shawn's blog

How to develop a game solo

Posted in Other by Shawn on April 10, 2013

So, currently, I am an independent game developer. At the moment, I handling all of the aspects individually; art, code, music, etc. And it’s fun. I definitely enjoy it, even though I haven’t been doing such for too long. Over the days of development, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to develop a game on my own, and I’ll continue to learn everyday. Here are a few things I’ve picked up.

One of the most important things I’ve learned on how to develop a game solo is:

Don’t.

Don’t do it.

Now, that’s a pretty odd thing to say, especially coming from a person who is currently doing things on his own, and enjoying it thoroughly. But I don’t do it alone. It’s important to find a community, even if it’s just one or two other people. Fortunately, I’m lucky enough to live in Philadelphia, where there’s an ever growing group of people creating games every day. We even have weekly dev nights dedicated to such, and there are new people who attend each and every week.

A community is great for a number of reasons, in terms of growth for your game and independent works. Honest feedback can be found among any of your peers, as long as you’re looking for it. Developing a game for too long on your own can create all types of vision issues. Elements of your game may seem terrible or nonredeemable , but if it’s looked at by a different set of eyes, then maybe you can gain feedback on how to fix the element to make it something game worthy. It may not even be a major detail that needs to be fixed. On the contrary, you may have something in your game that you feel is the most amazing feature that has even been implemented. A fresh set of eyes and hands can inform you that what you have is actually the complete opposite, and quite possibly something which requires heavy fixing. Of course, positive and negative feedback should be taken with a grain of salt, as opinions and preferences vary. Regardless of level of agreement, feedback will open eyes to a new set of ideas, potentially something you wouldn’t have been able to think of in solitude.

A community can also be a fountain knowledge. Whether you’re just starting out, or you’re a seasoned veteran, there are going to be people around you that know something that you do not. While the internet is great for learning and gathering information, a community of people may be able to provide better assistance, as opposed to a forum post from CoolGamerDev12212. Not to say that forum post of useless or unhelpful. I have had a number of questions answered by looking at things on forums. However,a lot can be lost in translation over the internet, which can be easily be explained in person. Not to mention the rate and speed of a response is commonly higher.

Now, if you’re unfortunate enough to be in a low game dev population, then try to stay connected via the internet, via Skype, IRC, etc.

But enough about communication. It’s important, but there are still things that you’ll need to manage on your own. If you’re working by yourself, be sure to plan your project accordingly. This goes beyond a design document. I’m referring to planning development days, and if you can to some degree, weeks. Don’t set up a simple To-Do list, rather, set up a list of things you want to do, when you want to have them done by, and organize them based on sense of urgency. Put some of the more important task at the top of the list, or in the urgent pile. Put the less important things at the bottom of the list. Then, take the task that aren’t necessary, but more along the lines of ‘fun for me to implement’ in another list, and don’t touch them yet.

What I like to do, which is something I stole from groups of others, is work in two week iterations. I set up the two weeks to accomplish a reasonable amount of task or issues, leaving room for potential inevitable bugs that are discovered during my development. If I manage to accomplish those task within the scheduled time, then I dip into my list of ‘fun for me to implement’ task list. I will admit, from time to time, I go into that list before I should, and more often then not, when I do that, I miss a deadline that I wanted to reach. This could be due to a number of things, and the amount of time I spend on each task.

Speaking of amount of time, find a way to track your time. If you know how much time you spend doing certain things, you’re more likely to manage your time more efficiently. If you find yourself spending 2 1/2 hours on something that you estimated to be a 20 minute task, then maybe you should step back and re-evaluate what you’re doing. It’s also great to measure your growth. Maybe the first time you worked on a new system, it took 3 hours. Then, the next time you implemented a similar system, 2.15 hours. If anything, it will (hopefully) provide a sense of motivation, along with a way to measure some of the progress you’ve made in development. Finally, the next time you work on a similar system, you can estimate how long it will take you, and plan accordingly. I’m pretty serious about my time management, and maybe others aren’t. Some people may be more relaxed, and others may need more structure. That’s a balance that you’ll be able to find on your own.

There are a bunch of others things I could mention, such as not locking yourself up indoors for days straight to work on your projects. Yeah, it’s a common stereotype that computer type people are introverts, but if you spend all of your time just working on your game by yourself, and don’t spend any time experiencing anything that the world has to offer – in real life, not behind a screen – then the your game will only go so far. Actually, this applies to life as well. Go out, and do something non-game related, maybe something physically active.

But that’s it for now. I definitely try to practice what I preach, and I’ll admit, it’s easier said than done. But when it is done, the benefits will be visible and have a positive impact on games and life.

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