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Munchkin9

How do YOU do it?

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Hey there,

Programming/game designing as a hobby is proving rather tricky. All too often things in my life get in the way of my time to program, this results in me often not finishing projects simply because I've lost my strand of thought, found some new interest and in general just can't seem to get motivated in the project again.

While I've been able to reduce this a bit by properly commenting my code so that I know how everything works and what I was doing it really isn't enough. At the same time I find that the bigger the project the harder it will be to make and the more my own limited capabilities will get in the way. This all results in my getting almost nothing truly finished. Though I know this is normal to a limit, I think I've reached that limit.

The obviouse solution, for me, seems to be to design and program really small games. Things that would take me one, or at most two, days to complete and would be fun and addictive but not truly mind blowing. Five minute games basically.

Problem is, try as I might, I can not seem to come up with any. I know the general idea of what a small game should be like, but whenever I try to sit down and design one the game either ends up being uninteresting or too 'big'. Very quickly I notice I'm adding extra 'small', fun features left and right. These 'small' features quickly accumulate though, the project gets too big, then somewhere along the line I realize that the original idea, while probably a good one, is in itself too big and I scrap the entire thing. Its like feature creep at the design process, on crack.

So I'm seeking some tips from you guys. How do you design a small, quick game and get about making it without it turning into a major project?

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I've looked into gamejams. The Ludum Dare and its MiniLDs sound particularly nice but I'm not sure it would actually help me design the game to be small. Rather I'd probably just wouldn't be able to finish.

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The game that I'm working on that I mention in my journal was intended to be a quick project that I was hoping to have done in about a month. The first prototype was all sorted out in about a week or so and I could see the basic game play in action and I found it very exciting. But it was far from being a polished game, features needed to be added, and there were a number of things in my base code that I've been meaning to fix up for some time so it's taken longer than expected. I'm approaching week 11 and I don't have as much drive to finish as I did when I started but I still have the determination to get it to what I'd consider a finished state. The goal seems to have shifted from seeing the basic concept that I had in my mind working to making a complete game.

Still, additional features will continue to be added and I worry about it a bit sometimes that it's going to get to be too much. But if nothing else I figure that down the road I'll be working on some other project and I'll eventually say something like, "Hey, that code I had in that one old game would probably be perfect for this new feature." So if I had any recommendation it'd be to try and make sure that any feature that you work on is something that you can probably make use of down the road. Eventually you'll have enough stuff all set to go that it'll be much easier and faster to throw something together.

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Hmm...I see your point. Thanks for the advice. I have been noticing that the more I program the easier it becomes and the more resources I can draw on, so that I can copy paste large portions of code with very little tweaking to get it working.

Not sure if it answers my problem about designing a small game though. I very much appreciate the advice about the programing side of it, any tips on the design side?

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Tell me about it.

I definitely feel like my interests rise and fall with each week. One week I'll be totally interested in comic books -- Oh I'll scour through my copies of The Dark Knight Returns and How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way and maybe end up with a few semi-interesting sketches that would need a lot of work before being called a finished product. The next week, I'll move onto writing a story, and I'll read something like The 90-Day Novel and maybe end up with 5 pages that interest me much more than the sketches I drew the week before. And the next week, I'll look for some game ideas, possibly in the comic book and story ideas I had previously considered. And maybe the week after, I'll remember the car in my carport and look for parts online to restore my old VW bug. :)

This is so because it's all a hobby, and I'm really just entertaining myself. Looking back, I have done this practically all my life. My childhood was spent much like this. So, call me a lover, call me a dreamer. Maybe one day I'll find that rainbow connection..... Oh, also I have a banjo I play once in a while. :P

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this results in me often not finishing projects simply because I've lost my strand of thought, found some new interest and in general just can't seem to get motivated in the project again.
It's very simple. You either desire to finish games or you don't. I'm all for small projects and such, but if your limit is 2 days then it is not a question about game design tricks, it is simply a short attention span. At the very minimum aim to make a game in one month (but no less). You start working on it and take on no new projects until you finish it (or the deadline is reached and you have to admit a failure).

Tip: Making a game only for your onw enjoyment never works. If you want to finish it make it for other people to play and enjoy (or for money or for whatever other external reason not directly related to you). In a long run sitting in front of TV is more enjoyable all the time, while making games has also the dark hours sometimes you have to survive, if you are doing it just for entertainment then of course you will always quit in the middle when you encounter the first obstacle.

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It depends on you! I have to disagree with the last post, because if you're doing something for your own enjoyment, you're doing it out of love and for the fun of it. If you're doing it for others, it's easier to be driven - yes - but it also makes it more of a job and more of a chore.

Personally I've struggled to finish small projects - I have two "ailments" - first, I suffer from what you have: the feature creep. I cannot help but dream big, and even little projects begin to rise to unrealistic heights. Second, I lose patience. This is related to my games becoming too large quickly, but I sometimes realise that I've gone off on a tangent and my work has become unmanagable. Eww.

The best way to mitigate this, I feel, is through planning. Writing ideas down into a game design doc and giving it some thought before the offset really gives me grounding. In that case, I find myself removing features more than I add them, and even if I do add something, the document keeps me grounded so that I do not go overboard.

That's my suggestion, and it works quite well for me. I wouldn't stress too much about it though - there is much to learn from failed attempts, and I do not look back on mine with regret. I learnt from them, and I enjoyed doing them, and sometimes it's also better to cut something lose than to try and revive a long dead idea - besides, your tendency to experiment and grow projects should help you better understand game design... so no loss, right? :)

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I'm not sure what sort of advice I could give on small game design because each game is going to be different. And it really depends on what you're trying to put together. So I'll just start typing and see what comes up.

Perhaps what's needed is a way to keep you from getting too sidetracked. Something as simple as a deadline or a central vision or mission statement of sorts. When you find yourself wanting to add a new feature, look at your deadline, look at your central vision, and ask yourself how would adding the feature affect these things? Is pushing back your deadline or deviating from your central vision going to be worth it? Do you "think" that adding the feature is going to make the game more fun or do you "know" it is going to make the game more fun?

I'm wondering if maybe you'd benefit from making a couple of clones. More of a precise clone rather than your interpretation on someone else's game (some differences are of course inevitable). Idea being that you know what the end result is supposed to be. You don't have to worry about adding in a few extra features here and there, you know what the game is supposed to contain, you can focus on getting code working and making it so that you can port it over to original projects later. In addition to building a code library maybe you can also pick up on how these games were designed in the first place and the considerations that were involved. In short, learn design by studying how others designed their work.

For some reason I can't help but think of all the competition shows my wife and I watch on food network. They have a time limit and a central theme or a couple ingredients to work with and they have to make something to impress the judges. You have these talented chefs putting stuff together that sometimes look amazing but isn't that great tasting, something that shows great technique but doesn't work with the theme, or maybe various components taste great but they don't work together as a whole. The principals for what you want your game to be aren't that different even if you take the deadline away. You want things to present well (not necessarily meaning you require super graphics), you want it to be entertaining, you want to show a little technique, you need to get all the necessary elements for your genre, and it all has to come together as a whole. Actually, maybe you do need a bit of a deadline too because what good is it spending a ton of time mastering all those things if nobody gets to see the results?

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Wow, all great responses thank you.

Let me quickly explain how I usually get about designing and making a game for comparison's sake:

-Where the original idea comes from can vary massively but usually it comes from *wanting* to play a certain game, where you do a certain something and not finding that satisfied in any existing game.

-Sometimes it also comes from seeing a few different features in unrelated games and thinking that these features would be really cool working together in the same game.

-At this point I grab my notebook (I prefer writing when I'm just sketching ideas as opposed to typing) and start considering the facets of the game I want to make. I consider what the beginning reason is for making it, what might make it fun, challenging and unique. I start sketching out possible features though usually at this point I'm just writing out what I want to be in the game not how to do it.

-Once I have a decent idea of how the game would look, feel, function etc, I go on google docs and start typing out a more in depth design document. I look at the literal goal of the game, what the player is told to try and achieve, I look at each major feature and plan out how these function and how they relate to one another.

-Then I let it sit there for about a week. On purpose.

-One week later, about, I come back to it and reread it, revise it and polish it (and add to it, usually)

-After that it usually goes to programming, if I've found the motivation.

-I work on the project for sometimes a week, sometimes a few months. Hitting snags along the way and gradually overcoming them (which is probably the part I like the best actually).

-Then at some point I look at what I've done. Show it to a friend or a family member. I find that: for all the time I spent on it there is hardly anything to show because its mostly "under the hood stuff" or they just don't understand what I'm trying to make and so don't like it.

That's usually the point where my productivity starts to tapper off.

Now the problems that occur, I mostly know why they're there and how to get around them. It comes from a combination of classes, or jobs getting in the way. And showing an unfinished product before it should be shown. I also know I have a really hard time making people understand what I am trying to make, something I REALLY need to deal with before I properly head into the industry.

I've also found that one thing that usually makes me lose interest/heart is that after a few weeks of programming the project doesn't LOOK any good. Filled with glitchy graphics and poor art (my own), usually no music or sound effects and no actual gameplay as I was too busy setting up the fundementals and game mechanics to worry about turning them into a game.

Recently I made a small "visual poem" which approached designing from the other side, I started with the art, sounds and music, made the product look good before I started working on the gameplay. I am actually fairly happy with the result, the game is pretty, sounds nice, and didn't take long (about 3 days). Having said that, its not a game, there isn't anything to do in it. And everyone I showed it to has told me that they don't see the point. My hopeless whinning that "there IS no point" doesn't seem to make things any better. Tsk can't they see the greatness of the vision of the artist :) .

Anyway, long story short I thought that making 'quick' games would help me: streamline my design process, get it done before stuff gets in the way, help me work on getting a project presentable quickly. Not to mention that it would give me more stuff to put in a portfolio or on a website (that I am planing to put up eventually). That's the part where I realized that I couldn't come up with a single 'small' idea.

Where was I heading with this?

I do like the snags in projects. In fact its the part I enjoy the most and as soon as it turns into 'making the game world' or anything which I consider repetatitive then I lose interest.

I do have a sort of deadline: I want to put up a website with some games before I head off to college next year. I was supposed to go this year but we missed the deadline :P .

On the point about having a challenge set for you as in the cooking competition, that is what I'm hoping gamejams will provide, some 'theme' to work with and a very limited time. But as I have to wait around until one starts up I'd prefer do something until then. As for coming up with my own 'themes' and challenges that doesn't seem to work for me. It doesn't work if I came up with it.

And I hate remaking game someone else has made. I don't know, its a psychological thing. I feel like I'm wasting my time even more than if I was just sitting on my hands, so to speak. I do plenty of research on other designers' work by strudying games I play (hard to convince people you are really working and not playing but whatever). Remaking them though, sorry can't do that.

And @Acharis: I'm not sure I agree with you. It is entirely possible to design I game that takes you all of 2 days to make. Just look at free online flash games and things like that. I'm not worried about how long the design takes me, that, I never lose interest in (if the idea works). I'm talking about the programming part. Which is why I was asking if people had 'tricks' to coming up with a way to design small... In hind sight I'm realizing that the question is ridiculously vague. But hey! I'm getting plenty of great tips anyhow.

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