Doug TenNapel – Designing a Game
March 21, 2013
I’m in the thick of it. Designing a game means there’s scraps of paper all over my work space. Chunks of dialogue scattered over Final Draft files, Word documents and strewn across three sketchbooks. I like creating in a complete mess so that it’s easy to make a quite note or thumbnail a puzzle idea and move on. There’s a North Star I’m aiming for, so there is a theme and a core cast of characters, but the details and connective tissue aren’t there yet… that comes last.
This is where game design is similar to every other medium I work within, I go from general to specific. Jumping to specifics early on is bad in my view because bad ideas can get locked in too soon, and it will often compromise the larger structure that needs to hold everything together. As an artist, we sketch the proportions first, and don’t move on to thick lines until that structure is nailed. If I’m drawing someone’s portrait and get the structure wrong, then adding detail to that structure will only emphasize a broken face… I’ll never reclaim the likeness of the person by adding detail. The same goes for plotting story or script writing. The outline is king, and I have to feel confident in the notecards before going on to scene breakdowns and detailed dialogue. Once the structure is complete, I feel safer to move on to the next step knowing all of the connective tissue must serve that overall structure.
Game design is no different. I don’t want to start by throwing down finished puzzles and plots or it the player might feel like a section is suddenly coming from a different game. I try not to fall in love with anything too early, and it’s those early ideas that want to scream for extra attention because anything put down feels more real than what hasn’t been developed yet. But the strongest structure of the game could come along later, so it’s wise to allow better things to come down the line that could completely undermine what is created early on.