Game Development Process: 5 Steps to Creating a Mind-blowing Game
Most people who create video games for a living will tell you that the game development process is never as easy as one-two-three.
As the industry undergoes constant changes, the game developers must keep their fingers on the pulse. For example, the research by GlobalWebIndex shows that cloud gaming is on the rise; VR matures with PlayStation introducing virtual reality to mainstream gamers, and Valve has recently released a AAA PC VR-exclusive project that significantly spiked interest to the platform.
But what’s under the hood of a masterfully made game? Burning deadlines, bottlenecks and dependencies in production, pressure from stakeholders, and ever-changing design and requirements are just a few of the many obstacles people face during the development cycle.
Many aren’t aware of this cycle of craziness and its many steps, so let’s shed some light on the game development process.
Game development, like any other project, starts with an idea. The hard part is to materialize this idea into a shippable product. To achieve this, we follow specific steps.
It is the very first step where the idea turns into a game. Initially, the discovery stage identifies a game’s scope and what’s required to bring it to a release date.
The discovery stage usually lasts for a month or two, depending on the project scope, resources needed, and available budget. At this point, the team consists of a few members – the Core Team. The Core Team usually consists of a Solution Architect, Game Designer, and Art Director.
The discovery stage is a vital starting point of the game creation and usually implies a wide range of activities displayed in detail below:
Game Design Document Creation. Designers create a single document that has all the rules and descriptions of the game, namely:
- Game mechanics description
- User flow UX charts
- Customization design
- Metagame design
Art-Style Definition. In collaboration with Game Designers and Stakeholders, Art Director, and the teamwork on the visual style for the product, developing the aesthetics, look, and feel.
- Game visual style
- Concepts (background/environment, characters, some iconography)
- 3D models (characters, maybe some props like weapons)
- 3D animations (if we have time)
- VFX concepts/prototypes (how particle effects might look like)
- Requirements for graphics
- Polygon budget (based on target devices)
- Texture resolution
- Animation requirements (animation skeleton requirements like number of bones, naming convention, folder structure)
Technology Stack Definition. At this point, Solution Architect or Tech Lead identifies the technologies needed for the development process.
- Define if the team can use an existing solution
- Usually, it’s faster to develop a product with an available game engine
- In some instances, it makes sense to build a custom engine or platform
- Pick among various available engines
- Decide what engine suits best to express your idea
- Define the project architecture
- Make sure the product is built with expansion and future support in mind
Planning. When the team is ready with the procedures mentioned above, we provide the information on:
- The team needed to develop the game
- How long it takes to develop a game
- Deliverables produced along the way
- Budget breakdown
2. Production: the most labor-intensive stage of the game development process
This is when the actual development begins. Team members polish the story, define game mechanics, its balance, pacing, and gameplay. Plus, they create all assets (characters, creatures, props, and environments), set the rules of play, build levels and scenes, and write the code.
Each component of the game has to be designed thoughtfully, the fun and gameplay, and then characters, environment, objects, the level of difficulty, scenes, and more. Because the initial ideas don’t always render well in reality, the game testing and improvement continue even when the game is released.
Let’s look at the fundamentals of game production, and some of the critical video game development jobs, bearing in mind that small teams undertake multiple roles. In contrast, a larger studio with more team players who specialize in a particular aspect of production.
Prototype: A video game prototype is a raw test that examines functionality, user experience, gameplay, mechanics, and art style. Prototyping happens as the first phase of production to test whether the game idea will work and is worth pursuing. Many ideas fail at this stage.
First playable: The first playable allows us to get a better idea of the game’s look. While it is still far from the final version, placeholders are starting to be replaced with higher quality elements, and art is added.
Pre-alpha: Most of the content is designed in the pre-alpha stage. At this point in the game development process, some critical decisions take place. The content may get cut, or new assets are incorporated to improve gameplay.
Vertical slice (optional): A vertical slice is a fully playable version that can be used to manifest your game to clients, studios, or investors. A vertical slice gives a first-hand experience of the game, ranging from a couple of minutes to half an hour.
Alpha: The game is packed with all features, meaning that it is entirely playable from start to end. Some elements, such as art details, may still need to be added, but controls and functions should be working accurately.
Beta: Here, all the content and assets are aligned, and the team should focus on improvement rather than adding new functions or features. The QA testers ensure everything is running seamlessly and report bugs back to the side.
Release Candidate: The game is ready-to-use and can be sent to the publishing outlet and launched to the public.
The 10 Key Roles in the Game Development Process
Delivery Managers / Producers manage the business aspect of the project, particularly the expenses and schedules. Producers typically handle the budget and develop marketing strategies to sell the product.
Development Managers ensure game development runs smoothly, milestones are aligned, risks are mitigated, and teammates are doing what they’re supposed to. A project manager is often in the center of communication between the dev and design teams and executives.
Game Developers build games by turning design concepts into fully playable games. Game developers have a solid programming background. Plus, devs should have a combination of creativity, math skills, and patience to code ideas into interactive visuals and sounds.
Game Designers are the creative drivers of the game, and bridge between writers and artists, with some knowledge of programming. The game design production includes creating attention-grabbing stories, characters, goals, rules, and challenges that drive interactions between game elements.
Level Designers are responsible for creating exciting and fun levels. The challenge a level designer has to cope with is to keep a player’s focus and achieve the goal while reducing the potential of confusion. Level designers are also responsible for identifying player’s bottlenecks when going through the game, such as falling out of borders or getting stuck and not being able to get out.
Game Artists encompass concept artists, animators, 3D modelers, and FX artists. They usually create concept art, 2D elements, give color, action, and life to the play.
While concept artists are active during designing of the first look, they may be involved later in the game development process to add new elements into the game.
3D Artists create models of characters, objects, props, and environments that can then be textured and animated. Modelers need to know how to get and use high-quality reference materials, primarily if they’re replicating real objects like, for instance, Kalashnikov rifle.
Animators make characters and objects lifelike by adding movement to them. They create storyboards and outline key animation scenes that match the game’s storyline. Animators often conduct lots of research on the objects they need to bring to life.
Audio Engineers / Sound Designers make natural sound effects, record voice dialogues between characters, create soundtracks to set the mood for players, i.e., opening music, menu pause music, marking a victory.
QA Testers are vital in the game development process. These people check games for bugs and make sure the game runs seamlessly, and guides are clear for players. They report errors to the developers in what’s sometimes known as a bug sheet.
Every feature and mechanic in the game requires testing for quality control. A game without thorough testing is a game that’s not even ready for an Alpha launch. Here are some questions a QA tester may check during this stage:
- Are there error-areas or levels?
- Is everything rendering on the screen?
- Can my character walk through a particular wall?
- Does my character get forever stuck at this point?
- Is the character dialogue boring?
There are even various types of playtesters. Some of them conduct stress tests by running into walls hundreds of times to crash the game. Other play-testers check “fun factor” to see if the game is too complicated or too easy and comfortable enough.
After countless iterations of testing, the game should be ready for Alpha or Beta release, depending on how refined the in-game features are. At this phase, the players, for the first time, get hands-on the game.
The release day is coming, and one can see the light is at the end of the tunnel. The months leading up to an awaited date is typically spent in errors debugging found in the testing stage.
In addition to bug squashing, developers hone in on the game as much as possible before it launches. Maybe that rock can have more depth. Perhaps the character’s outfit can be more texture, or those trees may finally sway in the wind. These slight changes can be significant for making a video game more immersive.
When the game is squeaky-clean, it’s time to publish and distribute.
After the release of the game, the development process goes on with some team members who fix bugs, create patches, bonuses, in-game events, or brand-new downloadable content (DLC). Others may move onto the sequel or the next project.
It’s common for video games to launch with batches of minor bugs. During the first few months after the launch, teammates identify and eliminate these bugs. Gaming studios also rely on players to submit bug reports or speak up about bugs in online forums. This is all part of post-release maintenance.
The Bottom Line: Game Development with Innovecs
If you want to make video games, understanding the game development process is essential. Regardless of where your role sits within the pipeline, knowing every department’s purpose and order will help you work more efficiently and reduce costly problems down the track.
Releasing fresh content is common in today’s gaming industry because it increases the replay value, retention, and appeal of a game. If you’re interested in building a video game from scratch or polishing an existing one, feel free to reach out to the Innovecs experts. Years of experience in game development allow the Innovecs team to deliver proficient and flawless products timely and at an adequate cost rate.