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I'm lead programmer in a medium-sized indie game studio. This is our first game as a team. We're working on a futuristic FPS game, with a profit-sharing buisness plan.

Anyway, we have some very good programmers, who have the ability to create never-seen-before features (true realistic fluids, procedural mesh destruction, procedural skyboxes, etc.) And I'm wondering is there any point to implementing these things? They take a long time, but look brilliant. We're aiming for a 12 month development cycle. So should we do this, or just make a standard game.

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"We're working on a futuristic FPS game". Never seen one of those before </sarcasm>. I'm not really sure that directly competing with a thousand and one "futuristic FPS" games is a solid business model for a medium-sized indie studio. –  Nicol Bolas Oct 27 '11 at 5:16
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@NicolBolas Genre has no inherent bearing on innovation. The theme of their game is their own concern, if that's what they want to make, you can be sure that's what they're going to make. There are innovative games made in every genre by indie and big studios alike. In other words, they will either innovate within their given genre or they won't, and that's all that counts. –  Nick Wiggill Oct 27 '11 at 8:54
    
A side note: procedural skyboxes sounds awesome... always wondered why so many games have "static" skyboxes or skyboxes with some a couple of layers of clouds drifting over them the anwser is probably because most people don't notice it and the ressources could be used on something else... but it seems like a nice thing –  Holger Oct 27 '11 at 13:34

4 Answers 4

up vote 27 down vote accepted

Do not try to do it because you know you can do it.

Gameplay should be first, all things (even graphics) are secondary. If the game is fun and enjoyable but has poor (or not so next gen) graphics, it will still be fun and enjoyable and people will play it, and also your metacritic will be good. Otherwise if the game has awesome graphics and features (realistic fluids, procedural mesh destruction, etc) but is not entertaining or difficult to play (bad controls, etc), people will not play it. No players = no money and also bad metacritic.

So first plan the game you want to do and think about its gameplay features, its playable situations. Do not try to push trying to make that feature X fit into the game just because it looks cool. If it doesn't really make sense, or if it's not going to represent an important part of the gameplay, simply drop it.

Also, avoid trying to build gameplay around one of those awesome features if it doesn't make sense or you think it's not going to be fun. For example: you might think "I have procedural mesh destruction, so let's force the player to destroy everything before he can continue advancing in the game (so he can see meshes being procedurally destroyed)".

To sum up: first think about your game and about its needs. From that base, plan your development phase, and then you will see if there is enough room to fit one or more of these awesome features (and if it makes sense to add them to your specific kind of game).

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Keeping in mind that a 12 month cycle doesn't mean that you stop coding at week 52 and shove it out the door, I side with the answers already given that game play must come first and to only add neat features if they help the game play.

Ideally you'll have time to beta test with release candidates, so most work except emergency bug fixes and tuning stops at week 50.

Full features should be in place long before beta so maybe anything not in by week 46 so you can do internal testing to make everything solid before polishing in beta. So that's really only 46 weeks of work before you start getting the game ready to ship.

The key thought is to decide whether having your hot engineer working on a system is worth the trade of that engineer not already working on your next title. "What else could he be doing" is the hidden cost to any decision.

BTW, simulated fluid volumes, procedural destruction, dynamic sky boxes, etc... have all been done in commercial games and the reason you don't hear about them so much is that the game itself was always more important.

Best of luck, anything you do will be exciting!

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I want to add that sometimes the look and feel of a game is part of what makes it fun or makes it stand out and therefore exciting! I don't want you to think that visually boring is good just because it takes less time =) –  Patrick Hughes Oct 26 '11 at 23:22
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I would say that is optimistic. Polishing in IMO would take longer than 4 weeks. If you want it to be "perfect" it can take months of playtesting and fine tuning. Especially if its a multiplayer game. –  Psykocyber Oct 27 '11 at 20:50
    
@Psykocyber Very true! But a bunch of "very good" programmers should already be doing some variety of agile, iterative development for a project like this and I was counting on that. It's also outside the scope of the question. Guys, start a new question of "What's an efficient development paradigm for a small, tech-driven studio to follow to reliably produce polished games in a short time frame?" Or something like that =) –  Patrick Hughes Oct 27 '11 at 21:16

If your programmers are that good, then use those skills to deliver on time and under-budget. And between now and the start of your next big project, think about how to better leverage those skills your team has, with the bigger budget that comes with a good track record.

But if you must do things this way, then pick ONE cool thing. Not all, not even two -- Never introduce too many risk factors at once. And that one that you pick MUST be somehow central to the gameplay, because all the rest is just fluff. When you're Blizzard, you can afford to sit around adding neat features -- although their decisions are always business-minded IMHO.

But trying to implement all or even just a few of the things your coders can do, because it seems cool and you kinda-sorta think you can, will head you for a very big fall.

Again, the key is DO NOT add anything that will not with certainty contribute to the core game dynamic -- whatever that is (it sounds as if that has yet TBD).

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+1 million for "on time & under-budget" I wish I could do that. –  Stephen Furlani Oct 28 '11 at 17:10

"we have some very good programmers, who have the ability to create never-seen-before features"

Nothing personal, but I have to say I doubt it. Valve (to pick just one) has some of the best programmers in the industry, if not the world. Havoc also has some pretty smart people - there are dozens of other examples. They all have more coders than you, more time, and higher budgets.

Now, maybe you have somehow managed to get a group of absolute geniuses together. But I would be vary careful about the gap between what programmers think they can do, and what we can actually do in a limited time and to a releasable standard. As other people have said, you can (if you are very confident) pick one. I personally would want to go through the process of getting a game to market at least once before I tried to shoot for the moon.

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