Last month, I made a newspost about how I was going to release a new game at the very start of this month. I explain it more in the post, but basically my thinking was that I could fight back against my crippling perfectionism and habitual slides into dev-hell by publicly announcing a deadline for the project, and then forcing myself to stick to said deadline regardless of how I felt about the latest iteration's quality.
So, did it work? Where's the game?
Some backstory: this game has been in some form of production for well over a month. It arguably started back in 2014, when Tom announced the Power of Four Summer Game Dev Event, which was like a game jam where teams of four tried to make a game with some theme based on the number four within just four months. I teamed up with my friends Bill and Josh. Josh and I had already worked on a couple small games and a bigger one called Think Tank that I'm still pretty proud of. (I spent months polishing the sprites and figuring out the design for Think Tank before I asked Josh to do the programming, which meant I could make the game look and play exactly as I pictured it, but it also means the design has fundamental flaws we could have detected with just a little prototyping) I hadn't worked with Bill on any games before, but we were both fans of eachothers work, and since Josh and I hadn't published anything since Think Tank, Power of Four seemed like a good excuse for us all to finally make something together. (Later on we asked 4cat to be our fourth teammate, but we never got to the music phase of the dev process, so I don't think he ever actually got to do anything)
We started looking at stuff relating to the number four to get an idea for our game concept. I think we read something about there being four liters of blood in the human body, which doesn't even appear to be accurate, but we just ran with it and started developing this eight-directional shooter where you played as a vampire and could suck your enemies' blood to gain back health. We wanted to do a modern spin on the whole vampires thing that wasn't just the same old "what if they're all punk rock and sexual" crap that had become so oversaturated in the years before. Bill came up with the idea of doing an 80's stock-broker type character. It seemed fitting to have a figurative but also literal blood-sucking monster as our protagonist. The classic vampire's widow's peak, but slicked back like Gordon Gekko. Also you could turn into a bat I guess. I'll see if I can get a hold of some old .swfs and post them up so you guys can actually play for yourself. Basically, the core of the game was going to be level-based, and look sort of like the top-down stages in Super C.
But we also started talking about doing these bonus levels that would be more arena-based, and look more like Smash TV.
It was at this point that I came up with the idea that would ultimately outlive the vampire game. (Working title: Four Leaders. There were going to be four worlds and four bosses, each themed after some other universal monster- like "The Wolf-Man of Wallstreet" and other silly stuff like that.) My idea was that in the bonus level, you could take all the cash you earned in the regular levels and invest it in this physical stock "bubble" in the middle of the stage that would generate more and more bonus cash the bigger it got, the risk being that as the bubble would grow, it would be a bigger target for enemies to pop, and you could lose everything. It tied in perfectly with the whole broker idea and meshed nicely with the main game, so I was super excited about it.
We missed the deadline for the Power of Four and eventually just gave up on the game after dumping a bunch of time and energy into it, which I've already established is pretty much par for the course with my game dev process at this point. But the stock bubble game idea stuck with me, and one day, years after pulling the plug on Four Leaders, I just decided to make it myself.
I downloaded Stencyl. If you're like me and don't know much about code, Stencyl is a pretty decent way to go. It lets you program flash games by dragging and dropping precoded logic and behaviors. I'd played around Stencyl back in high school, so I was pretty sure it was capable of doing what I wanted, but I had never made anything publishable with it. (Spoiler alert: I still haven't!)
I started by drawing the sprite for the main character, and then figuring out how to make him move around. I did this first by using Stencyls premade "eight-directional movement" behavior, and then looking at how the logic for that was put together. Then I copied and modified the code, which served the dual purpose of showing me how to properly put together logic in the program and also giving me the chance to fine-tune the logic for my own needs, instead of just being confined to the generic stuff. Within a couple months, I knew how to make Stencyl do everything I needed it to, and was well on my way to finishing a game. So I set my deadline.
The next couple weeks were some of the most productive of my life. The main purpose of the deadline was just to set a cut-off date for the project, so my perfectionism wouldn't hold me back from publishing something. But it had an unexpectedly huge side-effect on my motivation. Whenever I caught myself wasting time on some distraction instead of working on the game, I knew that I was losing minutes I couldn't get back. I could feel my game getting worse by the second. It was crazy. There were a couple times where I'd get up in the morning, grab my laptop and start working, then eat, then back to work, and then before I knew it I'd spent a whole day on the project. Sometimes I'd know I had to go to work in ten minutes, and rather than spend those ten minutes checking social media like I usually would, I would open stencyl and just see how much I could get done in that tiny span of time.
So the game really started to take shape. One of the benefits of being a one-man dev team is there is no possible miscommunication of vision. I had a really specific idea of how I wanted the new game to look. (Working title: Shock Broker. You shoot electricity out of your mouth because shooting big flashing bullets out of your mouth works better than shooting crappy little bullets out of a gun or something. Also I like the stun effect. Also I like the PUN effect!!) I wanted the game to use only four colors (white, black, 25% and 50% grey) sort of like a classic game-boy game, sort of a step up from the 2-color style I used on Think Tank back in the day (TT's graphics are still pretty cool looking in my opinion). This meant no anti-aliasing, which means no dynamically drawn circles or rescaling sprites, which means in order to make the bubble grow, I would have to draw it as a bunch of seperate images at slightly larger and larger sizes. I set out to draw about 50 of them, and while it was a long a tedious process, I managed to get pretty far before disaster struck. I ran out of memory.
Yes, as it turns out, making that many pictures of a bubble all in one actor can inflate the memory usage of Java, the thing that Stencyl is built on, I guess. I'm really a technical guy so I have a hard time understanding it all, but I spent a long time trying to fix it. I updated Java, I messed with batch files in Stencyl to push it's memory limit, I restarted and updated my computer. None of it worked. The cruel irony of it all was that, in my game about risking losing everything by overinflating a bubble, I ended up... well... yeah. About five days before my deadline, I had to pull the plug on the project.
The game was pretty close to being done, at least in some publishable form. The last build (WASD + K) has a functional HUD that I'm really proud of, an investment system (press space to deposit money), and some generic placeholder enemies (though I never got to make it so they could collide with / break the bubble). I spent a lot of time on making sure that things felt good and I think even though it's incomplete, it's still kind of fun to just move around and shoot aimlessly in the unfinished final version. That's a sign of a good design, right? Plus, I really think if it wasn't for the memory leaks, I would have actually made my deadline. We'll never know though. Ah well.
So that's my postmortem, or whatever you want to call it, for this stupid third-trimester miscarriage of a project. After Stencyl failed me, I started poking around in the unreal engine, game maker, any alternative program I might be able to use to rebuild the game. But then I realized that I gave myself a deadline for a reason. I knew I needed a way to force myself to let go of failing projects, learn from them, and move on. So I guess that's what I'm going to do.
I'm not sure what's next for me. Some new project I hope. Maybe another game with a deadline. Maybe I should just spend this month learning to drive a car instead of making silly games all day. Did you guys know I can't drive? I'm 22. Does anyone read this? Okay I'm starting to bum myself out and this post is getting way too long. I could write another paragraph to try to communicate how I feel about this whole experience but I'll just let American Football do it for me.
Can't wait to reread this post in the morning and retype half these sentences. Bye!