Friday 13 May 2022

Thoughts on Making Games

I was considering keeping this one a little quieter, but I’m very excited to have started work on a classic point & click adventure game. It’s an amalgamation of a few ideas I’ve had for various games, set in something of an alternative 19th Century rural Ireland. Think maybe Monkey Island, Fate of Atlantis or Broken Sword meets Flann O’Brien and Father Ted. I’ve coined the working title of ‘Monkey Ireland’ as a bit of a laugh.

I think it’s safe to say I have a problem with finishing projects, especially when it moves from the exhilarating beginning stage of planning, conceptualisation and exploration, to the more tedious refinement, polish, and eventual release.

I recently revamped my website, moving from Squarespace to Google Sites. When I was doing my undergrad, I made a quick little website using Indexhibit, a free online portfolio creator with a bit of back end coding. Back in those days I was a bit more savvy with doing some web dev stuff, CSS and HTML, having cut my teeth on early internet, Flash, Geocites and Myspace. I switched to Squarespace around 2014, and only recently dropped it as it was becoming increasingly expensive, nearly £200 a year to maintain what is essentially an online business card. I was thrilled at Google Sites and would 100% recommend it to any other artist looking for an online portfolio. Thanks to the wayback machine, there is an archive of my old website, if anyone is interested. 

This was a big deal for me, not only having ticked off one of my big ‘to do’ items for this year, allowing me a bit more financial freedom, and also to reflect on all the weird projects and things that I’ve made over the years. So it turns out that I’ve actually worked on, and more importantly finished, quite a number of projects. And there are still more that I need to add to the website still.

One of the biggest problems indie game developers have is starting a project with too much ambition. Over lockdown I began work on making a new Mod for Half-Life, Valve’s 1998 classic first person shooter. I wanted to recapture some of the feeling of playing that game that I had back in 1998 and worked on a few levels sketching out some ideas and basic geometry. I was happy with the results but I’ve decided to put that project on the back burner for now. I’m a little sad to see that mod languish on the depths of my hard drive, but I might return to it eventually. That said, I am happy with my contribution to that side of gaming, with a number of maps made that gained popularity and are still enjoyed to this day.

On reflection, I have a few other games that never quite made it. I developed a short game about being stranded on a small boat during a flood, having to fish for supplies and befriend a small bird, a Flashback style game where you are a robot trying to return to your factory to be dismantled, a game where you control a hermit, scanning a beach for items to reveal more information about your past, and a Duke Nukem 2 inspired platformer where you play as an older, fat, bald and grumpy version of the classic 90’s action hero. All these titles are on hold, incomplete, and maybe never see the light of day. But theres something about making them that thrills me, I think I’m drawn to the process of development more than creating something to release. 

I often think about these abandoned games, and consider maybe revisiting them and taking them to the final stages of polish, but I’m very happy with what I’ve achieved and what they’ve taught me about making things. Every aspect of the creative process offers something different to me. When I look back on these games I don’t see them as failed projects, but more as experiments that helped me learn a little more about my own creative practices. 

Referring back to the abundance of completed projects on my recent website revamp has allowed me to reflect on my actual achievements, on what I’ve taken from start to finish, and what I can do when I put my mind to it. These finalised works are the results of years and years of those experiments, and I’m very grateful to have the ability and opportunity to take these risks.

The new game that I’m working on is another passion project. Like a lot of my work, I don’t exactly plan on making something with wide appeal. Point and click adventure games are a serious niche, with a very small market, but I think if I release the first act of the game, perhaps some interest will allow me to finish it off. I’ve written the script for it, developed the puzzles and locations. On paper, it works, which is good. But now I need to get into the nitty gritty of developing the actual game. I’m confident I can do it, despite not created a point and click game since I was in high school, The wealth of knowledge and experience in the other ‘paused’ projects gives me something to build on. 

By the big mirror in my bedroom, I’ve stuck a few postit notes, detailing things that I need to do. Not exactly Trello, but I’ve found this method to be really useful in helping me manage my projects. Being the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning is so helpful in keeping me on track. Removing the’ ‘Squarespace’ item from this list was very satisfying, much more than ticking a box on a spreadsheet. I’m hoping to knock a few more things off this list, hopefully including one for this new adventure game. 

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