It’s January 2nd, 2014. I’m doodling in my moleskine notebook. Sharpie; with a pen tip. This is a typical pastime for me, though after years of dribbling on paper I wouldn’t consider my doodles anything more than abstract chicken scratch. It’s not in my nature to take a long time on any given doodle and before I know it, I’ve got this hero looking guy on the page. As I’ve come to realize over the last year, what I experience in the next moment is quite a familiar and sometimes unforgiving phenomenon among fellow game developers; inspiration.
I’m hooked. Ideas are thrown on to the 2’ by 3’ whiteboard. 2D platformer. Puzzles. Combat. Weapons. Outfits. F2P. Mobile. Fun. And most importantly, a deadline. April 2nd. Twelve weeks from the day.
Fast forward 13 months and a handful of days later; I’ve just released my first game on GameJolt (http://bit.ly/Orcs100) and I’m laughing at myself for how naive I was only a year ago. Yet, through all the frustrating nights, the aha moments when things finally click and the slumps where I didn’t believe I could finish this project; I made it. I can call myself a game developer, because I indeed have my own creation out there in the world for people to enjoy.
What Went Right:
1. The Art
As soon as I began posting the first photoshopped mockups of 100 Orcs, the comments and feedback were super positive about the art. Which was great for my confidence because this is by far my favorite part of the development process.
I remember reading one comment in regards to a demo I posted on the Unity forums. Something in the lines of: “What’s this? Why are you polishing art when you are just working on a prototype?”
I am most certainly an artist first over a programmer. There is no mistake there. The majority of the scripts in 100 Orcs come from a hodgepodge of free and open source resources that the Unity community generously made available.
2. The community
I can’t thank the Unity Community enough for helping me realize this goal. The forums, the asset store developers and Unity themselves were instrumental in making this game happen and I can’t stress that enough.
I’ve come to a realization over the course of this project that everyone is walking the same path. Development on any scale is not an easy feat. I’ve spoken to developers with more experience than I that fall into the same pitfalls that I find myself in. I can say this with certainty; you will get positive feedback if you give positive feedback. And feedback is like the fuel to the game developers fire.
(Some fan art from my WIP thread)
(Art by @CodestarGames) (Art By MBRogers)
The breadth of knowledge and the willingness to lend a hand is just an incredible strength of this community. If you are genuine about your work and realistic about your skills, you will find friends that will go out of their way to assist you. This is invaluable.
3. Reevaluating scope
So, it was late February and I had a working prototype of what I thought I wanted 100 Orcs to be. The hero could move, jump and swing a sword. Now, I only needed to do the hard part and put in the time to build the rest of the game. (Levels, quests, upgrades, enemies...All the things that make up a game, right?) That’s when I hit my wall. A wall that took me almost six months to overcome.
(some things that didn't make it in)
I really have to thank my wife for the push that I needed. She saw me working on my hero’s animations and noted that the arms and legs weren’t connected to the body. I told her that I couldn’t figure out how to animate arms and legs that were connected to the body so I cut them out! In her wisdom and lack of gaming bias, she proposed that I cut out the stuff that’s stopping me from finishing the game, the levels and such. At first I scoffed, a game without levels? Is that even a game? And yet, she was right (as she usually is). It was level design that was stopping me from enjoying my hobby. So I did exactly as she suggested. I cut it out.
(these are some things that I cut)
I felt like a burden had been lifted and I immediately made more progress in a single evening than I had for the past few months. This is the best advice that I can give. Get rid of the things that make your game too large to finish. Trust me; the core of your game, the thing that the player will be doing the most is what you want to spend your precious time on. Quests, upgrades, procedurally generated open worlds, 500 plus enemies are all expendable when it comes to actually having a v1.0 of your game.
What Went Wrong:
1. Unrealistic expectations
Without reiterating what I’ve already touched on, I wanted to add one more point. This is where I went wrong in the end of my development and it was a hard lesson to swallow. I could have published my game months ago if only I had really put myself in perspective. This is my first game. It will most certainly not be a super success by any real standard. The thought that all of this hard work would be for nothing is a scary powerful deterrent.
So, I’m speaking to myself as a young fresh hobbyist developer and anyone else out there like me when I say; quit putting a monetary expectation on your hobby. I didn’t make this game in order to quit my day job. I made this game to prove to myself that I could. It’s likely that I will never be able to buy a cup of coffee from the revenue generated by 100 Orcs and that’s okay! 9 people have rated my game at a 4.3!
I tweeted this not too long ago and I think this will become a sort of theme when it comes to my hobby.
I’ve learned so many important lessons. Here are the big ones:
Give genuine, positive feedback to your fellow developer and they will return it in kind. I promise.
Do what you love and cut out all the rest. Find the soul of your game and make it as good and fun as you can. The other stuff is fluff that can get in the way.
Design your art really freaking big to begin with. You can resize it later. Don’t get caught making stuff too small.
There is absolutely no rules and everything is up for grabs. A mentor of mine told me this once and I think it rings true for game development: “It’s not cheating, if it works.” Quit with the conventional and ordinary, video games are illusions anyway.
This journey was awesome. The people I met along the way are awesome. And making a game has given me so much appreciation for those who do it regularly. You are all awesome.