Ending Year One

I’m coming to the end of the first year of trying to make a game. The original aim was that this would be the only year of making this particular game. Best case: the game would be out and I’d have a sense of if I could make another one. Worst case: I’d have realised this wasn’t for me and moved on to something else.

American flag and European flag
Apart from what I write on this blog, nothing else really happened in the world this year. Uneventful.

Having reached November, it’s clear that hoping to have finished something in a year was overly ambitious. Having said that, I look at what I know now vs at the start of 2016 (re: coding, marketing, visual design) and it feels like good progress. I know significantly more about how to get the game to market. I also know that none of the assumptions I made going into this process have proven to be wildly off the mark, which is reassuring.

From what I’ve learned (and prototyped), I don’t think the final game is going to be ultra-complicated to code. It isn’t a technically complex idea compared to games with crazy physics calculations, or with enormous game worlds.

Kerbal Space Program and GTA 5's Los Santos
In Kerbal Space Program (left) you literally learn Rocket Science. And GTA 5’s Los Santos (right) is comparable in size to San Francisco

It is becoming complex in terms of the puzzles. For this word game, I’m messing around a lot with how words might be constructed. I also need to understand how many potential puzzles there are available to me, according to the structure I’m building. It’s a finite number, but definitely a big enough one.

It’s taking AGES to find and record them all, but for good reasons. Partly because the process of identifying potential puzzles has to be done in a necessarily tedious order (more on that in future). Also, because I need to make sure I don’t develop ideas very far without checking they make sense to other people too. Thankfully, friends have been generous with their time, reading through and discussing some tediously long lists of words and puzzle ideas for my benefit (thank you!).

Next year, there’ll be different demands on my time away from making the game and it’s going to require more discipline. But, if I feel the same sense of progress at the end of 2017 then that’ll do me.

A Finished Prototype

I spent July prototyping the word-puzzle game. It was supposed to be June, but I ended up moving house / faffing instead. The prototype is finished now – this has been the most concentration-heavy-but-rewarding month so far. It’s nice having an early version of the game to show people on my phone and laptop.

It’s quite hard to decide when a prototype is finished. I made a plan to build:

– Very simple animated logo screen (see above)
– Main Menu, Tutorial Screen, Quit Screens
– Three simple animated puzzles
– UI (Buttons for the player to press)

All of the above have been implemented. But, it’s a very moreish process – the urge to keep tweaking stuff, learning more, and adding more is hard to resist. You have to resist in the end though, or you’ll just end up rushing through building the entire thing.

Throwing things on the ground is impolite.
Throwing things on the ground is impolite.

A few kind folks have taken a look at the prototype. No one threw the phone on the floor and stamped on it. Several of them laughed at the puzzles that are supposed to be funny, that was very encouraging. Although I am assuming it was a ‘haha, that’s funny’ as opposed to a ‘haha, what were you thinking, you nobhead’…

I’d like to put the whole prototype online here, but that doesn’t fit the longer-term marketing plan, annoyingly. Also, it’s probably best to wait until the visuals involved are by someone decent, rather than being some clip art I hastily found using Google Images. I’ll show you if I see you though, all interest is much appreciated.

I wish I was Johnny 5

Recap: Post 1 was about having the idea to make a game. Post 2 was about making a different game. Post 3 breaks brave, inspirational new ground by not involving another change of plan…

I’ll sometimes have what I think are half-decent ideas, then decide they’re shit and abandon finding an audience for them (or bothering to finish them). It’s nice to write this two months on and feel more motivated about the word-game idea. Motivated / a bit intimidated about the workload I’m setting up for myself if I want to do this properly.

Johnny Five from Short Circuit
Johnny Five – a faster learner than me. Metallic smart-arse.

For example, all of these are now a few months in progress:

  • Learning a programming language (C#) from scratch
  • Learning a game engine (Unity) starting from very minimal knowledge
  • Writing hundreds of puzzles, answers, and visuals for both
  • Learning ways to market a game like the one I’m making
  • Learning the legal side of things (Intellectual Property, Trademarks etc)
  • Actually using all of the disciplines above that I’m currently still learning

Positively, it’s ace how much info is out there re: those disciplines. April’s London Games Festival was a goldmine of tips (particularly on the legal side) and a very fun week. On the techy side, Unity do an amazing job of teaching you the basics (and more) for free.

Card Crawl and Surviving The App Store
Card Crawl by Tinytouchtales (left) and Surviving The App Store, a book by Amir Rajan (right)

Marketing-wise, it’s particularly awesome that developers of hit games feel they can be generous with what they share. Tinytouchtales (Card Crawl) released a comprehensive breakdown of their first week after launch . Amir Rajan (A Dark Room, A Noble Circle) has written a book about the nature of his success, which I’m looking forward to reading.

So much cost-free knowledge available. Need to keep reading and typing and clicking and Googling.

Some words about words

Part of what I want my Feedback Loops game to do is comment on why and when games (and anything) are or aren’t fun. There’s plenty more to the idea, but that theme is where this started for me. Games have played with their own tropes for years – watch this playthrough of Default Dan for a few seconds and you’ll see what I’m getting at. I like that sort of thing and think I have a take on it…

Default Dan and his coiny decapitation
Default Dan and his coiny decapitation (click the image for official site)

Some folks have been generous with time and advice recently (thank you Matthew, Jonathan and UsTwo) and it’s shaped my plans some more. I’m confident in the Feedback Loops idea, but also developing a sense of how complex it will be to implement. It seems that a good place to start will be to just make something that feels good. Without simultaneously commenting on why at the same time. That’s prompted another idea (that’s two whole ideas now, I’m basically the new Miyamoto / Einstein).

I’m preoccupied with the written word, particularly after a brief intro to Critical Theory in my late teens. It created an unnerving sense of how difficult it is to be sure that the meaning of anything we write down is conveyed and understood as intended. Growing up and seeing (particularly through work) the way that the world has adapted to the internet and social media has also contributed to that feeling.  But, also seemingly as a result, I fucking love word games. So I’m going to make one of those, and aiming for it to be simple but different, and funny, and fun.

Grayout logo
Grayout – horror doctor make tap-tap less wordy (click the image for official site)

I played Neven Mrgan’s language-stifling Grayout during a spell of high anxiety at the end of last year. Even though it’s completely terrifying, it’s brilliantly so. I’m rubbish with horror, but when it’s that clever and the fear feels like it’s been earned, it’s hard to beat for exhilaration. To have made anxiety fun is a pretty remarkable thing, I reckon.

Games like Grayout and Simogo’s Device 6 are always amongst the first to come to mind when I think of my favourite games. But after a little thought, it struck me that so are more light-hearted examples like Denki’s Quarrel (not on the App Store anymore, sadly) and You Don’t Know Jack . In terms of cumulative time, I’ve sunk hours and hours into those latter two and plenty more like them.

So yeah, I’m going to try and add something of the tone of those latter examples to the mix. Shan’t be attempting to frighten anyone, not sure I have that in me. But making a fun word game feels like a good ambition for now.

I’ve decided to make a game this year

I’ve got what I think is a solid idea for a PC game. It’s called Feedback Loops and it feels like it fits in with indie games that have popped up in recent years. I’ll elaborate on the idea slowly on here as things progress. Partly because I don’t want to give much away yet (although the title is a clue, obviously. And that picture below this paragraph). Partly because the idea is still evolving anyway.

DOPAMINE – Look! I’ve drawn a picture of some science!

For a bunch of reasons too dull to list here, I realised I need to do something different in 2016. I kind of realised that before I knew what the ‘something different’ would be, which led to a somewhat confusing end to 2015. But, it’s clicked recently that game design is something that I might be able to apply myself to.

Before the end of 2015 I’d barely touched a line of code (outside of the occasional bit of HTML and CSS for work). As I’m training myself up using Unity, C# is the focus. It’s challenging, but the Learn section of their site is ace and the structure of it all hasn’t proven to be too bewildering so far.

Sir Alan Sugar's Amstrad CPC 464
My first computer – an Amstrad CPC 464. Each was personally hand made by him off the telly

Computer literacy has never been an issue anyway, since my grandad generously started giving us his hand-me-down Amstrad CPC’s when I was about four years old. After my brother left home to go to uni, me and my folks needed a new tech geek for the house so I stepped up. Turned out you can earn a living that way, so yay for geekery.