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Keep it simple and give it soul

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Trapper Zoid


I'm back in Canberra now; have been for a while. The flight back went without a hitch, although I'm always mildly amused by the lifejacket part of the mandatory safety instructions given by the flight attendants. If we need those on a domestic flight between Melbourne and Canberra then something has gone seriously wrong.

Actual game development stuff

I've started working on writing my Diagonal game library. I'm using this library coding as a method for learning how to code on my MacBook Pro. It means I'm currently pretty slow as I'm not used to Xcode and it took a while to set everything up; there's a lot of code and documentation on my PC hard drive that I keep missing and needing to get local copies. It's also a bit of a hassle that I haven't yet connected the internet to my laptop; I'm ferrying files across using my PC as an intermediatory. However I'm happy making my laptop completely internet free; often the distractive allure of the internet is more harmful then beneficial.

I am also plugging away at music for Stompy's BlockyMan although I'm not making as much progress as I'd like. I'd like to develop a more retro game style so I've set myself some limitations: only use four channels at once in my final tracker files, and use instruments that are built on basic wave forms (sine, square, triangle, saw etc.). The problem is I'm not very good at it. I have some examlpe chiptunes I'm studying that are well put together, but my attempts sound more like a demented greeting card. Most of my basic melodies are sound I think, but I can't put them together with backing to make a good combo yet. I need more practice I guess.

Game Development Motto

While I've done a bit of game development I've been more distracted than productive. Over the last few days I've been guiltily sucked into playing games too much than is sensible; currently I've been playing Jade Empire (PC version), which is a bit silly as I haven't finished Zelda: Twilight Princess yet. I've also got a bunch of cut price games sitting in a box that are looking mighty attractive such as the assuredly addictive Civlization IV. The problem is the pressure on my time is rapidly building up and is only going to get worse for the rest of the year. It's getting to the point where playing games or making them become mutually exclusive options as I don't have the time to do both. If I had to choose, I'd better pick making games otherwise I'll feel far too guilty about my slackness.

Given I've been out of focus for a couple of days I decided it was worth taking a step back and reviewing the plan to see how I can get back into gear again. Given I've had some trouble organising all the gazillion things I'm meant to be doing right now I'd better organise my plan a little better otherwise I'll end up paralyzed with the overload.

I also decided it was time to review my drive for actually making games in the first place. This is a deep philosophical question, and I know from soul-searching that I don't really know exactly why I want to make games; I just do. Given I don't have a week to spent on philosophy I changed my focus to exactly what properties I'd like to put in my games. This was considerably easier and took less time than it took to type up this journal entry. It can be summed up by a simple motto:

Keep it simple, and give it soul

This encompasses two principles that I think I need to keep frontmost in my mind:


This is partly philosophical but mainly practical.
Given I'm just a lone developer I cannot afford to make anything complicated.
I don't have the time or the skill for masses of complicated code, amazingly detailed artwork or design documents that are heavier than your PC.
Keeping it simple turns out to be mandatory if I actually want to finish my game.


What I also like to call "soul". This is a property I find hard to define but I can identify it when I see it. It's also in my view the most important property to put into a game. I enjoy many games which are deeply flawed from a gameplay perspecitve but the personality of the game clicks with me so well I can't help loving it (most RPGs fall into this distinction). It's something to do with the combination of the features and the overall presentation of the whole package that just gives it that feel that makes it more than a sum of its parts. I wish I could define this property better but it's definitely there.

Examples of games that inspire me as both simple and personality rich are the Worms series, Lemmings and the Incredible Machine.

There are plenty of other features that I like in games, but I can't put everything into my motto (otherwise it wouldn't be keeping it simple, would it?). But that's a good motto to start with. I'm hoping if I keep that in mind then it will help deciding the important tasks from the redundant.

I apologize for the long rambling post (I really should post more often to break things up). I hope to get back to more productive tasks soon. Once I can get the Diagonal library running (which hopefully will not take that long if I reuse what I currently have) I should have a more screenshot rich journal again.
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I'm in agreement with your comments on game 'soul', or personality. When you play a game that has a definite depth and feel to it -- irregardless of other qualities/flaws -- it makes it just that much harder to put down. I don't think many of us have hit that vibe with our games yet (I know I haven't!), but when you quantify it a little more clearly like that I think it gives us all something more tangible to aim for.

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