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The Planning Process and Other Concerns

"I joined Nintendo to make products that use ideas and intelligence, and they just turned out to be video games."
~Shigeru Miyamoto

The following are various further suggestions and advice relating to game design planning.

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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 loose ends.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 architecture.

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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 way.

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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.

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