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Timelines and Deadlines in Game Development

The production phase of learning game development is an exciting one! It represents the culmination of extensive planning, collaboration, and creativity. Production is not just about creating a game – it’s about transforming ideas into interactive experiences that captivate and educate players. In this blog, we’ll explore how we navigate timelines and deadlines within our Agile model (while adapting to external factors) to deliver impactful educational games!

via Giphy

Understanding the Production Phase

Production is the longest and most expensive phase of game development, characterized by interdisciplinary collaboration and iterative progress. Despite meticulous planning, the production process at Filament is set up to be flexible, as unexpected challenges and changes may inevitably arise. As developers, we navigate through these uncertainties by adopting agile methodologies and prioritizing adaptability.

Key Moments in Development

Throughout the production phase, several key moments mark significant milestones in the game’s evolution:

The Core Game Mechanic: This foundational element represents the primary interaction players engage in and serves as the cornerstone of the gameplay experience. Whether it’s rolling dice, playing cards, or building a city, establishing a fun and engaging core mechanic is paramount. It could still be abstract circles and squares, but the goal is for it to be a functional demo of a moment of gameplay.

The Game Loop:  Large parts of the experience could still be missing, but there is a flow from one action to the next. Typically this manifests itself as a complete level or a repeatable cycle of interactions. In a game where you are a space miner, the core mechanic is mining, the game loop is complete when you can mine multiple places and sell minerals at market. This is the first time someone can really “play” your game.

Content Complete/Feature Complete: At this stage, all art assets and programmed interactions are represented at varying levels of completion. While the game may not be at “version 1.0,” the focus shifts from creation to iteration and polishing, refining the player experience and addressing any outstanding issues.

Naive User Testing: Thorough playtesting with individuals unfamiliar with the game helps identify any potential areas of confusion or frustration for players. This period allows developers to manage defects, fine-tune game balance, and ensure that the overall experience meets player expectations.

Production in Action

To further explain the ins and outs of the production process at Filament, here’s a real-life example. Pinball Energy Challenge, a game we created with our client McGraw-Hill, was built to teach energy exchange using the familiar concept of pinball. We used HTML 5 and it needed to run on affordable tablets. The total development time for this title was about nine months.

Pictured below is the first version of the game that we shared with our client. It isn’t much more than an interactive wireframe, where objects are roughly blocked in. This was after two months of development. HTML5 doesn’t have support for collision detection or physics, and we knew that a robust system was going to be necessary, so we wrote that code from scratch. This debug view of collision volumes was available throughout the project.

Game Progress: 33%

After another month of development, a third of the way through production, you can see our first pass at some objects (walls are still missing art and invisible in this view). More importantly, we embraced tool-driven development and you can see the designer utilities taking shape so that they can create, edit, and save content.

Building a game is similar to building a house. There is a long period where it is just a hole in the ground while the foundation is being laid – then you frame in the home and it starts to take shape!

Game Progress: 50%

At this point we finished our first pass of the user flow, which included a summary screen that tracked how energy moved through the system over time. We were still adding to the game while iterating on existing parts. This was an important milestone because it was the first time that we could put the game in front of other people and validate our ideas with playtests.

Halfway through development we had a first pass at the majority of the art, with newer features still having “programmer art.” At this point we were trying to hone in on the experience of the player. This is also the first time that you can see the learning objective in action. The kinetic energy of the pinball was transformed into electrical energy when passing through the spinner; then energy was converted to heat.

Game Progress: 75%

The next month and a half, roughly three quarters of the way through production, was an explosion of development. We went from a handful of levels to more than one hundred. We doubled our number of “energy parts.” New systems added to the game included sound, a tutorial, options, and just-in-time help. To top things off, art contributed the majority of final quality assets during this period. Camera work and other special effects were incorporated. At this point, everything that will be in the final product is represented at some level of completion.

Big questions were resolved (How big are parts? How big are levels? What feedback do we show for energy exchange? How does the inventory system work? Do the interactions feel natural?). At this stage of development we were able to leverage our previous work and focus on generating content. For example, the investment in a tool to create levels supported their quick construction and iteration. While it seems like there was a dramatic increase in productivity, the same number of people worked the same number of hours during this period.

Game Progress: 100%

The last 25% of development time added polish to the visual design, but no major artistic changes were made. The remaining time left on the project was dedicated to bug fixing, creating a web app version, saving player data, communication with servers, and performance optimizations to ensure the game would run smoothly on tablets.

Aligning Production Timelines with External Contingencies

In the fast-paced world of game development, priorities and requirements may, of course, change over the course of a project. Our Agile model enables us to adapt to these changes quickly and efficiently, ensuring that we stay on track to meet our deadlines while addressing our client’s evolving needs.

When taking on a game development project, it’s essential to consider external contingencies that may influence your production timeline. For instance, if your educational game is set to coincide with the opening of a museum exhibit or the launch of a new curriculum, we need to align our development schedule accordingly. This requires careful planning and coordination with stakeholders to ensure that our deliverables meet the deadlines set by external events.

At Filament, part of kicking off production involves collaborating with our clients to establish clear timelines and milestones. We work closely with stakeholders to identify key dates and milestones that align with their overarching objectives. By understanding the external contingencies and constraints, we can tailor our development process to meet specific deadlines while maintaining the quality and integrity of the project.

Through regular sprint reviews and retrospectives, we continuously evaluate our progress and make adjustments as needed. This iterative approach allows us to incorporate feedback from stakeholders, identify potential risks, and make informed decisions to keep the project on schedule.

Striking the Perfect Balance

Timelines and deadlines are integral components of game development, guiding our efforts to deliver high-quality educational games on time and within budget. By aligning our production timelines with external contingencies and leveraging Agile methodologies, we can effectively navigate the complexities of game development while maintaining flexibility and responsiveness.

As an industry leading educational game developer, we’re committed to delivering innovative and engaging educational experiences that meet the unique needs of our clients and their unique audiences. If you’re interested in partnering with us to bring your educational game to life, we invite you to reach out and start a conversation with us today!

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