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Lost in the vortex of indecision...

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Trapper Zoid


Yet another overly long journal entry from me, as I just type whatever I'm thinking into the computer. I guess that's what these journals are for, right?

I seem to be suffering from both coders and designers block. I can't seem to get any of my code working (even for my research), and I also can't think of a good simple game idea involving hexagon tiles. It's starting to bug me a bit. I'm also spending more of my time daydreaming or playing games rather than working on aspects of creating them, which isn't good if I'm to cultivate a professional attitude to this hobby.

However, I don't think I can work on designing or building a game unless I have a clear vision of how the game should feel to play, so I might as well work on other skills until a flash of insight occurs. So I might as well get starting on what I was planning on doing for the second half of this month; working on bolstering my game dev skills. In particular, I need to work on my weaker skills; drawing, planning and business goals.

For my drawing skills, I'll start working through a bunch of tutorials for beginner artists. I've done a few of these before, but I never got very far (and it doesn't hurt to refresh the basics). I think I'll go for a manga-inspired look, since although I'm not a huge fan of manga and anime that style to me that looks pretty good in games.

For planning and business, I need to start looking ahead and planning for 2006. I'm still not sure on the best way of working towards being an indie developer. I'm still leaning towards making a few small games and releasing them for free in order to get practice and feedback without having to worry so much about perfecting them to sellable quality and dealing with after-sale maintenance (I'm not prepared to sell anything unless I feel it's worth paying for, and caring for customers has to be a top priority for any small business). I also need to figure out what tools I need to acquire, or make for myself. And I guess I also need to plan some timelines and get some project ideas down, so I'll need to do a bit of brainstorming and commit some game concepts to paper. Of course, this is all made tricky by the fact that my Ph.D. work becomes even more time intensive in 2006, with a long overseas trip being almost a certainty and the thesis write-up looming (I'll have to budget nearly a year for this; it's going to be a whole bucket of pain).

This leads me into some thoughts about what sort of games I really should be making. This is part of a problem with game design with me; I love pretty much every genre of computer games (except for MMO games, but that's only because I've never played one). This makes it hard to nail down exactly which sort of games I should make, as my tastes slowly swing between action games, strategy games and RPGs. However, the more I think about it, the more I feel that designing strategy games of all types might just be the right genre to aim for; there's less need for heaps of animation or super fast frame rates. Of course, it could just be the hexagons that have starting to swing my tastes back to strategy (what with the hex based movement in tactical board games and everything).

I might as well continue the typing brainstorm by listing the criteria that whatever games I decide to make must meet. The games I make must satisfy the following criteria:
  • It has to be something that I want to do (otherwise I'll never finish it)
  • It has to be something that I can actually do (within a short time frame)
  • It has to be something that other people will want to play (and for later games, buy)

Since I pretty much love every type of game that I try (except for ultra-realistic games), the first point is a given for any genre. However I really love quirky cartoonish style games, so I'll go for that.

The second point is tricky, since I'm not sure what I'm capable of yet. However epic games with heaps of required art assets are definitely out. MMO games are also out unless I can find someone prepared to deal with all the administration of running a server. In fact, I probably should steer away from networks games for now entirely, since I haven't got any network programming experience. However, I do have some experience with a handful of A.I. techniques, so strategy games are a possibility. However whatever I decide, I'll have to aim to finish the game within a year part time (and preferably a lot less time than that), which cuts down the scope of the game considerably.

I haven't got much idea at all on the third point. I'm hoping if I build a good enough game (and market it accordingly), people will play it, but that's probably a foolish assumption. I guess I just have to aim for giving a different experience from all the games that I'm aware of, and making sure I don't fall into the trap of providing just a poor version of a popular game type that's already saturated. I also shouldn't aim for any of the strong areas of the commerical market. That means no classic styled FPS and no RTS; I'll need to provide my own twist to those genres if I go for them.

That leaves me with these ideas for target genres:
  • Simple arcadey type action games
  • Simple yet compelling strategy games (of all types; strategy, tactics, 4X, management-sims or puzzle games)
  • RPG-lite games, preferably combined with one or both of the previous two gameplay element

Ideally, I'd like to make games that have all three of those elements. With the right toolset, I think it still might be possible, as long as I keep the game ideas and art requirements simple.

Well, that's enough brainstorming for now. Any comments will be welcome. Plus if anyone has any broad feelings or ideas about the best way of approaching making games that will be well received by people, or how to overcome "designer's block", they'd be appreciated (I still hope that's due to the summer weather combined with the approching holdiays).
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An old therapist of mine had some good advice a buncha years ago. If you're creatively blocked in one place, work in another. If you can't code, work on graphics. If you can't work on graphics, work on sound. If you can't work on sound, work on the manual. A game, unlike a book, is not a single medium, so there's plenty of places to work if you look.

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That's good advice, but it's really annoying being stuck on the "what's the whole concept" part of development, as I have to get that straight in my head before the whole thing clicks.

I guess the best thing to do is to do some training to work on my art and music, and then every now and again try to think of some new ideas.

I was just so pumped up after finishing the "Pierre and the Fish" game that I wanted to dive straight into my next project, but I currently don't have a big project I'm that excited about (apart from all those over-ambitious ones like Project Hamlet and Project Ivan, which aren't quite achievable yet, unfortunately). Although I could do a bit more planning for those to work out exactly what I need, I guess.

I somewhat wish that 4E5 would start, so that I could throw together an idea for that. The ones I dreamed up for 4E4 were pretty good, if a bit extensive on the art work (Four Elements Island: the manamgement sim, and my favourite one: Four Elements Party, the mini-game extravaganza! [smile]).

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Hey! :) Wow, good luck making a commercial game. Is this your first? Anyway I've never sold a game, so I guess I have nothing useful to say about that. I like TANSTAAFL's suggestion though ;) One really cool old game you might want to try out for inspiration is "Adventures of Lolo", it's for the NES though. It's a pretty neat puzzle game, very easy to code too. It's not hexagonal though *shrug*

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I like to read your journal as a lot of your plans seem so similar to mine. My weakest area is also planning :( Reading this makes me think that maybe I should create a few small games just to prove to myself I'm capable and as a small show case. The problem is if I did write small games I'd prefer them to work on most populars OSes but I like C# quite a lot ... maybe it's time I took a look at Mono and see what graphics libraries are avaliable.

As for game ideas, I find walking helps or thinking about it when I go to sleep. Or think of a popular game and try to think what makes it good. Like tetris, it's good for many reasons one is the pressure it keeps you under because blocks keep falling. Is there a way to create such pressure with out falling blocks ...? Or if you could revserse it and you chose what blocks game down next how fast could you defeat an AI player? I tend to ask myself lots of questions like this and usually come up with an idea or two.

Anyway good luck with your plans! I hope you meet your goals.

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Thanks for all the comments everyone! I'm still stuck on thinking of puzzle game ideas, unfortunately, and this week I'm feeling a bit under the weather as well which really isn't helping. It's possible that abstract puzzle games aren't really my area. Or maybe I'm just in a game creative rut at the moment? Whatever the problem is, I'm sure I'll think of something over the holidays that will be suitable for a game with a three month development time.

TANSTAAFL: I've tried adapting ideas from square grids to hexagons, but there's some subtle differences that just don't seem to gel in my mind. Hexagon tiles don't smoothly move past each other as well as squares do. They also don't neatly fit into a playing field; you have to have lots of half hexagons around the edges.

Kuro: Thanks! I've never made a commercial game by myself, but for a brief time I was a game programmer at a local company several years ago, before I decided to move into postgrad studies. I don't think this game will end up being commercial, unless it turns out really good. I'm not quite prepared for laying down the groundwork for a small business yet, plus there's a lot of postgrad stuff that will eat away my time next year that I can't plan for yet. Best of luck with your projects too!

Balaam: I find that walking helps me think of ideas too. However, I've finding that all the great game ideas I'm think of now are more general concept ideas; what a game should be about, what feelings they should provoke in the player, etc. For those game ideas where I can actually think about the mechanics, the scope is too great for the three months part-time that I've budgeted for this project. I can't seem to reign in my ideas from the big overambitious stuff that I'm just not ready for yet. But thanks for the ideas! I've thought of trying game ideas without falling blocks (Tetris Attack doesn't have falling blocks either, except as a penalty). The reverse game idea is a good one; I hadn't considered that with respect to a Tetris game before. I'm also considering Game of Life style gameplay as well, but with hexagons.

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