Fight the Features

If you’re a hobbyist game developer, you’ve most likely had an experience where you keep adding features to your game that were not in the original design. These might include more complex weapons systems, specialized physics, or even new types of enemies. This continual addition of features is referred to as “feature creep”, and it might have even led to the death of your project.

The thing is, time spent adding extra features is time which could have otherwise been used to get you closer to finishing your game. Adding features is sometimes necessary (“Oops, I didn’t realize my ‘mech health system required a much more complex collision system!“), but in my experience, features were usually added “just because I felt like it”.

I attributed this to some weird sense of game developer perfectionism. Maybe the game really needed those extra features, or perhaps I was just getting bored with the game and had lost the ability to determine if it was fun anymore. In my quest to understand this, I decided to look outwards a little, instead of entirely inwards.

For the next little while, I spent a fair bit of time examining video games that I knew I enjoyed playing. I asked myself: are there features in these games that I would want to add or re-work, if these games were mine? Eventually, I stopped looking, because inside every single game, I saw loads of features I would add or change if I could. I began to wonder if the real developers of these games were thinking the same thing. Maybe some of them did, or perhaps even most of them, but their time and budget constraints would have prevented them from expending this effort when the rest of the game still needed to be implemented. What I learned from this exercise was valuable: the desire to add extra features and improvements was perfectly normal. I just had to make sure this urge didn’t get in the way of reaching my goal.

I embraced a new approach when I started Gateway. When a feature was planned and implemented, I left it mostly alone (unless there were bugs). Currently, the only primary weapons available in Gateway are laser bolt cannons. Would I like to implement laser beams or exploding charges? Hell yes, I would. But those aren’t part of my original design, and I don’t want to get carried away.

Martha Graham once said, “No artist is pleased”. While I wouldn’t call myself an artist, I think that the term can be expanded to include anyone who creates anything.

No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

Martha Graham

Maybe it would have been all right to allow myself to improve a few features beyond my original Gateway design here and there. Regardless, I decided not to start down that slippery slope and just stick to the features I had planned. Maybe additional features could be added later…but for now, I have to write the rest of the game.

Would it be nice to add certain features to the game? It certainly would be. But, I try to think “bigger-picture” now. I don’t have to create the game of a lifetime yet; I just want to finish the one that I’ve started. It’s just very hard to win a race if you keep moving the finish line.



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