Product, not project

I have realised I perform a simple mind-trick with every project I move from prototype to production. Once I’m satisfied with initial tests and some basic prototyping, there comes a point where you need to focus on turning what you have into a full-fledged game. Now of course you don’t need me to tell you that this entails a lot of work. But one of the first things I do for every game once moving out of the prototype phase is to give it an identity.

Playing around with possible logos in Adobe Illustrator.

Initially this means making a logo for the game. I don’t spend too long on it, but I do make something that is more than just a throwaway sketch. I am also aware that there is a 100% chance this logo will be changed before the game is complete, but having a logo there, even a placeholder, really helps me view the project as a real product, rather than a sketchy prototype.

This is mostly just mind-tricks for myself, I realise, but it’s effective. On top of this I make a proper icon to be used for Windows builds but also even Switch test builds. This icon too is 100% guaranteed to change over time, but not seeing the Unreal default icon on your build really helps make it feel like a “proper” game really easily.

The Unreal Editor loading splash for Piczle Lines DX, which pops up every time I load the project.

Then, if I have the time and energy I make the Unreal Editor splash BMP, that shows up when you load the editor.

Aside from giving character to your project and solidifying the project in your mind as a real product it can also help with long-term design issues. Seeing the logo over and over as you boot up the editor may give you insights into specific design issues with it that you will eventually fix to make a stronger brand. Having the icon for your build on the Switch will remind you of design pitfalls, such as having important information (such as the game title) in the bottom half of the icon, where it will be obscured if the game is in progress. General readability issues too will present themselves this way. Is my logo too busy? Can the game’s title be easily discerned when viewing it on as a game icon on the Switch’s smaller screen?

The working Piczle Colors icon (left) versus the final version as shipped (right)

Once you’re in the whirlwind of preparing for release questions such as these can easily fall by the wayside. You don’t want to be having to think deeply about icons when you’re prepping for release, but you have to. Having a long lead in for the design really helps. You already know what you want, you already know the pitfalls, you can just spend time on making polished marketing art.

Most of all, this little mind-trick, for me, draws a sharp dividing line between prototype and development. Once I have some art in place I feel like I’m working on a game, a product that needs to be finished and played by people before it can be truly called finished. I’m no longer messing about with ideas and tests. My BluePrints need to be clean, I need to comment my scripts, I need to take heed of editor warnings. Now we’re cooking with fire!

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