Split Decision – A Game Dev Story

Split Decision, a game I’ve been working on since February, was released this week for iOS and Android devices. It’s an official adaptation of the popular Split Decision boardgame made by Mental_Floss Magazine, where players have to categorise weird and funny facts into one of two options as fast as possible.

For Example:
Is Boccob a Deity from Dungeons and Dragons or a Variety of Potato?
Is Flying Fox of the Yard a Children’s Book or a Monty Python Character?
Is Luna Lovegood a Harry Potter Character or an Adult Movie Actress?

The game boasts a variety of singleplayer modes, high scores, achievements, microtransactions for optional question packs and has been released to rave reviews and positive player response. Since I’ve been working on the game for a while and it’s been one of my bigger projects this year, I thought I’d write a bit about my role on the project and what I learned from working on the game.

So, I actually moved through a variety of roles in my time on the game. To start with I worked with two others to determine the overall game design, then I refined this idea through design documents and draft game documentation. I designed and tested prototypes of several modes in a variety of formats (including making a boardgame) then worked with the team to assess the value of these and focus the game down to its strengths. I managed the development team at various points, both as support and also when temporarily acting as lead.

Midway through the project I started to assist with QA, testing the game extensively and working with a dedicated QA staffer to plan and test a variety of improvements (especially to the score balancing). At this point I also planned much of the Achievements system before moving on to content creation proper when the design was  nailed down. I wrote two of the question packs, came back for a final spot of consulting and then finally did a little PR work using my journalistic contacts. I basically tried my hand at all things except for the actual coding, with an emphasis on designing the game and managing the six-man team.

My favourite part of this process was undoubtedly determining the game design, because the conflux of limitations and potential makes it a really interesting thing to affect. Even on a small and relatively straightforward game such as Split Decision there’s a lot of room to have new ideas or to get things wrong and it feels like every choice you make both opens and closes infinite possibilities.

The game design work also means I got to see things from the other side of the fence to usual, which has been really interesting because some of the feedback since release has explicitly called for features we cut (such as multiplayer). That’s really weird for me to hear because, as a critic, I too might have argued for the inclusion of multiplayer if I were reviewing the game. As a designer though I know there were genuine reasons to cut that idea at that point and I think the game is better for that focus.

It’s that old Gabe Newell quote again, really: “It doesn’t matter what we cut, so long as we cut it and it gives us the time to focus on other things, because any of the options will be bad unless they’re finished, and any of them will be good if they are finished.

Split Decision has been an important project for me in a number of ways. It’s shown me what a game development process is really like on a nuts-and-bolts-and-issue-tracking level and has shown me I have the capacity to work in that scenario. It’s also led me on to other game design projects, though I still can’t discuss those at the moment. Most of all though it’s helped further inform my approach to games criticism and strengthen my belief that, while games are art, they are often best understood in terms of their design as products rather than artistic pieces.

That’s a rant for another day though – and one I’m frankly sick of turning over in my mind at the moment. For the moment: I’m now a proven Game Designer and Producer. I wonder what comes next.

Find out more about Split Decision at the official website

4 Comments

  1. […] back at the start of the year and which finally got released this month. I’ve written a brief developer diary about my work on that, so I won’t repeat myself – but being able to legitimately call […]

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  2. […] Split Decision: The Nonsense Knowledge Game isn’t the only new project I’ve had on the go this year – I’ve also been […]

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  3. […] Also! A content pack I wrote for Split Decision, the game I designed earlier this year is now available too. That must have slipped my mind […]

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  4. […] feelings aren’t so clear-cut. I may have done lots of stuff I’m proud of, such as the games and book I worked on, but I also had lots of misery thanks to prolonged and explosive family dramas […]

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