Developing Thoughts 3

The third of my Developing Thoughts columns from 2004.

Getting the ball rolling

When starting out on the process of making a game, the initial concept – the project vision – is vitally important to get right, whether you’re developing your first game or your tenth. If the direction is not clear from the outset, then the more likely it is that the project will drift aimlessly and require more work than necessary to pull it back on course later.

The initial concept may start from a single idea, but in order to approach publishers or to give clear direction to the project’s team, it has to be expanded into a fully realised vision document. Until this is done to a satisfactory level, the project will be going nowhere.

It’s likely that a few people will be involved in working towards defining the initial concept, but the majority of staff on the project will not be brought on board until the document states everything that the project aims to do. This should cover the game genre, the intended art style, the technical advances, the unique selling points, a brief story synopsis, and anything else that is deemed necessary to paint the right picture.

Although the document should be a brief, high-level statement of the project’s aims, it is still a very difficult one to create and not one to be taken lightly. In many respects it’s the most important document that the team will undertake, for it defines the flavour of the rest of the development. It must read well and lay everything out in a manner that means others in the company understand the aims and buy into the vision it portrays.

One of the most difficult hurdles to overcome when dealing with an important document like this is coherence. Part of the process of developing the vision will often entail brainstorming, where a number of people will throw a great variety of ideas into the mix. The intention being that the concept becomes one that is rich with diversity. If there is a lack of cohesion when pulling these ideas together, this will show in the final vision document and any readers may well be left with a feeling that there is something lacking. Each idea and suggestion has to be examined and questioned to determine if they add to the vision in a cohesive way, or simply feel bolted on and out of place.

Very occasionally, this examination will lead to the initial idea being removed or modified in favour of a combination of ideas that give a greater cohesion to the vision. While that may feel a little like throwing the baby out with the bath water, if the result is something better the project is going to benefit greatly as a result. For instance, when the first work began on the game In Cold Blood, the intention was for it to be the third in the Broken Sword series. It quickly became clear that it wasn’t a Broken Sword game and so a new hero was born and a great game produced; one that could have felt very forced and artificial, had this been ignored.

The key to success in creating the vision for a game is to be as objective as possible when analysing the overall structure of the document. Only then will you ensure you have a vision that hangs together well.

© Steve Ince, 2004