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Polish vs lubricant

For many years I used to read gaming websites and hear about whether a game was ‘polished’ or not. The idea seems to be that without ‘polish’, you have a game that more-or-less works, but it’ll be janky and unrefined. It may be full of bugs or have awkward controls. When a game comes out to poor reviews, you can expect the occasional comment of ‘if only they’d polished it more!’ For some reason, the word ‘polish’ has come to be an all-purpose word for improving the details of a game.

To polish a game is to add those final touches or improvements to ensure your game is as aesthetically pleasing and error-free as possible. Although considered to be the last step in the game development process, it’s one of the most important.

Game Dev 101: Adding Polish to Games, Tiana Crump

However, I’ve never liked this metaphor of ‘polish’. Polish is superficial. If you polish a table, it may look more pleasing, but it still functions essentially the same. In video games, on the other hand, so much depends on the details of how the game functions as well as simply how it looks.

Nobody looks at a wonky piece of furniture and says ‘if only they’d polished it more!’ As they say, you can’t polish a turd.

Personally, I prefer the metaphor of lubricant. Lubricant goes deep into the machine and makes the whole thing work better. It may even run quieter.

No prototypes. Just make the game. Polish as you go. Don’t depend on polish happening later.

John Romero

I’ve done countless things to ‘polish’ Super Space Galaxy as I go, but they weren’t superficial. I tuned the controls while I was designing them and went through many, many bug-fixes. Each improvement penetrates deep into the game and makes it run better and smoother. Rather than working on simply making the same product look better, programming is more like looking under the hood of a car, tuning the engine, and ensuring that everything fits together precisely. Maybe ‘tuning’ would be a better word?

I think this ongoing metaphor of ‘polish’ gives the wrongful impression that improving a game is only a superficial job. The best games aren’t simply good because they’ve been given a surface-level gloss at the end of development. They’re given ongoing, painstaking care at every stage. That’s why I would rather say that Super Space Galaxy is going to be a very well-lubricated game.

Thanks for reading,

Kenneth Dunlop


Published by Kenneth Dunlop

Earth's Mightiest Game Designer. Making Super Space Galaxy. Previously made Super Space Slayer 2.

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