Now that I’m working with other people, all sorts of questions come up about my game. How many illustrations where there be? How many actors? Is the script finished? What tone should the game have? Pretty much every single thing you could think to ask about the game needs an answer. Everyone I have spoken to says to start art / sound / music / copy editing / storyboarding early in the process. Don’t wait until the last minute, they say. And while most people have my best interests in mind, it is still a ton of work to answer questions in a thoughtful way.
So, going on 3 weeks now, I have done very little programming and a ton of writing. I thought it may be interesting to look at the types of design documents I’ve had to prepare.
Scope of Game
Once I began talking to artists and was able to get a rough idea on pricing, I was able to really think about the scope of my game. Writing out the overall game design helps to focus vague ideas in your head and turn them into concrete ideas that have money attached to them. Examples of what has come out of this process:
12 level illustrations
150 small, layered environment details (campfire, tent, house, etc).
12 – 20 storyboard illustrations
1 main menu illustration
1 combat prep illustration
1 world map
6 character portraits (if they can’t be cut from one of the storyboards)
From there, I have also thought about how heroes will progress, what strategies will take place on each level, and so on. Without this information, it is hard to design a map to that highlights different advantages or character traits.
I’ve been working with an amazing illustrator, Scott Pellico. Before he can start drawing a level, he needs layout information from me. Where people will spawn, where they will walk, what obstacles there will be and general design notes. So, for this process, I create a rough map using assets from Kenney. I’ll add the map in game, and run real spawns through it to see the timing and feel of the layout. From there, I’ll give Scott this:
He can take that, and generate an illustration that will be close to perfect.
Details of Individual Levels
Once Scott has finished a 90% pass of the level, I’ll start to go in and add ideas for environmental changes as the player progress. If you’re not aware, my game map will incrementally change as the player performs actions. Ideally, this will make the player more engaged, and also give the perception of an ongoing conflict. It’s one thing to say, “Hey Scott, just make the map get slightly cooler each time a unit spawns.” It turns out it is actually quite time consuming just to think of ideas, and to present them in a way that won’t interfere with game mechanics. So, for this step, I prepare something like this for each spawn:
In order to plan out ho many illustrations you will need, you need to know how many cut scenes your game will have. And to know how many cut scenes, you need to know the story and script. So, out of this process, I now have a first draft of the script. It did seem a bit early for me to be working on the script, but a few benefits have come out of it:
- Already have a copy editor looking at it, which means I can be responsive to changes since all illustrations have not been completed yet.
- I’m in early talks with sound guys, and I can provide information like “There will be 4 main speaking characters, 2 sub characters with 1 line each, and 55 total lines of dialogue.”
- I have rough ideas of the setting for each level now.
- With settings nearly finalized, the world map can be started when there is downtime.
Taking this time away from programming to write everything out has too many benefits to list. I was skeptical at first, but this feeling of being prepared is invaluable. I’m not sure I’ll ever truly enjoy creating design documents, but seeing what the talented people I work with turn them into is always a huge motivator.