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End of Year Stocktaking

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Sorry about the lack of updates about Ice Slider. The truth is I've been pretty busy with a variety of end of year activities and wrap-up work over the last few days which has sucked away both my time and energy. And the heat of summer hasn't helped. I've found I've been drawn more to playing Mop of Destiny or Boomlands over the last couple of days than work on Ice Slider (both great games, I recommend them; I'm planning on trying a few more 4E5 games over the Christmas break)

Since things might get a bit mad between now and the end of the year I thought I might finish the one thing I have to get done here before the start of 2007 - my end of year progress report, wrapping up 2006 and looking forward to 2007. It's time for another introspective on my own development, I'm afraid. We will return to normal journal posting shortly.


Progress Report - Moving from 2006 to 2007

Overall I'm pretty disappointed with my performance this year. Last year I set myself the optimistic goal of trying to sell a game somehow. Yet I wasn't even able to finish making a game in 2006. That makes my output a failure in terms of what I really wanted to achieve. Sure, I can probably dredge up some reasons that might sound decent as to why I didn't finish a game, but frankly they're just lame excuses when I factor in that the same sorts of things are always going to crop up, and with greater frequency as time goes on.

The fact is 2007 is going to be a tough year, as it's crunch time as far as my graduate research is concerned. It's the year where I'll have to pull everything together, write up that dissertation, and start thinking about who is going to supply the bread and circuits I need post my education. I don't think I can survive purely on making games - not yet, at least. However making games is what I've always wanted to do, and deep down inside I know I'll always feel unsatisfied if I don't keep working on them. While I'm not going to rule out ever working for a "proper" commercial games developer again, I'm still very wary after my brief stint working as a game programmer. That's a rant for another day, but it's hard to keep your hopes and dreams alive when your boss' boss only cares about you and your work as a number in a spreadsheet.

Thus the sensible thing for me to aim for is to nicely finish off my graduate education with an aim to getting a good postgrad research or teaching position, and try to master game development as a hobby. Maybe sometime soon I can turn games into a cottage industry, maybe then treat it as a part-time job or if I'm lucky and dedicated enough move into indie development full-time. But I think that aiming to make a sizable amount of money from games is not a goal I should be aiming for now, because somewhat paradoxically I suspect having that as a subconcious objective has hindered my chances of achieving it (if that makes sense!)

But that doesn't mean I shouldn't take my hobby seriously! In fact I think having a not-very-serious goal of trying to jump-start my abilities in such a short period of time has been part of my undoing - it's led me to keep scrapping simple ideas to jump at new more exciting ones that were beyond my abilities. But I'm also suspecting one of my major sources of failure this year was my lack of general planning. It's very easy to sway off track if you don't have a solid plan of what you should be currently doing and where it ultimately wouldn't go. Unfortunately I'm a terrible planner, but it's obviously a skill I need to practice seriously if I'm ever going to be able to achieve any of the goals that I want to.

So one of the final tasks I'm setting myself for 2006 is to write up a proper development plan for myself regarding my game making hobby - what skills I need to develop, what technology I need to learn, and what sort of games I need to make to achieve those goals. And importantly, what order to do it all in. I'm not sure if I could have written a detailed plan like that until I had a better understanding of where I am and where I'd like to go, but I think I might have enough of an idea now to give it a try. The fact of the matter is 2007 will be too hectic for me to sensibly figure all that out as I go, and without a detailed list of what I should be working on then I'm liable to let things slide once the work piles on.

I haven't yet had time to start such a planning task properly, and I mightn't until the Christmas/New Year holiday week, but I do have a fair idea of the objectives I'd like to set myself for 2007:
  1. Firstly, I need to build up a proper development regimen that I can maintain throughout the year without going insane (in fact, I'm hoping game development will keep me sane in the later half of the year!)
  2. Secondly, I need to focus more on simpler games rather than distracting myself with grand ideas - the more complex games can come after I'm comfortable with the development process. Given however I suspect I'll daydream about fancy ideas I'm toying with the concept of having a "major project" and a "minor project" at the same time - the major being a chance to slowly work on something complex, the minor being something simple that I can quickly finish.
  3. Thirdly, I need to focus on streamlining the development process so that it becomes ever-increasingly easy for me to complete my games. I see the only way I can get to work on more complex games is if I make development solid and easy. Reusable game code, tool development and proper use of third party tools are key.
  4. Fourthly, I need to focus more on developing my own "game style", now that I've got a good idea of what that is. This may require both more work on the artistic side of things (art and music) as well as a set of special technology improvements that I've been meaning to get my teeth stuck into.

This might seem like a pretty complicated set of objectives, but I suspect it's achievable if I can figure out a good plan of which elements need to be worked on when. I'm hoping that by the end of 2007 I'll have developed my abilities up to the point where I could take any of my not-too-ambitious ideas and put together a game on par with some of the 4E5 entries without too much of a hassle. Hopefully then I could use 4E6 as an end of year objective (depending on what the rules and elements are this year, of course!)

That's all for now. I'll see if I can get some more of Ice Slider finished before I head on holiday, given that whatever my plan ends up being finishing Ice Slider will be top of the list.
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