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Preproduction

Getting it right from the start

This is our first article on the topic of pre-production for games, with the focus on getting ready to create the roadmap for your game. Our last article on concept art was well received and shined a light on the fact that there might be a lack of information on the structural part of pre-production.

We find that this field could use some more spotlight as this part is so crucial for the rest of a production. This is truly where you can build a solid foundation for a production that is possibly going to run the span of several years and this is also where you can stumble if not done with care. A solid pre-production eliminates uncertainty down the line by giving you clear goals, milestones and plans.

This article will give insights into what questions should be answered before diving into a full production.

Map it out

This is the state where the pre-production comes into play and starts laying the foundation. This step is like figuring out the blueprint of a house, before hiring a construction crew and starting to build. Here you can also shed light on all the aspects you are considering for your game, and explore the possible avenues.

It is much faster and cheaper to try everything out and do all the mistakes, when working with a team of 8 in pre-production instead of a team of 800 in production. 

A small lean team can quickly adapt and change the direction until the concepts are just right, while a delay in full production can waste the time/work of hundreds of people. Just imagine the difference in changing a sketch of a city versus changing the structure of a fully modelled city that has been built in the game engine.

At this point you need to know, or find out, where you are in the process, as the team doing the pre-production needs to know what kind of deliveries you need. The size of the task is vastly different depending on what you need:

 

  • pitch material, if you’re looking for funding
  • design of the game world and environment
  • just ideas and exploration
  • inspiration and mood pieces for the team
  • a clear roadmap to get started
  • a set of main characters
  • a single prop or scene
  • detailed concepts for each scene and prop in the entire game, that modellers will base their work on

We find it great to start out with a workshop or a long meeting, where we’re given all the material, mood boards, design documents and talk through the scope of the project while sketching out core concepts. Then follow up with regular meetings to be able to discuss the findings of sifting through the clients material as well as getting feedback on the developed concepts.

Hands on

The most important goal for the whole pre-production is getting your design questions answered – how does your target audience impact the design choices, what’s the level of detail, and what is the style etc.?

When starting out a new project, there should of course be a core idea, goal or a concept of what you want to create. Then everything unfolds from there, and you should explore the boundaries of what you want and discover what you don’t want to do as well.

In the end you should have a clear idea of how the world you want to create should look and how you get to there. If you still have unanswered questions, you’re not done yet. Then get all your stats down. What is the scope of the entire game and how are your going to allocate team capacity to solve these challenges.
How many levels and characters are in the game? What level of detail should they have? Do you have the capacity reach these goals? If you expect it would take 1 artist 10 days to reach the level of detail you want on one prop and you have 3000 props in the whole game, does that make sense when you start to plan out and multiply?

Planning

After having explored everything and gotten all your answers, a lot of the planning can be done, because you now know how the world should look, how many props should be built and can make more precise estimates towards production size, length and costs.

When you know how many levels, characters, props etc. should be made, you can assess your production and fill out your spreadsheets. This gives an overview and confidence that you can reach your goals on time and within budget.

Funding opportunities

A great roadmap and key concept pieces will also help you be more attractive for funding opportunities. Depending on who you are and what you’re making, in many cases you will need to convince some people about your idea and striking visual pitch material goes a long way. The investors you might need to convince about your game don’t have the same vision you have, or the same imagination, they don’t know about greybox prototypes and will need something visual and tangible to convince them. And most importantly a plan they can relate to. Our experiences with talking to VCs, is that without a proper plan that proves that you can deliver on time, they will never invest in your production.

Concept art - Radar Dishes

closing thoughts

Getting the right start to your productions is critical in making the right choices early, saving time and money down the line. Hopefully this short article have given you a taste of this and and overall sense of why it’s important. We will be sure to do a more thorough deep dive on focused parts in the future. To read more about this topic, see LINK.

Jannick Hynding Lund
Jannick Hynding Lund

Producer and game designer - Partner at Vizlab Studios

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