My new year’s resolution this year was a game development challenge. To make 12 games in 12 months.
I pulled it off – and the funny thing is that it wasn’t all that hard at all!
On first glance, making a dozen videogames in a single year sounds mega hardcore. Many accused me of being overly optimistic, unrealistic, or slightly insane.
I set out this year to prove to myself that not all game projects need to stretch on for months or years. It was a battle against the featurecreep and code bloat that I’d suffered from for years as an indie gamedev. I’ve started so many more games than I’ve finished.
I’ve started many games in the last 20 years. From assembly language “hello worlds” to BASIC choose-your-own-adventures without an ending. From to Turbo Pascal Tron lightycles games, to Visual Basic prototypes so woefully buggy and half baked they weren’t even worth backing up. From unpolished (but complete!) C++ openGL shooters with only one level to Adobe Director (shockwave) horse-racers with no finish line. From php sports simulators with broken AI to html4 multiplayer chat worlds with server problems.
I’ve been around the block, and have tried out many game engines, languages and platforms on my way to becoming a professional game developer. I’ve started a TON of games. Only few were ever finished. Why? Because – just like in marathon racing – I hit the wall.
The wall is the point in a large project where it stops being fun. Where you see the finish line and it turns out to be much farther away that you’d hoped. The wall separates a prototype from a complete experience with a beginning, middle and end.
I decided a couple years ago that I needed to learn how to jump over, hike around, or blast through that wall. I needed to get better at reaching the finish line. I had become an experienced programmer. I knew my tools. But the one skill that I was still lacking in was the hardest to learn: how to KISS – how to keep it simple, stupid!
Like most enthusiastic game developers, my problem was never lack of ideas or motivation, but instead the lack of self discipline required to take things to the finish line in an efficient manner.
It is so easy to adventure into diversions: side-quests as I called them. To try out a new idea for a cool new gameplay mechanic, or to prematurely optimize code long before it is wise to do so. I tended to create wonderful engines that had no actual “fun factor”. Prototypes that weren’t playable. Buggy messes, test-beds and tech demos.
It was time to stop messing around. Time to hone my skills as a developer. Time to learn to start, create, and FINISH games quickly and easily. How did I do it?
GAME JAMS. The rapid iteration, wild abandon, and severe time constraints inherent in a game jam were the perfect eureka moment for me.
After a few Ludum Dare competitions filled with suffering and sleep deprivation, I was well on my way to being able to comfortably finish a game (albeit a simple one) in a single weekend.
By the time I’d participated in a half dozen game jams, I was able to make something simple but finished, rough but playable, in 48 hours while still having time for friends and family, sunshine and sleep.
There’s something so incredibly satisfying about being able to set aside a project. Call it finished and walk away. Send it to a friend and have them play it. Take a screenshot, record a video, and declare it a successful project.
I’ve become addicted to that feeling of accomplishment and swelling of pride in a job well done. In a job done quickly and easily, without too much stress, and without it dragging on for a year or more.
In 2012 I was able to create a dozen games. They aren’t all going to win awards or shake the foundations of the gamedev community, but they represent the dawning of a new era in my software development career. My skills are stronger. More tempered by realism. More controlled. More disciplined.
These are the games I made this year:
1. Pile-o-gears – simplistic platformer: jump to the top of a huge pile of gears.
2. The Infinity Formula – a board game / card game hybrid based on alchemy.
3. Leaping Lizabeth – a platformer set in a pixel-perfect, tile-grid-free world.
4. Dr. Nano – bullet hell shooter where you’re a microscopic surgeon killing cancer cells.
5. Kaizen – side-scrolling shoot-em-up inspired by arcade titles like R-Type.
6. Super Snowball Fight – a first-person-shooter snowball fight set in a winter wonderland.
7. Magmania – platformer with a forced camera that keeps the player moving upwards.
8. Mars Orbital – a 3d marble-madness/skateboarding game set in space.
9. Fantasy Map Tactics – a turn based strategy puzzle game set on a hand drawn map.
10. PopTuple – a bubble popping match-7 inspired puzzle game.
11. Skeleton Keys – a tactics game: find the key to the exit while avoiding skeletons.
12. Ludum Dare 25 – who knows what I’ll make? In seven days time I will have completed this, my 12th game of the year. Wish me luck!
Like daily workouts, each game project made me stronger. Faster. Better.
You can do this too. Challenge yourself to make a game a month this next year. Let this be your new year’s resolution. I’m going to do it all again in 2013. One game per month, on average, and a dozen finished products by the end of the year.
I’m issuing a challenge to all my gamedev friends: join me in the epic quest. It CAN be done. You don’t have to be hardcore, insane, or obsessed. Join me in the gameamonth challenge. We can help encourage each other.
Post progress reports, ideas, elevator pitches and motivational cheers using the twitter hashtag #onegameamonth. My @onegameamonth twitter bot will retweet you.
Join our team of awesome game developers at www.onegameamonth.com as a way to publicly throw your hat into the ring. Force yourself to trim the fat in your development practises. Simply your designs. Keep it simple – and succeed!
You’ll be glad you did. Your coding prowess will grow exponentially. You will gain a deeper connection with your fellow game developer peers. And your end up making a dozen games in a single year!
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Good luck and have fun!
my blog: http://www.mcfunkypants.com