Why Flash Game Production Isn’t as Quick or Simple as You Might Think

February 19, 2013

Filed under: Games — Simon Walklate

Having carried out many commissioned game projects for a variety of companies, it often amazes me how many clients just don’t seem to get how much work is involved in producing a Flash game. It’s absolutely true that a little bit of info is dangerous. Often people who work in marketing or design departments and have a small amount of exposure to Flash, but no real experience, get the impression that it’s just a point and click assembly interface, where you simply show and tell the program what you want and it makes it so. Now I suppose to an extent that is right. You do (loosely speaking) show and tell what you want, but only in the same sense that the developers of any piece of software show and tell what they want.

Just the coding alone (the inner workings of the game) has to be broken down into thousands of logical steps, all written in the language that Flash understands (AS3). Incidentally, AS3 is quite similar to the most commonly used programming language in the games industry for retail games for consoles and PC (C and the variations of). Even a relatively simple Flash game can be a pretty big project in terms of coding alone. For instance our Supercar Road Racer game (the most complex we’ve built to date, in terms of coding) uses well over 5000 lines of code to make it work, all of which had to be written by hand, over a number of months. But writing the code (although a potentially huge task in itself) isn’t the end of it. Once the code is written, it needs to be optimised and thoroughly tested.

Complex Flash games need thorough code optimisation in order to run fast and efficiently. This often involves going through the code, one small section at a time, and either trying different variations to accomplish the same small task, adding extra code to minimise the amount of work the game makes the computer processor do, completely scrapping and rewriting large sections of code, or all of the above. Although an experienced programmer will write pretty efficient code to start with and know instinctively what works best, it’s still a time consuming process. For instance, going back to the Supercar Road Racer example, more than 2 full weeks were spent working on code optimisations alone, and this was all carried out by a programmer with more than 20 years experience, coding on various platforms and in multiple different programming languages.

The final stage of coding is thorough testing. This involves going through (or at least trying to cover) every conceivable occurrence within the game, to check that everything works as expected. This covers not only the gameplay, menus and all visible interactivity within the game, but also backend functionality that you can’t see. All backend functionality, including interaction with server-side scripts for scoreboards, Facebook platform interaction, etc. (all of which is extra code, external to the Flash game code that needs to be written/modified on a per project basis) needs to be thoroughly tested. We usually like to have a full week to thoroughly test a game before release and iron out any bugs that present themselves.

All of the above completely neglects the painstaking production of all artwork and visual assets that need to be created for a game. The visual design of a game starts with static visuals, and although they can be quite time consuming (typically at least a few day’s work) to get right, that’s only the very start of the artwork. Every single game background, interface, display and menu graphic needs to be drawn, as well as every single frame of character and object animation (can often amount to hundreds of frames, even for a simple game). Creating all visual assets for a game can take anything from a couple of weeks to many months of work.

Then there’s sound design and music. Although we have access to stock sounds, we almost always record and edit sound effects for a particular project. Over a number of days we use pro-grade sound recording equipment and professional recording, editing and effects software to record, edit and do all post-processing work on the sound effects for a game. While we’re taking care of the sound effects, the freelance composer we use typically spends a full week composing and producing the music for a game.

Hopefully all of this gives you some idea of the scale of the task in producing a quality Flash game, even for a highly experienced developer.

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