[Archives] How to Manage your Game’s Scope

Archives, Game Development

Creating a game involves combining a variety of different components – from programming to art to sound – and it can be difficult to manage all of it at once. Especially in a game jam setting, where you need to create a game from scratch in a short amount of time, it’s easy to get caught up implementing features you want, while accidentally ignoring other things that really need to be done first.  So how do you manage all of that?


Current – a platformer made for Global Game Jam while at SCAD

Read how I manage scope when designing my games below.

System vs Content

I wrote in a recent postmortem about designing a game with systems versus content. To recap what I wrote before, systems are core pieces of gameplay – like “explore the dungeon to find new areas and loot” – that can be enhanced by adding content – like the aforementioned new areas and loot.
Creating a game with a few engaging core systems and little manually-created content is one way of managing your game’s scope – and one of the reasons procedurally generated content is so popular.  By creating a function that makes levels and populates them with enemies and items on the fly, you cut down on the hand-crafted content you need to make, which can be a huge time-saver.


Edda – a procedural Nordic slam poetry sim made in 48 hours

Designing Scalably

Even if you can’t create procedural content, understanding that content is something which can be added as-needed allows you to design your game scalably. Scalable design refers to planning your game in such a way that content can be seamlessly added, and if content needs to be cut, it can be do so without compromising your vision of the game.
During my senior year of college, my team and I, for our senior project, designed a game with three playable characters each with a few abilities, and a handful of enemies.  When it came time to make the game, the third character had to be cut for both time and design reasons (three characters was too much for the player to handle in this game), but since our design was scalable, he could be cut without harming the rest of the game – and in fact removing him made the game more fun.


Five Suns – an Aztec-themed adventure game made in 20 weeks at SCAD

“Wants” and “Needs” lists to establish priority

It’s so, so easy to think of something that you want in your game, and immediately become motivated to put it in.  But before beginning development, and during development, knowing the priority of the features you want to add to your game is vital.  Before starting, list everything you need to do to make this game playable in its most basic form.  This might include player movement, camera controls, one basic attack for the player, and one basic enemy that attacks when the player is nearby.  This is your Needs list.  This list will be different for each game, and may be larger for more involved projects, but it shouldn’t include any more than what is required to make your game playable.
Everything else can go on your Wants list. This can be as long as you want, but keep in mind you might not be able to get all of it done if you’re on a deadline.  Both lists should be organized based on importance.
As you continue development and think of things you want to add to your game, continue to assess whether it’s a Need or a Want.  Is this something that needs to be added because it will fix a design flaw in your game, or is it something really cool that you’d like to add, but isn’t required?  Keeping a list of all the cool ideas you have will help regulate scope by making it less likely that you get sidetracked adding features your game doesn’t need. Instead, you’ll be keeping an organized list of them!

Anticipating scope takes some time and practice.

You need to know generally how long it will take you to do something – for instance, I know it takes me one to two hours to do a 64×64 pixel sprite from scratch.  Once you know how long each of your tasks will take, and the deadline by which you want to complete the game, you will be able to schedule the number of tasks which can fit in your timeframe.  Using your priority list of Wants and Needs, you can determine how many of the features you want can be added into the game within that timeframe.

Don’t forget to anticipate the details.

Things like character animations, music, UI, and tutorials are often overlooked, especially in short timeframes like game jams.  Remember to add those in to your lists wherever they belong.


Visual Out menu UI

If you like my work, check out my Patreon where I post weekly updates like this, as well as behind-the-scenes snippets like level design sketches, and more. I appreciate the support.  Thank you!