So, not too long ago now, I spoke about how I was going to make a game. In a rather surprising turn of events, I actually made it - it’s a finished, working game (play it here), and it’s had almost universally positive feedback over the six posts over at Gamers With Jobs (one, two, three, four, five and six), and the short post Konstantinos Dimopoulos wrote about it over at indiegames.com after I sent them an email about it.
I learned quite a lot while making the game, and I also learned quite a few things after it was released, so I thought I’d share them with you, and hopefully they’ll be of some use to people who may find themselves in a similar situation. I’ll also add some advice at the bottom. Prepare yourself - this isn’t going to be a short post.
Make your goals realistic.Late into the project, I realised that I was not going to be able to make ten good levels. In fact, the only way to make any of the levels decent was to make five and focus on ensuring that they were competent enough to keep the player entertained. Making the effort, however, to make a new tileset bar the odd tile for every single level meant that my only formal review thus far noted the “wildly different” range of environments. But by only having five levels, I also kept myself sane, and my god, that can be really difficult.
Give yourself space. Don’t force yourself into development every single spare minute of the day. I find that I made the game in the same way I wrote - when inspiration and motivation struck. Of course, sometimes I had to get some part of it done in time for a Gamers With Jobs post, but allowing myself to put things down or just take an evening off meant that while I didn’t get as much done, I also finished and lived just beyond the border of Insanity Town.
Test, but don’t be your only tester. The funny thing I found while testing Hug Marine was that I often died while trying to get to something later in the level. I cheated once and simply moved the spawn point, but most of the time I played through. Luckily I had a girlfriend and some friends who were more than happy to play through builds, some of which I sent out at around midnight. People who aren’t involved will see errors you won’t, and this makes all the difference.
Accept suggestions. You are not making this game for you - at least in terms of its accessibility. Sure, it’s because you want to do it, but if the game is unplayable to everyone else, it is a waste of time unless you never release it publicly, which will mean you learn absolutely nothing about designing games for public consumption. Ashton suggested that I make the elevators faster. I did, and you know what? Not only was it less of a waiting game, it fixed a collision error and meant I got a working elevator platform that (I think) looks great.
Know your capabilities. I started out with some seriously ambitious art ideas, and guess what? It turns out that I’m a complete graphics noob and my pixel art skills just weren’t up to the task. So instead I went with my own style and ended up with something I think is pretty damn charming. It also meant that as I got more confident, I started redoing tilesets and making more ambitious graphics, rather than attempting the near-impossible and defaulting to a really basic look for the whole game out of desperation.
You will become emotional. I’m more emotional than most - I cry at music, TV, films - I’m pretty open about the fact that I’m an extremely sensitive person, which is often a disadvantage in life, I’ve found. I got this comment on the final Gamers With Jobs site:
Great job! One of my sons watched me play the whole way through (as I showed of my l33t platforming skillz). At the end, he gave me a hug.
I read it to my girlfriend that morning, left for work, read it at the office again, and had to leave the room for a minute or two. It probably seems ridiculous to you, but the very idea that my stupid little game about hugging caused a child, influenced by a videogame, to hug their parent, is something that I found extremely difficult to process and thus, tears. I’ve had another comment since about someone’s seven year-old completing the game twice, too. To know that people are enjoying it is great, but to know that kids are enjoying it and that parents are endorsing it to them is just mindblowing.
People will dislike your game. Unresponsive controls was the top criticism, but my favourite goes to someone on indiegames.com who simply said it was bad, offered no real reasoning behind it and called it a waste of time. I was offended, at first, but then I grinned as I realised that this individual was my first troll. I think that’s an achievement in itself.
You have contributed to videogames. You are - and knowing this myself is a huge boost to my self-esteem - have added a videogame to the list of All Videogames Ever. There’s a moment in the film High Fidelity in which the protagonist’s girlfriend, Laura, says that Rob (the protag in question) has, after years of criticising music, finally contributed to it himself. Same goes for this - after years of playing games, loving games, wanting to make games, and tearing apart the games made by others, I have finally contributed to the industry myself. It’s a badge of honour. Wear it with pride.
This was a difficult period of my life, in terms of my stress levels. There was a head-in-hands moment. Waking up during the night thinking about bug fixes or design ideas. I found it hard to focus on anything else, and guilty when I played games instead of making mine. But that’s okay. I can relax now, because it’s over. I’m never, ever making a game in a time limit again unless it’s for charity, and even then I’ll question the sanity of that decision knowing what it did to me the first time. But I will make more games, and I hope this encourages you to make your first game, too.
Good luck, and TL;DR? Make the game you can realistically make, and you’ll be okay.
I thought I’d take a little time to talk about the game jam that starts tomorrow. The one I volunteered to take part in, organised a logo-production for, contributed to the Google Group for, and, of course, the one I’m writing a weekly column on at Gamers with Jobs.
In short, it’s the day before, and I am really stressing out.
I’m not a game designer - I could find multiple things that are wrong with any game, but ask me to make one and I go blank. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I don’t criticise some stuff, these days - I know that I can’t actually achieve the same thing myself with my skillset, so I don’t really feel like I have the right to rag on them for it.
Primarily, I’m worried about:
- Actually finishing the game, but this is a given - the wonder of writing a column for a popular site about the jam is that I finish or face public humiliation, as does the site, so it provides a somewhat intense source of motivation for me.
- The art - I’m probably going to go for a game with VVVVVV graphical complexity simply because I can’t sprite to save my life and the thought, the mere thought, of me doing 3D work is laughable given the month-long time-span.
- The music - I am a musician, or at least, I have been in some stages of my life. But at the same time, composing music is a little daunting, especially when I know that if a repeating track sucks, the player will mute the sound and keep it that way, ignoring the other tracks that might not suck as badly as the one that put them off.
- The concept - I’ve not played them, but commenters over at GWJ revealed to me that there are two games already themed around hugging. Sure, they’re not actually the same in terms of story, but one of them looks really great, like Swords and Sworcery great, and it was made in 48 hours, as far as I’m aware. Wonderful. No pressure.
- Stencyl. I have no idea how easy this tool is actualy going to be to use when it comes to the real grind - actually getting the work done and the game built. Hopefully it’ll be easy enough for me to get a fun, great game sorted out in the time I have.
What I’m looking forward to:
- Actually making a game. Being able to point to it and say “that’s mine. You can play it. It has a start and an end.”
- Seeing the feedback/comments grow on GWJ (I hope) as the columns go on and the playable version develops.
- Potentially seeing my game appear somewhere on some site with someone going “you HAVE to play this. This is awesome.”
- Being able to expand the game after it’s done and potentially build it up into a massive, sprawling game - or a developed Metroidvania sequel, in which you go around a huge space station hugging unique aliens, rather than from planet to planet.
- People enjoying the soundtrack/art/story/gameplay/anything about it at all.
What scares me is the (admittedly self-inflicted) publicity of it all, but at the same time, that also means I’m extremely unlikely to lose focus. So, if you see me freaking out on Twitter or anything like that, please know that it’s due to everything I just wrote about. I’ll link the columns as I go, and I would say that I’ll blog here as well and be a little more personal about the development process, but I’ll probably just do that there, as I think that’ll have more of an impact than a goddamn plain progress report.
Good luck, me.
So, for ages, I’ve been going on and on about writing two books, and getting them published, and doing all this stuff that’s basically going to take up every goddamn weekend and evening forever with no immediately foreseeable reward.
Instead, I’m going to focus on my career, my life, and while continuing to contribute to the odd thing, I’m going to just basically get myself to a place where I feel like I can write for the sheer joy of it, rather than pressure myself into this whole “you’re twenty-four, quick, sell a novel already!” stuff that has been driving me up the wall.
Next month I am taking part in a game jam, and I’m making a game where a marine goes to a lot of alien planets and hugs some aliens in order to make friends with their entire race. Diplomacy via hugs, via a platformer. You can already tell I’m a happier human being.
As for the book, still totally doable - just at my own pace. I really don’t know why I do this to myself, to be honest with you - I set myself ridiculous goals (i.e. write a good, full-length novel within a month, while working a full-time job, a podcast and a contributor position at a site) and then I always fail them. I’m actually delieriously happy simply thinking about my future now I’m not piling on work I make no money from and frankly, find a little too stressful to enjoy right now.
I’ll continue to write here - in fact, I’ll probably write here a little more as a result. But I can relax a bit, now. Good stuff. Now to go upload a podcast, and go and play a Pandaren Monk.
Right, so, I’ve got a ton of catching up to do, I know, so I thought I’d kinda hash things out with you people. At the moment I am:
- Looking forward to seeing my name on the shelf at Forbidden Planet in June.
- Working on a few new sites.
- Working on a novel.
- Moving towards hosting everything from my blog to other stuff over at an entirely new domain that will encompass everything a little better. I’m still not sure about this one, though.
The reason I’ve been so quiet is that I’m doing a lot of learning, a lot of working, having some fun, and basically taking a look at where I’m at and where I want to be. Looking forward to a lot of changes in the next several months. More soon, eh?
I’ve done no work on it this week, because I’ve had a lot of stuff that’s been more important. Some of that was sleeping. But I know that I’ve got a lot more editing ahead of me than I previously realised, and that in fact, this book could well get significantly longer. So, that’s good. I’ll keep you posted - not abandoning, just got a lot to do.
Today, I got some more charting of the plot done, and some feedback from a couple of chapter one beta readers. The feedback was great, and helpful. Also means I might be restoring a decent chunk of the opening chapter that I nixed after a BookCountry reviewer convinced me to can it.
Now, I’m going to finish The Social Network (I watch this film quite a bit) and get some sleep. Hopefully by Sunday the rest of the feedback will appear, and by next week I’ll be editing the novel and preparing it for beta readers. Laters.
Today, I sent out my first chapter to a bunch of people I know whose opinions I’d be interested in reading. They’re all writers, but not all of them write fiction - some of them just happen to read books. I’ll be watching their reactions closely, because I’d love to see how non-fiction-writer people react to it, as I have a feeling they’ll be less nitpicking. Then again they are writers, so who knows?
I think it’s good, I’ll just have to roll with the punches if they think it isn’t. And now, to wait. Dum dee dum. Oh, boy.
This was a piece I wrote about Dark Souls, in which I basically attack its treatment of narrative and its souls-as-a-currency mechanic. It got people talking, and I really enjoy throwing a spanner in the works of people who enjoy a game without nit-picking it the way I sometimes like to do.
Not that those people are flawed, in any way - I like just enjoying a game for what it is. But when going back to it in order to research my second article about it, I was miserable, and tired of it, and thought it had issues, so I brought two of them to light. Hope you enjoy it - the title of the post is the link to the article.
Today I got nothing done at all, because I slept so badly last night that I’m physically exhausted. I know some people are HARDCORE WRITERS but I’m not an idiot and prefer taking care of myself. The wonders of having a day-job, I guess. I’m consciously aware of the fact that it piles more work onto me, but that’s okay. I just need to take things one step at a time and realise my opportunities aren’t going anywhere if they’re all self-made, although novel #2 does have something of a deadline in terms of beating someone else to it.
It makes me wonder how other people feel really, if anything - some writers have this bizarre, obtuse “write every day” approach, and although I do technically do this - I’m a copywriter - I feel like that’s a completely stupid approach. You’re either inspired or you’re not. You’re either motivated or you’re not. I don’t like the concept of forcing yourself into a state or task you’re not moving into naturally. You’re a human being, not a writing machine, and this culture of HEY GUYS I STAYED UP TILL 4AM OH MAN NOW I’VE GOT TO GO TO WORK/TAKE THE KIDS TO SCHOOL LOL stuff drives me absolutely nuts.
So, yeah. No activity, but rest instead, and I need that. Laters.