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The Pre-Production Problem – How to Improve the Planning Process in Game Design – Extra Credits



Pre-production in game development has an unfortunate side effect of hurting programmers and killing productivity. We can look to the animation industry as an example of how to improve pre-production practices in game studios.
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(Original air date: July 27, 2011)

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♪ Intro Music: “Penguin Cap” by CarboHydroM

♪ Outro Music: “Gypsy Jazz” by Adrian Holovaty

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25 Comments
  1. Nicholas Gawler-Collins 4 hours ago
    Reply

    You've turned purple! Maybe that's what happens when you've spoken for years in a row.

  2. Croissant Boy 4 hours ago
    Reply

    you could theoretically move your unused programmers to a completely different game during preproduction if you had multiple projects running at once

  3. C. D. Dailey 4 hours ago
    Reply

    Planning is so important. If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. This should be done to video games or it can so easily turn into a hot mess. I like the Pixar method. That seems the most reasonable. One can plan well without wasting thier programmers. I think the best games to try out this method first is big perpertual games like World of Warcraft. Most of the team is working on the current expansion. Then there is a small group of employees planning the next patch and next expansion content. They wouldn't even need a whole lot of player metrics to get started. Just pick a piece in World of Warcraft lore and start building quests and zones around that. While thier at it they shouldn't rip off Burning Crusade so much. I want something more creative. I hope we will get an Emerald Dream expansion some time. Druid is the class whith my favorite aesthetic so I would love that kind of expansion. Heck my favorite zone in the whole game is Feralis, and that has some Emerald Dream lore.

  4. Ricdin Chirock 4 hours ago
    Reply

    Well if we go with the model of "two teams, one in pre-production and one in full production" and your problem is that a team might spend too long in pre-production if they have no deadlines, simply make the release of the game in full production the deadline for pre-production. that way, not only would the switch from one project to the next be faster and likely more easy to streamline, but it also removes the whole "no deadlines" dilemma. The pre-production team has a definitive deadline to get thins sorted out before they have to actually go into full production with the game. If a game's release date gets pushed out for whatever reason, then great! That means more time for the pre-production of the next game.

    Though this also could be combined with the "let the unoccupied designers muck about" idea. What I'm implying is that you have a few people, not like high level people, just a few assorted guys on hand that either have lighter workloads than most full production staff, or they are simply another part of pre-production staff whose jobs are to experiment with the ideas proposed during pre-preoduction.

    Say, for instance, that a particular mechanic or aesthetic were proposed for the new game, you could have someone readily on hand to say "let me see what we can do with that, and I'll get back to you." Not only does this save time during full production making sure certain mechanics work (because someone already has) but it also means that once that person comes back with the results, the planning guys likely have a new idea already lined up for what I think I'll call "pre-playtesting" since it allows for not only experimenting with how certain mechanics will end up working alone, but with each other, ensuring there are no weird control scheme hiccups based on what controls what, detecting bugs that might only occur when action X happens at the same time as action Y, which might not have even happened unless someone was actually testing two separate mechanics at once, which wouldn't have actually happened until waaaaaay later in production, and would have probably been much harder to fix by that point. They wouldn't even need to worry about game feel yet at that point, just how the mechanics interact with one another and how they might interact with the aesthetic being suggested.

    WOW that got away from me… I didn't need to go THAT in-depth, did I?
    This'll probably never be seen, anyway…

  5. MrSlitherGamer 4 hours ago
    Reply

    Isn't it possible to get a few people together to do the preproduction then get the workers to make it?

  6. Qoi Pond 4 hours ago
    Reply

    I wish I had the decent chunk of inheritance I may get later in life now, I'd hire an investment advisor and try to fund a project with a lot of pre-production. (I've funny enough also thought this about small animators and indie animation studios haha.)

  7. Doigt 4 hours ago
    Reply

    The answer is simple, implement the Unified Software Development Process in the game industry. Why has no one thought of this before?

  8. Agaeki 4 hours ago
    Reply

    Rebellion games does this, generally working on 3 to 5 projects in different stages at any one time. One will be the next title to release and will have a big team, one will be in early production and waiting for people to become available, one will be in preproduction/prototyping. I think it shows in how consistently polished their games are.

  9. RevTheGame 4 hours ago
    Reply

    7:25 This did not age well.

  10. Anders Korsbäck 4 hours ago
    Reply

    It's the waste you see versus the waste you don't. If programmers sit on their asses because there's nothing for them to do, that's an overt, obvious waste. If they instead are busy doing work that later turns out to not be fit for purpose, that's a waste too, just not an overt one. In Lean business development, there's a saying: There is no worse waste than doing the wrong things efficiently.

  11. Aethervoid 4 hours ago
    Reply

    I think the main stepping stone for studios is to realize that wasting 1 or 2 million dollars on preproduction is better than driving a 100 million dollar project against a brick wall. Because the money is not actually wasted, its just that the results arent clearly visible. To me this really looks like a human bias, but can't find one that would fit right now.

  12. halfsasquatch 4 hours ago
    Reply

    Honestly the small preproduction teams at Pixar sound like the kind of environment I would want to work in….

  13. Nolyn Ste 4 hours ago
    Reply

    I have a friend who works on games (not gonna say his company or name cause he doesn't want me to) who has a good idea. He put it best when he said:
    "I don't even think about pitching ideas unless I can take my idea and write at least 50 pages on how it works, and how it's story works, and it's world, and so on. Usually a lot more. That way if I can get an idea of it, it can become a project with ease even if my scribbles are ignored, because if an idiot like me can write a substantial amount of background, the rest of my team can figure it out."

    I will say he works on a small team, but he is really thorough.

  14. DJDudeAlex 4 hours ago
    Reply

    me and my brother are trying to start a game making company when we get older

  15. aj supreme 4 hours ago
    Reply

    So the Kingdom hearts problem

  16. gmdoukas 4 hours ago
    Reply

    "Pre production feels like you have all the time in the world…" (BioWare – Anthem 2019)

  17. Remrie Arrie 4 hours ago
    Reply

    Ironically, I've been using a lot of my real estate investing tricks in starting my first game. I'm in the preproduction phase right now. Using your videos to help brainstorming, using a format I developed to develop blueprints and things-to-do lists, and while I'm still unsure of what engine I will use, or what art style will be chosen, I'm already talking with other producers to get quotes and make arrangements so that when it's time to hit the ground running, I can throw jobs at people who are well suited for the gig, and I can focus on my tasks without getting bogged down. As a small fry, I do have a personal rule to never undermine or lowball my team. Anyone who is worth their salt deserves respect and remuneration. And there are a lot of creative ways to structure the finances of an operation.

  18. Adam Craig 4 hours ago
    Reply

    The name of the outro music is "Sweet Georgia Brown", not "Gypsy Jazz":
    Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweet_Georgia_Brown
    Example on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkxrCttCcHg

  19. Angelo D Teixeira 4 hours ago
    Reply

    this remember me my years in amateur theater……. and was hell

  20. android272 4 hours ago
    Reply

    I feel as though there are tons of things you can have developers do while part of the team is off in preproduction. Given that a game design studio is nothing more than a software company finding something for your programmers should not be all that hard. For me, it is the artists and sound designers which might be hard to place. Let your devs work on 20% time projects or even organize in-house Game Jams. Let people work on cool tools that will help development no matter what project your working on. Flesh out your design tools that your company can sell. I am sure Unreal was not all that pretty until they decided to sell it. It probably worked ok for their needs and when someone suggested selling it they went back and reworked the whole thing to make it marketable. Everyone in the studio knows the red button here does this, "we are going to start selling this", oh crap lets give that an icon.

  21. android272 4 hours ago
    Reply

    does not Nintendo do this with Zelda and Bethesda Assassins Creed? I have hird that while the guys who made Majoras Mask was working on it, the guys who made Ocarina of Time made Windwaker. I have also heard that there are three teams at any given time making the Assassins Creed series. Each team checks in on each other to see what new mechanics to add to the next game. Grappling hook. This could be a problem better solved for bigger teams. While smaller teams just have to force themselves to actually do pre-production and hopefully get into this cycle.

  22. Saeryen Kalador 4 hours ago
    Reply

    As an indie dev, I have a question since this video is mostly about large teams. My "preproduction" was the creation of a story concept and deciding what the characters would look like, and what kind of mechanics I wanted. I'm currently writing a plot and creating a first draft of the whole game (I'm using RPG Maker by the way), then I plan to go through the game and do a second draft, fixing bugs and making things flow and work better, once those two things are finished.

    Do you have any advice for me? I also have thought of several other stories I'd like to make into games.

  23. K1naku5ana3R1ka 4 hours ago
    Reply

    As I said in the episode on buggy games, this is why I (usually) prefer the low-key and indie games to the AAA industry. Games should be an form of art and entertainment, not just an assembly-line carte blanche to print money; games like The World Ends With You and Cave Story have far more genuine passion put into their work then whatever they call the most recent Call of Duty. That, and I’m not that fond of many of the most common AAA genres, especially FPSs, and my restriction to the DS line, Wii, and iOS means I can’t play a lot of AAA games even if I wanted to.

  24. Blake McDermott 4 hours ago
    Reply

    Y don't they just have some programers fix bugs and glitches for older games while the pre production team works on the next project, or get the programers that have nothing to do to pich ideas to the pre production team

  25. VegisamalZero3 4 hours ago
    Reply

    Is it just me, or did the outro song remind anyone else about space station 13?

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