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A Pre-Release View on my Mistakes

A brief look at the many mistakes and resulting lessons learned through developing my first independent game.

I am about to release my first independent game, and looking back at the development process, I realise I have made a lot of mistakes. I have learned some invaluable lessons while making A-Maze-Ing Runner; this post will have a quick look at some of the major mistakes I made, and the resulting lessons I learned from them in hope that they can help someone else out there.

The Background

After finishing my study of game development at university, I briefly looked for work before conceding to the notion of paving my own path in game development. I dug into my bag of scribbles and sketches to try find a game to start with.

There was one idea in particular that stood out to me; an endless runner with cognitive thought, not just twitch gameplay. I remember doing a sketch at work on a piece of receipt paper that sort of showed the top down view of a maze with a character running in it. This is simple enough right? I should be able to have this built and published in no time! Then onto the next idea!

Plan and Prioritise

You know those countless other game development articles that stress the point of having a good plan? Well I didn’t heed their advice, and not purposefully, but I figured that since it is such a small game, I should be able to iterate quickly, and create an innovative game as a result.

I created the prototype quickly, and I saw the game come to life quickly! It was simple at this point, but all the core mechanics were there; a randomly generating maze, player movement, there is something chasing you and you have to dodge things.

Now I stress the points of planning and prioritisation, as I found myself developing UI assets early on in order to get the menu together, as I had planned to build the visual style from my menu to create consistency between the two. Looking back, I have put a huge amount of time into the UI, and honestly, if I had just sat down and spent a few days planning and iterating on the UI, I could have saved myself mountains of graphic design work. So at times when you are excited to start putting together art assets, ensure that you have considered the implications of your time, because it is incredibly easy to burn your time on simple assets like sprites.

Off the back of having spent a large amount of time developing assets, I found myself burned out at one point in the development lifecycle, and decided that I should just stop what I am doing, and consider where my time is going. It was at this point that I made a big mistake; I should scrap my current assets, and just go for a theme that does not require too much in the way of art assets, is approachable and is proven!

Now as you can probably imagine, by dropping everything, you need to recreate everything, and the images in your head take quite a lengthy amount of work to get into your game.

Consider the Implications of your Decisions

Suddenly changing your mind and starting work on a new visual style or theme is incredibly time consuming! And I found myself in this boat a few times, where I had reached a point and was just not happy with how the game looked, or I had a moment of inspiration and thought I could create a much better game with a new direction.

So before you action any moments of inspiration, consider the implications, and ensure that investing your time in creating it is worth your effort.

I wish I had done this at a few points when developing A-Maze-Ing Runner, as I had a few moments of inspiration that resulted in me pursuing mechanics that I should have considered in more depth.

Early on I had the inspiration to monetise the game not through advertising or consumables, but through cosmetic items. When I look back, I wish I could have just looked forward a bit and realised not only what it will take to implement a system like this, but realised that maybe this system is not ideal for this game.

So before you invest mountains of time and effort into a system for your game, consider what it will take to make it, and even more importantly, is the system even necessary.

After my second theme attempt, I found one aspect particularly attractive; the level changed as you progressed, and by collecting objects in the maze, the maze responded with new, more attractive colours. From this I began thinking about an idea of a blank canvas, and your actions painting the canvas as your progressed.

I built this system too, which too a great deal of time, all to realise it was incredibly taxing on the hardware, for honestly quite little gain.

It is scary to think that this innocent thought resulted in so much extra work.

Optimise Early

When I was finally happy with my theme, and was on track to publishing, I began to notice big problems in device performance, that eluded me due to mostly testing in the editor. I had naturally tested on devices, but mine were dated and I put performance issues down to this fact. I did not realise that with the introduction of each new element I was putting more strain on the hardware, and thanks to my naïve testing approach, I realised a little too late in process that there were some serious issues in my code from early in the project.

So ensure that you have the game on your desired platform as soon as possible, and test on the device, not in your editor.

Learn from Your Mistakes

The final word of wisdom for now, is that you must learn from your mistakes. You will make mistakes, I would assume it is impossible not to, but from these you will learn invaluable lessons. So make sure you don’t repeat them and always remember to take something positive away from each mistake, otherwise you will not only make the mistakes again, you will very swiftly become disheartened.

I have been working on my game for so long, and I have made every cliché mistake. Looking back on the process I realise it is largely because of my mistakes that I know what I do now (as cheesy as it may sound). Either way, making games on your own is incredibly taxing, daunting and rewarding. I think in the future I will be actioning what I read in other articles!

You can see the result of my 2-year learning process here:

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