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Origins Of The Hardest Game I've Ever Made

A short recount of the journey I've taken developing my current game.

This is reposted from my side blog KR Game Studios, where I post longform articles. I've edited it for grammar and clarity.

The Start

Tortuga is old.

By this I mean that although the first checkin was dated 6th June 2013, the concept stretched back several years before that. From mid 2010 to mid 2012, I was studying programming and game development at TAFE (a government run community college, although that term isn’t used here). During this time I formulated the concept of a cooperative sailing game, inspired by what amounts to my entire gaming history. I’d discussed this idea with a few of my classmates over my time there, among other things, but on the whole it never really took off. 

After dropping out of TAFE (a decision I don’t regret, regardless of how much I ponder it) I didn’t really do anything. I looked for a job, and messed around with a few incomplete prototypes, and generally wasted my time. One of those prototypes happened to be Tortuga. At first I was just teaching myself whatever caught my interest, including server-client networking, multithreading and scripting (sadly, I have a narrow repertoire of languages). I still can’t really judge how “good” I am as far as game design goes, but I try not to think about it. I’ve also decided not to think about the past either (just writing this section sent me into a depression spiral).

Recent History

There was a period of a few months where I poured literally every free moment into the game as I could. I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but I simply did. A negative side effect of this was a feeling of failure whenever I wasn’t directly working on the game, which has led to severe depression over the last few months. To date, I’ve been working on Tortuga for 19 months, and I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

So what do I have so far?

  • Severe Depression
  • A Lack Of Published Games
  • A Small, But Potentially Powerful Custom Engine

I have considered bringing more people onboard to help push the game forward, and I have received help on some topics, and I’ve even commissioned some concept art, and received fan art. Anybody that I do bring on, however, would need to be able to see it through to completion.

I’ve revised the original design in my head many times, and every time I try to write it down, either as a formal GDD or as an informal wiki, I find it hard to keep it up to date. Originally Tortuga it was going to be a pirate themed sailing game (hence the name, an allusion to the island of Tortuga), where people would form crews, etc. and sail the oceans. I didn’t have a clue about how hard that would be, but this was back during the TAFE years.

More recently, I’ve envisioned a procedural small scale MMO with ATB combat, describing it (to myself) as a multiplayer Final Fantasy I. This again, is extremely over the top, even though it’s much more manageable; I believe a team of modders could pull this off, but I don’t have a team, and I’m not modding. So again, I revised it down.

Present Day

A few weeks ago an old school friend invited me to a club meeting, to try and convince me to attend university. Uni certainly isn’t impossible for me, but $100k debt definitely is. Regardless, I met with a group of student game developers; some of the only game devs I’ve ever met in person. One in particular told me this: “The most important thing as far as game development goes is cohesive design”. There’s a reason there hasn’t been an MMO with an ATB combat system, and that’s because it just doesn’t fit. It could work, but it requires a lot of work and polishing, and even then it might simply be unfun.

A lack of fun is the death knell for video games.

So I scaled the design back further. I’ve swapped the Final Fantasy style ATB combat for a more Link to the Past action based combat system, which still presents just as many possibilities for group combat, while also allowing certain characters to retreat if they need to. I’ve also put procedural map generation on hold, instead opting for a prefabricated world map. This will give me a simple sandbox to work in, and I can probably use a 3rd party editor to build it.

The Future

There’s still a long way to go, and I’m only just working towards the first real gameplay elements. I can’t give up yet; my identity is too closely tied to this game for that. I’ve received encouragement from the friends I’ve found on the internet, which is incredibly important, and I can’t understate how important you all are.

I don’t know where this game will take me next; all I can do is push forward towards the fun that I know is just out of reach. One day, I will play this game; I know it.

When I remember to pay my internet bills, I can be contacted at [email protected] You can follow my side blog KR Game Studios, or my main (personal/gaming/programming) blog KR Studios. Finally, the source code for Tortuga is publicly available on GitHub, and you can try the Windows build here.

Update: I now have a website! krgamestudios.com, donations greatly appreciated!

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