by Jennie Robinson Faber
June 9, 2013
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This article was originally posted to aid Junicorn participants in the weeks leading up to July 2013’s long program, but is applicable to any game project with extremely tight deadlines!
Junicorn is a lot like a game jam: Your goal is to create a small, complete game (or “sketch”) in a short period of time. However, unlike most jam participants, you likely have not made a game before. In addition to the challenge of the time constraint, you are learning new technical, creative, and process management skills.
It’s a lot to cram into a month, but completely possible with a little planning, and constant evaluation of your goals and progress.
Because your timeline is so compressed, the key is to create something small and polished—however you define that for yourself!
So as you start to move into production this week, be sure to manage your own expectations—there will be bugs. It won’t be perfect. But you will have a little game by the end!
This is what you’re going to do for the next few days to prepare yourself to start actually working on your game. Even if you’ve already started digging in, it’s helpful to take a step back and do these things.
Start by drawing. I use a Moleskine storyboard notebook for Web and game projects. Graph paper works really well for grid-based games. But how you sketch is up to you! You can draw on paper or:
Different ways to sketch out your game.
However you do it, the purpose of sketching is to make your ideas more concrete. Before you can figure out what you need to do, precisely, you need to wrap your mind around the big picture—the full scope—of your game. It also helps you figure out what’s most important to you, so that when you inevitably need to cut something out, you know what you can sacrifice without compromising your vision.
Try to cover the whole game in your sketches—beginning, middle, and end. And challenge yourself to represent gameplay—not just individual elements.
Even if your text-based game is non-spatial (that is, the primary way the player moves through the game is through time or a story rather than rooms), this exercise can help you map out your content requirements.
Also be sure to draw and note everything the player interacts with. Unless your game is very experiential and reliant on atmospheric elements rather than traditional gameplay mechanics, background and purely aesthetic elements can be left to the end. Use quick representative graphics and notes as placeholders while you get things working.
What kind of game is it? Can you name its genre (or invent/combine genres)? Try to describe your game in one sentence. For example:
Euphrates is a four-player cooperative, turn-based, interactive narrative.
Understanding the primary mechanics and conceits of your game up front gives you a language and framework to build upon, sets up the parameters for constructing your game world, and helps you figure out what kinds of assets you’ll need. This is not the story of your game, but an objective description (we can add in the fun bits later—you know, set in SPACE!)
It’s critical that you carefully define what you need. Dump it all out on paper. It might look daunting, but lot of what you come up with might turn out to be unnecessary (you also might miss a few things, but it’s okay to figure that out later!)
Try not to sink too much time into creating assets before you’ve laid a solid foundation—this exercise is just to become aware of what you’re going to need to so you can block off your time accordingly.
Here’s an example “big list” and some supporting notes for creating assets:
An asset list in progress.
If you haven’t already, do some broad research about the central theme of your game. Know what media exists—books, movies, podcasts, articles, historical anecdotes, etc.—that give you an overview of your subject matter.
Next, conduct some targeted research, and compile a “swipe file.” This can be a physical folder, Tumblr, Pinterest, or folders on your hard drive—whatever works best for you. It could be images torn out from magazines, screenshots from other games, scenes from movies, typefaces, music, colours, stories, and images from a Google search. (For more about observation and research, check out slides Rachel Kahn’s Learning Creativity workshop)
Once you’ve compiled your references, write a short paragraph about how your world works. This is your Narrative, and brings together the context, structure, and surface details about your game as a simplified conceptual framework that you can reference while you work.
Remember the two tips your teacher gave you when you sat down with those awful bubble-filled forms with your No. 2 pencil? They’re perfectly applicable here.
The whole point of Junicorn is to provide a focused group environment for as much continuous support, feedback, and collaboration as you need. You don’t have to work in isolation if you don’t want to—everyone wants to see you finish your game.
We won’t give you any specific details on how to manage your project over the next four weeks. You probably have tools and processes you use in your work—exploit the systems that work for you!
However, we will give you a way to frame the work you are doing.
Things that will keep you focused:
Finish this co-op tandem bicycle-racing civic-engagement game by July 10.
Picture the game you want to finish. That’s what you’re doing. Don’t worry about anyone else—this is YOUR game. Your cohort—and the DMG community—is here to support you and help you realize your goal, whatever that might be.
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