Well, the year is up and it’s time to take a look at how things went.
How it went
The game still has a long way to go, but I’m quite happy with what I’ve managed to create this past year. I’ve got a very simple 2 player game where you can create your own teams, choosing names and weapons for each of them, then having turn-based battles across multiple territories until one team’s conquered all of them. Granted there’s no difference between the territories, and the combat isn’t particularly fun, but I never said I made a good game.
Even though the end result is currently a bit mediocre I’ve finally gotten around to one big thing which I’ve been meaning to do for years, which is make a game, and learnt how to use Unity in the process. I’ve certainly learnt a lot, and going forward I’m going to keep on trying to make games, although as before it’ll mostly be for fun, rather than a serious attempt to make money from them.
What I would do differently
While working on this game I’ve also learnt a lot of things that I’ve done wrong, or things that weren’t necessarily wrong, but I would do differently. While I still feel that writing a complete game design document ahead of time is not the way to go for smaller indie games, I should have spent more time putting together some of my design into a single document for reference. As it was, too much of the design was either stuck in my head, or spread around several of the notes on my Kanban board. I also tried to make something far too ambitious to complete in 1 year, especially for one person. Choosing something with a simpler 2D design would have helped make this more achievable.
If I could do it over, I would definitely shrink the scope down. Starting with a grid-based movement system rather than the free-roaming one would have helped keep things simple, even if it wasn’t quite the same feel that I was going for. Looking at other games such as XCOM and Jagged Alliance for inspiration, they all use a grid-based layout but disguise it well enough that the players don’t really care. Replaying XCOM I was especially amazed at how simple so many of the features appeared to the player, how easy it was to flank enemies while boosting your own defensive position. I’m sure there’s a lot of more complicated work going on in the background, but one big problem with my game is that I didn’t have any plans for making things less complicated for the player, which would have made everything a bit frustrating to play when you have to move one character back and forth repeatedly to try and get them in the right position to take a shot. If I were to do everything over, I would come up with a much simpler concept for my first game, something that didn’t require fancy 3D models or a lot of complicated design to get something that’s fun to play.
Another aspect of making games which I didn’t even consider at the time is that I was focused on the wrong sort of thing when coming up with an idea for what to make. Having read quite a few stories over the years it seems that most people focus their initial design around a certain idea, feeling, or action (Gunpoint for instance was developed around sneaking through buildings in Deus Ex). My game on the other hand was trying to replicate the feeling I got from playing Necromunda as a whole, rather than just a single aspect. If you have a single fun activity to focus on then you can look at every new feature you want to add to the game and ask yourself “Does this add to the main focus and make it more fun?”, whereas I often fell into the gap of “Does this make it more like the game I used to enjoy playing?”. Now, I firmly believe that my route was the wrong path to go down, and while there’s nothing wrong with making a game which is inspired and apes parts of other games you enjoyed it causes too many problems to try and make the entire game that way. This is probably why Game Jams which focus on a single word and idea tend to be so popular.
The plan for the future
I’ve decided that I’m going to put this game on hold for the foreseeable future. I would like to come back and finish it one day, but there’s a lot of things I need to learn before I can do a good job of it, and a lot of high level design changes that I would need to make. Instead I’m going to focus on creating some smaller and simpler games that I can get mostly finished within a few months, rather than something that would take years. I’m going to keep on improving my skills through practice, as well as reading more on design theory to come up with better, more enjoyable ideas. End result aside, I’ve really enjoyed this past year and I can see no reason to stop doing this.
I’m going to sign up to several game jams this year and do my best to submit something that’s half decent. There’s enough game jams out there that I could do that every single weekend, but for the sake of free time and sanity, I’m only intending to go for the Ludum Dare jams. I might change my mind and join another jam here and there, but my aim is to submit something to all 3 Ludum Dare competitions held in 2016. The first one will be in April, so keep an eye out for that one.