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SteelGolem

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i know you guys must be getting sick of me starting stuff and not finishing, so why read this journal anymore? i don't blame you. i'm getting sick of it myself. instead of announcing any more "projects" i'm going to focus my energy on figuring out wtf is wrong with my method.

when i've got a "good idea" that i want to work with, i'm usually pretty excited. i've proven to myself with space fortress and the latest attempt at actionrpg with one-week, that interative programming works. get something up and going as fast as possible and refactor when the code is too messy to move forward. you've seen that i CAN get something going. you've also seen that i can't get anything DONE.

i think the biggest reason for this is that my visions are still visions when i hit the code. i think that dragon warrior was probably closest to being ready for coding, of all the projects i've had so far. i thought out alot of the aspects of the game before i started coding. i still have the notebook i wrote them in.

the probem is, i haven't answered a bunch of important game design questions. should the game maps be single screen like in z:la or should they be bigger? answering this one question might be easy right now, but there are a whole bunch of other questions just like it. answering them all means closing the door to possibilities. if i try to keep the door open that means i'm writing alot more code and worrying about things that i haven't yet envisioned. its alot of effort for nothing at the moment.

you can't really refactor code if the game design didn't support an idea you wanted to add "later". when i've suffered too many disappointments from bad design, it feels like i need to scrap the whole thing and start over.. and by that time i'm ready to give up.

another issue is about aiming too low. when i start out i see something i can attain, and as i think about it more i ask "well why am i settling with A or B being like this when i can envision them being better?" and then i start thinking about what would make them better and it spirals out of control. when i come back to what i was working on it looks like a neandrathal wrote it: why am i settling for this? but i just saw that aiming higher took me somewhere i couldn't acheive. so what do i do, i can't settle but i can't aim higher.

i'm stuck not knowing a whole bunch of things and just being confused about what to do. i used to think my problem was about arranging my information, but it's really that i don't know what i'm trying to program when i'm in the middle of programming it. i saw one of viridian's todo lists for planitia and it blew me away how he had everything broken down. he didn't know what he wanted to do with the game but he had this huge list of things to do. i'm baffled.
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Try not to worry too too much about it. I was stuck in the same rut for several years, and it's only recently that I was able to break out of it. Don't consider every failed or dropped project as a mistake -- consider it as a learning experience. For each project you start and don't finish, that's one more idea that you know will not work out. You're still doing infinitely better than the people who sit down and plan, but are too afraid of writing an imperfect game with imperfect code to actually even start something.

Writing games, at least for the hobbyist, is about ending up at a different goal point than where you originally were trying to head towards. It's about having a grand vision, but settling for a lesser vision in the end that agrees with your skill level and abilities. I imagined something far more grandiose than what Membrane Massacre is today, at least in terms of the overall picture, but there are tons of very cool details to it that I never dreamed I would add.

What's important is the big picture. If you tell yourself that you want to make Game X, then think about the 'idea' behind the game, and write it. I've fallen down the evil path of sitting about worrying about the minute details like doing single-screen or scrolling for maps, or ideal bullet speeds for Action Game Y, or any mixture of smaller issues that don't really impact that overall grand idea of what the game is supposed to be. If you chose single-screen maps over scrolling maps, and it turned out that it wasn't a 'perfect' method for it, would it really ruin your game altogether? Of course not. If anything, you'd probably think of some creative way of dealing with the problem and end up with something even more original and interesting entirely by mistake. This accumulation of 'less-than-ideal additions' or mistakes end up becoming the defining points for your game, and you wind up with a more original and fascinating game than you had originally thought you would have.

A good friend of mine told me that vision is the most important thing. As long as you have a clear image of what you want, then the details will take care of themselves. Just stick with it, and don't let the dropped projects get you down. Staying with that 'less-than-ideal' project seems to always be worth it in the end. [smile]

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I'm seconding most of what HopeDagger said, then adding a bit of my own:

It wasn't until I finished my 4e5 entry that I had EVER finished a game. It was the first time in 10 years of attempted game programming.

Almost every one of my "failed" attempts ended either with:

- Me getting a different idea for something else cool that I wanted to work on
- Me having coded myself into a corner, requiring massive painful rewrites to fix
or
- Me having almost no artistic skills, and not having any art that looks good

The strategy that worked great for me for my 4e5 entry was, essentially:

Plan out everything I want in the game (to an extent - the individual monsters and bosses were thought up as I went, but the basic concepts behind how they would work were planned first)

Then cut out all of the stuff that I couldn't handle (and make a list of potential things to get cut if time became an issue)

THEN, decide what the hardest coding challenges are (for my entry, it was moving platforms and rotating gear platforms to jump on, and how they'd handle)

Then I laid out my schedule, which front-loaded most of the coding, and slowly trickled in asset creation (I had all levels playable with no art whatsoever before I did any background art).

Let me tell you:

It wasn't easy.

As a matter of fact, 15 days before the 4e5 deadline, I almost gave up. The only reason I *DIDN'T* was because, if I'd given up that close, even though I was woefully behind schedule, after having worked non-stop for 3 and a half months, my wife would have murdered me.

However, having that deadline proved to be the best motivating factor. Note that I had set deadlines for myself, but I knew, deep inside, that I didn't have to hit them, so I didn't. Having a deadline set EXTERNALLY meant that it was unwavering; there was no way to say "that deadline doesn't apply to me" and still be able to enter the contest.

Plus, having a good idea of what overall things I'd need through the whole game (types of platforms, types of effects, etc) really helped me to organize my game code the right way the "first" time (note: some things still got rewritten), without ever totally blocking myself on anything (Though I came close when it came time to implement cutscene scripting, which was harder than it needed to be -- I didn't plan anything about that feature except that "I need cutscene scripting").

My suggestion would be to try it. Enter one of the gamedev contests. Check out 4e6 when it starts this summer, come up with a cool idea for it (or make one of your existing ideas fit), and get cracking :)

Entering that contest was probably the only way for me to ever finish one of my game projects. Maybe it'll help you, too :D

Edit: I'm not saying that my planning method will work for you, just that it was something that worked for me. Don't go super-low level. Start high, and then work your way down the design levels as far as you need to to understand how things will work together. Hope that helps :)

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Step One: Turn off the self-butt-kicking machine, unplug it, and smash it to bits with a hammer. *LITERALLY* thousands of people are just like you. You obviously have the appropriate amount of skill to write the games you wish to write. You struggle with feature creep, which can easily bog you down to a point where the project drowns(which is, if my guess is right, the wasteland that most of your projects end up).

If you look at most of my available work, you will see that pretty much everything I've done is small and supports very little feature creep. Is this because I don't have an issue with feature creep in my projects? No... it is because I never get my feature creepy projects done.

Starting a game takes no great skill. Feature creeping a project to death is easy. Finishing a game (meaning a *really* finished game, which none of my projects are) is very hard. It requires dedication to a project far beyond the point at which you are sick of looking at it, and the ability to make difficult decisions. By "difficult decisions" I mean, mostly, deliberately leaving out a feature you really would like to put in.

If you look at the stuff viridian does, you'll notice that he is constantly trioshing his stuff. Unless I miss my bet here, he only writes down about half of his ideas, so his proverbial cutting room floor has way more stuff than anybody who reads his blog realizes.

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I like the fact that the two previous commenters didn't tell you to start with something smaller. Most people do that. To me these guys have the right attitude, the "failed" attempts are no longer failed but learning experiences. Start with some high goal, and bring it down to where you are. This is what I've been saying to people for years.

Mark you just learned a valuable lesson -- that game development whether it be for a hobby or commercial purposes is work :-) Yep that dreaded work, we all want to be lazy and not do anything and have our games magically appear. The real world, unfortunately, doesn't work that way. As such we must work hard if we want to create something significant. I used to have two sayings... one is No Pain, No Game... This means you don't get a game done if you don't go through the painful process of finishing it. Secondly I found out you "had to go through the crap to get to the good stuff". Essentially what that means is the hard work, the boring busy work, the little details that add to the polish, the bug fixes which may not be fatal, but you know it's not working right, so you have to fix though -- basically anything you don't want to do the "crap" if you will, HAS TO BE DONE, if you want to finish it. If you ever want to be successful, you've got to realize this, accept it, and go for it whole hog.

I don't know if you remember Greks' puzzle challange, that was the 3d sokoban style puzzle that I made 90 levels to, while Blain designed and programmed the game. He got like one sale I think, and deemed it a failure. However, it was never "properly" finished, because we didn't wade through the crap to finish it. It needs a proper interface, it needs to be easier, the gui needs to look nicer, we need some extra goodies that will get people to try it, and there are a few bugs that need to be addressed. But Blain like any good person got tired of it. He worked on it so long that he didn't want to look at it anymore. And who can blame him, you work for a better part of a year, get it to playable, and then nobody is interested in it, because it doesn't look that hot.

Now I *KNOW* grek could actually make alot of money, if we only finished it... (Actually we might have finished it if I hadn't dropped the ball a little, and we still might yet).

What does this have to do with you? Point is you need to do the stuff on your game that you don't enjoy doing, and in fact you need to do that first. There was an article on "eat that frog" -- which translates to, do the thing you most hate because once it's out of the way, it's clear sailing. http://home.earthlink.net/~denmartin/etf.html -- if you're interested.

So... I think you have a good thing going with space fortress, don't let the things you DON'T want to do stop you from the things you do want to do, which is finish. Space fortress should be an incredible game when you're done. Good luck :-)

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