Anyone involved in the production of video games knows that development is a complex but vital process that is important to master to get a stunning product. Still, not all companies know how to build the workflow properly, and things quickly get out of hand due to chaos and poor management.
That is why it is imperative to know and follow a video game development pipeline — a clear description of the stages of work on a project, which lets you organize and optimize your workflow.
In this article, we’ll tell you about the main game development stages and some of their pecularities. Also, you’ll learn more about game development tips and how to get a reliable partner for custom game development.
A game development process typically consists of 5 main stages: pre-production, production, quality assurance, launch, and post-production maintenance.
Each stage of the game creation process is integral, but the first planning phase directly affects all subsequent cycles. It is vital to start the computer game development process by collecting information about a future product, such as technical requirements. Managers and product owners work to define the goals and business of the project and map out the core concept behind it.
After collecting the complete information and requirements for a project, a Game Design Document (GDD) is created, in which more distinct requirements for a game are specified. These include concept, genre, plot, type of gameplay, game mechanics, level design, and environment.
The production stage is the longest and most labor-intensive phase of a video game production pipeline, divided into several internal stages.
The first production stage is the creation of a prototype — a playtest of the main mechanics that will be used in the game. The importance of this prototyping can be illustrated by the example of the Swedish warship Vasa, built in the 17th century.
Building it required hundreds of artisans and a vast amount of money, with the end product being colossal. However, at the first sail, the ship quickly capsized and sank due to poor design. This just goes to show that even the best ideas and expert work need to be put to the test with this game design stage.
Visual content creation
The concept of visual content includes everything that a game is filled with — characters, props, environment, game assets. Depending on the format of a game (2D/3D), this will wildly impact the time spent on it.
Games in 2D format go through the same pipeline of development as 3D games, but it requires less complex technology and less time spent, since the design of the flat visual content takes sketching, coloring, and animation. This means that the process is usually relatively fast and straightforward, but it also depends on the detailing of the content.
3D games are more challenging to create and usually require going through many stages: polygonal modeling (creating a basic model using polygonal figures), sculpting, texturing, rigging, and usually animation. Artists use more specialized software and tools. In addition, 3D modeling requires more skills and knowledge for professional development.
Game level design development
At the level design stage, specialists develop the logic of the game levels, which is different for each genre. For example, this can increase difficulty levels after completing a linear quest or exploring an open game world.
In addition, the level designer develops game mechanics, plot, game economy design, as well as useful details such as hints describing new mechanics and leading a player through a game, as well as creating transitions between levels.
Audio design and voice acting
Audio is an integral part of immersive game design. Sound specialists create game soundtracks and sound effects for different situations. In addition, sound effects give a player specific signals about danger, victory, defeat, etc.
Natural sounds are also often included — character steps, the sound of a shot or explosion, water or wind, etc. In addition to the music and sounds, the characters need to be voiced. Each dialogue, monologue, and individual line of characters are recorded with the help of voice actors and imported into the software.
When all the game elements are ready, developers write thousands of lines of code to bring all the content together, and often use game engines to do it. The difficulty of this task lies in the fact that a game should develop like a puzzle, not include mutually exclusive mechanics, and also function without errors and failures. Game developers try to take into account all possible technical factors and create a positive user experience.
A game of any complexity needs testing to make sure that it is bug-free and functions without errors. This is because a single bug can seriously affect the user experience and the overall experience of a game. Thus, functional testing, non-functional testing, as well as Alpha and Beta testing are usually performed.
Functional game testing types:
Non-functional game testing types:
You can learn more about these main types of game testing, particularities of their use, and some game testing tips.
When functionality, performance, compatibility, and other features are tested and all the bugs are fixed, it’s time for the Alpha and Beta games development stages. Alpha testing is the final testing of a finished game, in which QA engineers check and fix the last errors. It is sometimes followed by Beta testing, which is not carried out by professionals but by people who imitate end users.
The product launch is the final game development phase, which everyone eagerly awaits. But launch is not the end of the story. Usually, there are enough errors and flaws even when a game is ready, so in parallel with the launch, the game development team continues bringing more details and improvements to the game. At the same time, testers collect the first feedback from real users for developers to make important changes.
After a game is launched to the market, fixes and improvements require constant monitoring to double-check the level of stability and performance. Ideally, studios will regularly release updates to meet the technical requirements of platforms, which are also updated.
Also, many companies update in-game content and sometimes add exciting new mechanics to keep users engaged in a game. All this requires maintaining quality through constant maintenance and regular testing of new versions of a game.
Experienced professionals always consider the details that make a game better from personal experience in the development process. Therefore, we will share a few valuable tips that we have identified for ourselves over the years of our experience.
Guide your users. Add visual hints for non-obvious moments of the gameplay — especially in the very first game levels, as well as when a player cannot figure out the next proper move for a long time. You can also highlight key objects with a bright color and use sound prompts, as the creators of Half-Life and Mirrors Edge do.
Search for excellent references.
The stage of studying and collecting references is crucial. Explore as many options as possible, analyze your competitors and highlight all the most valuable and attractive features from each reference. This way, you can bring only the best into every stage of game development.
Make your game one-of-a-kind.
Analyzing competitors and taking examples from successful cases is helpful, but it is just as important to introduce unique features into a product to stand out from others. Analyze what is missing in other products and come up with a special feature that even the most jaded gamers will remember.
Use game engines. Game engines such as Unity and Unreal Engine are designed explicitly for full-cycle game development. They are equipped with a set of tools for executing almost every stage of development, as well as a documentation with instructions and tips. Plus, you can even test game features in the engine itself.
Don’t hesitate to delegate. Game development is a complex and large-scale process that is difficult to cope with on time without sacrificing quality. With that in mind, it can help to outsource some (or all) of the processes to a professional development provider.
As we have demonstrated, creating a game requires many steps, and each of them can also be divided into different stages of game development. Not all companies are up to the task of full-cycle development, and some just need a helping hand in a critical development phase.
Game-Ace is a development studio with a large team of experts ready to assist with various processes – from concept art to coding, product testing, and maintenance. Our portfolio includes dozens of commercially successful games on many different platforms: mobile devices, PCs, consoles, and VR headsets.
Are you in need of stunning and stress-free game development? We would be happy to assist you and get your project done! Contact us at any appropriate time, and we’ll consult you regarding any details or questions about your product.