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xnsdvd
2007-08-21, 04:26 PM
Greetings strangers,

A little intro is in order i suppose, my name's Shannon, I'm 20, I've wanted to be a games designer since i was 12 when i first got my hands on Black Isle's Baldurs Gate. I'm currently a student at Republic Polytechnic in Singapore and i'm required to write a report on a particular industry or aspect of that industry.

So what better than my childhood dream right? But then i discovered this is one of the less documented industries and it's nearly impossible to know an actual games designer where i live.

So to make things short, i have a series of questions for Mr Burlew and any other games designers out there. I'd really appreciate it if you left your real name and position in the company or studio you work for if any. And the questions are:

- How does a studio begin developing a game? I.E. Market Research? Brainstorming?

- There are doubtlessly, numerous options available. Who decides which one becomes a game?

- What's involved in this decision making process? I.E. Manpower? Budget?

- After a concept is decided on, are there a set number of phases the game goes through? I.E. 1st, 2nd and 3rd sprints? Alpha, Beta phases?

- What are the purposes of these phases? Why break the project up into parts?

- What role does the publisher play in the process?

- How does the studio acquire the capital needed? Are there sponsors?

PS: I've been a huge fan of OOTS ever since 2 years ago :smallbiggrin:

[Insert Neat Username Here]
2007-08-21, 09:01 PM
I'm also interested in this industry; I too would like to know more about it.

PS Welcome to the Playground!

Reinboom
2007-08-21, 09:20 PM
- How does a studio begin developing a game? I.E. Market Research? Brainstorming?

Brainstorming, and structure. Actually, most game companies start with either a mod to an existing game or through small games released (usually in the form of shareware).



- There are doubtlessly, numerous options available. Who decides which one becomes a game?

If you have a producer (the people who pay you; normally it's best to release a free game first to have viable work before you try), then you present them with a design document. This document, structured however your company likes, is normally unique to your company. It normally includes an executive statement of the presentation of your game, a competitive advantage, features, target audience (and why), and just an overall reason why it would sell (this being the key factor).
Design docs are anywhere from 10 pages long to hundreds. Usually around 20 pages. However, these pages can include artwork and general gist of design right off - you just need to make sure you can present the work in an orderly enough fashion to show you're serious and you're able to keep a goal.



- What's involved in this decision making process? I.E. Manpower? Budget?

Depends on the scale and what you want to do. It could be thousands of dollars in contracts (to get it onto a system, each company has certain requirements) to almost nil (for PC games, you need no contract). Engine design, etc.
I've run in a team of about 15 people designing a simple semi-3D adventure game. Mind you need: Game design specialists, Level designers (can be the game designers), programmers, audio specialists, artists, and more. These can be the same people sharing jobs.



- After a concept is decided on, are there a set number of phases the game goes through? I.E. 1st, 2nd and 3rd sprints? Alpha, Beta phases?

Nope, just however you wish. Usually there is a notable 'Beta' period where you get outside quality testers to try it for you and find bugs. However, your company/group can set this up however you want.



- What are the purposes of these phases? Why break the project up into parts?

Organization. Everyone is working on so many things, sometimes phases can also just mean deadlines and compilation. Restructure the game to playable, try it, fix it, make it better. Repeat.



- What role does the publisher play in the process?

Money, and some publishers have specific requirements (such as: no blood, or no blue blood is default but can be changed, or something similar).




- How does the studio acquire the capital needed? Are there sponsors?

See above.

— Reina Sweet
Student for Video Game Design and Programming

Witchhunter
2007-08-21, 10:29 PM
Okay, just so that you know, I can't possibly answer all of your questions in one post. I'll have to break this up into multiple posts.

PM you with my real name. I'd prefer not to post it on a public board, and would request that you not do so either.

In any case, I work for Paradigm Concepts currently writing their Witch Hunter (http://www.paradigmconcepts.com/witch_hunter/) game. I'm happy to say that our little game sold out at Origins and did fairly well at Gen Con. Before working for Paradigm, I worked for Morrigan Press and Arthaus (which is underneath White Wolf) writing their Ravenloft line. I'm a good friends of the Masked Llama, BTW. Just for reference.

As for your questions...first understand that a vast majority of game companies aren't like Wizards of the Coast. Wizards of the Coast owns a vast majority of the market share in terms of roleplaying games. Comparing any other roleplaying game company to them is like comparing Linux to Microsoft. One is a dwarf, and the other a giant. Being that I have only worked for small companies, I can only tell you what they do.

However, I might point you in the direction of the D&D Podcast by Mike Merles and David Noonan. They talk about their work at the office all of the time, and in their latest podcast, they talk about what it's like to work at Wizards of the Coast. They give a pretty good indication of what it would be like. People at the Wizards office game. They play games for work and for pleasure. They even have rooms set aside for it. But I can let Mike Mearls and David Noonan speak for themselves.

On to your questions:

- How does a studio begin developing a game? I.E. Market Research? Brainstorming?

- There are doubtlessly, numerous options available. Who decides which one becomes a game?

- What's involved in this decision making process? I.E. Manpower? Budget?
With our latest project, Witch Hunter, we started with pure brainstorming. It literally began with the lead developer saying, "You know, it would be cool if we could have a game like this." It was his idea, mostly. Of course, we contributed ideas and tosses concepts back and forth. It was a collaborative effort, but one person, that being Henry, had a leading vision. It’s been my experience that the most successful projects that are both creative and collaborative usually have one person at the helm who has a broad vision. However, that one person works with everyone else to help their ideas become part of that vision. It’s a group effort, not a dictatorship, but in the end you have to have someone being the “guide” so to speak.

So how did it all begin? Henry Lopez had always wanted to do a Solomon Kane type of game, that was set in the American Colonial period that featured both horror and swashbuckling. He got the idea from watching the movie Sleepy Hollow, but was further inspired by the writings of Robert E. Howard and his Solomon Kane universe.

Being gamers we all knew that there wasn't any types of games like this in the industry. We briefly looked at Northern Crown and determined that our game didn't have too much crossover with what was offered there.

Henry proposed his idea to his business partners and the development began. He contacted writers that he knew in the industry. They, in turn, recommended that I be put on the project, because they knew my authorship from the Living Death Campaign that was run by the RPGA. (http://www.livingdeath.org/)

What was funny was that no one up at Paradigm knew that I had published material for Ravenloft, which would have actually given me more street cred. Instead, they wanted to hire me based on work that I was doing mostly for fun and assumed would get lost through the years one day. You never know what writing of yours will come up for review! So even if you’re writing fan fic or just putting something out on the web for fun, do a bang up job of it.

Henry contacted everyone, went over his initial ideas, and then we all went to a focus group meeting in Atlanta to hash out the game. We went about setting down the basic precepts in which the game would be founded.

This is where I pause and tell you that a larger company like White Wolf does things a little differently. When it comes time to consider a new line, say for example, Promethean, the developers all send in memo explaining their ideas for the next upcoming product. The proposals are all reviewed and examined, and the next idea is chosen from that pool. I don't know the details of how a proposal is accepted and finalized, but I highly suspect it is by consensus, with their CEO arbitrating the process.

So that you understand, most meetings of game companies are with people sitting around in their T-shirts and jeans. And just about everyone at the table will be friends. There’s no large power-point presentation, or people wearing power-ties. I’m sure the experience would be very similar to many peoples’ here of just sitting on couches, coming up with cool ideas.

I would suspect that WotC meetings are slightly more formal…but only slightly. Maybe everyone’s wearing a Wizard’s polo shirt instead of a T-shirt.

MrEdwardNigma
2007-08-22, 07:18 AM
;3072361']I'm also interested in this industry; I too would like to know more about it.

PS Welcome to the Playground!

I completely second that. And yes, I too have been looking to become a game developer for, oh, just about all my life now...
The answers to those questions would really interest me as well.

Oh, and Witch Hunter, the game looks really cool. One of the most original concepts I've seen in a while.

Reinboom
2007-08-22, 07:47 AM
Upon reading Witchhunter's post (quite insightful!) I realize it may be beneficial to ask, and this I assumed was electronic due to mention of baldur's gate, which type of game designer?
A simple divide between electronic and non-electronic is rather significant. This keeps extending further between genres in these as well.

I also must be clear that all my comments are in view of studying to be an electronic game designer - although, incidentally, it is HIGHLY encouraged to play as many non electronic games as one can as well. We have been warned that on the job interview we may be asked "So, how did your last D&D/WoD/etc. Campaign go?"

I believe that overall electronic game design is much less casual, though still quite casual in of itself.

xnsdvd
2007-08-22, 04:01 PM
My apologies, I was refering to electronic games. But over here we're taught to first create non-electronic variants of what we want to create in the computer.

And then we play test them for a few weeks to iron out any of the bugs and to see which mechanic makes it the most "fun" I.e. killing mosters, leveling up, making money, building.

Following that we create a prototype in "game maker", which by the way is an excellent program for us lazy types, and do further testing there. So that if and when we make it to a full blown game with it's own engine, all we have to do is work at making it pretty and keeping the poly count down.

But the thing is, for the report i'm doing(which is one of my final year assignments) i'm required to interview "industry professionals" so thank you to all those who've replied =) I really appreciate you guys taking the time to help. Oh and before i forget, SweetRein, can i call you a freelance games designer? The Evaluators won't let me get away with anything with "student" in it...

PS: Some of the game i'm working on is over at xnsdvd.deviantart.com

Indon
2007-08-22, 04:26 PM
Well, I'm a software developer (of non-game software, that is) rather than a game designer, but I can still answer a couple of your questions. Mind that I speak from the view of a programmer, not a P&P designer, but some of what I say is applicable in general design.

I work for the DoD, and would rather not mention my real name. Sorry.



- How does a studio begin developing a game? I.E. Market Research? Brainstorming?


Can't really comment on this. Software in my field is built to suit a need; it's a 'software solution', as it were.



- There are doubtlessly, numerous options available. Who decides which one becomes a game?


I imagine it's some chaotic system comparable to how movie scripts get made into movies.



- What's involved in this decision making process? I.E. Manpower? Budget?


Business-wise, launching commercial software is about risk vs. reward: How much will this product cost us to develop and maintain, versus how much is this likely to sell?



- After a concept is decided on, are there a set number of phases the game goes through? I.E. 1st, 2nd and 3rd sprints? Alpha, Beta phases?


As many as it takes. A lot of it's dependent on what kind of software change model you're using, as well.

Most software is developed using some kind of cyclic or spiral model, in which new requirements are accumulated, expressed into code, documented and tested, and then released. A complex piece of software may be released 'internally', in a partially functional state, long before the final product is released or even user tested (often called in gaming a 'beta test').



- What are the purposes of these phases? Why break the project up into parts?


Because the project is big, and if you don't split it up into managable parts, you will overwhelm your developers, their brains will fry, and then you have to pay off their company health plan insurance.

Not just that, either. With a smaller, more cyclic implementation, you have a better chance of isolating problems with code quicker, and more cheaply. If you only integrate a smaller set of modules at any given time, it decreases the number of sources that a new bug is likely the result of.



- What role does the publisher play in the process?


I have no involvement in large-scale software distribution, so I can't really say.



- How does the studio acquire the capital needed? Are there sponsors?


Well, if a business doesn't have money allocated for a project, I imagine they might take out a loan. This seems to be more of a general business question.

xnsdvd
2007-09-01, 01:52 PM
Hi guys, thanks for all the help so far.

It appears i've been asked to include an analysis of the different "internal and external forces" that affect the development process. Shareholders, Censors, Government Funding, Product placement and such. Care to comment?

Zherog
2007-09-01, 04:24 PM
Are you interested in video game design, or "pen and paper" game design?

xnsdvd
2007-09-02, 02:26 AM
Like i said a few posts up: Video games design, as far as RPGs, RTSs and God Sims go start off as pen and paper games =) So while i'm studying to do video games, i'm quite interested in both.

Zherog
2007-09-02, 09:33 AM
My game design experience is as a freelance writer for RPGs. So I'm not going to be able to answer all your questions about the business practices. But I can answer some of them, though my answers will likely be anecdotal and will not be a good primary source for your research.



- How does a studio begin developing a game? I.E. Market Research? Brainstorming?

I've heard that WotC does a little bit of both. Every once in a while, their development and design teams get together in a conference room and kick around ideas. They discuss previous ideas that were liked but not on the schedule, and they also bring up new ideas.

I also know that the book "Dragon Magic" came into being because a marketing person said to Chris Perkins (paraphrasing): "Hey, you know, books with the word "Dragon" in the title sell really well. And books with the word "Magic" sell really well. Why don't we have a book with both words in the title?"

Finally on this point in regards to WotC, I know that over the past six months or so, they've been actively listening to ideas the community has on their forums. There's a "Wish List" thread somewhere or other over on WotC, and it's the first time that I can ever recall designers actively participating in such a thread (and I've been on the WotC forums for six years now).

*

As a freelancer, it's all about the brainstorm. You sit and think up ideas, often mixing in some market research as you clobber your brain. Once you have an idea, you have to sell the idea to whatever publisher you've picked.


- There are doubtlessly, numerous options available. Who decides which one becomes a game?

Good question. If you find out, let me know so I can kiss their ass a little more. :biggrin:


- What's involved in this decision making process? I.E. Manpower? Budget?

Both, most likely. If a company is going to produce a new book, they need to know that it can be designed, developed, edited, laid out, and produced in a reasonable time to hit the market. All those jobs need to be filled, and if you only have one layout expert, you can't crush him or her under the weight of 10 products a month. You'll drive the person insane, and then you won't have any layout expert on hand.

Money also plays into it, obviously. If you can't afford to pay the writer or editor or whomever then it really doesn't do any good to fire up the project.


- After a concept is decided on, are there a set number of phases the game goes through? I.E. 1st, 2nd and 3rd sprints? Alpha, Beta phases?

In print products, yes. I've done both magazines and books.

Magazine: You write, then you self edit. You send it to you editor, and he writes all over it with a red pen (or red colored font), requesting changes. Then you work on the next revision, and 'round and 'round it goes like that.

Books: When writing a book in the game industry, you have a target word count for the final product. You also have a target date. Between the start date and the final date, you have deliverables. For example, if you're supposed to write 30,000 words in 3 months, you might have to turn in 10,000 words within a month. This is sort of a "checkpoint" for your developer to make sure you're on the right track for what's wanted. The developer will read what you have, and offer suggestions of where you're missing the mark for the project goal.

So it's not quite like the alpha, beta, etc for a game product, but there are different versions throughout the development cycle.


- What are the purposes of these phases? Why break the project up into parts?

I can think of two reasons.

1) Smaller chunks are easier to deliver. 50,000 words is a lot. But if I only have to give you 6,000 words six weeks from now, that's not bad. I can layout the skeleton of my section, and start filling in he blanks. And that leads to the second reason.
2) With the turnover points, it gives the developer (and possibly even the editor) a chance to look at your ideas and see where you are. It ensures them that you're working on the project. Most importantly, they get to decide if you're going in a direction they like. If not, re-doing stuff won't cause you to lose too much work, and starting over whole sections is easier.


- What role does the publisher play in the process?

- How does the studio acquire the capital needed? Are there sponsors?

I'm unable to answer these questions.

Hope that helps a little bit. If you want me to go into more detail on anything as a freelance writer in the RPG industry, just ask.

Neo
2007-09-02, 12:06 PM
Will try and offer a few bits on the electronic design side. A good resource for you would be to check up on Game Architecture and Design, as it answers most of these questions and in detail. Should still be able to the the new edition that came out a couple of years ago.


- How does a studio begin developing a game? I.E. Market Research? Brainstorming?

It depends on the source of the idea, any pitches from the publisher will be pure marketing decisions, as that is where their interests lie. From the team or designer it starts as an idea and is developed with brainstorming, usually if an external designer pitches his idea and is taken in by the company he'll end up being either hired as or effectively the design lead, though it also depends on management/team leader abilities.


- There are doubtlessly, numerous options available. Who decides which one becomes a game?

The decision is always with the publisher, as they pay out for the staff and development time. The designer will create a design document which is effectively a sales pitch to the publisher, who will then assess it on a risk/reward basis and current market trends before picking it up.


- What's involved in this decision making process? I.E. Manpower? Budget?

Mostly it will just be some kind of marketing individuals, as until it gets picked up and the team forms it is just paper and an idea. The other parts of the business will be weighed in depending on feasibility of the project and publisher interest.


- After a concept is decided on, are there a set number of phases the game goes through? I.E. 1st, 2nd and 3rd sprints? Alpha, Beta phases?

No, the game will go through as many builds as is needed to iron out any bugs or work in new features, version numbers themselves are fairly arbitrary and test phases like beta are purely optional. Though you may have set phases based on deadline, ie. specific dates to have a certain percentage of the project completed if not necessarily working.


- What are the purposes of these phases? Why break the project up into parts?

These phases are mainly to break up the individual modules that constitute the finished product, so that you can prioritise features/systems and keep a fairly accurate eye on whether you are on schedule or not.


- What role does the publisher play in the process?

Most publisher activity during development is keeping an eye on their interests throughout, mostly due to the large amount of money invested in development. Mostly they will apply pressure for deadlines, as they have to release the product when they think it will make the most money.


- How does the studio acquire the capital needed? Are there sponsors?

Studio capital is usually made from publishers giving them a certain amount to complete the project by a set time. Though independent developers may have to raise their own capital, usually through loans. Though rarely you'll get other methods such as advertising/sponsorship etc.