Game Dev Journal Entry 2: Why This Time Will Be Different — Strategies for Finishing a Project

“Do a lot of work. Finish a lot of work. Share a lot of work.”

Murphy’s snow angel isn’t perfect, but at least she has something to show for her effort

I’ve dabbled in game development for a long time but I haven’t had much to show for it. I don’t finish, let alone publish, projects because I get bogged down with questions like, “Am I ever going to be able to finish this?” and “Is this the best way to be spending my time?”

This is the year that changes. This is the year that I start publishing games. And here’s why it’s going to be different:

One of my previous colleagues was notorious for always asking, “Why are we doing this?” It was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but he said it for a reason. It’s good to understand why you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing. Not only does it help motivate action, but it also helps guide decisions along the way.

In my case, I’m developing a game because I want to create something in my free-time. I love software engineering, games, music and drawing, and know this is a great way to combine my interests. I think of games as an art form, and building something that evokes feelings really appeals to me. I am excited about the opportunity to create something totally new, and be involved in all aspects from start to finish (conception, graphics, music, etc.

I would like someone to play my games, but my target audience is me. I’m not too concerned with appealing to others — this is about the journey for me, not about the utility of the resulting product.

Developing games takes a long time, so it needs to be managed like any other long term project. I’m someone who likes to come up with detailed lists and schedules, and can sometimes spend more time planning than implementing. So for me, appropriately managing my project means doing less planning. I need to work on the game and not just plan the game. The tools need to serve me; I shouldn’t be serving my tools.

I’ve narrowed my project management strategy down to: (1) defining a north star and (2) managing a backlog of iterative checkpoints as I work toward my goal. Checkpoints are general tasks, such as “write this blog”, “learn this tool”, “get this functionality working in a game”, or “publish to this source”.

I have some ambitious dream projects that I’d like to make a reality someday, but for now, I need to develop my skills and actually finish some projects. I plan to create small games that I can learn from and that I actually publish and get feedback on. I’m planning on participating in a February game jam, that has a short time frame which will force me to create a game that is smaller in scope.

Blogging is another way I am producing iterative results. Game development takes a long time, and it’s easy to get discouraged when I don’t have a finished product yet. By writing blog posts, I have something to show for my work along the way. I’m already writing down these thoughts in my private notes — I might as well take a little extra time to refine it. If anyone else reads it and finds it interesting, then that’s an added bonus!

In the past, I’d work on game projects when I happened to have an hour block of free time and I wasn’t too tired. As you might imagine, this rarely happened. Game development takes time and energy, so I need to schedule it into my days when I still have energy.

For me, I have the most energy first thing in the morning. I’ve adjusted my schedule to go to bed and wake up earlier, so that I can fit in an hour of project work in before anything else. Not only does this create a consistent block of time for my project, but also ensures I’m working effectively. Additionally, by getting it done first thing, I’m ensuring that nothing else can interfere or prevent me from getting it done.

Working on long-term projects requires dedicated time, and in order to ensure that nothing interferes with that time, I need the people in my life supporting me. I’ve talked with my fiance and parents about my project and asked if they’ll encourage me and help me make time. They’re enthusiastic about me having a project and their support is a big reason why I’m able to adjust my schedule and make time. Not only that, but I’ve asked them to check in on my progress regularly and hold me accountable.

Besides people in my day-to-day life, I’ve joined an online community to further immerse myself in the world of game development. Just being around people who share my interest helps to inspire me and keep me motivated.

I’m about a month into this new paradigm, and so far, it’s been working pretty well! I’ve published three blog posts, joined an online community, learned the basics of a new game engine, and have plans to participate in a game jam in the month to come.

I hope some of these points inspire you to pick up that project you’ve been thinking about. Please comment and share any strategies you’ve found helpful!

And if you’re interested in game engines (or the decision making processes) check out my previous Game Dev Journal Entry on choosing a game engine.

Software Engineer @ Compass. nathanielmorihara.com

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