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Graphic Bible

Once the design itself is over, it is time to move to pre-production. In this step, the designer's job is to work with the producer, the lead artist and the lead programmer to ensure that the project plan being developed will support his vision for the product.

This may mean sitting down with the lead artist to sketch the main characters, spending time with the lead programmer to make sure that the algorithm which manages transfer of information between non-player characters will produce the appropriate behaviour (i.e., let some characters place variable levels of trust in what they hear from others), making sure that the proper development tools will be ordered at the appropriate time, etc.

The product specification itself is a blueprint for the development process. In theory, the designer could leave the team once the product spec is written, and everything would be fine. Although things are never this simple in reality, every effort should be made to ensure that the product specification is as thorough and realistic as possible, because any mistake can result in a delay of final delivery, extra costs, and extra overtime in the last months of production.

The product spec should contain the following:

  • A list of the sound effects and music tracks required in the game.
  • A list of the animations, 3D models, textures and other graphics which need to be produced, in as much detail as possible. If you can list the exact "idle animations" which will be attached to your main character at various points in the game, do it. If not, at least decide how many there will be. The lead artist should estimate the amount of effort required for each element of content.
  • A list of the algorithms which must be developed to implement/upgrade the game engine and in-house tools. The lead programmer should estimate the effort required for each major feature.
  • A list of all other materials which must be produced by the team: press materials, demos, screen shots, box art, manual, etc.
  • A detailed project plan and schedule, including a preliminary assignment list for each member of the production team, a list of dependencies (i.e., a Pert chart), reasonable milestones, and contingency plans.
  • A detailed production budget. Knowing who will work on the project for how long and what expenses must be made to equip the team, the producer is now in a position to pinpoint the expected cost of the product, and to re-arrange priorities accordingly. Very expensive subsidiary features can be assigned lower priority, so that they can be dropped (before being spent upon) in case of an emergency.

A producer should devote 2-4 weeks to building the list of materials for a project, and another week to prepare a preliminary schedule. The designer should be ready to spend the equivalent of 2 weeks of his time supporting this effort.