RedBeard's Dev Blog

Indie Production Process

Posted by redbeard on September 15, 2011

I’ve fielded a few questions about and discussed my production process recently, so I felt compelled to document it more permanently. I’ve developed this process after a number of projects both failed and completed, independent and professional.

Design

  • Paper Notebook: Before I start typing anything into a word processor, spreadsheet, or compiler IDE, I capture some concepts on paper, both high-level and low-level, related to design, art, technology, whatever. It’s easy to sketch out all sorts of random stuff on paper like UI, art concepts, gameplay or code logic flow charts, and of course just writing. I’m also fairly forgetful but can carry a paper pad around with me so I can capture whatever fleeting genius might strike me.
  • Design Doc: Once I have a good idea of the high-level concept and some details, I try to capture them in a more sensible and editable format; Word, OneNote, Google Docs are all good choices. The purpose of the design doc is to describe in detail all the ideal features and systems as they would be in a final product, but not necessarily in a technical manner. I don’t describe APIs or algorithms in this document unless they’re essential to the concept and are novel or original.The design doc is a living document and may change drastically over the course of development, so don’t get too mired in details when you’re still prototyping. Here’s my design doc for Cube Fortress.

Product Planning and Development

  • Production Spreadsheet: I use a spreadsheet to track all the production details of my project. This includes development tasks, art and other assets, bug tracking, publication submission details, free download codes, review links, sales numbers, and whatever else is related to the project. The largest chunk of manual work needed here is managing the task list, which is divided into milestones of “coherent functionality” such as a visual or technical prototype, basic gameplay, network multiplayer, final polish, title update, etc. Here’s my production spreadsheet for Cube Fortress.
  • Milestones: The idea of a milestone is to have something presentable and coherent at the end, without tons of unimplemented stub functionality or useless disconnected features. Milestones are composed of tasks, where each task is ideally 1-4 hours long so it can be completed in a single development session; examples of good tasks: cube rendering, player respawn, weapon firing, raycast collision detection, scoreboard; some tasks which would be too broad or nebulous: netcode, guns, HUD UI, Clone Angry Birds. I prefer to focus on and complete a single task at a time, since this gives a good tangible result and also allows for better bug tracking if you keep your code & assets in a source-control system like SVN.
  • Task Estimation: For scheduling production, it’s essential to capture good tasks, break them into reasonable sizes, and make good estimates of their time complexity. Time estimation is a skill which comes poorly to most programmers, because we tend to be optimistic about our ability to write perfect code quickly. In reality, new requirements will typically be discovered halfway through implementation and the result will have a few bugs which take significant time to track down and squash. Really, the best way to be good at estimating task times is to do it a bunch and learn through experience.

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