I’m probably not the only around here working in the video game industry but I haven’t seen much thread talking about how big (and not so big) commercial games are made. So here it is and I hope it’ll help you with your personal projects.
First, you must have an idea and this idea doesn’t have to come by smashing your head against the wall. In most cases (95% +) in a game studio, the marketing doesn’t even have idea and only request a game to one of its team to fit with the present trend. They set a target release date considering when people buy this kind of game the most. The team have to deal with it.
On the other hand, some studios rely on the idea itself. They hire people who naturally have good ideas and know how to realize them. Then a sell pitch is made to whoever got the money and here we go.
Far behind we find small independant studio or developper. Some game, like Defcon, reached the top and has been done by a single man in his basement. When you’re an independant developper, you can either publish it yourself, ask a publisher, sell your idea or even get hired by a bigger studio. Make a quick search to find who really thought of the game Portal before Valve released it. In the good old days, Lord British packed his first game himself on floppy disks and paper boxes. Now with the internet, no need to say it’s pretty easy to publish yourself.
Since the idea is up to you or your team you must first decide what’s the main theme of the game. Forums and blender community will publish your game.
Once the basic idea or theme is on the table, most studio have a pre-production phase like in most media related industries. During this time, technology is chosen, tools are developed, prototypes are compiled and concept arts fly by as they get rejected by the Game Design or Art Director.
Note that absolutely no final art is done at this moment if any art (in-game graphic) is made at all.
Preproduction is almost finished and the whole concept is on paper, all levels are designed (on paper), characters, mechanics, interaction, controls, art direction, style, difficulty balancing, etc… Sometimes, a Fake Game Footage is done to visualize what the team aims for. It’s a simple CG animation simulating gameplay footage.
Since you’re all alone out there, you should always have a pre-production phase to share your ideas and receive feedback. Most people here are stuck in a pre-production phase since they have only thought of 5% of the whole game.
This is where it gets dirty. The game is finally made! Modelers and animators start working on the main character while programmers make sure it can move around properly. Controls are tweaked again and again. Sometimes the graphic assets is ready and wait for the mechanic that drives it, sometimes the mechanic uses placeholder awaiting for final graphic. Everything is tied up together and bugs come out. Some major bugs are fixed immediately but most remain until alpha, beta or debug phase.
The Alpha milestone is the most important for the production team but rarely met on time. It requires all mechanics to be integrated and functional. No more feature development allowed post-alpha. This is what the game is. Graphics are still in early stage, no texture, no lighting, sometimes no animation. No sound or music, as long as we know that those things work in-game, we don’t need them everywhere to met the Alpha. The code is all there.
The game is usually final, all contents is integrated, graphic, audio, etc… The game can be completed without any cheat and no placeholder asset remains. The data is all there. It’s not rare to see Beta releases over the internet to get the games tested by actual users.
Production is when you can ask for help on forums. When you know what you want and what you need to fit within your mechanics. You can start coding and blocking but first, you must plan a minimum. No necessarily over time but over workload. You must ensure that you’ll have everything you need to complete each task. (I want my main character to move around an empty land = I need my character setup with my predefined controls and a basic model to work with.). You can plan over time too, just make sure to start with the big picture then narrow down to smaller features.
This is the fun part where the team has to fix everything they didnt fix before. Sometimes the bug is so deep that the whole feature has to be cut to make sure the game will release in time. It’s always sad for a level designer to see his awesome design get cut because of a bug in the switch mechanisms… So imagine that when you find a game really good, it would have been even better if the team had no pressure from the marketing to release for christmas.
The Debug phase is usually done by the guy who made the game and the problem is, you can’t find everything since your brain works in a way another brain can’t understand. You’ll perform actions while another would perform some others. Share your almost completed game for testing. If more games would get completed we could even ask for a Game Testing forum section that would work like a bug database for each project.
Well that’s it for now. If you guys have any questions about how it really work in a game studio just ask.
Hope this will help!