An inevitability of game development is cutting content. Sometimes it’s because you’re running out of time and other times it's because it just doesn’t fit with the core pillars of the game anymore. Sometimes it's something that you have nothing to do with and other times it's everything you’ve done. Overall, Champlain College has really helped me prepare for the blow of cuts.
Game Projects Being Cut
Game development in small teams is a lot of compromising and discussion. It can be disappointing when an idea you suggested or a game idea you are excited about is not chosen for a project--but it hurts even more when a game you’ve spent tens to hundreds of hours on gets cut. Our last two years at Champlain College incorporates projects being cut into the Production curriculum.
In Production II during the spring semester of our junior year, each class is split into multiple teams that each work on a game. Then, after presenting a five-week project, representatives from each team decide which games will continue development for the rest of the semester and, with the help of the professor and looking at the skills of the individuals, the cut teams are divided and put onto the remaining teams to work on the games that made it through. During this process, my small prototype project Potion Seller was cut due to the resources that we had in the class--one of the game slated to move forward needed an environment artist as well as Potion Seller needing one and we only had one environment artist in the class. It was disappointing but it was an interesting and valuable experience joining a new project.
The next major cut that is worked into the curriculum is halfway through senior year. During Capstone in the fall semester of our final year at Champlain, we are yet again in small teams. After prototyping for a few weeks, we can choose to develop one of our games for the rest of the semester which is then shown off to our peers and the faculty. In this case, the faculty play and discuss the games, make the cuts, and all we hear is the final decision. Again, unfortunately, my game was cut after spending hundreds of hours on it as both a designer and the team lead/acting producer. This decision was hard to hear after I had dedicated so much time and energy to the project over the full semester.
Project cuts can be hard to deal with but games are cut all the time in the industry, sometimes even after years of development.
I was brought onto No Scope Studios as a level designer and was soon tasked with the tutorial level, level 2, and the bonus vault level while the other level designer worked on level 1 and 3. During our college’s spring break, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and our school extended the break and closed indefinitely, switching to remote classes. With the new situation in mind and deadlines fast approaching, my team had to make some big decisions about the scope of our game. We had a lot of discussions about the content to cut. While a lot of little things were cut easily, most of the discussion was focused around the levels, which is where most of the team’s work would be going to in order to polish and get the game ready to publish. We were able to integrate the tutorial into the beginning area of level 1, keeping the same premise and set up like in the tutorial specific I had designed, but my solo work was cut and the integration was handled by a different designer. Then the final discussion came between level 2 and 3. Both levels had a list of pros and cons, but ultimately, it was decided that level 3 would stay in the game and level 2 would be cut, removing another level I had mainly designer and thus leaving just the bonus vault.
This has been especially difficult to deal with because I wanted to use this project as a showcase of my skills, hoping to use it for my portfolio and demo reel for my job applications. However, with my two gameplay focused levels being cut, I don’t have anything to really showcase anymore. I know it was for the best and I’m still doing level design work by fixing up and polishing level 1, but I don’t have the same creative connection to the game anymore as to when the levels I designed were still in.
How To Decide Cuts
While it isn’t fun to cut features, cutting content is really important to ensure that you have time to finish, test, fix, and polish the remaining content in your game. However, the most important thing is making sure that you are cutting the right content. If you just randomly decide what could be cut, you could end up with more work than intended still and a disjointed game. The things to keep in mind when determining cuts are:
How long will a feature take to be complete (including work on functionality, implementation, bug fixing, and polishing)
Resources available (Who is able to work on a feature? What are the other tasks that they will have to complete? Do they have the ability to complete this feature? Will they have enough time to complete this feature too?)
Core pillars of the game (Does the feature tie into the main concepts of the game? How does this feature exemplify the desired gameplay experience? Can the game still produce the same experience without this feature?)
Deadlines (Do we have enough time for this feature to be completed?)
Pros and Cons (What makes this feature good? What is fun and interesting about this feature? What is bad about this feature? Does it ruin the overall experience in any way?)
There are a plethora of questions that you could ask and go through when making cuts. It comes down to what feature it is and the game itself, but as a baseline, going over these topics and organizing it into a Pros and Cons list can help give a clearer idea of which content to cut.
Coping With Your Work Being Cut
Now that the big decision is made, having your work cut is disappointing and can even be disheartening. I’ve gone through all types of cuts and it never gets easier. There are a few ways I’ve learned to cope with it though.
Know that it’s okay to be upset for a little and you are allowed to get some space to feel that way. You don’t need to be perfectly happy and fully engaged immediately after a hard decision was made. Creative work is tiring as it is and it can be exhausting to have your work cut.
As long as the team went through a thorough discussion process, know that the cut was made in the best interest of the game and the team in general. The cut was done to improve the game and to make sure that people won’t be overworked.
With the improved scope of the game, the overall project will be better in the end. You might not have something to specifically show off, but being part of the overall development can be enough to talk about in an interview and can show that you can join a team and continue other people’s work.