A Start-to-Finish Guide for Making a Video Game



he step that most separates a slick, professional product from an amateur-looking game is the one that will be seen the least. Proper planning is the most important step in any project, and video game design is no exception.

The conceptualization phase of the project acts like a road map for you and your team to follow. Since video games can get quite expansive, with many different interlocking systems and resources, it’s easy to get lost. A solid plan helps to prevent this.

The first question you need to ask yourself is “What can I make?”. This is subtly different than “What do I want to make?” because any project needs to take into account factors like skills, time and money. I don't mean to say that you should set the bar low for your project, but if your game calls for a lush 3D world and you don't know modeling, you need to factor in the time it will take to learn.

That said, one of the scourges of a first-time developer is “feature creep,” the term for when you need to add just one more feature into a product, and only one more after that. And then another. And then one last one, and only one more after that. This usually ends with the product becoming to bloated to function, or the new features not working well with each other, since they weren't accounted for in the original plan.

"Feature creep (or scope creep) is where the design of a feature or system is vague and people tend to try to attach more functionality to the feature.

This may manifest in several ways:

  1. 'Oh that's really cool, but I'd love it if it could also do this.'

  2. 'We can't actually release this software as-is until the following endless list of features gets implemented.'

Read up on what happened with Duke Nukem Forever. It's a perfect example of scope creep. Basically the designer wanted every fad feature in the game and it ended up never launching*."

Nuri Yeralan

Computer Science professor at the University of Florida

The best way to deal with feature creep is to start simple. If you want to add new ideas, all you need to do is weigh the costs and benefits, and take a good look at how it fits into the current plan.

In terms of brainstorming ideas, once you have a general concept of what you want to make, it's best to break down the idea into individual parts. That makes it a lot easier to analyze and see how it would fit with other parts.

"I like to just write up a spreadsheet, breaking things down from the broad concept into points that I can section off, turn into individual components, then rebuild into the original idea. Like breaking a player character into race, stats, equipment, skills, and inventory."

Jesua Jean

Indie Game Developer and Computer Science Student

*Duke Nukem Forever did end up launching in June 2011, but the end product was arguably vastly different from when it was first announced in April 1997. The game went through many revisions and developers, having to be scrapped entirely and remade several times.

What You'll Need

And lots of them
Design Document
Written notes that act as a guide for your game. This can include everything from story ideas, character descriptions, instructions for designers. The more detailed you are now, the less you have to worry later
Concept Art
Art is very important in pre-production as it acts as a road map for the next step. If you have characters, you need character sketches. If you have a story, you need story boards. Again, more detail is better, as ideas can always be paired down to focus on the important points of your goal. Here's the catch: You don't need to be good at art. This step is only to get your ideas down and refine them, so very rough pencil sketches are fine, even preferred.
Asset Checklist
A list of the things you need before your game is finished. Prioritize it, so you know where you can make cuts, if needed. Having a comprehensive list of what assets, programs, people, and meetings you need to have will be a lifesaver in the long run. Plus, crossing out an item is very satisfying.

Concept Resources

Collaboration Tools
Google Docs
brainstorming tools