Limitations: Empowering Your Game Development & Giving You Peace of Mind

Limitations: Empowering Your Game Development & Giving You Peace of Mind

You NEED a Canvas 

Every budding indie-dev, (myself included) says, “I want to make a game.” However, without a canvas and the limitations it imposes, you’ll be uncertain where to start, you’ll be subjected to endless scope creep, and be much more unsure of your overall targeted end point. 

Now Take it a Step Further:

Regardless of how, or where, your idea stems from, you have to dig a little deeper, but not as far as you may think. A great next step from “I want to make a game!”, is to consider creating goal-guiding statements. Trust me, you have these, even if they’re not written down, you have at the very least considered these mentally in some form or fashion. 

These statements may be similar to the following:

  • a) “I want to make a game like ‘old school’ Zelda.”, or 
  • b) “I have this character, and I want to make a game with him.”, or 
  • c) “I want to tell an allegorical story about social injustices!”, etc…

Now consider what each of these statements mean for your prospective game:

  • a) An ‘old school’ Zelda may immediately set standards for point of view, being top-down/isometric in this instance. This informs your art-asset requirements due to the game taking place from a specific perspective.
    • Perhaps this statement also informs your aesthetic, music and sound effects.
  • b) Cool, What do you want to see him do? What is he capable of? How will he develop?
    • Answering these questions help address genres your character may be a good fit for. 
  • c) Woah.. Fight the Power! How will you deliver this story visually? 
    • Will it focus on one character, or many? Is there narration? Dialogue? How will you transition from one story beat to the other?

Whether you initially realize it or not, these sorts of statements, and answering the questions that form from them, set implicit limitations, that you should turn into explicit hurdles & landmarks. This is game-development canvassing, which naturally informs your scope and limitations. 

To use my own mental gymnastics as an example, let’s see what this process looked like for some of my own projects:

Project Ex. 1 – aka “Super Ninja Bros. II”, aka Joji’s Adventure

  1. Goal-Guiding Statement: “I have this cool ninja character that I want to see do cool $%^&!”
    • Canvassing Questions: “What sort of cool $%^& would you like to see him do? What genres can he best do those things in?”
      • Limitation Setting: “I want him to run, and jump while avoiding obstacles. You know, like Super Mario Bros. on NES!”
  2. Observing Potential: “I like it! …Anything else?”
    • Scope Creep: “Yeah, Mario just jumps on enemies…but I want my character to attack with a sword (melee), throw shurikens (projectiles), and wall jump/climb & dash (or slide) like Mega Man X! …I also want 7 visually unique worlds, with 4 standard levels and 1 boss level per each world.”
      • Facing Reality: “You now need assets and programming for all of that; see you in 1-2 years. Welcome to game development!”

Project Ex. 2 – Accelerated Collisions

  1. Goal-Guiding Statement: “Breakout & Arkanoid were so addictive, simple, and fun…I want to make a game like that!”
    • Canvassing Questions: “Yeah, but that pretty well tread territory; what would set your game apart?” 
      • Limitation Setting: “I want it primarily playable on devices that support portrait view (phones/Tablets), with a vertical centric aspect ratio, and touch capability.” 
  2. Observing Potential: “I like it! …Anything else?”
    • Scope Creep: “I want 32 levels. I also want to make each level look pretty darn unique compared to the last; different objects, color palettes, particle effects, abilities, etc!”
      • Facing Reality: “You now need assets and programming for all of that; see you in 6-10 months. Welcome to game development!”

Project Ex. 3 – High-Score Based Maze Game

  1. Goal-Guiding Statement: “I think everyone on Earth loves Pac-Man, making a maze GOOD game sounds like equal parts challenge & fun.”
    • Canvassing Questions: “Yikes, making mazes is hard, and making Pac-Man mazes is harder, you know that, right?”
      • Limitation Setting: “No, I mean I do now…but I can break down the rules and game design principles behind what makes a good/authentic Pac-Man style maze!”
  2. Observing Potential: “I like it! …Anything else?”
    • Scope Creep: “I want to make 256 levels, each level should be influenced aesthetically by a color in the traditional 256 color palette.” 
      • Facing Reality: 🤦‍♂️ You now need assets and programming for all of that; see you in ~4-8…or 12 months. Welcome to game development!”

CAUTION: Observing Potential is a nearly static & recurring affair, it ALWAYS leads to Scope Creep, which at one point or another WILL have you Facing Reality.

It’s Important to Note That at Times: 

  • Canvases may need to be stretched (note Observing Potential, as seen above)
  • Sometimes projects are too large for your current skill level or timeframe (mostly seen in Scope Creep
  • Maybe your canvas needs to go into storage while you work on other things…
    • Note that there is ALWAYS more than one thing you could be working on, this can be helpful creatively, by letting you switch things up, but can also become a severe hindrance, lacking focus
  • ….and, while a tough call, maybe your canvas just needs to be scrapped all together (i.e. Facing Reality).

Don’t be scared of setting boundaries for your project/s, or of letting the limitations inform the scope. Hell, don’t be afraid to scrap prototypes, all those “great ideas” (*cough* they’re not all great), and questionable assets or features altogether.

Words (and Our Perception of Them) are Impactful:

After reading this, you ought to be mentally equipped to ‘sally forth’ and make some goal-guiding statements of your own. There are infinite possibilities in what these could be, but odds are you already have a good idea of what the guiding statements are for your project. Don’t forget, when addressing the questions that arise from your statements, be mindful of how your canvas forms from this, as it will make the process that much smoother in the future, I promise.

Also, accept that not everything you think of, or create, is a golden brick of awesome… BUT everything you put effort and energy into IS a lesson you can learn from. When learned from, these things WILL make you a better indie game dev. continually.

Congratulations, ‘limitations’ should now no longer be considered a dirty word in your vocabulary…at least where your indie game development journey is concerned. 😉

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