Games are Hard
Making videogames has been a hobby of mine since since my mid teens. In fact, even before I learned to program I used to write choose-your-own-adventure stories based on games I had played. Yet, despite a long trail of unfinished projects, abandoned due to over-ambition, boredom or distraction, I've never released anything I would call a finished game. I've finished the occasional thrown-together competition entry for Ludum Dare, and now and again I've had the motivation to round off some small experiment into something functionally complete but too small in scope to be noteworthy.
You see, it turns out that making games is hard. Not just hard in the sense that it's technically demanding, because after all it doesn't have to be - there are plenty of tools for making games that don't require you to write a line of code.1 And not just hard in the sense that it's creatively demanding, because that doesn't have to be the case either - implementing something from a well-worn template such as a Breakout or Tetris clone is more like following a recipe than inventing something new. No, the hard part about making games is staying motivated.
The length of time required to design, implement, perfect and polish a game will undoubtedly exceed the length of time for which it remains interesting and exciting. No matter how intriguing and fun your game concept is, turning it into working software will eventually require hard work. It's no wonder, then, that it's all too easy to be distracted by the appeal of another game idea and to be tempted away from seeing one project through to completion. This is especially true for hobbyists, for whom an unfinished project isn't at the cost of eating that month, as it could be for a full-time indie developer. It would appear, however, that the solution to this problem is simple. To finish a game, choose a single idea and stick with it no matter what, until that game is complete. It also helps to declare this intention publicly - to make it a promise not only to yourself, but to the world.
A Game with Islands
So, this is my declaration to the world. The game project I've chosen to complete is one that I dreamt up for Ludum Dare 17 but never finished. It's a turn-based strategy game revolving around aiming and firing cannons in order to capture islands. The exact rules of the game are still in flux at the moment as I'm prototyping different ideas, but the game takes inspiration from Worms, Advance Wars and a tabletop game I played as a kid called Crossbows and Catapults.
This choice of project was by no means arbitrary - I spent a long time taking stock of all the ideas I'd accumulated and weighed them up against each other. This idea came out of top for the following reasons:
- The game is fairly small in scope. Or at least could be cut back as far as it needs to be.
- The game can be done in 2D. 3D is definitely outside of my comfort zone.
- The game can be done without demanding too much performance, making it suitable for hacking together in Python.
- It sits at least partially inside my favourite genre: strategy, and so should hold my interest for a bit longer than other projects.
- The game will have a cartoony feel rather than an ultra-realistic aesthetic, which should fit well with my lack of artistic skill.
- The nature of the game will make it perfect for online multiplayer, which is something I've wanted to take a shot at for a long time.
- Being turn-based, though, the multiplayer should be "simple" to accomplish, at least compared to a twitchy action game.
- The nature of the game lends itself well to a touchscreen interface, opening up the possibility of a tablet port later down the line. That is, assuming we're not all using telepathic user interfaces (and hoverboards) by the time the game is finished.
As mentioned, I'm at the prototyping stage at the moment. I have a quick and dirty implementation with primitive graphics, which I'm using to figure out which rules make the game the most fun. I've already departed pretty far from the original idea because it just wasn't working very well. I suppose that just goes to show that ideas are worth very little while they're still rattling around in your head, appearing to be perfect with no evidence to the contrary. I'd say the biggest issue I'm trying to overcome at this stage is one of analysis paralysis. There are just so many paths down which to take the gameplay and I have no idea which will work and which won't. I am trying to just maintain a constant feedback loop of tweaking the rules, trying it out, and tweaking them again without over-thinking it too much, and that seems to be working, albeit pretty slowly.
This is my game, then - it's this one or bust! I will try to blog about my progress with it as I go along. If anything, it should help for me to focus my own thoughts on the project and to keep track of how things are proceeding. If you're thinking of finishing a game yourself, which idea are you going to declare your commitment to?