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Making A Game Is Really Really Hard

It's not always triumph after triumph when making an indie game. It's a tough thing to take a game to completion, and it's easy to lose steam part-way through.

  Something just felt right when we started working together on our own game. The idea of forging ahead and creating something new was kind of magical. The wheels were always spinning, and there was a lot of talk about “wouldn’t this be cool”, and “we should totally do that“. Bit by bit, we have been working to make things happen: making snippets of code to allow the display of sprites, creating characters to go on those sprites, and making those characters capable of fighting against each other.

 

  Planning is of course something that’s very easy in the early stages. This has to happen for that to happen, and so on and so forth. We try to plan and make schedules, and quickly realize that we’ve got no idea what we’re doing. Well… “no idea” is a bit of an exaggeration, but still… we’re not veteran game developers. My point is, we had no idea going in how to estimate the amount of time anything would take. We did our best, but we really didn’t have any benchmarks to work with. I’ve always wanted the “progress reports” to remain frequent, and positive. We’ve missed doing a few of them recently, and while I don’t have any new work to show off I feel that maybe that in itself is something that is worth discussing.

 

Just Go For It

  Recently we released a rather detailed account of how our first year has gone on Super Hematoma. But unfortunately we’ve had very little meaningful news since then for you, which brings me down a little. I like to put on a face of confidence, but sometimes that’s tough. Working on a project of this scope is not just technically and artistically challenging, but of course financially, socially, and emotionally challenging.

  I felt early in that things were working pretty smoothly, and so we discussed long term goals. We were both on board with making a game regardless of how long it would take, and trying to make a career out of this. We tried to get input from other people who had gone through the process already, and one piece of advice that was thrown at us over and over was to “just go for it”. It was suggested that we quit our jobs and make it happen. Neither of us saw this as viable. We’ve each got families we would like to grow, and living in Vancouver is not exactly conducive of being wage-less. We did however try to get as involved in the development as our time would allow. This often means that when friends want to hang out, we say “sorry, gotta work on my game”. Work/life/personal project is a tough thing to balance.

 

Life

 
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  So… I’m not sure that I’ve gotten too personal under the Sprixelsoft name before. I’ve wanted to make things a little more professional and “about the project” here… but when you’re a two-person team, the personal lives of the team really has an effect of the project. When I was living in Vancouver, my wife and I were living apart. She was in San Francisco for work, and I was in Vancouver for work. This was originally supposed to be a four month thing as I had a short contract… but when that contract ended I ended up getting an extension. I wasn’t able to find work in San Francisco, and this ended up turning into over a year that we kept up this long distance relationship. Let me tell you, it’s tough being away from the one you love. I tried to make the most of it by pouring myself into pass-times and the game, but it’s not good for a relationship to live apart like that. I don’t recommend you go through this yourself if you can avoid it.

  Professionally, things got awkward for me when the company I was working at went through bankruptcy and employees were either let go or given pay cuts. The stress of this on top of my already stressful long distance situation led me to finally resign. I consoled myself that this would be better for the game as I’d have time to work on just it, better for my personal life as I’d once again be with my wife, and better for me as I’d be able to just focus for a bit on relaxing. That readjustment period was tough for me, but I eventually felt like I was getting into the swing of things. Productivity began to increase on the game.

 

Part-Time/Full-Time

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  Realistically, there’s so much to do when developing a game that it was good to have some extra time to dedicate. I was able to work on the website, schedule things, create and music. There’s no shortage of things to do at this early stage, and so I was happy with letting Matt just concentrate on getting programming done. After all, he didn’t have the luxury of taking time off from work, and still could only commit part-time hours. This means that it was valuable to free up as much of his time as possible to get the real backbone of the project assembled.

  I’m not sure of the best way to say this, but I have to say that this arrangement isn’t ideal for the long term. When our advisors were suggesting that we just quit our jobs and dive in, I don’t think they had in mind for only half of the team to do so. I think that my having more available time has created a little bit of stress for the team. We try to be conscious of our personalities… we try not to impose pressure on ourselves for teammates to be equally prolific regardless of available time. But the reality is, my funemployment has created some stress that wasn’t present when we both had the same amount of time each week to devote to the project.

  Efficiency is something I like. I find it stressful to “waste” time making art that won’t get used. I’ve always been that way and will think about things and then try to get projects right in the first or second try. So if I suspect that an upcoming change in the code may mean that my artwork will become obsolete, I prefer to wait to see how that code will work out before I do artwork at all. This unfortunately means that at this point, I have less art to show than I’d originally hoped for. Matt has been tasked with coming up with code that he’s never had to do before in his spare time which is scarcely available. This code isn’t ready as soon as either of us had anticipated. It’s always progressing and so part of me wants to jump in and just do some work for the sake of having something to show; but there’s also huge internal struggle in my brain that wants to wait so that I can be 100% sure that what I’ve already done will work. I dread having to rework even more than I may already potentially have to rework just because I was impatient… and so I continue to procrastinate.

 

Staying Focused

Fighting in Guild Wars 2 can often give more information than you can even take in...

 

  xkcd‘s got a great strip about how excitement can wane over a project. Working on a project for a long term makes it difficult to remain enthusiastic. The longer the project, the more I imagine this to be true. It starts innocently enough. You first start feeling like you’ve got so many little updates that it’s not worth talking about them all. Then you start realizing that your schedule was wrong and you eventually stop updating it. Maybe I find the news less worth getting excited about, so it gets harder to maintain a regular blog schedule. It’s easy for things to slide over time and you find yourself not quite where you’d hoped to be. Especially when you can rationalize that you don’t have any firm deadlines.

  I’ve unfortunately had some health problems this year. I had some knee issues this year (my tendons suck) and went to physiotherapy to get better. During this time, I also had some problems with a locked jaw (did I mention that my tendons suck?), and a kidney stone (If you get a locked jaw, don’t resort to high sodium soup as a diet plan). After PAX I got a cold that had me congested and coughing for a month. Sneezing with a locked jaw is actually kind of painful. On the plus side, my jaw is slowly getting better and feels somewhat normal these days, but during this sick phase… when I felt like crap and was a bit ahead of Matt on game development, I found myself getting hooked on gaming, particular King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, Guild Wars, and Guild Wars 2.

  One thing I’ll say is that I’ve got a lot of respect for any of you folk out there that have started a project, and have seen it through to completion. It’s a really tough slog sometimes, even when you love what you’re doing. There’s so much to try to stay on top of, and it’s really easy for self-discipline to waver. Obviously I want to make a game because I love playing games, and one thing that’s really difficult about making a game is how little time you might find yourself having to enjoy your favourite hobby. I’ve played relatively few games the past few years compared to what I would do in my youth and college days, so in one way it’s great to have had a chance to do that again. But I also have been a let down to the team by failing to be as productive as I could be over the past couple of months. That’s something I hope to correct.

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