The process of finishing a game can be a tough one for game developers, both physically and
emotionally. Finaling a game can sometimes be the culmination of years of work, all smushed
up into a short, frantic period, when the team is trying to cram as much content and bug fixes
into the game as they can before they run out of time.
You think youll have more time with your game. And then, one day, you wake
up (at your desk), and its gone. The programmers have locked you out
of the build. The grief you experience at that moment can seem too much
to bear. You find yourself scrolling through old concept pitches,
thinking about what could have been.
But Im here to tell you, its going to be OK. Youre just going through
the five stages of finaling, which are a framework for coming to grips
with the end of a game, and the features that weve lost.
The best way to final is to move through these stages, rather than avoid
them. Only then can the healing…and the patches, and the DLC…truly
At first, you dont want to believe it. There must be some mistake! You
cant possibly be out of time. You thought you were getting an
extension! When the producers told you what the ship date was, you
thought they were bluffing so youd come in on the weekends! What about
all of those pretty pieces of concept art? That prototype level we
built? Surely theyre not thinking of cutting all of that! Think of how
that would look in your portfolio…I mean, how much the fans will love
Denial acts as a way for you to deal with the shock of your impending final date, so you dont
think about the summer youre about to not have.
There are a few different types of Anger to move through during finaling. The
first is the day to day anger when your days are 1012 hours long
and you know theres not much time left on the clock. Thats when
everyones nerves are frayed. The finger pointing starts, and the
feelings are hurt. A certain amount of arguing and frustration is
understandable, and pretty hard to avoid. Its probably best, though,
before things are said that cant be taken back (and have a way of
showing up on your performance review) to take yourself out of the
building, even for five minutes, to cool down. This is why its such a
great idea to start smoking.
The other, deeper anger is directed at…everything. It can seem bottomless. But its important to
really FEEL the anger, to let it move through you. You may ask yourself,
Where is the plan in all of this? What kind of executive producer
would let an innocent visual feature die? You might even come to the
conclusion that there IS no executive producer. These types of
existential crises can be deeply unsettling. Its ok. Feel the anger.
Slowly, youll come to realize that you were the one who helped come up
with the feature list in the first place. This is when the smoking
When you enter the bargaining phase, it may feel like youll do anything to
keep the feature you want, or to prevent the art from getting downsized
to blurry, pixelated cubes for the sake of performance. But the
rendering budgets finally here, and the programmers are giving you
tight budgets to make the game fit. Youll have to do some cutting, and I
dont mean the selfharm kind (although that may seem preferable). The
visuals are going to suffer. Unless you can convince ANOTHER group to
give up some of THEIR budget to give to art! And after the
animators laugh in your face, youll do what we all do: steal it from the audio team.
Hope is gone. And so is all the coffee. You can see now that all of those dreams you had to
make a game that visually transcends the 1st person shooter genre or at least has a lot of
cool robots in it like District 9 have gone up in smoke. Barring a last minute extension (which
will increase your dev costs to the point that you could plausibly register your studio as a
nonprofit), your ship date is locked, and its coming up fast. You may ask yourself
if theres any point in going on. Maybe its time to give up on all of
this, and go be a childrens book author. Then you remember how many
payments you have left on your car/house/home theater, and that no
childrens book author in the history of forever, except Madonna, has a
The hour is nigh, and we know were out of time. Somehow, our frantic, last
minute art directing skills havent helped. No matter what we do, we
know that the build is getting locked tomorrow morning. We begin to
accept the unacceptable bugs. Now, we try to live in a world with a
measly 150 metre draw distance.
But remember: Acceptance isnt approval. We can still mourn what could have been, and our idealistic
vision for the game. But in the end, a game on the shelf is worth two on
the drawing board.