How we made a plan for development: GDDs, techdocs, charts and more…

How we made a plan for development: GDDs, techdocs, charts and more…

Hi, it’s me again, Alex. Last week I wrote about the short history of our company and our other cool stuff we’re cooking that’s not Trip the Ark Fantastic.

This week I’m going to explain the process of planning we had prior to starting on the development of Trip the Ark Fantastic. There’s a lot of game developers who just dive in (myself included on numerous occasions) but for this project, we decided to really figure everything out prior to starting, including making GDDs, Tech Docs, Gantt charts, etc. That’s not to say we carved everything in stone, we’re still having a lot of discussions, even very fundamental ones, but at least we have a good starting cornerstone.

And since we’ve had great success with previous blogs that deal with gamedev methodology, such as the one where we discuss our asset pipeline or how we write dialogues for the game, this time we’ll write up a blog about our project methodology, how we made a plan, and hopefully some people will find it interesting! So, let’s start.

Before the flood, there was a GDD!

First off, even before we started working on the project, we made a huge GDD with all our ideas, and it was over 50 pages long and created collaboratively by Piet and me:

The process of making a plan we had prior to starting on the development of Trip the Ark Fantastic.
20.000 words of design decisions, gameplay mechanics, lore, quests etc.

This was important so that we can figure out more-or-less exactly the scope of the project even before starting it.

The next step was deciding on the art style we want. Of course, an art director would be great for this, but having none yet, we decided that we’re going to have to decide this ourselves for now. So we made another document, quite huge and pin-pointed a lot of different styles that could work, and finally decided on one to start off with.

The process of making a plan we had prior to starting on the development of Trip the Ark Fantastic.
Some of the more obscure styles we considered. Yes, very thorough.

We then settled on a fantasy-ish 2D cartoon-animated art style and found someone to make a few key artworks which we added into the new and shortened GDD, available here:

This GDD was what we sent to the Creative Europe grant (which we received) and also to our investors, prior to their investment. And then, it was time to decide on the scope of the team. Do we need a specialised composer full time or will a freelancer work? Do we need 2, 3 or 4 artists working on the visuals? How about programmers? Et cetera. So, for this, we started creating specialised documents that nail down each of these things.

Making a plan: Creating a Technical Design Document

There was the Technical Design Document where we decided on how to approach certain technical issues arising from our new mechanics (will we use SQLite for storing data, or our own search with data in JSON, what format we’ll store the game script in, et cetera). It looked a bit like this:

The process of making a plan we had prior to starting on the development of Trip the Ark Fantastic.
24 pages of this stuff. Yay, fun.

There was also a lot of other documents, including a “music design document”. Of course, this document was revised once we found the right composer, but it helped to show the potential composers what we want in terms of musical style and complexity.

Lots of weird graphs and charts in that one.

And then, after all that was done (cca mid 2019), we started gathering the team to work on the game. It took us most of 2019 but we finally found some great artists, the last of which was our character artist Serena whose first blog was about the awesome tool Krita that she uses for character design.

After the whole team was finalised, we reworked a lot of the documents (now with more realistic timesheets and expectations, especially regarding music and art), and then created a nice big 2 year plan for the development of the game, in the form of a timesheet:

We should update it for July. At some point.

This way we figured the earliest possible release-date for the game to be in 2022 (that’s why it’s called a 2 year plan!) and then when we knew everything about the game and had the whole team on board we proceeded to create a teaser trailer to showcase the atmosphere of the game and drive people to our website where they can read more about the game and follow our work (including reading these blog posts of course).

If you haven’t seen it, here’s the trailer!

And then we started working full time on the game proper, starting with making a playable demo of the first city in the game – art, story, music et cetera. The city quest was reworked a bit to feature the main mechanic already (we wanted to introduce it later but decided that for showcasing purposes earlier is better). And that’s where we’re at now.

The various documents have been replaced by more awesome tools (like Nuclino for world building) and/or more detailed charts and sheets for art and music deliverables.

Hopefully, we won’t miss our internal deadline too much (or maybe hopefully we will and the game will be 10x better for it?) but in any case, this is the long and winding road we took to ensure we know what we’re doing and we don’t enter some kind of unforeseen development hell, as none of us are really senior experts in gamedev.

And that’s it. Hopefully some of these ideas have inspired you to plan ahead for your own game! If you have any questions or would like to see some of these documents irl, ping us via social media or join our Discord!

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