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Bass Monkey Postmortem: From Zero Experience to Solo Game Dev in 18 Months (Without Quitting Your Day Job!)

Game development is hard. Very hard. I wrote this “Lessons Learned” blog to highlight the most important resources, key messages, and motivational quotes that helped me succeed in creating a game without destroying my passion or optimism.

Introduction

Hi everyone! My name is Jacob Weersing, and I’m the sole developer behind the totally free to play game, Bass Monkey, which was released on Steam on June 2nd, 2022! (Please play and leave a review!)

I had zero game development experience, and within 18 months, I released my first full game on Steam! It was a surreal experience and a lifelong dream to create a video game, and I was thrilled to find out that RIGHT NOW it is easier than ever to make video games. And you don’t even have to quit your day job!! I maintained my full-time career while also fulfilling my creative passions. If I can do it, then you can too!

As you may have read/heard/encountered previously, it is NOT EASY to make a video game. Especially if you’re doing it solo. It’s a multi-faceted project requiring you to learn on-the-fly and flex your brain muscles in many different directions.

That being said, it is SUCH a fulfilling hobby. And there are SO MANY resources online (besides this excellent blog post) where wonderful people are happy to share their experiences to help you learn, and there are equally as many tools and assets that you can download for free to help you along the way.

The intent of this blog post

In order to contribute to the game development archives, I thought it’d be useful to share my experience and plug a few of the most useful resources I found and lessons I’ve learned along the way while creating Bass Monkey!

This is by no means a comprehensive guide, or even a standalone tutorial. I don’t claim to know everything (or anything, for that matter); however, if you’re struggling to get started making a video game, or have gotten stuck on one aspect of development, I hope this blog post can give you a reference or provide some solace that YOU TOO can finish a game! Try not to get overwhelmed, as NOT EVERYTHING ON THIS BLOG IS REQUIRED in order to finish a game. This is intended as a future reference to game developers (as well as myself) to provide a consolidated library of resources and key messages when you’re stressed or feeling lost.

I’ll break the remainder of this blog post into a bulleted list format (because who doesn’t love bulleted lists?) and will discuss what I see as the key components of game development: Project Management, Art, Music, Programming, Game Design, and Marketing.

General Tips

Okay I might have lied. Before diving into the main components of game development, I think there are a few disclaimers/general tips that NEED to be mentioned:

  • Don’t take this too seriously.
    • For real. If you’re like me, then this is a hobby. If it’s your first video game, I would NOT COUNT on being able to make bank off your first game. I’m no expert, but I still feel like it’s good life advice to try making a few games before quitting your job or relying on games for income. Which leads me to my next point…
  • Define what would be “successful” before you start.
    • For me, I defined success as, “Make a chill, fun, multiplayer game that you can enjoy with non-gamer friends and pick up and play seamlessly. And release it on Steam within a year or two.”
    • This was a S.M.A.R.T goal (more info located here). It was important for me to make sure that I could measure my goal based on feedback from my friends, who said that my game was “fun” and “easy to pick up and play”. That way I pretty much couldn’t fail, as long as I play-tested with my friends frequently and iterated on the parts of my game that sucked. So regardless of how release went, I was successful! Yay me!
  • Do something for your project every day without fail.
    • Even if it’s just opening the game and testing for bugs for 10 minutes.
    • If you do something every day, then eventually you’ll finish!
    • There’s a lot to be said about diligence and making something (like game development) into a habit. I could go on-and-on about habits, but if you want a complete breakdown of habits and how to form good ones, consider reading Atomic Habits by James Clear.
  • Think critically about what you are good at, and then lean into that.
    • Nobody is good at everything, and that’s ok!
    • I was pretty decent at recording music, doodling cartoons, and had some knowledge about programming logic, so I leaned into that and made a cartoony music-focused action game.
    • What do you think you’re good at? What interests you? Can you base a game around that or your experiences?
  • Start small.
    • Please for the love of yourself don’t make an MMO or anything huge.
  • Don’t work on other projects until this project is done.
    • Some developers may disagree with me on this one. However, there’s something to be said about “following through” and being a “finisher” before jumping to another project.
  • "Get over yourself and finish something." - David Wehle

Project Management

Boo! Hiss! Boo! Not fun, Jacob. I know, I know, but it’s important, okay? You gotta at least do a few project management-related things throughout development. These were the most important in my brain:

  • Before starting, write down your purpose for the game.
    • Who are you making it for? Why are you making it? What message are you trying to send?
    • This is important to guide you through development and remind you what you’re doing. Also to prevent expanding the scope of the game into an MMORPG or something crazy. Some people write “game design documents”, which sound important for a big team. But since it was just me working on Bass Monkey, just a short purpose document titled, “Why am I doing this?” was sufficient.
  • Estimate a timeframe (and then triple it…)
    • It’s impossible to scope the time it takes for these kinds of things. Some people say to double the time you think that it takes. In my experience, you’ll probably get some expansion of your project’s scope (for example, thinking “ooh wouldn’t it be cool if I could also play as a panda bear”?) So tripling the timeframe kept my expectations in check.
  • Have a note taking app or project management software at your disposal
    • I just used the notes app on my phone. I tried Trello, which many people find useful. But the notes app was easier to maintain.
    • At the end of the day, making sure that I have some lists where I can cross things off was extremely good for my morale. This helped me track progress week-to-week and month-to-month.

Art

Yay, a fun one! Yet also a treacherous topic. You may be asking yourself, “But Jacob, what do I do if I suck at art?” Well, like everything else in life, everyone sucks at it when they first start. Jake the Dog from Adventure time once stated, “Sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something”. The only way to improve is to consistently do the thing and iterate on your mistakes. Here are some lessons I’ve learned:

Music

Music is hard. But so much fun! I started my game development journey with the music, which may not be the starting point for everyone. Without getting into the weeds too much, I’ll provide 2 different paths, whether if you want to try making music yourself, or if you want to download/license music and sounds:

  • I have some musical training already, Jacob!
    • Well that’s awesome! You probably know more than I do. In that case, here’s a few resources that helped me learn more:
      • HookTheory was an extremely practical, useful tool to learn more about music theory.
      • The book Addiction Formula, by Friedemann Findeisen was excellent.
    • Take lessons! It’s never a bad idea.
    • I use Reaper as my digital audio workstation. It’s a free and powerful tool to import/record/arrange music all in one place.
    • Splice has amazing sample libraries. Although there are other libraries, this is my “one stop shop”. Be aware that it costs money, though.
  • I don’t have any musical training, Jacob!
    • Don’t worry! There are plenty of sounds and music online that you can use if you don’t want to dive into the world of music production.
    • I have to say, I don’t have a whole lot to recommend, as I made all the music/sounds for Bass Monkey. But here’s some sound resources to get you started:
    • If you need an interface to upload these sounds and want to dabble in pushing around the sound waves, adding effects, or stacking sounds together, I’d recommend downloading Reaper as a digital audio workstation. It’s free and has resources like this one to get you started.

Programming

At this point I realize how crazy I am typing this all out. However, onward and upward!!

Programming is also tough. I had ONE basic programming class during my engineering coursework at college. I’d probably recommend learning a bit before you get started programming a video game. A good starting point might be like enrolling in this class here.

Again, though, it’s easier once you just get started! Here’s some tips and lessons I’ve learned to get me started from (almost) scratch:

  • Pick a program and stick with it.
    • I used Gamemaker Studio 2 and utilized the “drag and drop” programming language. This way, I could get by without learning all the nuances of the language. And I wouldn’t have a bug every time I forgot to place a semicolon somewhere.
    • Again, I don’t think there’s any shame in using these “drag and drop” languages instead of learning to “code”.
  • Follow tutorials
  • Google is your friend.
    • Seriously. If anything, I learned that almost all programming problems can be solved by some smart googling. Someone else has had your problem about 99.99% of the time.
  • Take breaks often.
    • In my opinion, the most frustrating part of development is programming. If I had a dime for every time I got stuck for hours, went to sleep, and then woke up with an idea that solved my problem in 5 minutes, I’d be dropping dimes like nobody’s business.

Game Design

Game design was a totally new concept to me! I found these resources the most helpful to learn:

  • Make the player feel something.
    • This is kind of a paraphrased quote from the indie game podcast “Game Dev Field Guide” by Zackavelli. It’s very insightful. The point of game design is to elicit a response from the player, whether it be fun, frustration, happiness, laughter, etc.
    • If you can focus your game design choices on a “feeling”, this will help tremendously along the way.
  • Your game needs a hook, and a kicker. This was a presentation from Mike Rose about “selling” your game to people.

Marketing

Marketing is still a bit of a mystery to me. Marketing your game WHILE you develop is seriously important, but also very challenging.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned about indie game marketing

  • Other people know about this a lot more than me. Like the following resources:
  • You need a marketing funnel.
    • In case you have a tweet or something that goes viral, having a funnel to catch some of that attention and channel it into your projects is important.
  • Twitter is like LinkedIn for game developers.
    • Pick one (or two) social media platforms and stick with them. It’s better to focus your efforts than spread yourself too thin.
  • Marketing will only do so much for your game. If it’s a “meh” game, then no amount of marketing or luck can help you. Per Derek Yu, “Sadly, I think the games that are helped most by optimizing are also the ones that need the help LEAST overall. If your game is naturally appealing to the mainstream (note that I'm not saying "good", "worthwhile", or "artistic"), then that extra effort will come more into play.”
  • You can’t do everything, and at the end of the day, it’s better to focus on releasing games than spending too much time trying to get people to play them.
    • I think that the more games you release, the more of a following you build, and the better you get at making games. Which in turn makes more people follow you.
    • There’s very very few games that are insanely popular, generate a lot of revenue, and are a developers “first game." Even the "overnight success" stories had a ton of blood, sweat, and tears behind their development. Like Alexander Bruce’s game, Antichamber, which was “An Overnight Success, Seven Years in the Making
    • I really like Chris Zukowski’s stairstep approach to indie game marketing. He argues that when first starting out, you can’t have a marketing strategy like Blizzard or other huge game companies. You need to do things that “can't scale” and take it one step (or one game) at a time. Like write blog posts. Or respond to email responses to your blog posts (which I will totally do if you email me).

Summary and TLDR

My name is Jacob Weersing. I have a full-time job, and within 18 months (starting with zero game dev experience) I created an indie game, Bass Monkey, and released it for free on June 2nd, 2022.

Game development is hard. Very hard. I wrote this “Lessons Learned” blog to highlight the most important key messages, resources, and motivational quotes that helped me succeed in fulfilling a lifelong dream (creating a video game) without destroying my passion or optimism. In this post, I break game development into the following components: General tips, Project Management, Art, Music, Programming, Game Design, and Marketing.

Please feel free to reach out if you ever have any questions or want to connect. I’m pumped to have discovered this passion, creative outlet, and hobby, and look forward to making many more games to come.

Jacob Weersing

Creator of Bass Monkey

Twitter: @YakobSoup

Email: [email protected]

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