Does making a puzzle game that takes 10 minutes to complete give any indication of if you want to be a game developer?
I’m not sure, but here’s what I learned…
I grew up playing video games, and I’m a professional software developer.
That’s a combination with an easy path to day dreams of game development.
Even aside from the career, what’s it like to make a game? Is there some naivete involved in thinking because you enjoy playing games that you’d enjoy making games?
It’s fun to speculate about, but I figured I’d just try it out.
In early 2017, I bought RPG Maker MV on Steam, and started playing around with it.
I had a nephew that was interested in game development and thought it might be fun to try it out together. He popped over for a few times and then it fizzled, but I figured I’d stick with it.
The hello_world mess-around map evolved (somewhat) into what it is today… A watered down puzzle game like Day of the Tentacle that feels like a it was made for SNES after N64 came out :)
This really isn’t anything more than a homework project that no one would play. It HAD to be about the experience. But because there’s nothing on the line (even a desire for positive feedback) it can’t be the full experience, so what’s next? What have I really learned?
Here’s what I came up with during the on-again, off-again, very part time effort I put into this over 3 years.
Self-imposed Constraints Are Good
With a bit of foresight, I set down the following constraints:
- Don’t create the need to “balance” very much
- Don’t rely on interesting/unique assets
- Keep the scope manageable (though I had no idea what that meant)
- Finish it! Engage in something, learn it, care about it, and, most importantly, see it through.
- Both a hobby and exploratory to feel what the “day to day” is like.
Determine Game Style - Puzzle Adventure Game
Given my constraints and objectives, a puzzle adventure game seemed like a safe bet. No fighting, no crazy effects, no need for lots of rooms. In fact, a good puzzle game often makes use of gates to bring new life to the same areas.
Learn RPG Maker MV
This was done through trial and error, and lots of YouTube videos.
Echo607’s channel was helpful for this, and lots of forum digging.
Fortunately, all I really had to figure out was:
- Basic tile mapping
- The Event System
- The Plugin System (though this was more for curiosity)
Figure out the game
This article proved to be invaluable for formalizing a puzzle game.
I grabbed yED, a piece of paper, and opened up the resource browser in RPG Maker MV and just started brain storming.
This was a very iterative process.
I’d describe it like the following:
- Randomly create buildings or section of the town while processing RPG Maker MV Tutorials
- Brainstorm “puzzle” ideas while doing this.
- Ideas were driven by the available assets. (I think the only asset I went out and got was the magnet)
- The sequence of events naturally (and somewhat arbitrarily) took shape.
- I used the Dependency Graph to keep my thinking, the reality of the game, and the consequences of each “gate” in sync.
After 3 years, I had a game! More or less.
Things I Noticed
I really felt the lack of automated testing
In Web Development, you get spoiled by being able to write an automated test that fires through your application. I started feeling that especially towards the end of this project, when I was tweaking little things.
Next time: I’ll at least do some research into how to automate testing
It’s Hard Not To Want to Do More
Even with my constraints, I still wanted to do more. Item overlays, different tile-sets, plugins galore… The options are endless. And having them takes up emotional energy. Even wondering if you could be doing something better with a plugin takes up emotional energy!
Next time: There shouldn’t be a hard rule for this. Just be mindful of the cost of exploring new things that go beyond what you were originally intending. Remember to embrace constraints.
“Finishing” is Hard
“The first 90% of the project takes the first 90% of the time, and the last 10% takes the other 90% of the time.” True for all projects! This seems common knowledge and was expected.
However, the more interesting thing is the mental component that comes with finishing. It’s like my brain was coming up with excuses to not be done. Not sure what I was afraid of… Putting it out there? Not having something to pass the time? That I hadn’t put enough effort into it? That I’d be judged? Who knows!
Next time: Again, this is just something to be aware of. If we anticipate the mental resistance (Resistance?) then we can brace ourselves for it and actively counter-act it.
To collect Analytics or not?
The amount of tracking that happens as we browse the web creeps me out just as much as everyone else. However, I just read Richard Garriott’s book, and he talked about how, for the first 3 games he made, he got no feedback. It wasn’t until his company also became the publisher that he realized there was fan mail.
So, I figured, why not… Right at the end of the project, I slapped in a connector to Google Analytics, just to see what it felt like.
Next time: If I do another one of these games, I think I’ll consider analytics at the start, and maybe even roll out my own service to collect them. I’m not wild about giving so much free data to Google.
The Dependency Graph was fun to do any crazy useful
I can’t stress enough how important it was for mental clarity to have the Dependency Graph. Keeping it up to do with what was actually changing in the game forced me to deal with any plot/puzzle continuity problems right up front.
And this is for a game that takes 10 minutes to finish. I can’t imagine doing anything bigger without one.
Next time: For sure have a dependency graph!!
Scripting is great
Next time: Keep using the Game Engine tools for common things, but don’t hesitate to go to Plugin Scripts as soon as things start getting awkward with the editor
If, for some strange reason, you’re interested in seeing the game, you can play it here: Kate’s Adventure