Is planning worth it?

It’s boring and takes ages, so should you plan your gaming project before creating?

Its not the sexiest of activities to sit and write a plan. Trust me, you have all these ideas rushing through your head, and the thought of writing them out seems pointless. So why do all the professionals do it?

There are reasons that gaming companies do it. They involve large teams, which need to be coordinated. Projects may require approval from relevant managers to get the green light before development occurs. When they are developed, the team need to know the plan so that they can build their part.

But indie developers do not have large teams, and many are sole-developers with maybe a graphics artists and music technician. Is planning worth it for them? There are two approaches to game development, each with advantages and disadvantages.

 

I know what I want to do and I’ll wing the detail

 

You have an idea of the sort of game you want to make, maybe having a few details planned out in your head, but that’s it. Nothing is committed to paper, and how you will achieve most of the goals is unknown. So you get your code editor open and you just go for it. When problems come up you tackle them and test the game as you go along.

This is the most tempting and it does carry advantages. For some, its more interesting, since you are constantly problem-solving as you go along. You spend 100% of your time creating the game, so it (theoretically) takes less time. And I include the bracket because that is the first major disadvantage, it can take a lot MORE time.

If your game is not planned adequately, the design of you code, or a different aspect of your game, could take you down a path that is not compatible to one of your goals. An example would be to create a game in flash, wanting to create an online gaming site, only to find out after weeks of coding that you want the iphone (which doesn’t support flash) to be your primary target device. In this instance, the game would have to be created again from scratch in HTML5/Javascript, or you would have to ignore your goal.

Another major disadvantage is the end product. Most tame I created in my early years were of this nature. I use the excuse that I was young and learning, but in reality I did not see the point. However, looking back, the games were fragmented and missing any overall goal. I focussed on each goal as they came, but never stopped to examine the whole product.

 

Plan, plan, plan then create

 

This brings me onto the alternative. You sit down and list all the goals of your project. Using command words really helps with this. What is your game going to do that will make it stand out? Who is you game for? Why would they play your game? When do you plan to complete the development? Where will your game be available? How will you achieve your goals?

These are a short snippet of the questions I ask myself, and I write them all down. Then I draw the whole game, from start to finished, but with crude polygons. The main character is always a triangle, and backgrounds generally rectangles, etc. This shouldn’t take much time, but is a stimulus to me to see any problems that may occur. It also allows me to write a list of any artwork the game needs. I do this all at once, since I normally require to maintain a consistent colour-scheme though-out the project. After this is completed, I then look at how I will structure the code. Which classes I already have and which I need to write.

The plan, however, is never and should never be strictly kept to. The point of it is to help visualise the project as a whole and predict possible issues. It is not designed to find all problems though. I often change my mind of elements of the plan, but when this happens, the plan is updated, and allows me to see the impact that the change has on the project as a whole.

 

I am unreservedly biased towards creating great plans, and have played many games online that clearly were created on the fly, and it shows. If you have that once-in-a-lifetime gaming idea, make sure you plan it out properly from the start, otherwise it may cost you down the line!

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