Tue 12 Jan 2010
So, you’ve got a whole lot done on your game, graphics are looking how you want and you’ve got some puzzles you really like. But hang on a minute, how do you know when your game is done? There’s always going to be moments when you go “I could just add a bit more on here”, and sometimes this is very beneficial. But you have to stop working on the game somewhere, or it’ll never get done.
This could be something so much bigger: It’s a natural feeling to get near the end of your project and think “This could be so much bigger!”. Parts you could add, bits you could extend – in fact if you’re like most people you’ll probably have ‘realized’ that the story you wrote would work so much ‘better’ as the first part in a trilogy.
Or would it? Yes, your story could be expanded upon. But that doesn’t mean it should be expanded upon. Is adding another two chapters going to actually improve your game, or just make it longer? Do you really need to add in two hours of playable backstory just so we can understand why a character betrayed another character? Are you even ready, as a writer or designer, to take on such a big story yet? Adding in these parts is tempting, but a major pitfall. Yes, you could probably come up with enough material to extend the experience to three times the length it is now. And hey, it might not be dull and uninteresting, or tacked on. But even if this is the case, do you have the drive, the motivation, to dive back into the doldrums and get all this work done? If you’re anything like me, probably not. If you’re new to making games, and really want to extend the story, release what you consider the first chapter and then think about making a sequel. You’ll probably get so much direction from reading people’s feedback that your second effort will be a vast improvement.
I can do so much better than this!: Yeah, you can. You’ve probably learnt a whole swag of new things in the process of designing the game and all of a sudden, graphics that once looked great now don’t look so great, a plotline that seemed edgy now seems hackneyed and cliched and puzzles that once seemed challenging and fresh seem stale and uninspired. And yes, you could go back and repaint all the backgrounds, you could rewrite the plotline completely to add in different meaning, and yeah, you could go back and redo puzzles to make them way better. Polishing a game is, after all, a very important step before releasing it if you want to get everything just right.
The point is, however, that there is a point where things stop being ‘polishing up’ and start being ‘making a completely new game all over again’. If your polishing gets to the point where you begin to think “I should totally redo major sections of this”, it means you’ve learnt new things and are keen to put your new skills to use. So put them to use – on a brand new game. Finish up what you’ve done, release it, and get cracking on a brand new project – this time with the added benefit of more experience. You are going to keep learning as you go – the human brain seems to have unlimited potential for learning and improvement, so if you constantly redo things each time you learn something new you will never end up finishing anything. There is no shame in having a trail of games over the years that demonstrate just how much you’ve learned since you started. Looking at the difference in graphics between Heed and Shifter’s Box: Outside In makes me almost wish that I’d gone back and redone the graphics completely for Shifter’s Box. But that would have meant further weeks invested into the project for something as superficial as how good it looks. The graphics are functional, even if they’re not the greatest, and it is important to learn to let go and move on. Considering how much I changed my design goals (something clearly evident to the player going from one game to the other) shows that it wasn’t just my graphics that I was trying to evolve between these two games.
Have I reached my goals?: The entire purpose of setting goals in the first place is to have something to focus on. If you’re getting to the end of the process and start considering extending your game into an epic, re-examine the goals you set for the game in the first place. Have you reached the goals you set out to achieve? If the answer is yes, then your game has served its purpose already – you’ve learnt what you wanted to learn, tried what you wanted to try and pushed yourself to get past those obstacles that you’ve had trouble with until now. Extending the game is not actually bringing you any closer to achieving those goals anymore. Perhaps you feel like you’ve got a new set of goals – fantastic. Finish up your game, release it, and start a new game with these new set of goals as your focus. Make sure your games are concise – don’t allow yourself to ‘ramble’ or ‘wander’ as a designer just because you want to make a longer game. Make sure everything you add serves to add to every element of the story as a whole, not just to try and keep people playing for that little bit longer.
People often say things like “It almost feels like the introduction to a bigger game” about my games – particularly Awakener and Annie Android – and yes, I always try to hint at a bigger world when I create an environment. But by the end of the game, the character has learnt what I wanted them to learn – and instead of going “This is interesting enough to warrant creating another game”, I keep my focus on what I set out to achieve at the start and say “Yes, but I’ve already conveyed that message I wanted to convey. Adding more just for the sake of it is going to mean that the game loses its focus on that issue”.
And with that noted, I’ve covered the pitfalls I’ve encountered over the four major stages in game development. These are certainly not the only pitfalls along the way that will prevent you from getting your game finished, but they are the most common for me. These are probably things people will never completely grow out of – I know I keep making these same mistakes over and over again – however we can try to stay aware that these are common problems and therefore realize when we’re falling into the same old traps over again, and thus get focused back on our goals again and get back on track. Making games is not an easy task – and there are always going to be times where you feel like it’s all too hard. Remember, you wouldn’t be doing this if you weren’t truly passionate about it, and you have the potential to create something that is truly awe inspiring. Good luck, and stay encouraged!
Go back to… the Pitfall series Beginning
About The Author:
Ben Chandler (aka Ben304) is a prolific creator of freeware adventure games specializing in Adventure Game Studio. He is best known for: “!” ; Awakener; Heed; Man Boy vs Doctor Sock; Annie Android: Automated Affection; Shifter’s Box: Outside In; Trance-Pacific (in collaboration with paolo); IWWHIIWWHITOMIROTPG: The Game! (in collaboration with monkey_05_06); and Shoot, I Got Abducted!. You can visit Ben Chandler’s own blog full of writings on gaming, game design, and creating graphic art here.