VP of Gaming & Entertainment at Innovecs and 20-year gaming industry veteran
Technological advancements and behavioral shifts dictate the evolution of gaming, and where it is going. Keeping an eye on the latest trends is vital for developers as well as anyone involved in game creation. As per GlobalWebIndex and GDC, cloud gaming and VR are gaining traction and pretty much define the further development of the market and what the future game favs will look like for their fans. Coupled with robust consoles, the products will astound the increasing audience, providing new gaming experiences.
The game development cycle implies numerous challenges. For instance, a project is likely to face production dependencies, stakeholder pressure, transforming design patterns, and growing requirements. All of these aspects can’t help but impact the development, and in times when agility is everything, we must adjust and complete the game. However, there are things immutable in game development. Every high-quality game requires a chain of compulsory stages to turn the idea into a shippable product. Let’s have a look at them.
First things first: the discovery
At this stage, the idea starts transforming into a project. Here, the major task is to see the big picture — figure out the scope of the game and the requirements necessary to deliver it to the audience on time and on budget. Normally, this stage lasts for a month or two depending on the size, complexity, and platform of the game. The time frame can shrink or expand depending on the magnitude, necessary resources, and budgeting issues. For this step, a core team is required: solution architect, game designer, and art director, for example
The discovery stage itself consists of the four activities:
- Creation of the game design document. It is important to define certain rules at the very beginning, therefore, designers compile a single document describing mechanics, customization, user experience charts, and metagame design.
- Defining art and style. The art director together with designers and stakeholders decides upon the aesthetics of the game, visual specifics as well as overall vibe. Everything from concepts to backgrounds, characters, 3D models, graphic requirements, and beyond.
- Tech stack. The solution architect together with the tech lead pinpoints the exact technologies necessary for the game. More specifically, they define whether the team can use the available solution and game engine, choose the one appropriate, and then make sure the architecture can expand and be sustainable.
- Planning. When every aspect is clear and every procedure is understood by the team, the next step is to define the exact people necessary for the project, the timing, the deliverables, and budgeting.
At this stage, the game starts to develop. It gradually grows the plot, story, gameplay discussed and approved by the team members. They decide upon the game assets such as characters, environments, levels, difficulty, and rules. And then it’s time to start writing code.
The production process falls into seven milestones depicted below:
The game is tested whether the idea works and is worth it. It is assessed with a view to literally everything — mechanics, UX, functionality. It is worth mentioning, that during prototyping many concepts fall apart and never come to life.
Even though this variant of the game is far from being the last, first playable means we get a clearer idea of the game: the art is being refined, the higher quality items replace the placeholders.
The majority of content is created at this milestone. The team enhances the gameplay by cutting or adding content.
An optional stage can be used for presenting the game in front of investors, clients, studios to provide between a few and up to 30 minutes of first-hand experience.
At this point, we deem the game fully packed. In other words, it is a completely playable version, where all mechanics works like clockwork.
The stage is about improvement rather than bringing something new and crucial to the game. This is when QA testing takes place to make sure there are no bugs and errors.
A ready product to be welcomed by a wide audience.
The game development process encompasses a solid team of people, where everyone knows exactly their own area of responsibility. Projects include delivery managers, development managers, game developers, game designers, level designers, game artists, 3D artists, animators, audio/sound engineers, and QA testers.
While delivery managers and producers deal with schedules and business issues, the following roles work on increasingly granular tasks. And even when the smallest detail is well-thought and thoroughly designed, the initial concept might simply not work after rendering. Therefore, things do not stop after the release: the road of continuous improvements begins.
Testing the quality
The testing stage is crucial. As I mentioned earlier, it is the only means to provide your audience with high quality, as you are always in the process of seeking gaps, bugs, and much more. A game that has not been tested yet is not ready even for alpha release.
A QA tester explores the game with regard to areas prone to errors, render issues, bugs, tedious and uninteresting dialogues. There are many types of testers to assess the game with a view to every possible aspect — the fun factor and the chance to break the game are included.
When the game is refined after dozens of testings, it may proceed to alpha or beta release.
Releasing the game
Months of debugging and voilà — the release date is getting closer. As this is the last chance to reveal the unparalleled product, the developers use every minute to get the product as close to perfection as possible.
Again we are speaking of the details such as saturation of some object, dept of its shadows, the amplitude of the movement. Or maybe the character’s gown misses some texture. Every detail matters and takes part in the overall experience and intensiveness.
Post-release: life after
Of course, since people do the testing and the human factor is always somewhere around, it is possible (not desirable though) for a game to see the world with some minor imperfections and bugs. The first several months after the release are dedicated to the detection and elimination of issues.
Oftentimes, studios gladly receive the players’ feedback over specific forums and perceive it as a valuable input for the game development, not just some random rant. It is a part of the maintenance of the game experience after its release.
During the post-release stage, some teammates stay and fix the game or get busy with downloadable content, events, patches, while others move to the next projects.
Obviously, the process is huge. It engages many experienced people and naturally, involves superb management. When a large project is on the way, it is crucial to have the rightsynergy between all teams. It is an intangible aspect that has a tangible effect on the overall product. Therefore, the choice of a digital partner is not about the software or engine. It’s about people, and what keeps them together as a community.
In this article Doug Dyer, VP of Gaming & Entertainment at Innovecs, discusses the key steps of the game development process, explains how each of them functions, what roles and operations they consist of.
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