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'Play From Zero' Development Philosophy

Embassy of Time


(I have been asked about my limited writing here, and the reason is simple: My dad died in February, only a week before my birthday, and I have been... 'less' ever since. Hopefully, I am now getting back into some level action now. Hope my content will start to interest people again!)

I have a problem. In fact, I have a *cluster* of related problems. One is perfectionism, in that I hate publishing anything as finished unless it lives up to some ridiculously high standards. Another is that I cannot work on something without getting an avalanche of constant ideas that could improve it. Those two sort of play off each other, driving me insane with anything that I am the sole authority over. Most people likely recognize this; it is the bane of many creatives.

I am trying to solve this problem these days. I recently got back into writing the final draft of the first Embassy of Time book(s), and I have accepted that I need a new kind of structure. I'll leave the writing structure to my Tumblr blog and the like (social media is still chaos to me), but I found a way I might break the back of the problems I have with developing games. I call it Play From Zero.

Think of any game you would like to develop, but have not yet started work on. Imagine a line going from 0 to 1, from nothing to a complete product. This is my and anyone's usual view of it. Finish the product, then publish. Maybe a WIP / Early / Alpha version on the way, but those are just 'test versions', not something 'complete'.

What if the developer cut that imaginary line into microscopic pieces? What if every bit of programming had to leave a complete product? I'm not saying you should have complete AAA games done in a few hours. Instead, everything you do should make a small, but worthwhile, change in your game. After a 5 hour programming session, you have a tiny, simple game. After the next 6 or 7 hour session, that game has a new feature. It's not a WIP, it's a better game, fully playable. Complexity is built along the way, as tiny 'micro-features' stack up.

Of course, you can plan a complex product in advance, but whenever you actually do anything, you're aiming for a tiny, but worthwhile, expansion on your game. You need to finish the game every time you work on it. There is no "this will be cool when I finish it... some day"!

It's a thought. I have not yet started down this path, because I need to focus on some writing and animation first and foremost. I have pulled together enough money to dedicate 2020 to my work on The Embassy, and I need to plan more strictly than ever before to make the most of it. That means spreading myself less. But I hope to soon starting my first Play From Zero project, and hope a few in here will pay interest and give me  some good, honest feedback on not just the game at any stage, but the idea of a growing, organic, and most of all playable product.

Does this make sense? Tell me in the comments!


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This is an excellent approach to all software development in general. Getting something in a working state as early as possible is really great for getting creative. I always hated having documentation before hand on what exactly corporate enterprise software was going to be, so when we jumped on the Agile Bandwagon it was actually awesome. Not only could you get software done faster, but you figured out that clients rarely wanted the specifics of what they asked for. This translates so well into Game Development because you game grows very organically. Just make sure you're using some kind of Kanban board if you're with a team otherwise all those ideas will get lost. Also: Meet early, meet often :P

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I had similar problems, I couldn't help myself but brainstorm ideas as I go. So I decided to break my project into smaller modules.

I tried the playable approach, but you have to take into account you have to build the game as well as play it.

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Thank you for sharing this. As a 0 experience newbie trying to self learn, I really appreciate this conversation. This really gets the gears turning on how to pump out effective content, efficiently. I was actually just reading an article on procedural generation, and the author shares very similar insight. If you came to this conclusion on your own, damn, looks like I need to work on my self discipline!


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