What is the minimal time in which you can create a game?

I’ve postulated before that the total time spent on the production of a game can either be divided in having the idea and building the objects to communicate that idea with.

Lets look into those two amounts of time.

Of course it is obvious that the upper limit for a game production is +infinity. If you wanted, you could continue developing a game forever by adding content or tweaking the rules in response to player feedback. Games like chess or sports can also be considered as still “in development”, as their rules change according to what players or spectators want. Chess has been evolving for thousands of years, it would be foolish to think it will ever leave “beta” status.

But of course, chess is playable even in its possibly non-definitive iteration. There must be a point in time where the game that would then be called “chess” was imagined in its general form and its form was standardized. From that point in time, modifications in rules were so subtle that the game evolved slowly while retaining its name.

The time you spend having the basic idea for the game is constant, the time you spend building objects can go from 0 to infinity. Thus the lower limit of production for any game is the time you spend imagining it (designing it).

Card games are a very good example of this lower limit. Because cards are standardized, highly abstract and versatile physical objects, they can be used in a wide array of rules systems. To create most card games, you just need to write down the rules on a piece of paper, which will take you around 5 minutes for most games. The only thing you create are the rules, the rest of the objects having already been created.

The same goes for my previous example, chess. The board and the pieces probably already existed before, but they moved differently. Chess was “born” the moment when, after a certain number of iterations, its final ruleset was defined, thus differentiating it from other very similar games (its previous iterations) played with the same board. Thinking about it, the name “chess” must have probably meant a very different game a couple centuries ago.

There is another family of games that has a minimal development time: child’s play. In this case, the objects used to support the game idea are our bodies, the rules being defined verbally at the beginning of the play session. The fact that rules aren’t written down is actually one of the most important aspect of this family of games. A participant in the game might, for example, become dissatisfied with an aspect of the game an change it instantly by acting according to new rules he invented. This makes the game being played evolve constantly through successive and instantaneous micro-changes. Each of these modifications creates a new game which replaces the previous one and who will be replaced by a newer one, all in a very short amount of time. Like in cinema, where many successive similar images create the illusion of a moving image, child’s play creates the illusion of a continuous game with many successive similar games.

It would seem impossible to create a computer game from scratch in under five minutes. Programming is less natural than writing and definitely harder than speaking. Still, assuming that someone became so skilled that they type at über-speeds without any errors, the only way to go below that five-minute mark is with object reutilization. Making a video game in less than five minutes implies that you have a vast library of code you base your work upon and assets that are either generic or procedurally generated.

In the end, no matter which category of games you look at, the less objects you need to create, the faster your development time will be, the lower limit being the constant time spent in defining the rules (either textually, verbally or functionally).

It would be interesting to have people developing games under a time constraint to share what their shorter development time was and how they proceeded, some “hands on” data to see if what I wrote checks out…

Do, or do not. There is no try.