The multi-faceted nature of games: the Dream, the Design, and the Reality

Or how to stop hating your game and give it the attention it deserves

So, what is this three part description of a game, and why do you care? Well the first part is obvious: The Dream. Everyone has them, many of them, in fact sometimes it feels like there are too many of them, as everyone and his nine-fingered sister has their own set of ideas for games. Dreams are the things that make you go through the grueling process of coding and debugging. Dreams are in short your games soul. They are the thing that all games start out as. And as they are the most numerous, they are also the most fragile. Countless game ideas, great ones included have been discarded on the side of the road, left to die.

Of course, some might view this as mercy compared to the necessary process of the next step. It can be such a rigorous process, that some dreams are viciously ripped apart by it and their creators are mentally scarred for life. This is the creation of the Design. See, in their natural state dreams are like the random scraps that hotdogs are made out of, though a lot more desirable. In fact thatís a horrible analogy, but in any case the point is, dreams are not fit for consumption. They need to be translated from the dream world to our world. This is the process of designing. The important thing to consider is how you do it. Just plopping down your dream into text will bring it somewhat into reality, but often this is a bad way of doing it and leads to problems down the road. Now thatís not to say you shouldnít write down your ideas, itís a good idea to start by doing that. But if you really want to do it justice, you should do a lot more.

First of all, what is even more important than the idea is the idea of the idea, your dreamís soul that is. What the heck do I mean? Well basically, if your dream was murdered, what part of it would you remember? What is its essence? What is the central part that all other parts of it point to? If you sat down in an interrogation room with your dream and asked it who it really was, what would it tell you? If you can answer any of these questions, the answer is your games soul. Finding it can really be a pain, and sometimes your dream wonít make it out of that interrogation room. But if the two of you come out alive, you are on your way to making something great.

So now that you have your gameís soul firmly in your grip, what now? Now you brainstorm, find every possible element and part of your dream that complements its soul, and refine the elements you had already thought of. Basically, build up your game idea, refine your game idea, make your gameís soul shine. Now this process never ends throughout your gameís life cycle, but the more you do in the beginning, the less refactoring and reprogramming you are going to have to do, which is a plus. Once you are fairly confident in what you have, make your design document. This is taking your concepts and ideas, and bringing them into code/modeling/hard-core designing world. Write some specifications for things, some implementation ideas, etc. There are much better and more detailed guides for this process elsewhere so I wonít bog you down with a mediocre one.

So now comes the real work. Yeah, you thought everything up to this point was hard? Well give up now if you arenít ready for a hundred-fold of everything youíve done up to this point. Still here? Good, games need dedication and perhaps a bit of foolhardiness. If you are reading this you probably have some of the latter at least, since you saw my name and still kept going. Now this isnít a technical article, again there are plenty of those, and even if they all suck thatís not what this article is about and if thatís what you want then annoy me enough and I might consider writing something in that vein (well that or adding you to my spam filter list). Instead I am going to try and discourage you from writing your game. Not intentionally mind you, there are far too few indie games as it is, but simply as a side effect of giving it straight as it is.

Basically, making games is like having children. If you canít help but love it, while at the same time knowing every one of its flaws, while having it treat you like shit, and still give it your all and more, then your game stands a chance. You may think that sounds stupid or is wrong, or that I have no clue what I am talking about as I have never had any children, and while that second point may be true, the first one is not. You have to love your game and be dedicated to it if itís going to make it to completion. Laugh if you want, but I will only laugh back when your game becomes nothing but lost bits after you erase it from your hard drive.

So again you are forced to do what you really donít want to. You must know your game in and out. Donít lie to yourself about what sucks, know it. If you can, make it better, but first thing always know everything about your game. No one should be able to point out a flaw that you arenít already aware of. Now Iím not talking about programming bugs. Iím talking about design and implementation issues. The loading screen is annoying, the so and so sound pisses people off, the reload counter is too long for this, but canít be any shorter because of this. This feature has been done better already in other games, etc. The tricky part is admitting all these faults to yourself, and still loving what you have. Know the good parts as well. Know how innovative your control system is, know how good the explosions reward the player, know how well your enemy designs stick in your playerís mind. For every change you make know what it makes and what it breaks. And on top of this know the potential of your game's soul. Know what it can be, and make it be that.

Now that you have it, use this knowledge to the best of your abilities. Balance elements against each other until your game is as optimized as possible. Sometimes you will realize that a certain feature has to be cut, or another one added for the good of several others. Itís ok to do this now, though the sooner the better as it will mean less re-doing of stuff. If you donít like your game, know what you donít like and make it better. And get outside opinions, always get outside opinions. I have always found in the act of creation that my own idea of my works is often skewed. Iíve liked what others havenít, and found that things I didnít care for as much were generally enjoyed. As far as releasing is concerned what can I say. You will never feel like your game is really ready, but at some point you just have to come to terms with reality and release it. Fix up the bugs later if needed, make tweaks whatever. But get it out there. Near the end of a project sometimes things get slow and this can really invigorate you. Iím not saying to release an unready source, but talk with people who have helped you and see what they think.

And with that I will leave you. Iíve already said more than I should and more than you care to read Iím sure. Thanks if youíve made it this far, youíve been a great audience. Shoot any comments to Just donít forget to love your game despite its flaws, if you can do this and keep going, the world will thank you for the product you release. Good luck and happy dreaming, designing, and realizing.