Reply To: Game Design Methodologies


(re: Game Design Methodologies) I wasn’t really sure how to title this, but I guess this is as close to what i’m asking about as I can think at the moment.  I wanted to ask about A) how you went about judging playtime in those games (or depending on how involved you were you could ask Mrs. Williams how she went about doing it).  What I mean by playtime is how long a person plays.  If I knew where everything was in Space Quest 3 – I can finish it in a couple of hours (or less depending on what I did)… Also timing some old lucasarts games, they came out to about 6-8 hours when I knew all the puzzles and where all the items were.  But I hear of today’s games takeing up to 30-40 hours, etc…  What i’d like to know is how you decided something was long enough, did you strictly keep to a time limit, or did you just develop it, and whatever ended up, ended up? 
Also B) How was the process (more in the early to mid days of Sierra) of creating a game like?  Did everyone end up with a fully fleshed out formal document (design document or whatever), or did you sort of start from an outline and kind of play it by ear?  I read somewhere that The Secret of Monkey Island (yes I know this wasn’t sierra <g>) basically developed by the guys just putting in funny things and sort of having fun with it, not sticking to anything formal.  In fact I looked at the interview at The Virtual Broomcloset with Mark Crowe where the way he described making space quest is that, they mostly went out for pizza and beer <grin>  Basically telling me that they weren’t really into formal processes either (of course this was their first game, so I suppose we all have to start somewhere – and I only mean first, as the first they worked together on their own game for Sierra ).  So you’re thoughts on formal processes/design docs, verses outlines and organic/evolutionary design process?
Every Sierra designer had a different style, but, generally, they all produced HUGE design documents. Roberta’s designs were usually 500 to 1,000 pages.
Typically, there were distinct steps to the design of the adventure games.
1) A two page story idea
2) A map showing the locations
3) A longer design document – perhaps 30-40 pages
4) Artists would get involved at this point
5) Character sheets – to show each character
6) Pencil sketches of each location
7) A much longer design document – perhaps 500 or more pages
For the 3d games we did later, it was even more complex.
As to playtime, I had a rule of thumb that people would feel good about paying $5 per hour for fun. If they pay $50 they are going to be upset if they don’t get at least 10 hours of fun. Ultimately, people would rather pay $1 per hour for their fun, that $5 per hour – so, additional playtime is certainly better.
My people used to confuse this sometimes, and give 25 hours of playtime. The key isn’t playtime – it’s fun. Spending 10 hours trying to solve one puzzle may or may not count as 10 hours of fun. 1 hour of non-fun can completely kill the whole game. I’ve seen games where the designer said “the first 5 hours aren’t fun – because you are building up your character – but, then it gets really exciting” .. I don’t buy into that theory. Anything that isn’t fun isn’t constructive. Focus on fun – and, don’t worry about the clock (generally speaking). The $5 per hour was a guideline not a hard and fast rule. For instance, let’s compare to a trip to Disneyland. It can cost $100 or more (all included) for a day at Disneyland – that might be consumed in  under an hour of actually going on rides. Theoretically, it could be argued that your cost per hour for fun is not only $100 – but, all the grief to get there (parking, traffic, etc). No one complains. Why? Because the fun is good when it happens. The better the fun, the higher the cost per hour people will pay. Boredom isn’t worth paying for. Fun is. The higher the fun, the more they’ll pay. It’s simple.
-Ken W