Trimming the Fat
Posted by Patrick on Saturday, August 07, 2010Sat, Aug 07, 2010

Swivel is entering the gun lap. There’s still plenty to do, but I feel like the end is in sight. This has prompted me to consider what can be done to speed up the final development stage.

As many developers know, scope creep is a real danger — particularly right at the end of a project. But sometimes early scope creep in the heady, naive days of initial design sticks around right until the end. It’s important to reevaluate your project and apply some scope trimming from time to time. If you’ve been clinging to a few special features that you don’t have the heart to cut, maybe I can encourage you with an example of my own.

From the beginning Swivel was going to have multiple game modes. There would be the classic survival mode that was heart pumping intense arcade action. Then there’d be the chilled out serenity mode. I even considered a puzzle mode for a later update. The only reason I can remember right now is thinking “other games do it, and more is better, right?”

But more isn’t better, and more takes longer to develop.

So the serenity mode is getting cut. Since I put it in the game a few months back I’ve noticed a few reactions to it. Most people ask “so what’s this ‘serenity’ button for?” and I’d explain. They’d nod and then play survival mode. My wife exclusively plays survival mode. The fact is, serenity mode is not all that fun and it dilutes the game identity.

This last thing — diluting game identity — is possibly the worst factor.

Consider your game. What’s your elevator pitch? Nay, what’s your fourteen word pitch? Can you describe your entire game and all game modes in a single sentence?

“Swivel has you rotate blocks to eliminate them before the screen fills up.” That’s thirteen words and I’ve had to leave out the adverbs and adjectives. My first draft was about 25 words. Now imagine if I added “except in this other mode where the screen doesn’t fill up but you still rotate blocks to build up score.” Not quite as catchy anymore.

What made me cling doggedly to keeping serenity mode was its educational value. My mom totally didn’t get Swivel until she could see the basic mechanic in action in serenity mode. But my mom doesn’t play games. Ever. Diluting my game identity over that is silly. A single help screen with well thought out pictograms can solve the education factor in five seconds.

Swivel is also going to have a multiplayer feature. Maybe. I’m considering cutting that too, but I feel like that adds real, tangible value to my game identity. My pitch stays the same, but gains “Play against your friends.” This has worthiness, it’s fun and it also takes much longer to develop, so we’ll see.

What is weighing down your game unnecessarily? Just how bad would it be to cut it? Really?

I can already feel the positive effect of trimming. My menus will be simpler to navigate, my game identity is undiluted and I have less work to do.

A few agonizing minutes of thinking well spent, I’d say.