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.

14 Responses to “Doug TenNapel – Designing a Game”


  1. Incredibly inspirational, thinks for sharing your insight! I’ve been looking forward to a new TenNapel+Terry Taylor project since Skullmonkeys! Gun Hockey just never quite cut it for me
    If you ever need an intern…!


  2. It’s very interesting to get a peek at your way of working/thinking. :)

    I like to be enable to be messy when I work, but I still need to have a system for it underlaying the mess. So that it’s easy to see where I am with all the different aspects of the production. I have a big need of control, I think. :)

  3. Tom Ellner Says:

    Fact: This game will be awesome.


  4. really looking forward to it. I would be probably the only fan you got from Pakistan. Best of luck for your awesome endeavour :)

    • tennapel Says:

      I’ve got lots of Pakis in my fanbase… appreciate them all.


      • really?! It’s surprising for me!.. I sure look forward to meet them :)
        I would really like to see this game ported to Android/IOS as well.

        You have mentioned that you are currently looking into the game in a bird’s eye view and will go deep details in a later stage. I like this approach as it relates to project management approach.

        My favourite game is Grim Fandango by Lucasarts. Some of their key points which i liked about the game (that i would love to see in your game as well) were:

        1. Connected and strong storyline with a touch of humor.
        2. Interaction with characters, whereas characters have their specialized capabilities, language tone, appearance, roles. The possibilities of interaction with those characters were different for different occasions. This enabled me to play the whole game more than once actually. However i liked to interact with everyone in every possible manner as i could and i enjoyed it extremely. And i would not like to have two options in the storyline, like if i adopt one then i would miss out the second. It would bug me alot thinking about the possibility of choosing the other option.
        3. Something to do when u are stuck solving any/all puzzles. I believe many people lose interest when they are not able to solve a puzzle. Something helping or something new to do at that time would be great. What i do is that i consult walk through just so i can move on from where i am stuck. This is not really a good approach when you want to enjoy the game fully.
        4. generally i would like to control more than one character, not at once and not more than 3. But at different occasions with interconnectivity of actions.
        5. literature. I loved the poems of Grim Fandango and their music was superb. Simple and awesome.
        “With bony hands I hold my partner
        On soulless feet we cross the floor
        The music stops as if to answer
        An empty knocking at the door
        It seems his skin was sweet as mango
        When last I held him to my breast
        But now we dance this grim fandango
        And will four years before we rest”
        6. applying inventory item to wrong items can be very hilarious at times, as 70% of the time a user would do that while playing your game.

        I hope maybe some of it will help you :)

      • tennapel Says:

        These are great ideas Zohaib, thank you!

        Doug TenNapel

        > > New comment on your post “Doug TenNapel – Designing a Game” > Author : > URL : http://www.piclome.com > Whois : http://whois.arin.net/rest/

      • Ori Avtalion Says:

        Doug, Zohaib’s IP address and email is listed in your response. Might want to edit that away :)

        I can’t seem to reply to a “third-level” reply, so I’ll add my response here.

        Grim is one of my favorite games as well, and Zohaib raised some excellent points. I also appreciate its blending of various art styles (Art Deco, Aztec architecture, Día de Muertos skeletons) and themes (Film Noir, Aztec afterlife) into a cohesive whole that, while ‘burrowing’ so much, still felt very original and creative.

        When I played it I have not seen much Film Noir, and many years later, when I saw Casablanca, I finally got many of the references, and it made me appreciate both much more.

  5. Bradley Hernandez Says:

    Wow, really interesting stuff you typed. I’m into game design (starting to flesh out my game a bit more) and surely this may help out.

  6. Austin Says:

    Does “early game development” mean you don’t have a title yet, or is it just keep-your-mouth-shut material? Either way, I’m more than happy to wait knowing you’re hard at work on a new video game!

    • tennapel Says:

      I have a title, but it’s “keep my mouth shut” stuff. I’m about half way through a sketchbook on it, so the content is coming pretty fast. I’m coming up to a point in the game design where it will suddenly have to slow down. That’s when it’s not the “blow down every idea that comes to mind” period.

  7. Tom Ellner Says:

    I gotta know, will the game be 2D with alittle first person 3D like the Neverhood or how will you do it?

  8. Jean Shipp Says:

    Good luck Doug on this new adventure. So interesting how you think the concepts through. J. Shipp


  9. An interesting discussion is worth comment. There’s no doubt that that you
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    do not talk about these topics. To the next!
    Cheers!!


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