Post-Mortem: One Game A Month – January

In my last post I decided to participate to the One Game A Month challenge. It’s basically a web page gathering and connecting people who wants to release games regularly together.
You’re not forced to do anything, you can release whatever that can be called a game, it’s not about making the game in one month but releasing something each month, even updates.
The goal, in my view, is both to work your game dev skills and to work you “release” muscle which is the hardest thing you have to do when you want a game to be successful.

Here is a quick post-mortem of my January attempt.

The context

I called the game Links, it have a very simple mechanic which I will not talk about yet as I prefer people to discover.
It’s an old concept of mine that I wanted to do for a dear friend.
I initially wanted to release it in middle of January, for her anniversary, but failed (for the following reasons), so I’m doing it for February instead now.
Keep in mind that I also have a “big” game, NetRush, that I’m working on every work day (and sometime week ends).
And also sometime I work on Art Of Sequence projects.  Actually I will work on it this whole February.
Which is why I cannot spend a lot of time on Links and early on decided to spend only one weekend on it.

 

What Went Right

Simple concept

Technically, it involve connecting icons. Which is so simple it match my objective of scaling things down.
It’s also very easy to level-design, which means I will discover the game while making it, which is always motivating pleasure.

Don’t need much resources

Even without music, simple graphics do the trick. I mean, iconic representation of concepts are the very game anyway.
It can easily be enhanced later, maybe for a future version.

What Went Wrong

Doing it like a Game Jam

As I said before, I couldn’t spend a lot of time on this game and wanted to do something that I could do in a weekend.
Theorically, it’s the perfect game for that.

In practice, I suck at Game Jams (like Ludum Dare).

This is because of globally two factors. First, I don’t have enough jam experience. I must say that after having done some, game jams aren’t really motivating me because it’s almost impossible (for me) to do something interesting without a long period of thinking about what it is I’m trying to build. But game jams aren’t really about the games themselves, they are more about sharing motivation for finishing games.
Which is why I often try to do game jams anyway, even if I don’t think it contribute to the quality of my big projects (or maybe only for the release part).

Anyway, I suck at game jams. In particular, when doing it alone. Last time I managed to finish a game jam, I did it with a friend. We finished the game 10 minutes before the deadline and were not really happy about the quality of the concept. We had several tools problems and built the game from almost nothing. However at least we finished it. But I never finish a game jam alone. Maybe because it’s harder to keep total focus on one project in such a short time as 2 days.

Which is why I shouldn’t have planned to do it in one time. I think that, until I get better at game jams, I should just work a little bit on the game regularly, like one day of each week end of the month. I’m definitely more at ease with marathon-like developments because that’s what I’m used to. I need to train myself for shorter devs, even if I did make some games in short time before, it was not really the best experience ever.

The second reason was…

Tools: Habit & Choice

Indeed when you’re making big games you don’t have the same mindset than with short dev games. As I’m working on big games on work-days, I am not really trained in tools which support really fast development of games. I did use such frameworks, like Flash and Cocos2D-X in my previous jobs, but I’m not totally at ease with them most of the time. I really want to learn Unity3D but it’s almost impossible to find time with my current works in progress.

So I initially tried to make this game with SFML (C++) only, which would have been a good choice with a longer timeframe because SFML is very good at giving you bricks to build game engine, but it’s not a ready game engine. I used it mainly because I’m very familiar with it, which should have been a big win, but for a work of 1 weekend, developing alone, it is still not good enough without engine code built around it.

After a weekend of building this game without really making yet the game-specific code, it got me a bit depressed and I stopped. I met a friend which is also making games and told him I was considering using other tools for really short devs, like Flash (which is the closest tool I know which allow very fast game dev). Other possibilties would have been Cinder (but I’m not sure it’s suited, I have no experience with it), Unity3D (overkill for my icon-based game) and Cocos2D-x (which I know is very powerful, used it to make in two weeks this when I was in japan, without knowing anything about the platform, keyboard or framework, but I really don’t like being forced to use Objective-C idioms in a C++ program…). My friend recommanded using FlashDevelop with Flixel, so I started to remake the game this way.

 

Mental Block

There have been two mental blocks. The first one was on each week end of January but the last, I had a really hard time motivating myself to work on Links. I think it was both because it’s an intimidating thing to make a game that you believe expose a bit of yourself to the public; and because I spent all other days working really hard on NetRush (and sometime AOS) on very difficult part of the game code, which might have totally sucked all energy from me, none left for the weekends. It was like reaching “the wall” but at the very first lines of code. Before I met the wall only in the middle or around the end of a project, but it was almost depressing to not being able to just dive in this.

I think it will get better this month as I feel far better (and I will take some needed vacation days soon) but I’m not finished with this game yet.

The second block was certainly due to my coming birthday. Since this week, I’m 30. The week before, I couldn’t work on anything at all. I didn’t really feel depressed, but I couldn’t dive in work like I did the 4 month before each day. Maybe I just need vacations, but I think this birthday, mixed with not being happy life yet (things gets better each year), and not having a single clue as to how to celebrate this, did make me do nothing in the end. I think I’ll reserve celebration for the first release of a NetRush public version instead. But I will take a few days totally off work soon. Also, this week I feel far better and worked on Art Of Sequence.

Now I need to finish a first version of this game, “with a beginning and an end” as requested by the One Game A Month website, for February. I have a list of other short games I want to make and I really need to push this one out to motivate me doing others.

A note about game jams format

I must add that I bought and read The Game Jam Survival Guide when it was first published, but I guess I didn’t fully get all the recommendations.

As I was saying before, I’m not totally convinced by the point of game jams, other than sharing the love and practicing release, because of the short time-frame don’t allow any kind of game to be made.
However, I do believe that releasing something each month is a very good practice.

Now I’m thinking that maybe instead of doing a too short game each month, with other big projects going on in the same time, it might be a good idea to find a release timing which let me work on an idea for two or more months but release something (including updates) each month.

I have some ideas on how to do that, but I’m not sure yet. For example, there is a game I made two years ago that was a present to some friends. Fixing some details and translating the text to English (it’s in French) then releasing it publicly might be a good short project. It would then allow me to prepare another short project to be release the month after. Then after this one, a release of a version of my big game might happen. Interlocking projects might work better for me.

Any feedback on this is welcome. :)