Killing your darlings - Don´t get lost along the way.

Written game-developer Mikkel Jespersen.
Edited by Ryan Summers.


"Killing your darlings...

What a weird start we’re off to. It sounds scary without any context provided, doesn't it?

Let us focus on the positive aspects of the phrase and clear things up!"


What does it mean then?

“Killing your darlings” really isn’t as bad as it sounds. It is a phrase that writers have been using in their field for ages. It means that you delete or remove things from the project that people do not like, does not work or is not relevant for the overall project. It could also apply to you adding so many new things and features until your project becomes too big to handle.

When you create something, you constantly need to think back to the beginning of your project and focus what the initial goal of your product was. Was it going to be a quick flash game for a website? A way to test your abilities? Or, was it something you wanted to do out of love?

Also consider for a moment who the final product is for. If you are making it out of passion, put it together in your free time and it will only be known to you; you’d be fine. But when you decide that the project will be released to the public, you’re going to have to think about the people who will see it. Your target audience.

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Locating your darlings

If you invite people to look through your work and they say they dislike a part of it, and you find the feedback unfair, there’s a big chance that they were talking about one of your darlings. You have probably worked hard on this aspect of your product, so it is, of course, frustrating when it does not work out as you hoped. But instead of just killing the idea outright (Removing it completely) take that idea and put it aside! Maybe this feature is not working out for what you are working on right now, but it might just be a cool idea for a future project.

RealTimeWorlds was a small company that decided to listen to fans of the Grand Theft Auto series and turn the formula into an ambitious MMO, giving players a whole world filled with crime and police. While the game released in 2010 to moderate success, RealTimeWorlds had to close down the production. It was simply too expensive for the small team to develop an MMO. In the end the game was sold off to Reloaded Productions.

RealTimeWorlds had good intentions and their hopes were high, but it was simply too ambitious for them to handle. It’s a tough decision for someone to give up what they worked on for so long, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the idea will go to waste. The game is still alive today, now called All Points Bulletin: Reloaded. This is, however, a good example of a production growing too big for the creators to handle, most likely because of an unwillingness to compromise early in development.

Constantly adding new features to your game can help you stand out, but it’s a fine line to walk since too many mechanics and excess content can cripple your overall productivity. You have to remember what the core of the game is and try to stand by it. If not, you might just get lost along the way.

We here at Spearhead don´t want you to get lost, so we have developed a pretty simple solution. When you decide to start a new project, you should keep these following questions in mind:

  • Why are you making this production?
  • Do you need a team?
  • What is your financial strategy for this?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • What makes this production special?
  • When will it be done?
  • How many resources will you need?

And then after 2 weeks, you ask yourself these questions all over again. Maybe as part of a scrum meeting? By doing this, you will be able to monitor your process and hopefully stay on course.

People usually don't like getting criticism over the work they do. I’m personally guilty of getting mad at some good criticism myself, and you’ve probably been angry a time or two about someone’s opinions or observations as well. Just remember to know what is constructive feedback and what is bad criticism. In the end, people just want a great product out of you.

Lastly, if you are working on a game production, remember that Spearhead also offers game-testing and professional quality assurance as some of our many services. First talk is always free, so do not hesitate to get in contact with us.