When Nike slapped their logo all over their trademark “Just Do It”, they probably meant for it to be an encouraging statement. It wasn’t so much a command as much as it was a “You Can Do It Too!” Yes, that’s right, you — the chubby one with asthma — you can run that marathon and break a record! Just wobble your way down that hill in these ergonomic orthopaedic Nike-approved running shoes and you can win! Just do it!
Until I began working on Tasty Tasty Grandpa with a team of experienced game developers, my attitude towards game development was adopted from a Nike shoe box. Just do it. Game developers can just do it. A game designer can design any kind of game, a coder can make all kinds of magic happen on the screen, and an artist can go from pixel sprites to photorealism. I went into the project expecting everyone to just be able to do everything because game developers can just do it.
At four weeks into development, I have realised that Nike probably lied to me.
I’m not suggesting that Craig Duturbure (game designer), Stuart McVicar (coder), Damian Pin (artist) and Matt Christensen (audio) can’t do it. It’s more that I have come to realise just how much work they have to do… to do it. I thought their jobs would be easy and now I can’t help but feel guilt gnawing away at my scalp. It is either guilt or head lice. I am going to go with guilt. I feel guilty for underselling their jobs.
Before the project officially kicked off, everything did seem so easy. In my mind, we were all wearing the fastest, most colourful sport shoes. The shoes came with capes and little propellers.
“We’ve found a coder!” Craig told me when Stuart joined us.
“Hooray!” I thought as confetti burst forth from my rainbow shoes. “He will code all the things! This game will be finished in a week!”
When Damian was brought onto the team, Craig showed me some of his incredible concept sketches.
“Damian can also animate,” said Craig.
“Awwww yissss gonna be the best game everrrrrrr! Animashuns 4 eerrrrbodddyyyy!” I was so excited my thoughts grew less and less coherent.
When Matt joined the team to be our audio man and composer, all the cushioning bubbles in my figurative sparkly shoes spontaneously popped. It was a bit embarrassing.
What Does It Mean To Do Anything?
In each instance my mind went through a series of checkboxes: have a coder? We have code! Have a designer? We have design! Have an artist? We have art! It wasn’t until we had passed the halfway mark when it occurred to me that I had no idea what it meant to code a game or create animations.
For example, if you draw concept art, how do you animate it? Is there software for it? What do you do with it once you put it in the software? Is it like stop-motion animation? Or say you’re composing the soundtrack for a game… where do you even begin? How do you come up with a brand new song from scratch that suits the theme and tone of the game? As an exercise, I tried to compose my own song on the violin just now. After an hour of squeaking and scribbling down notes, I came up with Thunderstuck by AC/DC. If I were a composer on this game, not only would I suck, I’d get us all sued for copyright infringement.
This leads me to game design. Last week I learned that game design is more than just coming up with a game idea — it’s a process of solving all the problems that your game idea poses. For example, in Tasty Tasty Grandpa you’re meant to run through the world and level up until you die as a delicious octogenarian. The thing is, the game never ends. You’re meant to start again as a baby and continue through the world. The problem here is what incentive does anyone have to keep going once their character has already died with dignity?
Had I been the one to come up with a solution to this game design conundrum, someone would have probably called the cops on me. Fortunately, Craig is the game designer on this team, not me. Craig decided that players would have an incentive to keep playing if we introduce a thing called “wisdom”. Wisdom is collectible in the game and springs forth when you eat an enemy or evade an attack. The more wisdom you collect, the higher your score climbs, and this is reflected in the leaderboards. If you manage to make it to the end as a grandpa, all your wisdom is transferred over to the new baby, so you can keep building your score.
We now have a completed 30 page game design document that solves all the problems Craig can imagine. Matt is up to his second draft of the game’s soundtrack, Damian has animated all the attacks of every character age group, and Stuart is up to his second prototype in Unity. Having swallowed my ignorance, I am now gaining my own wisdom. I am beginning to understand what it takes to really do it. So guess I’ll kick off these lying Nike shoes and go barefoot, because this is how we’re going to do it.
The Tasty Diaries is a development diary written by Kotaku’s former associate editor, Tracey Lien. Tracey is working with experienced developers to make a mobile game called Tasty Tasty Grandpa in four weeks. They will probably go overtime because she is incompetent. You can follow the diary series here.