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An Outline of the 'What' of Your Game

"First you write down your goal; your second job is to break down your goal into a series of steps, beginning with steps which are absurdly easy."
~Fitzhugh Dodson

So, now that you've decided to try making your game one aspect at a time, what aspects are there? Understandable quetion. Here is my understandable answer. Feel free to use or modify for your own use. This has a bias toward the 'generic fantasy console RPG' for purposes of clarity. I present first the list of aspects to make, then two ways to make them.

1 Graphics

   1.1 Maptiles
      1.1.1 Overworld and exploration area maptiles
      1.1.2 Castle/City/Village exterior maptiles
      1.1.3 Castle/City/Village interior maptiles
      1.1.4 Dungeon/Cave/Danger-Area maptiles
      1.1.5 Miscellaneous (minigames, etc.) maptiles
   1.2 Walkabouts
      1.2.1 Human walkabouts
      1.2.2 Non-human walkabouts (monsters and animals)
      1.2.3 Non-living walkabouts (props such as treasure chests)
   1.3 Battle graphics
      1.3.1 Hero graphics
      1.3.2 Enemy graphics
      1.3.3 Attack graphic animations
      1.3.4 Battle backgrounds
      1.3.5 Weapon graphics
 1.4 Backdrops
      1.4.1 Title screen and Intro screens
      1.4.2 Cutscenes and miscellaneous

2 Story
   2.1 Story Dialogue, with Plotscripting
      2.1.1 Dialogue for scene 1 (introduction)
      2.1.2 Dialogue for scene 2 (etc... all the way to ending)
   2.2 Non-Story Dialogue
      2.2.1 Textboxes for townspeople and bookshelves, etc.
      2.2.2 Textboxes for treasure boxes and other things you find
      2.2.3 Textboxes for mini-games and optional parts

3 Gameplay (General)
   3.1 Attacks
      3.1.1 Hero spells and attacks
      3.1.2 Enemy spells and attacks
   3.2 Items/Equipment
      3.2.1 Consumable Items
      3.2.2 Equipment
      3.2.3 Weapons
      3.2.4 Non-Consumable Non-Equipable Items
   3.3 Heroes
      3.3.1 Attach Stats to Heroes
      3.3.2 Attach Attacks to Heroes
   3.4 Enemies
      3.4.1 Attach Attacks to Enemies
      3.4.2 Attach Stats to Enemies
   3.5 Battle Formations
      3.5.1 Normal Battles
      3.5.2 Boss and Special Battles
   3.6 Miscellaneous (Minigames and such)
      3.6.1 Mini Game 1
      3.6.2 Mini Game 2

4 Gameplay (Maps)
   4.1 Safe Areas
      4.1.1 Towns, Farms
      4.1.2 Castles, Shrines, Temples
   4.2 Enemy Areas
      4.2.1 Dungeons, Caves, Evil Castles
      4.2.2 Overworld, Forests, Fields, Deserts, Swamps

5 Music
  5.1 Make and import music

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Waterfall Approach

Note: The waterfall approach was named and described by Andrew Rollings and Dave Morris in their excellent game design book: Game Architecture and Design (2000, The Coriolis Group). I have altered their models of these ideas, but some of the basic ideas remain the same.

The purpose here is to make an outline similar to this for your game, listing the 'what' of what you will need to create and put together. The exact format is irrelivant, as long as it contains the information you need, and is linear. Under each heading, make a list of everything you think you'll need for the game. For example, under enemy graphics, write down the names of all the enemies you intend to have in your game. Only after that, draw the enemy graphics. Don't just start drawing without knowing how many you are going to draw. Do this for every category... list how many maps you are going to need to make, how many maptile sets, what is going to be in those maps and those maptile sets, how many battle backgrounds you are going to need, and so forth. 

Basically, this is going to be a complete 'to be done' list. Everything that you will physically need to create to finish your game will be in this outline. Keep the outline as terse as possible. It isn't a game plan, it is a list of the parts of the game you need to make. List every boss, list every weapon, every magic spell, etc.

Now, decide in what order you are going to make these things. You can choose whatever order you wish, but some orders make sense. You might connect the maptile design with the map design, so that you make all the maptiles and make all the maps during the same month. You might designate one month to the battle system, and make all your battles during that month. Then give a month for putting in the story and plotscripting it... during that month you write all the dialogue of the game and make all the scene-event plotscripts. If you think it's going to take more than a month, give yourself more than a month. But do know the general order, and do make a rudimentary timeline.

The point of the nomen 'waterfall' is that everything follows something else. After walkabouts are done, you fall down the waterfall a bit and go to the next aspect, without regards for anything other than what is on the list. The order isn't really important, you just go from task to task. Sounds boring and tedious? There is an alternative: something I call the spiderweb approach (since it looks like a spiderweb).

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Spiderweb Approach

Looks a bit like a spiderweb (or a target), doesn't it? The idea is you start in the middle and work outward, and that everything is seperated into bite-sized (sometimes requiring very large bites) areas which can be completed in an 'all at once' fashion (in the sense that, once it is done, you don't need to go back and work on that part again unless you see something that could do with some improvement).

The 'basic idea' is a circle, the first area. The basic idea and the design document is contained herein.

This is inside another circle, which is the second area, the 'post-planning, pre-production' circle, and consists of writing lists of the things you will need for the completed game: coming up with a list of scenes that will be in the game (and a short summary of each one, what happens in each), a summary of general gameplay ideas, a list of heroes, a list of enemies and bosses, and a list of the maps that will be in the game.

From there, we go to the third area, the 'basic element design' area, consisting of the core elements of the game: the enemy graphics, the hero graphics, the dialogue, the gameplay units (examples: if keys open doors in your dungeons, 'key' and 'door' will be gameplay units, but 'dungeons' would not be), maptiles (but not maps), attacks (graphics and names of them), items, armor, weapons, spells, and so on. This takes up more time than area 1 and area 2 put together.

The fourth area consists of the actual level design, battle design, and plotscripting for the story scenes (including cutscenes, if any). This area should take up the most time, as level/battle/puzzle design and plotscripting story scenes are the hardest and most time-consuming part of game design, but it should not take too much longer than area 3 took.

The fifth area, outside of the circle, consists of playtesting the fourth area and adding extras (like mini-games and things you come up with at the last minute which look like they will make the game more fun). This area is outside of the circle

The idea is that you cannot make the outer areas without what it is based on. Go and look at it and see for yourself: 

*You cannot make anything in the game unless you have the basic idea of the game. 
*You cannot make maptiles unless you have a list of what maps will be in the game and an idea about what they will look like. 
*You cannot make the maps unless you have the maptiles. 
*And those maps will be mere travel hikes unless you have the gameplay elements to put in them. 
*But in order to make those, you need to have some idea of what the gameplay in your game will be like. 
*You can't write the dialogue unless you have a list of story scenes (and before that, a list of characters). 
*You can't put in the textboxes unless you have the dialogue written. 
*You can't make the battles unless you have the enemies, heroes, and all the things listed in the battle gameplay elements section. 
*You can't playtest unless you have something to playtest.

Start at the center, and go outward. This is much more interesting than the waterfall approach, because each thing you do will be building on something else, and you get new functionality with each section finished. But once you start a particular section, don't go above it until it if done. Doing so would just waste time, as you'll have to go back down when you realize you didn't finish with what you need.

Note also that each section size is a rough approximation of how time consuming they will be (relative to eachother). Making the battles and playtesting them takes up a huge amount of space. So does map making (level design).

The spiderweb would of course look different for every game, this is just a generalized version. Some games don't have battles, some games have more dialogue and scene events than normal, etc. If you like the idea of using a spiderweb with different areas to track your game's progress, it may be best to physically draw one, and to do something like fill in the different areas after they are completed. This way, you have a visual doneline (and not just an outline, text based, hard to read doneline) 


In the following sections (most of the rest of the article), I'm going to use the general order given in that first outline above and go into detail about each part of it and my advise on how to create each part. That's what the article is about, afterall, the process of game creation (as opposed to game planning).

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