I am currently enrolled in an engineering class in school, where we create a variety of designs to solve many different problems. We use a design process to help us along with creating our solutions, that is organized into 6 different sections. The other day I was looking at the process again and realized something. The same steps in the engineering design process work perfectly for game development. Since it works so well for engineers, it should work very well for game developers too. Here are the 6 steps of the design process to create your game.
Step 1: Define the Problem
When you go to start a game, you don’t just sit down and make it. You need to actually figure out what you’re making. Defining the problem in game development is figuring out what kind of game you’re going to make. It could be a 2D strategy game, a 3D RPG, a mobile platformer, anything. You need to get a basic sense for what you want to make so you can continue on and make the solution, which is the game itself. In engineering, we also double check to make sure the problem is not impossible to solve and is justifiable. These are the constraints of the problem. Creating an infinite energy machine out of Teddy Bears and Beds Bugs in 10 minutes isn’t reasonable nor practical, so that problem would not go any further. In game development, the constraints are more along the line of skills and time. If you are a beginner who has only messed around with Construct 2 a bit and wants to make the next World of Warcraft, you should not continue with that idea (yet) as you lack the skills necessary to complete that solution. Also, if you want to create a Christmas themed adventure game, and it’s December 24th, the time constraints are so limiting it just isn’t possible without areas of the game lacking tremendously. When you decide to pick a game idea to pursue, make sure you are not only capable or close to capable of making it, and ensure that your deadline is reasonable for your time.
Step 2: Generate Solutions
In engineering, this step is essentially the crazy brainstorming, where we try to come up with as many different ways to solve the problems. From making a boat out of cement to using solar power for a TV, anything goes in this step. For games, this is where you think of all the mechanics of your games, and all the ways that you can accomplish them. Maybe the player moves with WSAD, or they move with R, V, the Right Arrow Key, and the Middle Mouse button. Maybe the player is a human child or a pink giraffe. This is the part where you just want to spew out all your ideas, whether they are good or bad. A lot of times, you can actually gain new game concepts from some of your wacky ideas for other games. I’ve taken inspiration from little parts of games like Watch Dogs and Mirrors Edge, and some of my mechanics for one game have turned into concepts for another. Here, you just need to record whatever comes to mind. A pencil and paper I find is the best way to go around doing this. That way you can make little notes, side sketches, and easy additions. I will note that in engineering we always use a pen, and any mistakes we make are not erased. Except if you make a spelling error, I would recommend using this philosophy too. Just because you think an idea is bad and definitely won’t work for your game, doesn’t mean you should get rid of it completely. Things could change in the next step and it may become useful. Once you have recorded all your ideas, it is time to move on to organizing and picking the right ones.
Step 3: Develop a Solution
This is the step where you want to get organized. You could have 100 ideas for the story, but in the end, you must pick one (Except for Telltale games but that’s beside the point 😐 ). Essentially what you want to do here is filter out the good ideas from the bad, and the flexible ones from the ones that don’t mesh with your core game. If you want to make a great game, you need to know exactly what you’re doing. You don’t want to wait till the last month of development to find out that this and that mechanic don’t work together, or that certain elements of the story don’t make sense. I like to make a mind map of my ideas, so I can see how everything is connected, and get a solid foundation for what I want my game to be. Concept art helps a lot here, so you can get an idea of the game world before you actually create it.
Step 4: Construct and Test a Prototype
This step is self-explanatory, make a prototype of your game. Now, it seems like some people get confused as to what a prototype actually is. It is not the complete game. Skyrim isn’t a prototype, Modern Warfare 3 isn’t a prototype, and Angry Birds isn’t a prototype. They are all complete games. A prototype is the core of your game, like a heart is to a human. Here, you are not focused on creating the best looking models or finding that perfect sound. You just want to make the basic ideas and mechanics for your game. For Minecraft, this is having a player in a world, with the ability to place and destroy blocks. There are no chickens or portals yet. For Counterstrike, this is being able to shoot and kill enemies. There are no weapon skins or custom maps yet. It is just the central core for your game. You need to take your solution from the last step and strip it down till you find the exact simplest way to convey your gameplay. Some prototypes are longer than others. The prototype of Counterstrike with pointing and shooting is a lot simpler than the prototype of World of Warcraft, with a combat, progression, economic, and more features. I’ll talk in a couple paragraphs about why you need to create a prototype first before going into the whole real thing, but it is essential to make sure you are making a good fun game.
Step 5: Evaluate your Solution
Can I make my game now? Not yet Spongebob. In order to make your game, you must first see if it is good, and is worth completing. Though some are similar, there are also many games that have new ideas, or at least ideas unknown to the developer. With any new product, there is a chance it may succeed, and a chance it may fail. One of the main keys to finding out if your game will succeed or fail is if it is fun. Even with the greatest graphics, sound, and story, no one will play your game if they don’t have fun playing it. That is why games like Minecraft are awesome, despite their lacking graphics and sounds. The most important thing is that your game is fun to play. So, how do you tell if your game is fun? Well, this is probably the easiest part of the whole development process. Play your game! Play it a bunch. See if you are having fun playing it. Now I can say from experience that sometimes my games aren’t fun to me simply because I have been playing them in many broken and different stages for hours and hours. However, you should still be able to tell if your game is fun, even if you have grown sick of it in a way. Though, this is not the end. You are only one person, and you are not even going to be a customer. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s fun when everyone else thinks it stinks! This is why this step is not only crucial but also the next and final step.
Step 6: Present your Solution
Congratulations! You have figured out what your kind of game you want to make, generated ideas, found the best ones, developed a prototype, and have tested it for yourself. The final step before creating what will be your full and final game is to present your prototype to your audience. In the end, they are the ones who will be buying your game, so your game needs to be fun to them. Post screenshots, gifs, videos, descriptions, dev logs, anything to portray your vision for your game. Prototype version and alphas are also a great way to get good feedback because people are directly playing your game. From doing all of this, you should be able to answer the question, is my game fun? If the answer is yes, awesome! Continue and create your full game, making your initial vision come to life. If the answer is no, then you need to revisit the previous steps. Do people not like the feeling of the game’s movement? Construct and test another prototype. Do people not like the progression system? Develop a new Solution. Do people think you should add a flying mechanic? Generate a new solution. Depending on the reception for your game, you may need to go back one or more steps in the design process, which is exactly what engineers do. If it doesn’t work the first time, try again. Eventually, you will create the right prototype, that will become a great game.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to share this article on social media if you enjoyed, or let me know if you have any questions or comments!