Design is my favorite part of the development cycle. I enjoy the iteration (polish) phase, implementation is less fun for me (because I’m maintaining the schedule and making sure everything is moving in the right direction, not actually making cool stuff). Lockdown is no fun at all. But design is the best.
I spent most of December working on design docs for the first expansion. I talked in an earlier Dev Journal about the phases of game development and how the high level design was created by the end of November. We had our stakeholders meeting and high level concepts were approved. December was spent turning those concepts into specific items and tasks.
I start by fleshing out the ideas in docs. Large lists get trimmed, ideas are improved, I try to make the most of every idea. After the list is down to the assets we want for the game they go into a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet serves 3 functions. First it is able to export the XML directly so we never need to touch XML files. Secondly it provides list boxes of all the common data types so we can’t mistype them (so if something requires a tech the listbox allows the designer to pick from all the current techs). And lastly it allows us to do some data modeling.
The spreadsheet pulls weapon values from the weapon sheet and armor values from the armor sheet and shows the average and max damage for any given strength from any weapon against any armor type. It lays out the damage all the monsters in the game do at different levels so we can make sure that damage progression looks even (we don’t want Garrote’s hitting for more damage than a Red Dragon). That should save us from having to require as much playtest feedback since it becomes visually obvious if leather armor is too good or not good enough, if a certain weapon (or new weapon mechanic) is too effective, or if a given spawn 3 monster isn’t correctly balanced.
That’s not to say that the spreadsheet shows everything or that play testing isn’t valuable. But it does provide a good start.
Different docs were created for different modules. We had an implementation meeting Monday. The designers were all involved as well as anyone who is interested in this particular aspect of the game (one of our philosophy’s is that everyone is on the design team, just because your main job is something else doesn’t mean that we don’t want to hear your ideas for improving the game). The developer that is assigned this module also attends so she has a chance to ask questions and provide input.
The meeting went well. When it was done there was a very clear idea on exactly what the requirements were for this module from a design perspective. The programmer now has to turn those design requirements into technical requirements, tasks and estimated times with some architectural documentation for how the system is going to work. Then the programming team reviews the technical plan, and if it’s approved implementation begins.
But the best part of design is opening it up to the team as they start to go through the docs and provide suggestions and feedback. We are able to iterate on the design without wasting a programmers time, though of course some things just have to be played to test.
We currently have several things going on. Some of the team is working on the expansion (which isn’t unusual, some of the team has been working on the expansion for the past few months), and some are working on the next patch for the base game (1.2). We definitely have a long list of stuff we want to do. We have the schedule, we have prioritized the work, now we just have to do it.
As we pass into the implementation phase most of my job becomes producer type stuff. I still get some design work. There may be a new idea for a spell, Toby has been coming up with lots of incredible spell ideas (Toby and I were the 2 who read all the spell contest submissions so we have lots of ideas from the contest that we want to use pieces from). I have been living in the quest system and wrote a bunch of my own over the weekend. I’m excited to see what you folks submit for the quest contest.
So even though my day are typically busy with producer work (making sure everyone else knows exactly what they should be working on) I still enjoy getting a little time to create.
For some more details of what we have been working on: http://forums.elementalgame.com/403846