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Opinion: Stay On Target

Xiotex Studios founder Byron-Atkinson-Jones shares the advantages and disadvantages of small studios working on multiple game projects at the same time, in this #altdevblogaday-reprinted opinion piece.
[Xiotex Studios founder Byron-Atkinson-Jones shares the advantages and disadvantages of small or one-man studios working on multiple game projects at the same time, in this #altdevblogaday-reprinted opinion piece.] The first thing you should know about me is that I have a curse. I have far too many game ideas just bursting to come out and be made. Why is this a curse? Well, with so many different ideas all pushing for attention the end result can sometimes be that none of them get made. Sometimes I yearn for just having one idea that I can see from the beginning to the end without interruption. What I actually end up with up with is a number of games being developed at the same time. At this moment, I have Spellcraft, Deep Core, Containment, and one more title that I will come to later. Don't get me wrong, I finish my game projects, just not in the order I started them. I've gone through this process for the last four years and have managed to release seven games and one straight app, not including the games that I have completed for clients. A Hidden Advantage Having more than one game on the go at the same time does have one hidden advantage, though, and this is I never get bored working on the same thing day after day. In fact, the break I take to work on something different actual helps to avoid stagnation and helps me to see where problems are. It's like taking a step back, taking a break and seeing the whole picture rather than fixating upon the small area you are working in. I've always felt that the risk of stagnation is great when working on a single project for a long time. The average game player may play the game for a finite number of hours and get bored, but what about if you are developing that same game for months or even years? If a player can get bored after hours, chances are that you, the developer, the creator of that game, are going to get way beyond bored but moving into pathological hatred territory. Does this have an effect on the game's quality? If the passion is lost, then chances are the level of quality and love poured into the game in its early years will taper off and the game will lose the polish that it would have otherwise had. In larger teams, this can be mitigated with a very strong initial vision and a set of people whose job it is to maintain that vision, but if you are on your own, then it's all down to you – your responsibility. I know a few incredibly dedicated people who are able to manage it, but I recognize that I need variety in order stop myself getting stuck. To me, the most important phase of the project is the closing phase. I picture it a bit like making a film: you get all the footage together, and then edit it all to create the final masterpiece the film deserves to be. The same is true of games. When it's close to the end is the time to mould it into the game it should be, the bits that don't make sense or don't work get dropped and you can apply polish to those bits that need it, and if you are bored, the game will look bored and worse, feel bored. Technology Is A Distraction The next advergame I am due to work on for another brand and agency is a two-month project. I say due because at the moment even though the development time is meant to be two months, it is taking the brand and agency more than three months to sign the contract, which doesn't bode well for the rest of the game. In order to get it out remotely on time, I am using CoronaSDK, which is a LUA based SDK for iPhone, Android, and Nook development. Corona SDK is a nice little system, and I was able to get a demo level of a game up and running in a couple of hours to pitch to the clients. It wasn't the idea they ended up going with, but the fact that I was able to get a game up and running in such an incredibly short amount of time meant that it was a no-brainer when coming to use it for the full game. However, the downside of doing this meant being exposed to new and exciting technology that just has to be explored. Whenever I try to learn a new programming language or a platform, I make a game. Can you see where this is going yet? I now have another game to make on my list which I am calling 'Synprocia'. It's a working title. Technology doesn't just end there with SDK's. My business is mainly Mac-based, and there's one problem with that and that's there is a distinct lack of choice when it comes to decent 3D modeling and animation tools, or at least ones that are commonly used in the games industry. Up to this point, I have been using Modo to generate my 3D assets, but there's something about it that I just haven't been able to get past and fully embrace it as my primary tool. In the end, I finally gave in and shelled out for a license of Maya 2012. Compared to Modo, Maya is a dream to use, and within an hour of installing it I was able to model and animate, something that took a while with Modo. The problem is that this ease of use suddenly gave way to the dawning realization that all those game ideas I passed up on previously because I didn't have the right tools to create the assets for suddenly became available to me. Stay on Target The reality is as a lone developer survival means getting games out for sale. In order to get a game out, you have to finish one, and in order to finish one, you need to pick one to develop in the first place. When you have a lot of ideas, this is tough, but you have to have the faith and will power to struggle through and make that game. The good news is that once you have finished one, they become easier to do, but that's the key – you actually have to do it. Starting games is easy. Finishing them is tough, but if you stay on target it can be done. [This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]

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