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Cutting (and Adding) Scope from Games

Scope is something that every game developer struggles with at some point.

Even after releasing several games, you can always get caught working on a project with too much scope. Today I’m going to talk about what scope is, how to manage it, and how to cut (or add) scope to a game project.

What is scope?

Scope, put simply, is the entirety of the project— it’s the amount of assets, the story of the game, the amount of levels / areas, the budget, you get the idea. The scope of a project is how big the project is.

Sometimes we get carried away with making games. We think of all these great levels we can add or plot details or characters, but end up losing sight of the main project. Scope left unchecked can kill projects. So, how do you keep it from getting that bad?

How to manage scope

Your main combatant for keeping scope small is to always keep it in mind. Make sure that you’re keeping things small and manageable— adding content is much easier than removing it. One way to keep it in mind is to check over things and determine how important it is. This is something that becomes easier the more games you make and have to do this on.

Careful planning and sticking to an outline helps manage scope while a game is in development. At group meetings (if you’re working with a group), talk about the scope. Go over upcoming parts and make sure they’re still important. Shelve ideas for later if they aren’t important— you can always come back to them later.

Cutting scope

Let’s say you’re too far into development to keep track of scope as you go along. The game has been in development for too long and you’re in the midst of it and can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s times like these that we get out the knife.

Rimia umu edit by Henry!

This is our scope-cutting knife! Stab your project.

…Okay, maybe not anything that severe. Let’s go over some potential areas you can cut out:

  • Characters
  • Levels / areas / locations
  • Character / equipment upgrades
  • Side quests
  • Artwork
  • Music

For games that are more story-driven, make sure all of your characters are needed. For my current in progress game, Asterism, I’ve removed 2 main characters since the completion of the first draft. The first was one of the members of the main party— I removed him because there were too many party members to give a backstory to each, so I gave his lines to the rest and had one less character to worry about expanding. The second was an antagonist turned friend— his backstory was too contrived and bloated the amount of work.

Make sure all of your backgrounds / maps are needed. If you use one for only one scene, consider rewriting the scene to use an existing background. Or, consider adding a character graphic to the scene rather than characters on a background.

The biggest cuts you’ll find when cutting scope is to take out features. A phone pop-up menu is pretty cool but typically not necessary in most games. Equipment upgrade trees and 10+ types of weapons are great but are extras for most RPGs rather than necessities.

Side Notes

Remember that cutting scope doesn’t have to be permanent— the purpose is to finish a project. You can always go back and add scope once the project isn’t in jeopardy and nearing completion .

Another way to cut scope is to find ways to shorten the time parts take to make. For example, you can resuse assets, use premade assets (namely sound effects), or use code (that you have permission to use). Finding a good engine that fits your project is another way to cut scope. An engine that fits will allow you to streamline the development.

Adding scope

Alright, now let’s say you’re nearing the end of your game and it’s too small. For some people this might sound impossible, but it’s happened to me before. For my first commercial game, That Which Binds Us, I had to go through multiple phases of adding scope, namely expanding the story.

When adding scope, focus on features that improve the game the most rather than adding anything. Here’s a few ideas on what to add:

  • New art / music
  • Character backstories
  • Side quests / scenes
  • More choices
  • Additional settings
  • New levels / areas

A good way to figure out what to add is to ask testers! Get feedback on builds and see what they want added. You never know, they might suggest something you’d never thought of.

But why should I?

Cutting scope becomes a vital ability the more you make games. I’ve seen (and been on!) countless projects that were killed because the scope was too large and was either not cut or leads refused to compromise. Don’t let your projects die!

tl;dr cutting features out of your game isn’t always a bad thing and can help the game release. You can always go back and add features!


Did you like this article? Feel free to check out my other marketing & game dev articles by clicking the tags on the right. Want to give back? Wishlisting my games on Steam helps me a lot! Have a question? @ me on Twitter!

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2019 Year in Review

2019 has been a pretty good year for me! A lot happened and I’ve met a lot of great people. I’m terrible at remembering things and even worse at remembering things in order time-wise so I’m going to just list some cool things and talk about them- if they end up in sequential order, cool!

  • Entered several business competitions (and won some!)
  • Got a job on campus at the business school
  • Released Paths Taken, Alice in Stardom, Image of Perfection, and Memories on the Shoreline
  • Had an interview on Forbes
  • Started doing PR for Studio Élan
  • Started my senior year of college

Full Releases

Drawn by the lovely Violora!

For the first full release of the year I released Alice in Stardom, a yuri visual novel made for NaNoRenO. It had by far the biggest team I’ve managed with at least 8 people working on different aspects of it. It was hectic but it was fun, and I hope I’m able to do another NaNoRenO entry this year (granted, I didn’t do much of the actual work on it besides some scripting and directing)! Overall it was fun and the team was great!

Drawn by Violora as well!

A short time after Alice in Stardom, Paths Taken finally (finally…) finished development after a few road blocks and halts. It didn’t come out how I envisioned it when started but I’m happy it’s done. I fell into a bit of a depression once it came out since I felt I hadn’t delivered anything people wanted since it fell short of what we wanted it to be, namely story-wise. Still, I’m thankful for everyone who’s played it and enjoys it!

This year I focused more on experimenting on mechanics and VN game types, trying to figure out what people wanted to play and what I wanted to make- finding a sweet middle ground between those two. Image of Perfection was a project written by a friend, Omega, as both a way for me to experiment with a small horror-esque RPG and for her to work on a full project. I think the game came out fine, though I was under a fair amount of stress (due from Paths Taken having just wrapped up, RPG Maker giving me a ton of problems- basically myself causing my own problems).

Onto the last release of the year, Memories on the Shoreline! As with every project, I learn at least one thing and regret two more. But really, my only regret with this project was not giving it more time. I say that, fully knowing I was spent on time during the development of it, as the semester was wrapping up and I was (and am) working two barely part-time jobs.

As before, I was not the writer on this project, that was instead the talented Keiru! We met on Discord and it just so happened she was lovely to work with. I don’t have much else to say for this one… I want to add an additional scene to the game sometime in early 2020, so look out for that. As you can see I didn’t do the artwork, only character designs- the sprite artist was ChocoBerryInk! (personally, I think their sprites came out super cute)


I didn’t really set any definite goals last year for myself other than “release more games” and “learn more about marketing”, and this year will be somewhat the same.

  • Draw more full art: I want to get back to doing more full pieces! Nothing dramatic, just trying to draw faster by doing one fanart or original piece a month or such.
  • Sketch traditionally occasionally: My aunt gave me a sketch book for Christmas, so I might as well use it. I’m actually unable to draw half as good traditionally as I can digitally since I just don’t draw traditionally anymore, so this’ll be a good way to get back to that.
  • Release Asterism: Not much to explain here. Asterism will be in development for 3 years come this February, it’s time for a release.
  • Slow down a bit on projects: Last year from April-November I was releasing a full game almost every other month. I have a lot of ideas for future projects after Asterism (some of which have already been started) but this year I want to spend a bit more time involved in the dev process of each game.
  • Graduate college: Last but not least, this is my last semester of college! By May I should have a Bachelors in Computer Science.

There’s a few more goals like “learn more about marketing” and “meet new devs” but these are the ones I’ll be focusing on the most. Thank you guys for your support, I hope this is great year and decade for all of us! ♥

Art

Into the Unknown

This was my final drawing of 2019, my final drawing of the decade. I wanted it to be my last since it holds a lot of significance for me- earlier this year I started working at Studio Élan as PR while also trying to juggle my own studio, college, and everything else. It’s been a challenge and also a big learning curve, always trying to rush forward and learn what I can. I’ve had so many amazing opportunities this year and met so many great people- so, for this next year and next decade I want to go forth arms open and ready. I still have a lot to learn about marketing and game development but I want to learn as much as I can and meet as many people as I can.

~ Maddie and Abby from Heart of the Woods ~
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Where to Publish Your Indie Game

Finishing a game is a hard feat- but figuring out where ​to publish it can be even harder.

Working on a game from start to finish is a harrowing task with lots of road bumps, but once your finished, some devs are left with a question- what now? What do I do with my game now that it’s done? Well, you can post it on Google Drive or Dropbox and share that link around, but if you want a more serious way to publish then consider publishing your game on gaming websites. But, which ones? Below I’ve outlined some of the most popular choices for sharing free and commercial games.

There are 2 lists- PC and HTML. Note that some of these overlap- you can upload mobile and HTML to Itch.io, but I’m only going into detail on it in the PC list.

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