, 2009, 04:15:53 PM »
I think that's the impression I got, but plotholes are still tricky little buggers. They really have to be dealt with no matter what your approach to writing the story, but I just thought I'd note that.
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