For my first follow up to my game development rules I’ll hit on Iteration.
I was lucky enough to be at Bioware during the development of some pretty great games. In most cases, we were doing new titles, without pre-existing engines or workflows and as such, we did a great deal of invention. Sounds great so far, doesn’t it?
The sad thing is, most of our inventions didn’t work out as planned, in many cases the best design turned out to be missing a tiny component called “fun”. The solution wasn’t to come up with a new design and start over from scratch, it was often to dig into the problem and understand what was sabotaging the fun.
The key to this was rapid iteration. we made a change, tested it and then tried again.
I remember one case specifically: We had an encounter in Baldur’s Gate where the party met up with a small group of “Kobold Commandos” in the Nashkell Mines. Initially, we had the AI dialed up to be quite intelligent, they would all team up and take out the spellcaster first, then the clerics and ranged combatants before moving into melee combat. We had also equipped them with fire arrows, which did an extra 1-6 damage on every hit. The end result was the player’s party was usually wiped out before they had a chance to engage the commandos. We had to go back and re-tune the arrows, the AI and the toughness of the Kobolds quite a lot before they didn’t decimate even well-prepared parties.
I always viewed the first title in a series to be a flawed creation, just about the time you had learned how to create fun gameplay and the tools were up to supporting quick iteration it was time to ship. The sequel was a magical project, a chance to use all the hard learned lessons, the polished tools and all the great new gameplay ideas spawned from previous iteration to create the best game possible. In my opinion, Baldur’s Gate 2 was an excellent example of this. Even today, with Mass Effect 2 you can see the power of iteration as a game can be refined and improved immeasurably by an experienced team iterating at what they do best.