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Rambling about process

I don't normally spend a lot of time thinking about the process by which I make games. Over the past few years I've kind of gradually found methods that work for me. Doing a ton of game jams has helped because with each mini-project you're going from inception, through development, polish and release. If you're just working on a single long project you tend just to keep digging the hole you're already in, instead of experimenting to find better techniques. I'm still learning and getting better but right now I have an approach to how I start a new project and foster it through to development that I'm quite happy with.

A few things have made me take some stock about my process recently. Talking to Aubrey Hesselgren at the Bit of Alright conference, watching IGN's questionable Next Game Boss reality show and the development of a small side project I've been working on a little at weekends. It was the IGN show that made me want to write about it the most because it takes an approach to game design that I've also seen mirrored in teaching environments and it's one I'm personally uncomfortable with.

Don't go chasing waterfall

In the first week of the show they ask the "contestants" to come up with a game design and pitch it to the judges, then in the second week they were asked to prototype their concept to show that it's a workable game. I'm sure this makes a lot of sense when you compare it to the AAA industry where a pitch and a design document are the starting point and development is largely tied to those initial plans. I've seen a lot of student teams work on projects in a similar manner and this seems to be the perceived wisdom of how games should be made.

I'm even guilty of this approach myself at times. When I first started jamming I would spend a bit of time trying to get an idea, something I was okay with, and then spend the rest of my jam time trying to realise that initial concept as best I could. I think that approach always resulted in my worst games, the least interesting. What actually works best for me is, to steal Aubrey's words, "let the game be what it wants to be." On the surface it might sound bit vague but I think it's actually very effective and practical approach.

By way of example

Kairo started life as just an image that inspired me. It seemed like you could make a game world look and feel like this abstract architectural image. So I did that, I built a structure inspired by that image and got it into Unity and started walking around it. From there I started thinking of what this world as a whole could look like and what would make it interesting to explore. Soon the one building became a small set of rooms and then some interactions went in that became puzzles. The game as it stands now came out of slow experimentation without clear goals.

My current side project is a little horror game I've been working on at weekends. It started out as something vague I was making for the recent global game jam. By the end of that weekend there was a lot I didn't like about the game but some stuff that was coming together really well. I didn't try to fix up the broken bits, I totally discarded them. They just felt wrong and out of place with the bit of the game I liked. Again a slightly nebulous way of talking about it but if you're constantly playing what you're making you soon start to get a feeling for what you like and what you don't. I still don't have a final clear vision for what this game is, but the bits I've been working on feel right so I'm sure it's going to be something interesting when I'm done.

I suppose you could simplify all I've said in more process orientated terms: build small, iterate and expand as you develop the concept. However the point is not to get too into a rigid mindset of how to make things. I have sympathy for the developers involved in IGN's farce because they're being constantly judged on what they've made. Being poked from the very start of development to justify that what you're making is a fun game people will want to play sounds like a nightmare to me. Being independent should mean you have the room to let your ideas breathe.

Welcome to the home of Locked Door Puzzle, the independent game development studio of Richard Perrin located in Bristol.

My primary focus is on creating expressive games that explore different forms of interactive storytelling.

For contact details check the about page.