In a recent blog post (Pag on Games Â» Designerâ€™s Intent) Pierre-Alexandre Garneau talks about something he calls Design Intent, which I have always referred to as design objectives. In essence the designer sets objectives for the project and for each section/module of the project that the team can clearly understand.
When setting objectives I find it is best to be clear and concise about what you want to achieve. For example, if you have a specific performance target such as a minimum frame rate it can be set in your objectives (at a time when cool heads are making calm decisions). These can then be used as a reference during the heat of battle – do you really need the graphics programmer to rework the renderer to implement a cool new feature? If it already does what is needed and the new features will reduce frame rate below your target level then the answer is no.
Of course there is one problem with setting objectives. As in the movie Memento, (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0209144/) where a man wakes up every morning to find that he can’t remember what happened the day before, there is a risk that you will find yourself deep in the heat of battle, with programmers and artist disagreeing about what needs to be done and, when you look at your objectives, you don’t remember the reasons why you set them – in fact you don’t believe you even wrote them. Now I’m not talking about those times when a game feature doesn’t work and needs to be redesigned. I am talking about the times when deadlines are short, pressure is on and tempers are frayed. That is the time when good designers prove themselves by holding firm to their original intent – doing so can often be helped by having your own copy of the design with one special addition. Each of the objectives has an explanation of why you made the decision, which you can refer to during development.
Design objectives are also useful not just for technical objectives but also for maintaining an overall creative flow throughout a project. In a story based first person shooter the lead designer may need to control the pacing for each level as part of the overall game, even when the levels are being created by several separate designers. Setting objectives for the pacing helps the level designers to understand if they should be creating a fast paced level (lots of open areas and multiple easy to kill enemies) or a slow grinding slog (minimal ammo pick-ups with fewer but tougher enemies) while still leaving them to make the creative choice of how to actually achieve the objective.