Indie game design and development by Robert Jankovic

Title:    Indie game design and development

By:   Robert Jankovic

Since the first time they appeared, games have been fascinating the world. They offer much more content and personalization than all other entertainment media like TV, radio, books and so on, therefore they also include a bigger amount of `happiness` for the `user`. During 40 years of their development there have been various types of games, different game genres and other variations. Lately, one of the game types that has rapidly gained fame are so called indie game (independent video games). The most specific characteristic of this kind of games is that they are made by small gaming teams or often individuals, that are completely separated and use different methods to create, develop and distribute their games than mainstream game developers (their games often are called AAA-triple a games).

Making an indie game is not easy! Don’t let this frighten you, because nothing in life is easy. For a few months I am being part of game development team (Indie) based in Montenegro  that has a goal to make games that will literally make you `fall out of your chair`. Currently we are developing a RPG game with RPG elements that is called Indie Pirates: The Adventure. Our team is consisted of 5 members from Montenegro, Italy, India and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

One of the most challenging parts of making a game,(any kind game) is the main idea. Deciding what will be the main goal of the game, which genre will it be, how you play it and so on,  is the first part of the process of game development. When you settle this (usually one person decides about these main things) then you can start designing the game and thinking about its development. From my experience I could identify 3 main parts of game development:  Game design, Programming, and Visual and 3D design. I guess there are other aspects of game development and other processes, but these three have been our main since we started the game.

Game design is the first part of game development. For our current game and for me personally, this was very hard and extremely challenging. My main job was to  design the game parts and game elements, design the game levels and everything that will be in game.  The first challenge (assuming that you have decided the main idea of the game) is to develop the game to a next stage, where you decide some of first gaming experiences that you want to present to the player. For making this part easier I would suggest all game designers that reach to this level to find good references for their game, whether the game is historical, realistic or fantasy, always you can `google` elements that you want to represent in the game. This is how you get a clear representation of the things and later you can find inspiration and ideas to develop further these elements and personalize them.  The next stage would be expanding the main idea of the game. Until this part the game is still on the designer`s `head` or in some personal notes or sketches. In this stage, the main idea is presented to other team members and can be called a `draft` of the game – a brief part of planned gameplay or storyline. Here comes in hand the benefit of not being part of a big studio, where only designers design the game; in our case, I was  the Lead game designer, but every member was included in game and level design and also some of the best ideas for the game came from them. After the main concept is accepted by all members and you have something that you can work on, then the real work begins. I assume every designer has his own way of finding inspiration (which is the most important for any designer), but I have a specific `method` that I use for game design. This method can be used during the whole process of game design from the first stage. For the current game we are making, I always tried to `play` the game in my head (literally play the game as if I am playing it on my computer !!!). I started from the player (the ship), how would it look in game, what kind of sails it would have, the cannons firing,  then the ocean, all kind of weather conditions, huge waves and calm sea,  then the islands, the crowd in market, the port  and so on. With time, I `created` most of the important parts of the game, which then I transferred into paper and made sketches and drawings which I showed to other team members. Until now, this method was very successful and very efficient.  In order to make this `work`, you need a huge `database` to rely on. By this I mean the following: every designer must be creative. Imagination and creativity are the most powerful tools for every game designer. Another very important thing is the gaming experience. As much as games that you play, the better. It doesn’t matter if you played  FPS,RTS,RPG or any other genre, because every gaming experience can be very valuable. The best example is the games UI (we are making RTS/RPG game, but still our UI will have some elements of modern FPS games).

Programming and Visual and 3D design are also important parts of the game development. As for the game design, also for these parts the best way to have the maximum results is to consult with all your team members. From our team`s experience I can say that until now for every decision we made every team member was consulted and we all shared our opinions about it. The Lead Programmer in our team is Matija Kokotovic. He is in charge for all programming tasks like scripting, debugging and so on. For the programming (the game design aspect of programming) there are 2 aspects: to choose the game based on the programming skills or to choose the game engine based on the game needs. This is always a decision that the team has to make before they start the game development. We are using Unity 3D as our game engine, which has proven to be very user friendly  and pretty easy to get used to. In order to make it easier for the programmer, it is important that the game designer shows his ideas to the programmer, so the programmer can prepare for the scripting process (one of the oldest problems with designers/artists and the people who make their ideas come true is that the designers always want the impossible things). Visual and 3D design are also important parts of the game, which affect it’s `beauty` and visual representation. In this case it is also important for a graphic designer to be creative and have good imagination and skills to make the game visuals appealing to the players. In our team Andrea Brivio is the Lead 3D artist, who is in charge for creation of 3D objects of our game. One of important things that lead to fully understanding the main concept of the game is the constant communication between the game designer and 3D artist, so that the artist can completely understand what the designer wanted him to make. Visual representation of ideas, the sketches, drawings, pre-visualization (pre-viz) or low quality animations (we used lego-like characters and square ship models in order to represent the idea for the game trailer, so the basic idea is understood to all members)  are very important for the adequate communication.

In general, the game design is really nice thing, because the designer can unleash his imagination and creativity and find new solutions for game/gameplay problems, invent new features and present his view of the game to the players. While making our game until this phase we had a lot of work to do (viewed from the design aspect), starting from the concept of the game, gameplay mode and features, and then there was the process of `inventing` where we designed new things and features that will be presented to the players, which can be identified as our own specific creations. Finally, after all these design tasks are finished and the game is ready to be presented to the players, they will be the ultimate `jury` that will decide if the game design was successful or not (we have yet to get to this stage with our pirate game, hopefully that we will do well when get to it…)..!