Pre-production and prototyping is the single most important part when developing an indie game!
I am still working on games guys and I want to give you a little life sign with this post today. My last post is already half a year ago many things changed in that time, but some are still the same.
The Corona pandemic hit me quite hard. Yeah, I am working from home and normally I would not have any problem with it, but most of my business money was spent. So, I needed to work as a freelancer to earn some money. Unfortunately most of the companies I worked previously weren’t looking for any freelancer. In the end I had to live from social benefits and I still do.
Nevertheless in the mean time I got some motivation back and I came up with some new game ideas. Currently I am doing a lot of prototyping and testing these ideas. In the past with my first two games Timbertales and FlatFatCat I have made big mistakes in this stage of development. I always started with the game design document and afterwards I started with the development (production phase). After a while I noticed that these games weren’t as fun as I expected, but I invested already so much that I kept the development going.
What was the biggest mistake in the past?
I skipped the pre-production completely. Instead of testing out the core gameplay and verifying if the gameplay is fun at all I started with the production of the game without defining the game enough. Today, I think that is why I couldn’t ever bring Timbertales to a quality I wanted to have. The gameplay lacked innovation and fun from the beginning. The technology I used was quite good and I had also well written code. The graphics are simple but supporting the game. Thats all fine and I am very proud I could even release some games with decent content.
I always tried to sell those games and I didn’t get the numbers I was looking for. The game isn’t fun, innovativ or good enough and I spent too much time caring about these games, because I already invested too much time into them. Today I have a very different opinion and it took me quite a while to see things clear. Of course I was emotional bound to these games and I wanted to have success.
Why is pre-production and prototyping so important?
There are several benefits from prototyping before you go into production. First of all you can verify if your game idea is actually fun. Ideas tend to be awesome in our minds and we always want to create them as quickly as possible, if you have a high claim on quality for example you will spend months of development before you can even test your first scene. This can become very dramatic if you realise that your game idea isn’t fun at all or don’t work as you expected. This is why you should prototype first and bring your game idea as soon as possible to a playable version.
Another problem I encountered with both my games was the scope of the games. In the end of production I started to add features because I thought the game wasn’t good enough. I missed the opportunity to define the scope of the game before I started with production. That was a big problem because it raised a lot of questions during the development. I had to think on the fly about solutions and I came up with a lot of features, which were never planned.
When I am talking about pre-production think about film makers most of their work is pre-production. Before they can go into production the story board needs to be completed. All actors needs to be casted and all location needs to be defined. Then they can start with actual production (recording) of the scenes. In game development this is quite similar before we go into the production (development) we should define our story, core gameplay, levels and scope of the game and this is done by prototyping some basic levels for evaluation.
Afterwards in production you can start to claim a high quality in assets or levels, because everything else was defined in pre-production and isn’t a thing to think about anymore. You now know what you have to do and this should be the goal of the pre-production phase. A long time game development was quite complex for me and this was because I did everything on the fly while production, but if you have a very good pre-production the production becomes very easy and you just have to finish your game 🙂
The downsides and throwbacks of pre-production and prototyping phase
You need to be very honest to yourself. If you start prototyping and you realise that your game idea doesn’t work – Drop it! It is very hard to drop projects. As you can see with Timbertales and FlatFatCat I am not able to this even after so much time I earned nothing from those games. As a developer you are emotional bound to your games and it is very hard to drop things, but the if you can do this it will save you a lot of time and money!
For example if I would have started Timbertales with a simple prototype I would have realised soon that there is something missing in the gameplay there is no fun or innovation. I would have spend a month or two in development and I would need to drop that work which would be hard, but it is so much better than developing the game for a year and earn nothing like I did.
Another downside of prototyping: You can’t plan this process. It is kind of creative work. Some days you don’t have the energy for that, but in prototype phase you need to be creative and test innovativ and fun ideas. In this stage of development you can’t just finish things you have to play around and explore. Also it is very hard to define when pre-production is really finished.
Will my next game be more successful than the other?
I really hope so! The approach overall feels much better. I spend a lot of time into testing and prototyping which really makes me feel like an indie game developer. I already know that my next game will offer so much more fun and the core gameplay loop is so much better.
Sometimes it is very hard if your ideas won’t work on the first day or some gameplay elements just don’t look good or feel good. It is also a problem that I always want to polish things a lot, but keep in mind if your gameplay is really fun then it will be fun with unpolished assets as well!
I hope I could give you a little insight today on my new approach to making games. If you interested in following the development progress make sure to subscribe to our newsletter on my website or join my Discord