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What is the most practical order of operations when creating an open world sandbox game from scratch

Hello - I am a guy who is still very much a novice to UE4 and this is my first post in these boards. I am well into educating myself on this engine, though, and I feel I have a growingly firm grasp of the basics. I.E. - if UE4 is a puzzle, I am getting pretty familiar with the individual puzzle pieces themselves, but I still find putting them together into one completed puzzle to be quite daunting. So, I have a question that I recognize is very, very broad and I am very much aware there is no one right answer to. I think it would be very helpful to me to see a variety of answers to this from other people who are much better at this than me.

When a person has reached the point of embarking on creating a mid-to-large sized open world game, what is the most expedient order to do things in? For example - and I am making this up right on the spot, mind you - let’s say you want to make a game where you play as a chicken who runs around on a very large farm and collects eggs for some reason. You can collect the eggs and put them in an inventory and there is a farmer guy who you can talk to who can give you missions or whatever. Like I say, this is just nonsense I just made up, but if a person has built a comprehensive outline for their game and says “I understand the basics of UE4 and am ready to begin,” in your opinion what is the first thing they should tackle, and then the second thing, and then the third thing, and so on and so forth until completion and a release onto Steam or something?

Should you design and rig the chicken character very first? Build the map? Implement the inventory system? Since, as I said I know there is no correct answer to this, what is your personal process and order you do things in? Any answers here will be very helpful. Thanks.

It’s different for everyone. Assuming you’re working alone, then you’re going to need to play into your own strengths/weaknesses and also deal with your own thought process.

For example, after a base design, documentation, and narrative planning I usually work on level design. It’s just the first thing I like to have because I, personally, need to visualize an area before I can get anything else done.

After constructing a level (usually just a bare version; no textures or anything), I go about getting the “feel” right. I adjust camera positions, character walking speed, interaction abilities, etc. I want to get the general flow of gameplay down.

Then I go for the character model/animations. Implement those.

Next is the basic gameplay elements. Enemies mainly, and then some type of combat system/damage system.

Doors, save points, etc. comes next.

Then any cutscenes or narrative events.

After that, it comes down to really touching everything up. Adding better assets, materials, interactions, models, etc. Which is a lot, but the skeletal structure is there at least.

This is all my personal flow though. It may not work for you. And ideally the best answer to your question is: you have to experiment and do what’s right for you. You’ll know what you need. Because you’ll sit down to work and your head will just keep on saying “got to do the levels first” or “got to do the character first”. Trust yourself. If you’re working alone, you’re all you have. You need to really get in tune with your own thought process to take on larger projects.

You can try other people’s methods, like the one I detailed, but don’t take it as a “right” way. Every creator is different. That doesn’t mean some methods can’t overlap, but definitely do whatever you need to even if no other developer has mentioned doing it before.

The right answer is simply whatever makes you more productive while working on the prototype. No one really talks about getting stuck, or writers block as applied to game design, but its common. So you should be prepared for this on such a large project as an open-world game.

Be prepared to switch gears. When progress on the environment is lacking, switch to characters. When levels / characters / props aren’t progressing, switch to code / gameplay mechanics and vice-versa. Just try something different to break any block in progress.

Hints at my approach here and here (I always start out on level design)… But you have to find your own… Basically concept for me is really important. I have to a strong feeling about what the end goal is, even if I can’t see any of the details or most of it is invisible (I don’t have an artists inner eye)… I wonder how many game devs on here do…

This is one area where concrete advice is easy to give. Do not launch on Steam, not without a plan, a community, marketing budget, a publisher or something. Its creative suicide! It helps to remind yourself why you’re doing this… If its to make $$$, then the project itself will normally be very different from a passion project.