I spent last week stuffing gameplay into my project.

Game design has a funny rhythm. (Not clown funny. Funny bone funny. As it, not funny.) The forces at work in game development conspire to make most of the actual work of game design happen at the very last minute. But there is one force that insures that designers always end up stuffing their work into the game at the last minute.

Force The First: Ambition.

So you’re sitting down to plan your next milestone. You’ve got six weeks, and you’ve got like 10 people you’re planning for. Which would you pick?

  1. Give your system programmers the milestone off, because you just want your designers to build gameplay out of what they have;
  2. Put absolutely no gameplay into the milestone (but be sure to hide this fact from your producers);
  3. Balance the work of the milestone between new systems development and design work.

Everyone picks 3. I’ve seen exceptions to this so rarely that when I describe them it takes on that mystical tone that you get when describing that unicorn you think you saw that one time when you were a kid.

Cool, so we’re going to keep everyone busy during the milestone. Spread out the deliverables. Good call.

Except that design implementation depends on systems to be at least functional before work can begin.

Thus, design implementation begins two weeks before the milestone is due.

Because that’s about a close as you can cut it and still make a new feature function. Systems engineers know this, so they will likely pace themselves towards this goal (being done with at least two weeks to spare). Sometimes they miss.

So, designers spend the first few weeks of the milestone “designing”. By that I mean sitting around writing documents and giving “feedback” to other people. This blows, and is not what designers want to be doing, but until the tools are ready, it beats playing World of Warcraft.

Actually, scratch that. Warcraft is better.

Then the systems come online. With ten days to spare before the milestone. Panic.

So, as I mentioned, I spent last week stuffing gameplay into my project. This is because the milestone was Monday. And, I gotta say, we made a hell of a lot of progress. It is amazing what a small, talented interdisciplinary group of people who are all focused on the same goal and are comitted to each other’s input can do in a short amount of time.

I just sometimes wish it could happen in a long amount of time as well. 😛