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Making 12 games in 12 months
by Christer Kaitila on 12/10/12 02:50:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

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.

Leaping Lizabeth and the RISING MAGMA of DOOM
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!

We've had over a hundred people "sign up" on twitter. JOIN US!

Good luck and have fun!

Kind regards,

Christer Kaitila
@McFunkypants

my blog: http://www.mcfunkypants.com
google+: http://google.com/+ChristerKaitila
twitter: http://twitter.com/McFunkypants


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Comments


Joshua Wilson
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I think there is value in what you've accomplished, but I don't see how you solve your initial problem from doing it over again.

Effectively what you've done is create 12 prototypes. Those do not appear to be finished, shippable products. They may be feature complete but that's still a long way from ship for most productions. And it's taking what you have and actually bringing it to a fun, polished, shippable state which is the hard part. Exponentially so.

It seems the next step to get past your problem would be to create 4 games in a year, then 2, then 1. More beneficial still if you took your four favorite games from this year and continued to build on them.

Aaron San Filippo
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I think what you've done is awesome, and it's cool that you learned so much. It's also awesome that you're setting up this website and encouraging others to follow in your path.

But I've gotta say I kind of agree with Joshua. At some point you've gotta become a finisher - make some games that're really worth playing and talking about.

If your goal is just to finish 12 games, you'll learn a lot, become more efficient and get better at shipping things - but you'll probably not make any *great* ones. And that's fine, really, because those things are important to learn. But don't be a perpetual game jammer :)

E Zachary Knight
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I don't see any reason to be concerned with this. Sure most of the games created are not "gold release" but that does not mean that all this year's will not be.

As a budding developer, this game-a-month concept caught my attention the other day and is actually inspiring. I have recently attempted something similar to help me learn a new technology. I had attempted a new game a week (mostly single screen games) and got 2 small games and one tech demo set up in 3 weeks. It certainly boosted my confidence. I need to do the same thing with a newer but related technology so that I can get running with my current main project.

I may try this game-a-month with my current project and some others I want to do.

Alexander Jhin
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I disagree with the other commenters. I think writing a bunch of small time-boxed games DOES teach someone how to be a finisher. It forces the creator to focus on what's important: a playable game.

I sometimes wish the commercial game development industry would work more like this: write a fun, playable game first. Prove the game's fun. Then, go back and fix all the technical problems and add all the "must have" features. Too often, we prototype a nugget of an idea, but not to fully playable, then start "production" and end up losing sight of what made the prototype fun and having to rev a production quality, optimized code base.

I did something similar with writing 26 short stories in 13 weeks. It taught me to write a complete story first, THEN go back and edit it rather than trying to edit as I wrote. Editing while writing kills creativity. I believe a similar thing happens with games.

Sharon Hoosein
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So everyone's essentially saying the same thing:

-12 games a month = great exercise for trying out new technologies, figuring out a game's core from an idea, and personal development in general. Better to make 12 unpolished games a year than spend a year on THE GREATEST GAME EVER that falls apart due to an ill defined/terrible core.

-Essentially Chris Hecker's rant: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6ta63pbc6Q.

Aaron San Filippo
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Hmm I think Chris's point was that you should *finish* more games, in the sense that you should try to make games that are worth playing.

There's a different between "shipping" in the sense that you call it done and put it on the internet - and "finishing."

Curtiss Murphy
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Fantastic! Love this post! Joel Spolsky said it best: "Shipping is a feature. A really important feature. Your product MUST have it."

This year, I developed 3 products in my 'spare' time. The most recent (Christmas Gratitude) took just 2 weeks, start to finish. I could have made one grand product, but finishing three and getting iOS approval has made me a better designer. 12??? Well, there's always next year!

Aaron San Filippo
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To clarify my previous comment - I think what Christer's doing here is great, and I think it's great that people are participating, especially if they feel the need to improve their core skills and learn the process of getting things out there.

My only point was: There's a diminishing return here as far as benefit, I think, especially for someone who's already "shipped" a lot of games. At some point, you've got to take all the effort you've put towards making yourself better as a developer - and start putting that effort into making games that are really worth playing.

There is a whole array of skills to explore at those higher levels beyond the "I have a game" stage - learning how to playtest and iterate, how to polish and perfect - and how to coordinate with others to make something great. These aren't skills you're going to improve very much if you're starting a new game every 4 weeks and dropping the previous ones.

Wendelin Reich
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Very inspring post! I have attended one game jam so far, and really agree that it's an exhilarating experience that gives you energy, joy and even a little bit of closure, because you finished something that others looked at, played with and appreciated.

A logistical question, Christer: how does one attend twelve game jams? Were they all across the globe, or in your region, or online? How did you find them? Any tips would be appreciated.

E Zachary Knight
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I don't think they were twelve Game Jams, just eleven month long projects and this final game jam.


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