After returning from Europe, I spent over a week dealing with being sick. Even though I couldn’t get back to work right away, I was able to read through all of the advice I received on my post on the importance of speed, and I really appreciate all of the feedback. Thanks, everyone!
In that post, I expressed frustration with how slow my game development has been, especially with Stop That Hero!. I wondered if the project was too much for me at my current skill level, and if I needed to step back and try lifting lighter weights, so to speak. I know some game developers leverage a library of personal code that they have written and updated over the course of years. Others leverage existing engines.
While I have some boilerplate code, it’s not nearly as comprehensive as I would like it to be, and the stuff I do have isn’t always as easy to work with as it should. As I said in that post, 2D engines for GNU/Linux, my development platform, by and large do not exist, so I find I have to write a lot myself. If I had more to leverage, I’m sure development of STH! or any other game would be a lot faster since I wouldn’t have to stop and implement scaffolding technology to support a feature every time. It would already exist.
The advice I received fell into a few camps:
- Muscle through and get the game finished. Your tech will be ideal and perfect for YOUR needs.
- Stop targeting GNU/Linux and desktops in general as platforms, and focus on more “marketable” platforms.
- Stop working in C++, and use Flash/Unity/higher-level programming language/engine instead.
- Break your project down into smaller projects so you can have finished games and build your needed tech.
- Stop writing your own tech from scratch, and leverage the hell out of libraries/engines/existing source.
- Stop worrying about writing “good” code. Hack something together and get it done faster!
I didn’t know whose advice to ignore first! B-) Seriously, though, let me clarify some things about what I’m trying to do.
First, I am not making games just for GNU/Linux, and I never said I would, yet this seems to be a common assumption about my business plan. I am not locking myself to only one platform. My original plan all along was to release games for GNU/Linux, Windows, and Mac. It turns out that ports to mobile platforms, which are a huge opportunity these days, would also be fairly easy, so I went from following supposedly dying tech to being relevant again.
Second, I’m using C++ because it is what I know, and my choice was to make a game or spend time learning a new language to make a game. I chose to go with what I already know, even if it supposedly limits me, because I wanted to start running right away instead of figuring out how to put on my shoes. I can always use the next project to learn a new language if I want to, and switching languages on this project would be way too disruptive and set me back way too much.
Third, because my development platform is GNU/Linux, which makes targeting GNU/Linux dead-simple and a no-brainer, it means that engines like Unity are not options for me. I might be limiting myself in terms of access to premium development tools such as Photoshop and Adobe Flash, but I have been using GNU/Linux exclusively as my main desktop environment for a long time, and I’m not about to start booting into Windows just because most everyone else does. I’ve had to find non-proprietary alternatives for a lot of applications and tools, and I’m doing it for game development as well.
All that said, I think everyone had great advice, whether it was about my tech or my business plan or my development process. Without sales, my savings account is going to get smaller and smaller, and my biggest concern was where I should be focusing my time.
- I could continue to work on Stop That Hero!. I have been discovering how much more complex it is and how much longer it is going to take to finish it, and there’s a worry that by the time it is done, I’ll be out of savings. To make it worse, I’m very much aware that I can’t expect sales to take off just because the game is released. Sales is going to to be a lot of work, and I might not make enough to cover my expenses early on, forcing me to spend time and effort making money in other ways, which takes away from my business. And I’ll admit that I do not know what the reception of this game will be once it hits a real audience, although I do plan to get feedback from play testers once I have something I feel comfortable showing to people, which should help. Still, it might be an unsellable flop that can’t be salvaged no matter what I do. That’s a lot of pressure on this one game.
- Put STH! on the backburner and work on something smaller. My intention was to work on multiple small games over the course of the year. I’ve since learned more about my capabilities as a game developer and the limitations of my existing tools and tech. Essentially, STH! was not as “small” a game as I originally thought. STH! was meant to be a one-month game project in the first place. Since the schedule has slipped so far, perhaps it is best to cut my losses or at least put the game on hold and work on something I can accomplish in a matter of weeks. I have a couple of Ludum Dare projects that could be candidates for simple games. The diversified portfolio I could create in a matter of months could help reduce risk. If one game doesn’t do well, I’d have another one on the way shortly, and cross-selling might help improve sales. On the other hand, what kind of sales can I expect on a bunch of quickly-produced games that must compete with all of the free and low-priced casual games being produced every day, as opposed to focusing my efforts on my current project? Also, I run the risk of having two unfinished projects since it is possible that a lot of the problems I’ve encountered with STH! could crop up in another project anyway.
If finishing STH! would take two years, and my savings will only hold out for three months, I’d do best by switching to a smaller, faster project in the hopes that I can make at least some income. On the other hand, the race to the bottom in the pricing of games doesn’t provide me with a lot of encouragement to produce small, disposable games. Perhaps the fact that STH! is a bigger project means that the finished product can be something that a fan base could build around.
Since STH! is not a two year project and I expect to finish it before I have to worry about my savings disappearing, I’ve decided to continue working on it. My goal is to get it commercially ready to sell in June.
I did not have a playable game to release yet, but I looked at the remaining features to implement and various ideas I wanted to try, and I started pushing a bunch to Version 2.0. I spent a good chunk of the remainder of April in a self-imposed crunch. I ignored my project planning system, ignored writing for the blog (which explains the lack of posts in the previous month before Ludum Dare), and dedicated as much of my time as I could to making a friends-and-family playable game.
By friends-and-family playable, I mean I wanted to implement enough of Stop That Hero! so that I can hand it to my fiancée or a friend and say, “Here, play it with the understanding that this is an early Alpha version. The graphics suck, there’s no sound, and the game play is raw.”
While that Alpha build isn’t ready yet, I will say that April has been a very productive month, especially considering that I was only able to do all of the work in the final couple of weeks. And since recovering from Ludum Dare #20, I’ve started off May with some quality development time as well.
I’m seeing this project through, and I’m confident Stop That Hero! will be a great game.