PROPERLY SCOPING A PROJECT

or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Deadline

I am writing this because of all the people who are dropping out of the winterrruption event. To those dropouts I am dedicating this article.
I am also writing this because an attempt at scoping is the first thing I do after I get a concrete initial idea for any project I have done (RM or otherwise) over the last 10 years. I could talk about scoping projects in general, but this is gonna be fairly gamedev centric.This is generally the process I go through in my head early in development. Doesn't need to be before opening the engine, it's ok to first experiment with ideas as it makes the scoping process easier and more accurate.

So first of all, what is scoping?
Primary checklist:
  • How long the game will be for a player
  • How long will it take for you (the developer) to make the game


Secondary checklist:
  • What are the game's vision and objectives
  • What minimum gameplay mechanics does the game need
  • What will be the game's milestones


Take note of the two lists I will refer to them frequently.


Ok, so what do I do with this?
The primary checklist:
Determine the items on your primary list, then based on those two, determine what is appropriate for the secondary list. Go back and forth until you are happy.

Ok, are you done? Now take item number 2 on the primary checklist and multiply that by two. Not kidding.

From personal experience, I can say this is almost always true because of multiple reasons. There's real life, unexpected events in real life, the fact that mapping and doing ctrl+c ctrl+v actually takes much longer than one might think and unexpected events in the game's development.
Honestly, the real number might even be more than 2x but this is a nice and reasonable expectation. Now that you have a new development time, update your secondary checklist to reflect that.

The secondary checklist:
The purpose of the primary checklist is clear, they are the goal time metrics for the project, which is more or less why we scope projects. Even if we don't have a deadline we want to finish the thing one day. So what is the secondary checklist? They represent the MVP of your project. If you don't want to click the previous link because you don't trust me, here's a one sentence summary:

The Minimum Viable Product is a product with enough features to be considered enough to be representative of a potential final product.

For our purposes we will say that our MVP is a complete game and not a demo, although it is not always true and some people might rather do a demo with more features, but that is really setting yourself up to never finish the game in my opinion.
  • Vision and objectives are important for any game, but are also relevant to scope if they are out of proportions.
  • Minimum mechanics are the features included in the MVP.
  • The game big milestones will be used to break down the project in a set of smaller actionable tasks.


Using this newfound knowledge in a sound way: Workflow and the stuff left to do
First I'm going to suggest that you use trello. Trello is great for making project or kanban boards. Kanban, while not super appropriate for gamedev, is a work methodology on which boards like a trello board are based.

Create an account (it's free), go to the welcome board to check out what it looks like, and create a new board.



This is a simple workflow which would be the bare minimum.

If you really want to be one of the cool kids, add a testing phase between "Doing" and "Done", it's much easier to test things as you make them instead of at the end. Testing means doing much more than just "check that the feature work". This is what my workflow looks like for one of my projects:



Also this tool is great for collaborative teams as it allows each members to see what work is done, what works is being done and what work there is left to do. Also there is a phone app.

Visualizing your workflow is great (to not say necessary in my opinion) to know at any time during development what is the progress on your objectives and vision, how much work there is left to be done and if you need to review your scope or if you are on track.

Now you will need to break down the work to do in chunks. You don't need to do it at all once in the beginning, actually, it is better to do it as development continues, preferably before beginning any of the game development's milestones (see secondary bullet number 3).
Milestones can be as big or small as you want, they can be a chapter of the game or as small as "make graphics for the combat system".

What do I do now that I have met my MVP
If you have something working before your deadline (you likely won't), MAKE SURE YOU TEST THE SHIT OUT OF IT! The people who will play your game will thank you for it. Now you can add that runic weapon upgrades/cooking/dating system you wanted to make but didn't include in the MVP. BUT BEFORE YOU DO SO, you should start versioning your game. This is as simple as whenever you want to add a big but potentially game breaking feature, create a copy of your game folder with "- feature" appended at the end. If the new feature indeed does break the game, delete the new folder. If you are sure you want the feature in the game, make your new folder the new "main" game folder. Delete the old folders as disk space grow. Repeat the process until the deadline.


TL;DR: Conclusion
Make a checklist.
Start the smallest you can.
If you have a hard deadline and you think you will not finish the game on time, that means it is time to review the checklists and make changes to them.

Posts

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This is a very nice article! Thanks for sharing it with us superstroke!
CashmereCat
Self-proclaimed Puzzle Snob
9702
This article is really super cool. I didn't think about using a kanban board for an RM game. I'll try to be more wise in the future about deadlines. :o
This is helpful. Thank you!
Trello is pretty cool. I have a foggy idea of what a kanban is. It's a development process, but not sure what exactly defines it.
pianotm
The TM is for Tipsy Mouse.
10885
Another thing that I can't stress enough. Make a concrete plan and stick to it. So many projects get out of control because "Oh, this is a cool idea" and "Oh, this would be great if," and the next thing you know, dozens of cool ideas are getting thrown in and nobody stops to ask, "Do we have time for this?"
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
4923
"How long will it take you (the developer) to make the game?"

If I had any idea how to figure that out, I wouldn't be reading an article about scoping. Somewhere between two months and thirty years, I guess?
Maybe I worded it wrong I guess it's more "In how much time would you like to finish this."

And you'll guess wrong, when you realize you did you'll have to either make that number bigger or, as I argue in this article, remove some unneeded features in the game.
Gibmaker
I hate RPG Maker because of what it has done to me
8707
The pain :X
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