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Catch-22 in choosing a project

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I'm in such a low energy slump right now, it's really starting to bug me. Maybe it stems from shifting from the height of the European summer back to the middle of winter back here, but I feel like I should be hibernating right about now. I don't know how some people seem to have boundless energy - although I suspect they're siphoning it off sleepy people like me. Damn thieves.

I'm come to realise that I keep hitting a Catch-22-esque dilema with most of my game projects. Since I innately want to do the project "right", I want to properly design the software architecture, use scripting, have proper tools to aid with content creation etc. The problem is that since I'm new to many aspects of this and completely rusty with the rest, I don't know what makes a good design without practicing it first with a project. This results in a loop of indecision and I usually don't end up implementing anything for fear of it being "wrong". I also end up ballooning up the game design aspects since "if I'm going to spend the time doing it right, might as well make it as good as possible." Inevitable result: project gets put on ice. It's a thoroughly stupid cycle now that I've written it down.

I've tried a number of times to break this cycle only to fail, but I'm bloody-mindedly persistent enough to try again. I've known for a while that the best way for me to learn what I need to learn is to make a few little game. The problem is choosing a game idea that doesn't require too much extra knowledge at once. Most of the ideas I have would be far better done if I had my own content creation tools (map editors etc.) or knowledge of scripting. Or I feel the idea is too good to do as a learning exercise, as I'm bound to screw it up. But to counter that, I don't want to do anything too boring either. It's a real condundrum.

Thus I feel my best option at the moment is to try and choose a really simple game idea to do for the rest of July, while I simultaneously play around with Lua (my scripting language of choice, due to me already owning some books on this) and wxWidgets (my windowing system of choice, for same reasons). The idea has to be something that would not be much better tackled once I've got some familiarity with both Lua and tool development - that means nothing with extensive pregenerated maps, a lot of scriptable events, or a sophisticated interface. I'd also like something that doesn't require a huge amount of difficulty to do; simple A.I., simple art requirements etc., so I can work on the message passing and control systems as a learning exercise.

But coming up with a good simple idea is hard - most of the moderately original ones I have are too complicated or would most likely be no fun. I might have to bite the bullet and do a rehash of a classic gaming idea, so I won't be too upset if I make a pig's ear of the whole thing. If inspiration strikes and I come up with an original idea that I think fits all the criteria and is good enough to do then that's great, but instead of just waiting for that to happen I might as well try a clone in the next few weeks as a learning exercise. But now the question is, which clone?

So far I'm leaning towards one of the following:
  • A Tetris variant (not classic Tetris, but maybe Tetris Attack, Super Puzzle Fighter, Dr. Mario etc.): pros: easy to do, fits objectives quite well, cons: done to death, hard to come up with an original variant
  • A Pengo variant (not sure how well know this is known these days): pros: nice little arcade game, cons: would like to think of a good way to improve this rather than just make a clone, would possibly be better with a map editor or format (but not that much of an issue with Pengo compared to other tile based maps).
  • A Scorched Earth variant: pros: still a lot of fun, cons: real danger of getting too carried away with this one, might be better with scripting
  • Some kind of space scrolling shmup, pros: potential for some originality, not much graphics required, already got some ideas, cons: would be better with scripting and especially music synchronication, might be better suited as a second or third game (once I've got up to developing that tech), chance of going overboard on design


Does anyone have any recommenations from these three, or would like to make a suggestion of their own?
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Damn, you figured out where I get all my energy from... I'll have to find a new host...



As for projects: this may sound a bit extreme, but it worked well for me. Pick three or four projects and commit to failing them. Now, I don't mean you'll promise yourself to not finish - just promise yourself that you'll code yourself into an absolute corner, and when you can't possibly get any more done, then and only then will you shift to the next project. Don't let yourself think about finishing or perfecting it - just commit to failing. Choose projects such that even locking yourself into a corner requires you to learn a few things, and you're all set.

The advantage of this is that it's extremely hard to do. Almost invariably, you'll get far enough and find a way to break out and finish the project - except your standards of "finished" will be radically lower, so you'll actually accomplish it. In the event that you don't finish, you'll have no qualms at all about throwing it out and doing something else. And even if you come out of it with no viable projects to show, that's not important - what's important is that you have plenty of experience. Even better, you probably have experience in how not to do things, which is essential to learning the best ways to do things. (It is true of virtually every single programmer ever that one cannot really appreciate a good system until one has been forced to work on a bad one.)

Just be sure to keep your code - don't delete anything. Then, come back to it periodically over time, and keep looking for new things about it that suck. As long as you can consistently come back and find some new area to critique that you never noticed as "bad" before, you're still improving and learning.

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I have to agree with the previous comments. In an ideal world I'd have a perfectly designed engine created and then make a kick-ass original and fun game. The reality is that you can't really know what that engine is supposed to look like until you find out what a bad engine looks like. If you're new and not in a rush to make the next DOOM then go with the idea of making one game at a time and pretty much re-create your engine for each new game with what you learned from the last. There will be tonnes of stuff that you can use between engines but you'll be amazed at how much you'll learn over the course of a couple of games.

This is not the prettiest approach and is along the lines of trial by error but it's probably the cheapest and most effective way to learn things.

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Quote:
Original post by ApochPiQ
As for projects: this may sound a bit extreme, but it worked well for me. Pick three or four projects and commit to failing them. Now, I don't mean you'll promise yourself to not finish - just promise yourself that you'll code yourself into an absolute corner, and when you can't possibly get any more done, then and only then will you shift to the next project. Don't let yourself think about finishing or perfecting it - just commit to failing. Choose projects such that even locking yourself into a corner requires you to learn a few things, and you're all set.

That's a good plan, and it's what I'd like to do. But as I wrote, my problem is with the core game ideas, which are all either totally boneheaded or inspiringly awesome. I can't build up the enthusiasm to start a boneheaded idea, and I don't want to "fail" at an awesome one.

I need a few projects that are modestly awesome that I can afford to fail. This might be where clones come in; at least then I've got clear cut-off point. Hmm, maybe making an update of an old classic game isn't such a bad idea after all...

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Everytime TrapperZoid makes a post about how uninspired he is, god kills a kitten. =)

It's game development man, it's hard, get used to it, just do it or don't do it.

It seems like at any given time you have a lot of questions about what is right and what is wrong or 'what should I be doing' this is fairly common. So when you have such questions drop me a PM and I'll answer them for you.

best advice I can give =)

P.S.

The good thing about the 'cycle' you mentioned is that once you break it, you can avoid it again.

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i think the best thing for you to do is just to suck it up and commit to an idea.

semi-new developers like ourselves have a tendancy to under-estimate our abilities, and thus never complete actually anything.

just say this is what i want to do....then try to do it
if you fail -- oh well try again
if you succeed --- friggin sweet!

but the self-questioning procrastination cycle gets no one anywhere

my 2cents

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Here's my philosophy: Just do it.

Do ten minutes a day of coding. Do it. If it sucks, spend those ten minutes going back and refactoring now that you know the right way to do things. Goddammit, you're reading this entry instead of writing code! Get back to work or you'll die! You're like a shark! Gotta keep moving! KEEP MOVING!!!

GO GO GO!

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I would take Raymond's(EDI) advice. I've gotten a lot further in game development since I started talking to him.

Good luck either way!

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Quote:
Original post by Ravuya
Get back to work or you'll die! You're like a shark! Gotta keep moving! KEEP MOVING!!!
GO GO GO!



lmao

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Thanks everyone for the motivational support. I do tend to flit from idea to idea a little too much. At the moment though I'm fairly sure it's the stark change in time zone and weather that's acting like a vice on my mind. I'm moderately sure about what I should be doing, it's just mustering up the energy and the time to do it. Guilt is a good motivating factor, so thanks everyone [grin].

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