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Game a Week: Year In Review

by Adriel Wallick on 12/17/14 01:51:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

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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.

 

I've written about the origins of Game a Week, I've spoken about my experiences doing this project, and I've been interviewed on why I started making weekly games for 52 weeks straight.

Now, I guess it's time to examine how it went.


When I started Game a Week, I was really just trying to find my motivation.

As I've said so many times before, I started adhering to these self-imposed guidelines as a way to force myself into productivity. I quickly found that by creating a deadline - no matter how inconsequential the ramifications for not meeting the deadline were - there was suddenly this air of importance attached to the task at hand.

So, the weekly deadline was born and I started making games within that constraint.

After getting over the hump of the first few weeks, I found myself in a rhythm.  The work rhythm of most weeks wasn't the greatest (as there was generally a lot of procrastination), but I always held tightly onto my goal of finishing a game each Sunday.  After a while, the rules that I had placed onto myself had started to take on their own form.

Each week I would talk about how I "had" to get my game done - I HAD to. I had to stay in, sit down, and concentrate on "work" - you know, because I had that important deadline to meet.  In reality, there were no consequences for not getting the game done (e.g. I wasn't being paid, I had no boss, etc.) - but I was completely beholden to the goal. Game a Week had become my boss.

This is a concept I'm only realizing as I write this post, but Game a Week was truly my boss for the last year.  If I didn't get my game done, I was letting down "Game a Week". I had to write a weekly status report to show "Game a Week" what I had accomplished.  If I didn't think I could make a game one week, I had to discuss it with "Game a Week" - I had to make sure that the mystical entity that was "Game a Week" would approve of my "vacation". Everything revolved around my current job as game developer at Game a Week, Inc.

It's an interesting concept to look back on - I quit my job so that I could do all of the things I wanted to do without answering to anyone. . . .only to place an artificial boss back onto myself.


I used to partake in a lot of endurance sports. I found my love for running fairly late in my life (2009 was the very first year I ever ran a continuous mile without stopping), but once it happened, I never looked back.  Eventually, I signed up for my first triathlon, and then spent the majority of my free time over the next few years training for and completing triathlons and various running races.

I vividly remember my first half marathon.  I trained as effectively as I could, I ate the appropriate meals, and I got a proper amount of sleep the night before race day. It was bitter cold (the race was in the middle of November right outside of Boston) and my car's heating decided to stop working that morning.  A friend and I drove over together, parked, and then paced around trying to stay warm and shake out the nerves.   I secretly had a goal of running the whole thing under 2 hours, but mostly, I knew I'd be happy as long as I finished it (spoiler alert, I ran it in 1 hour 57 minutes and 56 seconds).

When running the race, I went through four very distinct trains of thought:

Miles 0 - 3: Oh my goodness, I am already SO tired, how will I ever make it 10+ more miles? Ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmyghosh I'm never going to make it - oh my gosh.

Miles 4-10: This is great! I've got my stride, I'm listening to Harry Potter, the scenery is beautiful and everythi-oh look another mile passed already, AWESOME, only a few more to go!

Mile 11-12: I AM SO TIRED I'M NOT GOING TO MAKE IT I HAVE TO GIVE UP RIGHT NOW.

Mile 13: Just a little bit further, I can't stop now because - seriously - the finish line is right over there - I can LITERALLY see it.

(Post race: I FEEL SO GREAT ABOUT MYSELF - I CAN LITERALLY DO ANYTHING! WOOOOO!)

What I'm trying to say here is that Game a Week also went through these four very distinct mental shifts.

Weeks 1 - 8

I've written about the first few weeks of Game a Week before, but suffice it to say - they were difficult.  The goal seemed incredibly insurmountable and I needed a lot of encouragement from those around me.  Luckily, I had Rami around to continually push me. He originally conceived of the idea of making a game every week and was not shy about pointing out how ridiculous all of my excuses were during those first few weeks. He was the spectator in the sidelines of my first few miles holding up a sign and telling me to keep running and that he believed in me. Most of the games I made during the first month or two were (what I'm declaring as) terrible.

Most of them were legitimately unplayable and those that weren't were just not good. There were not designed well, and (in most cases) were hardly a finished, cohesive thought.

Weeks 9 - 46

After this, however, I hit my stride. I had figured out how to appropriately scope my projects, how to hone in on good design ideas, and appropriately budget my time. I no longer needed someone there to actively encourage me as I was now doing it myself (though knowing I still had someone in the background to offer emotional support and design opinions when needed was always helpful).

I've seen a lot of developers inspired to start Game a Week (or something similar) throughout the year. I've also seen the majority of them stop after the first few weeks. According to *science*, it takes 66 days to form a habit, and this seems to definitely hold true for regularly updated projects as well.  It's hard to break through those first few weeks, but the moment you do - BAM - you've now made it a part of your daily life.

There were ups and downs during this chunk of time, but this was where I made all of my favorite ideas and generally felt best about my abilities as a designer and programmer.  This was the time period where Game a Week didn't feel like a chore that I needed to be constantly reminded of - instead, it was just a daily part of my life.

Weeks 47 - 51

This is where I hit my wall.

It started with me not making a game during week 47. There were a lot of different reasons for that, but it really came down to exhaustion. I was tired, my brain was tired, and I just couldn't find the energy to make *anything*. Every other time I had to take a break from Game a Week, I felt rejuvenated the next week. This time, however, something different happened. I was still tired. I felt all of the same things I felt the previous week, and nothing felt like it fix it. This is the first time I related my experiences back to running my first half marathon in my head.  I was in the final stretch of the whole experience, but every step was a struggle at this point. I wanted nothing more than to stop and give myself a long long rest, but I knew that if I skipped another week, that would be the end. My momentum would be gone, and I wouldn't finish the year like I had set out to do.

So, I did everything I could to keep running. I was tired, but I knew that I only had a handful of weeks left and the reward of sticking with it would feel so much better than the temporary relief of stopping.

Week 52 

With the final week arriving, I had one last tiny burst of energy. With 7DFPS, ProcJam, and the knowledge that I would be able to take a mental break from this whole project gave me juuuuuuuuuust enough energy to come up with a new idea.   I didn't end up making a game for either 7DFPS or ProcJam, but at least there was some outside inspiration to see me through to the end (again, as in the first few weeks, I needed something there to cheer me on). I still didn't quite have the energy to work up to my fullest potential, but I was able to make something interesting to close out my year on a high note.


I've been asked a lot of questions about Game a Week over the year, so I'll finish out this post by answering some of the most common ones (some of the answers are a bit copy and pasted from other places that I've answered them):

---

How much time did you spend on your weekly game?

It definitely varied wildly depending on how much other stuff was going on and how motivated I was towards the current week's idea.  If I had contract work, that always had to take precedence, and every once in a while there would be other (more time sensitive) projects or events that would push my Game a Week responsibilities aside. I never once really took stock of just how much time I was spending on Game a Week (one of my only regrets about how I approached the project), but my guess would be anywhere from 30-50 hours a week.

---

How were you financial sustaining yourself?

I'm very fortunate in a lot of aspects in my life. One of those aspects is that I spent a lot of time right after University working in an industry that was well paying. In addition to that, I lived very frugally for a number of years. Because of this, I've been able to stretch my savings to last the better part of the  last year and a half, and have only really needed to pick up outside contract work a handful of times.

I make sure to travel as efficiently/cheaply as I can and try to save money a lot of different places. When I was doing contract work, it was hard to find the time to continue with the game a week stuff, but I found the time for both. There were times that my dwindling financial situation had impacted my mood, motivation, and general overall wellbeing, but being a programmer fortunately lends itself to easily finding work when needed.

I also know that I have a supportive family (and a wonderful support structure of friends) who I could look to if anything ever truly went wrong. I've never had to look to them for financial help in my adult life, but knowing that they're there in case of an emergency definitely allows me some freedom to take a certain number of risks

---

Why a year?

I don't really have a good reason for this.

A year felt like a nice amount of time to do this project.

---

Was it worth it?

For me and for what I needed it for - yes. 100%

I was so lost when starting this project, and it was the perfect method to guide me and put me on a track that I so desperately needed to find.  It gave me a purpose and a goal when I was convinced I would never find either and gave me the structure I needed in order to educate myself on parts of game development that I had little to no experience with. I came out of the year with so much more knowledge and confidence than I went into it with, and that is an incredible feeling.

---

Would you do it again?

I don't think so.

I'm not going to say no, but I don't see where I would need/want/have the energy to do this same project again. I would, however, do a similarly structure project. In fact, that's sort of what I'm thinking my next major step will be. I'd love to take a handful of the Game a Week games that I liked best and work on them in a larger capacity.

I'm tentatively thinking that this will turn into a "Game a Quarter" scenario, where I give myself three months to polish four games - however, don't hold me to that!

---

Would you recommend I do something like this?

Maybe.

For all of its upsides, there are a number of downsides/difficulties with this project that may or may not ultimately be helpful for *you*.

This project was more mentally exhausting that I was anticipating. MUCH more.  There were weeks that I would drive myself completely into the ground in order to finish (or even start) the week's game. I wasn't prepared for it the first few times it happened, and I thought I was just weak. It turns out that no - I'm just human.

I think this would be the biggest piece of advice I'd offer to someone taking on this project (or something similar): If you don't finish your game one week, THAT'S OKAY. Give yourself a break and jump right back onto the project next week. Don't beat yourself up for feeling tired - instead, allow your body and mind a break and take pride in the fact that you're taking care of yourself.

We have a tendency in this industry to ignore signs of exhaustion and push ourselves until we can't handle it any more. It's an admirable approach in some respects (wow, look at how driven that person is!), but it is really not a good way to ensure that we can keep working effectively week to week.

The important part here though, is to get back to it the next week. It's easy to get discouraged when you miss one week and give up on the project entirely - and that's why you have to accept that giving yourself rest is okay (and encouraged!). By accepting that, it removes the majority of the discouragement that comes from "failing" a week.

I've had long conversations with people about what the downsides to Game a Week were. I'm not sure wether any of the downsides are a product of Game a Week or my execution of it, but there are definitely some things that Game a Week did not help me learn or improve on. These are things such as: How to commercially sell your game; How to polish your game  to completion; How to market your game.

Game a Week helped me, immensely, to become faster at prototyping, better at tightening up design, and more experienced at critically looking at a creation of mine and analyzing its faults - but I'm now wondering how good I'm at in actually releasing a commercial product on my own.

TL;DR: If you are just starting out making games, are inexperienced at how to make games, feel lost in your career or direction, feel demotivated in general, have a lot of spare time, are aware of how mentally draining it is, have someone around (whether virtually or physically) to encourage you, and/or love to challenge yourself: then yes, I would recommend it.

---

Now what?

I'm taking a bit of a small mental break from creating my own games. Though it still feels like I'm full of ideas all the time, I'm focusing on contract work for a little while. This will allow me to get my finances back in order and rejuvenate myself and my brain.  Other than that, I've been focusing on Train Jam and spending quality time with friends and loved ones.

---

Favorite games?

In reverse chronological order, these are the games I liked the best

Week 52 (The one where I learned a lot about shader)

Week 49 (The one about a bunny pooping and eating carrots)

Week 48 (The one that's a giant metaphor about how exhausted Game a Week was making me)

Week 45 (The one about gravity and space)

Week 34 (The one about farting)

Week 27 (The one about flying and feelings)

Week 25 (The one that's actually a twitter bot)

Week 23 (The one that's a side-scrolling time loop)

Week 15 (The one that's SpellTower but also Fizz-Buzz)

Week 13 (The one that's about growing a circle and is also the one that Firehose Games hacked to make the leaderboard say silly things to me)

Week 10 (The one that's a FPS text adventure)

Week 5 (The first one that I feel was actually a fun game)

Week 2 (The one that has way too much screen shake)

. . . and then since last time I was asked this question, John forced me to pick a favorite, I'll just point out that week 34 made me laugh and smile the most while making it, so I'm going with that one as my favorite (though, week 45 is a clooooooose second)

---

How are you feeling?

Okay, full disclosure - no one asked me this question, but I feel like talking about it, so here I go.

Right now, I have the end-of-project-blues. As I alluded to before, Game a Week had become the thing that I spent the entirety of last year answering to in one way or another. Even though I very much appreciate the break from it right now, I feel as though I'm back where I was in November of 2013 when I felt lost and purposeless. I have a loose plan of where I want to go next, but I'm back to being beholden only to myself again and that scares me.

This time around, I'm more aware of myself and my working habits, but that only makes it slightly easier guide myself.  I'm currently focusing myself on things other than my own personal game development projects, but I know that this is only a temporary relief as I'll get that itch again soon where I know I'll need to work on something entirely of my own creation.

I know I learned a lot and made a lot of things, but I'm currently feeling just as lost as I was when I started Game a Week. It will pass, but the end-of-project-blues are rough.


So, yeah.

Like I said way back there at the top - I mostly started Game a Week to find my motivation.  If nothing else, I at least found a purpose for most of the year. I accomplished a pretty cool milestone, sharpened my design skills, and gained a lot of confidence in a lot of different areas of game development.

Game a Week is something that I'm proud to have dedicated myself to for the last year.  My brain is exhausted and I'm sad that it's over, but I'm excited to move onto what's next for me in games. I'm scared that I don't know exactly *what* my next thing is, but I'm excited for it nonetheless. 

Now here's 52 pictures of me in various stages of thumbs-upping:


This was originally published at msminotaur.com/blog/?p=435


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