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Game development is an art. Story writers, designers, sound engineers and many other artists chip in their efforts to create an artwork having the potential to make users go “wow”. From minimalistic games like Monument Valley to augmented reality games like Pokémon GO, they all have something in common – a remarkable game design process.
Why Is Game Design Important?
It is safe to say that many who are unfamiliar with mobile game development fail to understand the significance of the game design process and the influence it has on the end product. The game design sets the stage for every crucial component of game development, from ideation to execution.
For a typical user, how clean and organised the backend of an app matters the least. This is because they never get to see these aspects of the game. But one thing they do scrutinise is the game design. Simply put, the design of a game has a greater say in its desirability as it is a deciding factor of the user experience.
What Are the Stages of Game Design?
The game design process is not just about designing a game. From understanding what the users aspire to experience, to analysing how the competitors do it, there are several vital steps involved.
The game design process can be broken down into pre-production, production and post-production stages. And each stage contains several crucial elements as listed below.
1. Analysis of Requirements
From a mobile game company’s point of view, each game they release is a source of revenue generation. To make sure they make the right investment, they need to research the industry demands, find a suitable game genre and also the target audience.
However, in many cases, the brainstorming session can be the first step, particularly for solo developers or startups having a brilliant game idea. If you lack a specific idea to start with, yet want to develop a game, then analysing what the industry needs must be the first step.
From defining each character’s traits to finalising how the story progresses, brainstorming sessions are spread throughout the game design process. These sessions focus on idea generation and are crucial for a game’s success. Even though a developer may have a solid game idea, subjecting it to peer discussions and criticisms can give more depth to it.
There will be several other games that closely resemble the concepts of the one you are planning to develop. To make sure you can present a better experience to the users, you have to perform in-depth competitor analysis and review mining. This will also help you to not repeat the same mistakes your competitors have made.
The research phase is also essential to determine the technology and software you are planning to utilise for the development. Also, for games revolving around historical events, like the Assassin’s Creed, thorough research is required for modelling the character traits and appearances and making sure they are historically accurate.
4. Game Objectives
Once you have a clear understanding of the game’s concept, you need to plan and document what the game is as a whole, including its name, characters, plot and objective. This will also be an excellent opportunity to discuss the feasibility and impact of each element on the game.
From a character’s name to its description, everything must be reflected in the design process. Only then the developers can code these elements into convincing visuals.
The type of characters you choose and the game’s objective will have a significant impact on its design. For example, the game Crossy Road is about a chicken trying to cross the road amidst high traffic. To enhance the comical element surrounding the concept, the design is similar to arcade games.
Similarly, the horror-themed game Rest in Pieces has a game design aimed to evoke a feeling of fear.
5. Concept Art
Concept art is where visual representations start. These are illustrations of each element of the game made by concept artists, that may or may not change during the development process. It gives both designers and developers an idea of how the characters and the environment they belong to will look like.
Concept art can be just 2D sketches or even in the form of photo-realistic images. These images are also reworked and used for marketing the app.
6. Map Development
Once the characters and environment of the game are set, the layout of the game must be decided. Is it an open-world game like the Call of Duty? Or does it have specific race tracks like the Real Racing 3?
At this stage, you don’t have to be entirely specific about how each element is placed or how the environment responds to a character. Instead, map development is intended to develop a structure for the game.
7. Sketch Level Designs
This stage is highly crucial in the game design process as the game layouts you create here will directly affect the end product. For both the developers and designers, these sketches will act as a reference point to determine how the characters associate with each other and the environment surrounding them.
These sketches must also provide a detailed account of how each element is placed during different events of the game.
Prototyping tests whether the game’s concept, its functionality, and design will work and determines whether it is worthwhile to pursue further. Generally, once a game is prototyped, no new features or elements are further added.
1. Scaling and Proportion
For puzzle or logic games, the perspective may stay the same as the players directly interact with the elements. But for genres such as open-world games, the character perspective may change with changes in the environment.
Also, while a character moves towards or away from the game elements, they are supposed to scale accordingly. Make sure each element scales correctly throughout the game.
2. Blockout Levels
This step is used to efficiently layout each section of the game, such as buildings, objects and non-playable characters. By dividing the game levels into blocks, you can perform detailing to each element with a sense of the environment it belongs to.
Textures should be added only after adding the static meshes of each element and not vice versa. This is because editing of the textures is relatively easier as compared to meshes. Do note that the type of textures determines how realistic the game will look and feel.
Just like the textures, lighting also adds to the realistic look of a game. This is especially crucial for open-world games in which light changes with contexts, such as when a character roams around during day or night or gets into an indoor setting.
5. Adding Interactive Features
This again may not apply to puzzle or logic games. In an open-world game, the characters will have to interact with several components, such as doors and cars. How each of these elements responds to the character and the environment is crucial in determining how realistic they feel.
6. Cinematic Scenes
In between each level or when the protagonist defeats a villain, you can make use of short cinematic scenes that don’t require the player to take any actions. This can add a premium touch to the game, and you can also add several easter eggs to tempt users to play more.
The menu of the game must be designed to be intuitive and easily accessible. Along with containing recognisable features such as volume, sound effects and language settings, users will appreciate it if they can access the menus anytime during the game.
Similarly, the head-up display (HUD) must contain crucial information of the game such as points, lives left, map and such, without interfering with the user experience. Also, many games allow users to toggle the HUD on and off.
Glitches and bugs are common in games even after deployment. It may take a real user’s eye to spot design issues which you never thought of. From scaling to lighting issues, the game environment and characters need to be viewed and perfected from each angle to make sure the users receive the best experience possible.
During development or testing, several elements of the game may require a redesign to make them look more appealing. These changes need to be reflected in the game design process and also in the game design document.
3. Application Performance Monitoring (APM)
Even after multiple testing sessions, there will be several glitches or bugs that make it to the published version. These will be a hindrance to the user experience, and maybe hard to track down.
With the help of APM tools, you can easily identify these issues, their causes and rectify them. Some tools make use of artificial intelligence to proactively find and solve issues of an app before it affects the users.
What Is a Game Design Document?
The Game Design Document, famously known as the GDD, is essentially a detailed document containing all the visual elements of a game, including drawings of characters, environment, and information about each level, to name a few.
Even though the document undergoes several changes as the game development progresses, it acts as a reference point for all stakeholders. However, there isn’t a single format for GDD. It can change with respect to the developers and the complexity of the game being developed. Here’s an example for your reference.
Why Is a Game Design Document Important?
Just like in any other app development, effective collaboration is essential for timely and quality output. With the help of GDD, both the designers and developers will have a roadmap and set of reference points to follow.
It is best advised for the development team to go through the entire GDD to gain an in-depth understanding of what the game represents. This will also help in organising and storing the after-thoughts associated with each component.
Here are four reasons why GDD is a crucial element of the game design process.
1. To Organise Ideas
When it comes to storing ideas, human memory isn’t a reliable option, especially when it is something as complicated as game design and its functionality. By having everything on paper (not literally), ideas are more organised and accessible.
As development is a collaborative effort, there are chances for misinterpretation of instructions if it is made verbally. A GDD eradicates such mishaps and offers developers and designers a go-to document if they are lost. Similarly, while communicating with multiple departments, GDD will ensure everyone’s on the same page.
2. It Acts as a Checklist
Several concepts that were discussed during the initial brainstorming sessions may lose their significance if not written down as important. The GDD lets you do it and can act as a checklist to make sure you cover all the necessary components during development. Such a list will also keep the team motivated as they can track their progress.
Also, many features may seem important initially, but could be irrelevant or contrasting when you view the game as a whole. With a GDD, you can easily spot the features that don’t complement the big picture.
3. It Keeps Track of Progress
Development is a time-bound process and always takes longer than planned. The progress of a single developer will affect the team as a whole. With a GDD, tracking is easier as project managers can oversee how much time each component takes to be developed.
This will, in turn, help in setting realistic goals and finding weak points that require further assistance.
4. It Complements App Promotion
For advertisers, understanding the USP of an app is vital to promote it well. A glance at the GDD will give them enough material for formulating an effective app marketing strategy. The game design document will also contain information about the target audience and guidelines on how the game plans to tackle their attention.
What Are the Key Elements of a Game Design Document?
The format of the game design document will change depending on the complexity of the game. Here are some critical elements of a GDD.
- The name of the game
- The summary of the game
- An overview of the game environment
- The list of features to be included
- The descriptions of each character
- Information about the rendering process – 2D or 3D
- Information about each level
- Concept artworks
- Information about sound effects and music
- Information about controls and game mechanics
- Information about the monetization strategy
Game Design Best Practices
- Always keep in mind the wide range of screen resolutions.
- Try to keep the number of buttons/controls as low as possible.
- Give users the freedom to toggle on/off the HUDs.
- Make the buttons big, evident and tappable.
- Design and place the features for thumbs.
- Make use of sliders to organise quick access options.
- Make the close buttons of popups recognisable.
- Set the complexity of the game design, adapting to the capabilities of the target audience.
- Use familiar UI elements such as the play button, close button or hamburger menu.
- Offer assistance until the users feel confident.
Common Game Design Mistakes to Avoid
1. Feature Overload
Several features may look good in the paper, but once the game is published, they may not fetch the desirability you expected. Both the developers and designers would have had a hard time incorporating these features into the game, as they were dealing with screens that are just a few inches wide.
Adding multiple features may also degrade the user experience as the gamers will find it hard to focus, not to mention the dilemma it can cause to the marketers. Even if you are targeting the tablets, follow the mobile-first design to ensure you deliver the right experience to the right device.
2. Fast Moving Texts
One thing gamers often complain about is the fast-moving texts in the game. Even though these texts are used to engage users during loading time, they are often resourceful as users find these to be the tips and tricks to play the game better.
But if you cut off these texts too fast, users will have a hard time reading them, not to mention the irritation it can cause. It is always better if you can let the users signal that they are done reading, especially for longer text blocks.
3. Making the Game Too Realistic
People love realistic games, but their devices may not. When you develop a highly realistic game, naturally the size of such applications will be larger, and the system resources it consumes will be enormous.
This may be okay for gamers with high-end devices. But a majority of your target audience will have a hard time playing the game. Always give preference to app performance as it can make things easier for the users.
4. Incomplete GDD
A game design document is a useful tool to make collaboration between different departments seamless. But if you fail to include all the elements or specific information, other departments will have a hard time comprehending your intentions, unless you explain it to them verbally.
To make sure the GDD does its task, include and organise as much information as possible. Also, there isn’t a specific format for GDD. This means you can add other elements to it, such as short notes or references. Also, you need to make sure the design document is up-to-date.
5. Not Communicating the Features to Users
From the storyline, the users must be able to pick up how the game works, and how each feature can help the character progress. You can make use of contextual hints to make sure the users never feel lost.
Otherwise, the users may feel that the game is hard to play, and may never use it again. You can also utilise an app onboarding campaign to guide the users in the right direction.
The game design process is a crucial part of mobile game development, from conceptualisation to completion. The more effort and time you put into it, the more organised the game development will be.
During development, a game design document will help every stakeholder identify their part and will keep them motivated as there would be a reliable roadmap they can refer to. It enables game development companies to track the progress and analyse which components are taking more time to be designed, further helping them to channel their resources competently.
Follow the best practices discussed and make sure you don’t make common game design blunders and mistakes made by your competitors. Your game may not be an overnight success. But with a well-thought concept and effective marketing campaigns, it will have a chance of hitting the top charts.