Monday, January 24, 2011

The process of video game development

Whether you're just a video game fan or are actually planning to take a game programming course, it's always interesting to know and understand how our favourite games are produced. Knowing the long process of video game development helps us enjoy our video games more completely as we learn about all the people, the time and the work involved in providing you with hundreds of hours of play. So in this short article I will give you the basics of video game development. Maybe you'll find that there’s a job in there for you!

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Photo: stock.xchng

Video games are different from regular software because they include and integrate art, sounds and gameplay, often with a narrative keeping everything together. So developing a video game is a different process from software development and involves a large number of teams and individuals with different but compatible qualifications.

The first step in the process is pre-production. In pre-production, the team prepares documents that outlines the concept, the narrative, and first ideas for design and sound. It also involves planning all the tasks involved in making the video game, and assigning them to the different teams (which sometimes involves outsourcing as well). These are meant to be presented to a potential publisher so they can assess whether they want to produce the game or not. It is basically a game proposal, and it can even involved a playable prototype, a few minutes of typical gameplay.

The next step is production, after the game has been accepted for a publisher and has been fully staffed for all its features. During the production, the code is written, the designs are drawn and the sound effects and music are recorded. If the game involves a narrative, this narrative is written from beginning to end to provide the level designers with what they need to start building the video game. The writers are responsible for the basic game narrative, as well as the dialogue for playable and non-playable characters during gameplay and also cutscenes. Working with the level and graphic designers, the text is brought in seamlessly with the visual elements of the game. The game designers build the content and the rules governing gameplay.

During the latter part of this stage, after the game has a completed form, the game is tested for bugs, gameplay and other coding problems. This is not a beta version yet: the beta is usually a version that is mostly bug-free and that is given to selected customers for marketing evaluation. This leads to what is called a gold master, or the version of the game that will be copied for mass production. The gold master is basically the finished version of a game.

In post-production, a few individuals or a small team remain to take care of problems after the game has been shipped and sold. For older video games, this step was practically non-existent, as a copy of a video game was impossible to modify without building and selling another version, but with Internet and the flexibility of new coding, now almost all games can receive patches through networking even after they have been sold and played. This is especially true of MMORPGs, where new levels are constantly built, and a massive amount of players are always looking for bugs. In these cases, the maintenance team may comprise quite a few programmers and designers, who are working full-time.

As you can see, the life of a video game begins quite early, usually 2 to 3 years before its appearance on the market. Video game production is a long, complicated process involving a number of people and teams on many decision levels. To get involved in video game production, you need an excellent education in the field, good programming or designing skills, and an ability to think outside the box. Think you have what it takes?

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