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The Planning Process and
"I joined Nintendo to make products
that use ideas and intelligence, and they just turned out to be video games."
The following are various further suggestions and advice relating to
game design planning.
1) Which order should you create your game's plan in? My answer: all
at once or one at a time, whatever suits you. Personally, I created the
characters first (and their interconnections), then the setting second
(drawing maps), making sure to keep the characters and setting interconnected,
and later created the plot events, altering the setting and characters
to fit in with the plot events I had in mind. Then I decided on (actually,
more like 'discovered') the theme, and altered the characters, setting,
and plot events to fit to that theme more precisely. Lastly, I added details
to everything (and am still in the process of adding details). It's perfectly
reasonable to take a different order. I just like to create characters
and their histories first, and then later where they are and what they
will do. Some people know what they want done and where they want it done,
and later create characters for those purposes. Some people start with
a theme and go from there. Some build a world first and go from there.
It doesn't matter, as long as everything fits together, and there are no
2) If your game has a very linear story, it will be much easier to write,
and write well. If you decide to do a nonlinear story or a semilinear one,
it will take much more time and effort to do correctly. This problem is
unique to video game stories and choose-your-own-adventure books.... Novels,
movies, and the like are all fully linear; you see every single bit of
it every time you read/watch (unless you aren't paying attention... perhaps
you read and then find yourself thinking about something else and letting
words pass by without recognition, or likewise find yourself looking away
from the movie while it goes on without you). In most video games, you
don't see everything that is 'in- the game during one play through. This
is especially the case if you rush through the game, or if the game has
multiple ways to do something. I will in the future write an article about
types of linearity in story-driven games. It is often thought of as a trade
off between a game with a good story being linear and a game with good
gameplay being nonlinear (Final Fantasy 7 vs. The Legend of Zelda). However,
I believe that this is not necessarily the case, and will argue from that
standpoint in that article.
3) It is often necessary to remind yourself of your game by going over
your previous notes. In the original creation of your game's notes, you
clarify your game to yourself by writing about it, and so your notes should
be able to remind you of what you already know about your game. You shouldn't
have to go to your notes to remember what weapon your main character uses
or in which place they were born, you should know most of that immediately.
You can't make a game if you don't know your game: a plan should increase
your internal knowledge of your game, be an aid to your understanding,
it should -not- be an excuse against having to keep it all in your head.
4) Don't plan entirely alone, unless you are very sure of yourself.
Even if you are making the game entirely alone (not necessarily a bad choice)
it may be a good idea to talk over parts of the game with other game makers
that you respect, if only to acquire additional ideas, or to answer challenges
and questions (and therby increase your knowledge of your game). This doesn't
mean that you should change everything that someone suggests you change...don't
do that at all. The point of discussing parts of your game with others
is to find faults and opportunities which you yourself may have overlooked,
or perhaps to clarify something you have not yet clarified.
5) As way of practice, what I did in this article to Final Fantasy 4,
you may want to try doing to one or more of your favorate games. You may
perhaps even like to do it more comprehensively than I did. Some of my
suggestions of exceptionally good integrations of theme/character/plot/world/art/gameplay/music
are (in no particular order): Final Fantasy Adventure, any of the Zelda
games, Metal Gear Solid, any of the Phantasy Star games, any of the Ys
games, Crystalis, Xenogears, Persona 1, Persona 2 part 1, Persona 2 part
2, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy 6, Final Fantasy 9, Lunar 1, Lunar 2,
Star Ocean: Second Story, Suikoden 1 and 2, Tactics Ogre, Wild Arms 1,
Super Mario RPG ...Of course, you may not want to do exceptionally good
ones only, you may want to look at games which could have been better,
identify why they were not better, and think about what you would have
done instead. And, you may not want to look at games at all, but examine
movies/novels for characters/plot/world, or examine 'pure' games for gameplay
6) Revising the plan often is not only acceptable, but required. In
the design of gameplay architecture and visual art of my game, I've been
doing them pretty haphazardly. Once in awhile I draw some graphics or write
down an idea for a dungeon's puzzle, or an idea for a gameplay element.
When I first designed the characters names and personalities, I designed
their appearances simultaneously. Once in awhile I design an enemy or an
exploration area. Often I redesign a previously designed map or character
or enemy or gameplay element (this is identical with the idea of first
writing a first draft of a paper and later revising it). Sometimes I take
a break from the design of my game for a few weeks and play other video
games and read novels and write down some interesting ideas, and then go
back and make a revision on something I've made in the game, or a revision
in the plan -- not only does the actual game need a first draft and revision,
the plan of the game also often needs to be revised. When your entire plan
is made, go back and read over it. In all likelyhood, you aren't going
to be satisfied with your first plan. If this is the case, continue to
revise it until you are. It is only after you are satisfied with it that
you should shift most of your attention to getting the game made.
The movie 'Legend' was released in 198?. Shigeru Miyamoto saw that movie.
From that movie, and from his idea that a game should be a private garden
to explore, and using his own mind, he formed a picture, in his mind, of
what would eventually become The Legend of Zelda. He has admitted
that Link was inspired by the elf boy in that movie. What does this show?
Besides showing that Miyamoto is mortal like us, it shows the importance
of always being aware of possible sources of improvement and elaboration
to your plan. You will never be perfectly satisfied with your plan. There
will always be something to revise or rewrite. Your mental model is a living
thing. Likewise, your plan also shall not be a static thing, but a living
thing. The mental model and the plan are not clearly bordered, are blended.
The plan is your mental model on paper, your mental model is your plan
in your mind. They overlap, and rely on eachother. Once you have something
down on paper, that doesn't mean your mental model is trapped by it forever.
Feel free to revise it if you feel that it might work better in a different
7) The planning of the game may overlap the actual making of it. I might
work for 2 hours a day planning plot events and then another 2 hours revising
walkabout graphics. I may spend a half hour revising previous character
design and then spend seven hours on creating new attack animations. I
might sketch a new map and then go work on a new title screen. There is
nothing that I can see that says this is wrong. You should continue to
plan your game and add additional details as you make it, although you
should avoid planning too much and implementing too little. What would
be incorrect, and likely to waste a lot of your time, would be to just
start writing textboxes before you designed the story, or just sit down
to draw an enemy graphic before designing that enemy in your head first.
My point is only that sitting down and staring at custom.exe's interface
is not the best place to plan your game out. It is my hope that this article
has pointed out the importance of making sure you have some idea of the
personalities of your characters, where they live, and what they will do
in the game -before- double-clicking that custom.exe icon and heading into
textbox editing or hero graphic drawing. Not only will it make your game
better, it will make it manifold easier, and manifold more fun, to make.