I’m notorious for being in a “perpetual attack mode” when it comes to game development. If I’m not doing something, I feel like I’m not being productive. Throw planning to the wind: just pick something up and get it done! I mean, there is SOOO much to do, so gotta go-go-go if I have any chance of making it, right? To be frank, I’m like this with a lot of things in my life.
Its something I’ve been aware of for a long time but, until these last several months of really putting myself through the works, hadn’t really come to grips with. You can jump from task to task and still not make progress. Things may get scratched off the metaphorical list, but the sum of the parts don’t amount to an actual prototype, game, etc. I’ve heard it said before to “just make the game” and there is solid truth in that statement, but too often my work ethic has devolved into “just make” without genuine, careful thought for what the final product should look like.
I think part of this stems from our inability to not only estimate workload, but our lack of clarity on what actually defines our game. Yes, we have a vision of where we want the game to end up, but we don’t actually identify the small, bite-sized components that make up the entire jigsaw. This goes beyond understanding what “features” our game should have, beyond the classic “wants vs. needs” conundrum… it has to do with understanding the vertical construction of our game and what constitutes its core.
As visionaries, it can be difficult to see the game we want to make as anything less than its final form. It feels easy to talk about the “core part” of the game as if its on equal footing (or less) with the rest of the more glamorous, eye-catching features. Admittedly, I can’t say I’ve heard of many people using only the foundation of a house to live in. But the foundation still has to come first and, more importantly, has to be put through its lumps before you can put much of anything else on it. Flex it, dance around on it, see how much weight it can hold… and once you’re content with its strength, build on it. Customization, extra power-ups, secret passages… none of it matters if the core isn’t ready to support it. I don’t see it as making sure the “core” is fun before anything else, so much as making sure its stable and sturdy. You can’t foresee everything, but you can at least identify potential.
So build from the core up. And if you don’t know what the core is for your game, find it. I guarantee you, its in there somewhere. Build the foundation first instead of half of all the different floors.