Design Journal – The Core

Working at Blue Goji, I’ve learned a lot about collaborating with people and creating new products. I’d like to share some of these lessons in future blogs. This one will discuss the importance of your product’s core.

When designing any product, be it a game or movie, think long and hard about the “core” of that product. What are the main ideas or experiences you mean to drive home? The core is intrinsic to both the product and its development because it will guide the team, like a gentle hand toward completion. Without a core, numerous issues can arise. Some examples may be miscommunication, differing priorities, and most importantly, an amorphous final product.

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How the hell do I figure out the core? Well think about what inspired the idea in the first place. What made the initial concept pop into your head. Starting from your inspiration is a solid way to focus the core. Look for examples of your core in other works, assessing what was successful and what should be thrown out. Don’t be afraid of new ideas. Without stepping out of the shadow of previous games (in my case), you’ll never discover and produce something new. Just ensure these new ideas support your core. During the excitement of brainstorming, it is very easy to cultivate numerous ideas, however, many of which if gone unchecked, may actually dilute your product and confuse your end user. So how do you trim the fat?

Honestly ask yourself, is this a “make or break” feature? If this feature isn’t included in the game, will it fail? If you can cut down all the features in the game to the bare-bone essentials based on this question, you will have a higher likelihood of releasing a focused and cohesive product. Cutting ideas can be a very touchy subject because oftentimes that means diminishing the influence of someone’s work, possibly your own. When cutting ideas, give the team your reasoning. If you don’t have a compelling argument, then maybe the idea needs to sit a little longer.

Now you have your essential features. The next major step in solidifying the core of your product is to prioritize. Designers often like to tier features into a hierarchy, so they know what needs to be finished versus what can be left out. Using a 3 tier system, designers (and producers) know that tier 1 and (most of) tier 2 features need to make it into the game. Tier 3 is reserved for less essential features. This is a powerful method for not only focusing the core of your game, but also defending against feature creep. New ideas will inevitably pop up during development, but it’s your job to sift through these ideas to maintain the core.

Solidifying the core also has benefits for producers and project managers. (Who would have thought?) Make sure everyone on your team has a clear understanding of the core. Everyone should progress towards the same goal. If they do, people will feel the momentum building and will see the light at the end of tunnel. If your project lacks a core, your team will lose their motivation and become complacent. Morale is a major part of development. If you want your team to do their best work, they need good morale.

So that’s that. Honestly this isn’t enough time to talk about the core of your product, especially with that little tangent about team morale at the end. Shocking, despite how many times I used the word “core.” There are many books that talk about these concepts that I recommend, which I’ll cite at the end of this blog. I hope this gets you thinking about the core or your product. My experience stems from game development, but these tenets will be constructive in whichever industry you work.

On another note, we will be revealing our latest game soon, so I’m looking forward to doing dev blogs. Feel free to follow me on twitter to receive notifications on upcoming posts.

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