Pre-production[edit | edit source]
Pre-production or design phase is a planning phase of the project focused on idea and concept development and production of initial design documents. The concept documentation can be separated into three stages or documents—high concept, pitch and concept.
High concept is a few sentences long description of the game.
The pitch, proposal document, or game proposal is a short summary document intended to present the game's selling points and detail why the game would be profitable to develop.
The concept document or game plan is a more detailed document than the pitch document. This includes the high concept, genre, gameplay description, features, setting, story, target audience, hardware platforms, estimated schedule, marketing analysis, team requirements, and risk analysis.
Before an approved design is completed, a skeleton crew of programmers and artists usually begins work. Programmers may develop quick-and-dirty prototypes showcasing one or more features that stakeholders would like to see incorporated in the final product. Artists may develop concept art and asset sketches as a springboard for developing real game assets. Producers may work part-time on the game at this point, scaling up for full time commitment as development progresses.
Before a full-scale production can begin, the development team produces the first version of a game design document incorporating all or most of the material from the initial pitch. The design document describes the game's concept and major gameplay elements in detail. It may also include preliminary sketches of various aspects of the game. The design document is sometimes accompanied by functional prototypes of some sections of the game. Design document remains a living document throughout the development—often changed weekly or even daily.
Writing prototypes of gameplay ideas and features is an important activity that allows programmers and game designers to experiment with different algorithms and usability scenarios for a game. A great deal of prototyping may take place during pre-production before the design document is complete and may, in fact, help determine what features the design specifies. Prototyping may also take place during active development to test new ideas as the game emerges.
Production[edit | edit source]
Production is the main stage of development, when assets and source code for the game are produced. Mainstream production is usually defined as the period of time when the project is fully staffed. Programmers write new source code, artists develop game assets, such as sprites or 3D models. Sound engineers develop sound effects and composers develop music for the game. Level designers create levels, and writers write dialogue for cutscenes and NPCs. Game designers continue to develop the game's design throughout production.
Game design[edit | edit source]
Game design is a collaborative process of designing the content and rules of the game, requiring artistic and technical competence as well as writing skills. All the while, the game designer implements and modifies the game design to reflect the current vision of the game. Features and levels are often removed or added. The art treatment may evolve and the backstory may change. A new platform may be targeted as well as a new demographic. All these changes need to be documented and dispersed to the rest of the team. Most changes occur as updates to the design document.
Art production[edit | edit source]
For detailed information check Wikipedia: Game art design
Audio production[edit | edit source]
Game audio may be separated into three categories—sound effects, music, and voice-over.
Sound effect production is the production of sounds by either tweaking a sample to a desired effect or replicating it with real objects. Sound effects are important and impact the game's delivery.
Music may be synthesized or performed live. There are several ways in which music is presented in a game. Music may be ambient, especially for slow periods of game, where the music aims to reinforce the aesthetic mood and game setting. Music may be triggered by in-game events. For example, in such games as Pac-man or Mario, player picking up power-ups trigerred respective musical scores. Action music, such as chase, battle or hunting sequences is fast-paced, hard-changing score. Menu music, similar to credits music, creates aural impact while relatively little action is taking place.
Voice-overs and voice acting creates character gameplay interactivity. Voice acting adds personality to the game's characters.
Testing[edit | edit source]
Testers start work once anything is playable. This may be one level or subset of the game software that can be used to any reasonable extent. Early on, testing a game occupies a relatively small amount of time. Testers may work on several games at once. As development draws to a close, a single game usually employs many testers full time (and often with overtime). They strive to test new features and regression test existing ones. Testing is vital for modern, complex games as single changes may lead to catastrophic consequences.
At this time features and levels are being finished at the highest rate and there is more new material to be tested than during any other time in the project. Testers need to carry out regression testing to make sure that features that have been in place for months still operate correctly. Regression testing is one of the vital tasks required for effective software development. As new features are added, subtle changes to the codebase can produce unexpected changes in different portions of the game. This task is often overlooked, for several reasons. Sometimes, when a feature is implemented and tested, it is considered "working" for the rest of the project and little attention is given to repeated testing. Also, features that are added late in development are prioritized and existing features often receive insufficient testing time. Proper regression testing is also increasingly expensive as the number of features increases and is often not scheduled correctly.
Despite the dangers of overlooking regression testing, some game developers and publishers fail to test the full feature suite of the game and ship a game with bugs. This can result in customers dissatisfaction and failure to meet sales goals. When this does happen, most developers and publishers quickly release patches that fix the bugs and make the game fully playable again.
Milestones[edit | edit source]
Commercial game development projects may be required to meet milestones set by publisher. Milestones mark major events during game development and are used to track game's progress. Such milestones may be, for example, first playable, alpha, or beta game versions. Project milestones depend on the developer schedules.
There is no industry standard for defining milestones, and such vary depending on publisher, year, or project. Some common milestones for two-year development cycle are as follows:
First playable is the game version containing representative gameplay and assets, this is the first version with functional major gameplay elements. It is often based on the prototype created in pre-production. Alpha and first playable are sometimes used to refer to a single milestone, however large projects may require first playable before feature complete alpha. First playable occurs 12 to 18 months before code release.
Alpha is the stage when key gameplay functionality is implemented, and assets are partially finished. A game in alpha is feature complete, that is, game is playable and contains all the major features. These features may be further revised based on testing and feedback. Additional small, new features may be added, similarly planned, but unimplemented features may be dropped. Programmers focus mainly on finishing the codebase, rather than implementing additions. Alpha occurs eight to ten months before code release.
Code freeze is the stage when new code is no longer added to the game and only bugs are being corrected. Code freeze occurs three to four months before code release.
Beta is feature and asset complete version of the game, when only bugs are being fixed. This version contains no bugs that prevent the game from being shippable. No changes are made to the game features, assets, or code. Beta occurs two to three months before code release.
Code release is the stage when all bugs are fixed and game is ready to be shipped or submitted for console manufacturer review. This version is tested against QA test plan. First code release candidate is usually ready three to four weeks before code release.
Gold master is the final game's build that is used as a master for production of the game.
Overtime is expected in the games industry. Particularly, crunch time or crunch mode is unpaid overtime requested by many companies to meet project deadlines and milestones that negatively affects game developers. A team missing a deadline risks the danger of having the project cancelled or employees being laid off. Although many companies are reducing the amount of crunch time, it is still prominent in smaller companies.
Many companies offer time-off, called comp time or extra paid time-off after product ships to compensate for crunch time's negative effects. Some companies offer bonuses and financial rewards for successful milestone reach. Sometimes on-site crunch meals are offered and delivered to the team during crunch time.
The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) surveyed nearly 1,000 game developers in 2004 and produced a report to highlight the many problems caused by bad practice.
Post-production[edit | edit source]
After the game goes gold and ships, some developers will give team members comp time (perhaps up to a week or two) to compensate for the overtime put in to complete the game, though this compensation is not standard.
Once a game ships, the maintenance phase for the video game begins. Games developed for video game consoles have had almost no maintenance period in the past. The shipped game would forever house as many bugs and features as when released. This was the norm for consoles since all consoles had identical or nearly identical hardware. In this case, maintenance would only occur in the case of a port, sequel, or enhanced remake that reuses a large portion of the engine and assets.
In recent times popularity of online console games has grown, and online capable video game consoles and online services such as Xbox Live for the Xbox have developed. Developers can maintain their software through downloadable patches. These changes would not have been possible in the past without the widespread availability of the Internet.
The PC development is different. Game developers try to account for majority of configurations and hardware. However, the number of possible configurations of hardware and software inevitably leads to discovery of game-breaking circumstances that the programmers and testers didn't account for.
Programmers wait for a period to get as many bug reports as possible. Once the developer thinks they've obtained enough feedback, the programmers start working on a patch. The patch may take weeks or months to develop, but it's intended to fix most bugs and problems with the game. Occasionally a patch may include extra features or content or may even alter gameplay.
In the case of a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG), such as a MMORPG or MMORTS, the shipment of the game is the starting phase of maintenance. Such online games are in continuous maintenance as the gameworld is continuously changed and iterated and new features are added. The maintenance staff for a popular MMOG can number in the dozens, sometimes including members of the original programming team.