Friday, May 23, 2008

Killing my darlings...

Stephen King once wrote about how- in telling a story- it is sometimes necessary to 'kill your darlings' , meaning that even if you love something you've written or cooked up, putting it in your story can- often times- hurt the piece as a whole because the idea simply doesn't fit into the yarn you're spinning. Same goes for game design. As cool as a play mechanic may be, as cool as a level design may seem...sometimes, it just doesn't fit in with the game you're making. And unlike writing a novel, with game design, there is another reason to sometimes kill a darling: cause it's just too damn ambitious to create!

But that's the production phase...that's the hard part!

Pre-Production is one of the most fun times for a designer because it's- in many aspects- the blue sky phase of the game. A million seemingly cool ideas just floating in the ether, ready to be plucked from the air and inserted into the next great gaming masterpiece! No limits on your game, no limits to your imagination, and no limits to your fantasies that THIS IS GONNA BE THE ONE; this is gonna be the one time when you really do get to make the best videogame EVER!

And then reality sets in (if you have a great producer...which we do) and you have to start making hard choices. And you have to hope that you and the team have the experience and insight to make the correct calls, and that you are tuned into the gut/vibe/spirit of your game so that you kill the stuff that needs killing while greenlighting the stuff that really belongs in the game. If you are lucky, your gut will guide you in these decisions most days. But every project has those 'Sophie's Choice' moments where there is no good decision. Even when the game is done and- hopefully- has gone onto much success, you still wonder: did we make the right call?!?!

But for the last 3-5 months, it was easy and fun. Just blue sky for miles around.

During that time, me and other members of the team have been brainstorming and designing, trying to discover what it was we wanted to make. That work resulted in about 75 pages of notes and sketches and drawings (you can sort of see all those pages in the video blog post from yesterday, altho the video quality- for some reason- is shit).

So in prep for a Utah meeting next week- where we will need to start making some final decisions on aspects of the game- I went thru all those pages and crossed out the stuff that no longer felt right. The stuff that still made sense made it onto this list:

165 single line notes. Each one a mechanic or play idea or weapon or level concept. Each one representing between 3 days of work and 2-3 MONTHS of work! Which means, we ain't gonna get to do them all.

Which means my job today is to whittle these into Category A (the stuff I feel we MUST have and that I must sell the team on), Category B (the stuff I really want and hope to somehow get enough time and support to get it in the game), and Category C (the stuff that we'll probably end up saving for a sequel if we are fortunate enough to make second one).

And the fun part? The other key members of the team are gonna have their OWN lists and OWN categorization of those lists..which means next week should be a fucking blast of haggling, debating, arguing, and- best case- collaborating!

But as productive as next week will be, I know that some of my faves on this list are gonna get slaughtered. Some of my babies are gonna get murdered, and there's just no getting around that. And I'll- as often as Scott or Kellan or anyone else on the team- be the one holding the damn axe.

Wish us luck! :)