You ready for this?
Writing a solid design is a daunting task. You need to effectively create your entire game in your head and then describe it.
It seems like busy work, if you have the design in your head, why go through the additional step of writing it down in detail when you could do effectively the same thing by writing the game based on your idea from your head?
Well, here’s the thing. Humans are notoriously easily distracted and our memory is never accurate. These two factors alone mean that the game is in trouble before it’s begun. You see game development is a taxing process requiring great concentration to solve seemingly tiny (yet massively important) issues. It requires focus and determination. So what tends to happen is that a developer focuses for a long time on one particular part of the game and then when it comes time to do the next part, they’ve forgotten exactly what they originally planned. This can be especially true if the newly implemented feature opens up a whole range of previously unforeseen opportunities. This is scope creep.
Your document should answer all of your questions about the game. It should describe all features and detail all game-play mechanics.
It should talk about menu structures, User interfaces, Options.
It should include any power-ups, collectables, it should discuss balance and difficulty.
Avoid the Scope Creep
Try to imagine scope creep as a creature. Anthropomorphizing it this way can help you to avoid it. It’s a nasty little critter who’s sole ambition in life is to lie to you and delay your project. Sure, he says nice things like “It’ll be worth it” or “It’ll make the game so much better” however all it’s trying to do is make you fail.
Because no matter who you are, scope creep causes unexpected development hours to be required. This is time you previously allocated to something else, because that’s the other thing – Us humans are typically bad at time planning… we are bad at budgeting our hours without a little help.
Once you have a design. you can use it to estimate how much time it will take to build.
I typically look at each feature as requiring an amount of time. You can do this by assigning a value against each item in your design. One way to do it is to use T-Shirt sizes.
A simple feature would be a Small T-Shirt. A larger feature would be a Large T-Shirt. You can use the sizes from XXS to XXXL if you need to. Try to work out what each of the sizes means to you in terms of actual time. For instance a Small size might be a couple of hours work whereas a XXXL would be a week. Often if something is that large, it warrants breaking down into smaller – simpler – more manageable tasks.
Learning good estimating skills is the key to releasing a good game on time.
Use the tools at your disposal. Set up an online project management site like sprint.ly to assist you with development. With sprint.ly, you define each of the tasks for your project, assign values to them (t-shirt sizes) to help with estimating. Once development has started you can track your progress.
Be Honest with Yourself
As a creative bunch, we are fairly insecure in how long we believe things will take us. We tend to underestimate because we believe we can get the job done if we push ourselves and we don’t want to appear slow to anyone who asks. We are just as bad with our own estimates as we are with a boss. We tend to give a lower number than we truly believe for some reason. You know what, bosses know this and double or triple your estimates anyway.
So when it comes to planning how much time you need for your game, don’t be afraid to over estimate a little. You have no-one to disappoint but yourself. There is no reason to create a Panic based Estimate.
If you over estimate and finish early, you can congratulate yourself and perhaps adjust future estimates. Make sure you’ve looked at everything you need to do though, you sure you didn’t miss anything?