Making Sense of the Madness

There’s a saying among game designers: “Your first ten games will suck—so get them out of the way fast.”

Over the New Year I read Jesse Schell’s outstanding Art of Game Design and it is a phenomenal work, full of immense insights about game design and, frankly, creativity in general that are presented in a friendly, approachable way. It doesn’t seek to provide a comprehensive solution to game design—in fact, it argues that there may never be such a thing.

Like the blind men describing the elephant, the book gives over a hundred different ways (described as ‘lenses’, and helpfully distilled into a companion iOS app) to ask questions about your game and force yourself to think about it from many perspectives in order to try to see it as a more complete whole.

Since I already missed my target, I have doubled the original 100 hour target and I am taking the extra time to look at Barista! through as many of Schell’s lenses as possible.

In terms of getting my second of ten games out of the way, I think that 200 hours still counts as fast.


Organization is just another way to show someone that you are serious. Also, the more organized you are, having just what you need at your fingertips, the more calm you’ll be, and the more in control you will be.

One of the first things I did was take a step back and create a design document. Taking a cue from Stone Librande’s presentation on One Page Designs back in 2010, the document tries to capture as many details about the game, its mechanics and its interactions in a concise and visual way as possible.

Even though I am working on this thing by myself, there are so many things to keep track of that having a document like can help give me that wider perspective that can easily be lost while thrashing through the weeds.

The design document is saved as a PDF and stored on my iPad where I can scribble all over it. These scribbles can be incorporated into new versions of the document as I move forward.

Version 2 of Barista's design document

I naively assumed that such a simple game couldn’t possibly benefit from an approach more suitable to large organisations, but spending a couple of hours creating it and the associated spreadsheets detailing the assets that need to be produced has given me a profound appreciation of just how much goes into even the most simple of well-polished games.

Picture of my spreadsheet managing the sprites I still have to draw
This is just one page of many of the things I still have to do. Red is incomplete, blue is placeholder, and green is production.

I also believe that it never hurts to get practice using processes and communication tools. For this game, I am the lone inventor in his shed but I’m already talking about working with someone else for my next one.

Having experience of tools and workflows that can easily incorporate more people is never going to be a bad thing.