How We Make Games, the Short Version

Update by: Vlatko Goljevacki


We are hard at work on our new game (The Black Olive - Chapter 1). Since this new game is actually a complete revamp of our old one (which never saw the light of day), the process is a little different than when we usually make a game from scratch. Let me illuminate on that a little bit.

The first thing I start with, when we decide to do a game, is the story. Well ok, the first thing I decide on is what genre I want the game to be. Is it horror, is it comedy, is it childhood fantasy? Usually I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do next. For instance, if I did a fantasy feel-good adventure the last time chaces are I want to try my hand at a different kind of adventure.

So the first thing I actually do is define the genre and general feel of the game. Since the game always evolves throughout the process of making the actual game, certain elements might and will change, but the general idea remains the same. If, for some reason, you refuse to let elements of the game evolve through your work then you will be left with a "could have been, but not good enough" game.

The next step is to actually write the story. First I decide if I want it to be a synopsis or a full story, depending on the game we are making. If the game is story-focused then I'm going to write a full story, like I did with The Grey Rainbow. If the game is puzzle-centric, then I am going to write a synopsis and fill in the blanks through the actual gameplay. Now, that does not mean that the puzzle-centric games will have a bad storyline. Rather, it means that the story will be in the background. The player will have a feeling of something going on beneath the surface and the way the player engages with the story will be different. Both approaches should work for a game, if done right.

The Black Olive, Chapter 1 is a little different. The game was started before I came along to the team. Various ideas were thrown in and the story synopsis was already done. The story was not necessarily bad, but the way it was implemented was. You know that old children's toy where you have shapes (square, ball) that go into different holes? Well it felt like that. It felt like there was a ball there, but the hole was square. So they tried to make the ball a square instead of just taking a real square. Make sense yet? I didn't think so.

There was no need to write a synopsis for the game. My job was to make sure that the existing story fit the world and unravelled nicely. That was my primary focus on the revamp of the game. It's easy to say "Hey, I want a man that looks like a rat in this scene!", but it takes more to actually make the idea work. The most important thing to have is love and passion for the project you are working on. If you have that, most other things fall into place. I am going to tell you about my view on this in one of the future updates, though.

After the story is done we usually take care of the game mechanics. We make sure you can talk to everybody, make sure we have all the items you'll need for the puzzles, make sure the navigation is easy to understand and the GUI (Graphic User Interface) is simple and intuitive. Keep in mind this is all done in the early stages of the games, when the art is non-existent. To keep things fast and easy, we use stick figures and bad drawings, which can be made in 10 minutes tops for the entire game, and scan them in to use as placeholders. Usually the art is the LAST thing we do, after everything else is completed.

In TBO - Chapter 1, we already had the old artwork (edited photographs). We made a conscious decision to switch to hand-drawn art (by asking one of our best artist-friends to help). All the locations were there, all the characters were there and we now had to draw them by hand and change them and/or add new details where we saw fit. This was a pretty painless process, since Pero draws pretty excellenty! (is that a word?!)

Somewhere in the middle we do the puzzles. Generally we have a good idea of what the puzzles are going to be about, but the exact mechanics (pick that up to do that to do the other thing) are defined only when we come to the point of implementing the puzzle. The reason for that is, a lot can change in the process. Once you work on a project for some time you start to get a feel for it, and you usually find better ways of doing puzzles than you originally thought. The same goes for characters and dialogues. The difference with Chapter 1 is, all the puzzles already exist. It was only a matter of fine-tuning them and ironing out the bugs. We're still in the middle of that. Somehow, our games always need a lot of bugs and rats ironing out.

Ah yes, the dialogues. I can do that at any point in the game. However, I cannot write a dialogue until I know what the character is about. Is he evil, is he sneaky, is he a goody-two shoes? Is he smart, stupid, drunk? Is he a king, a beggar or a school teacher? Once I realize that, I can write him/her. Sometimes it takes a lot of trial and error until I can write the dialogues properly, sometimes I can write the character at once. It all depends on the character, and the nuances I want to convey. Perhaps one day I'll show you how the dialogues looked like before I came along :D

So there you have it. This is a short synopsis of the way our projects are developed. Expect me to go into every subsection of the process in detail, in my future updates. You will learn exactly, step-by-step, how we make the art, the dialogues, the puzzles and the story. From a director's point of view. I can't really talk about the programming part, since I don't know the first thing about that. I'll leave some of our other members to talk about that, and they probably will. Soon! Mwhahahahha!