Here we are, in the final hours of the Dream Games contest. Thirteen months has gone by. Over three dozen games have already dropped out or been eliminated, and the contest is down to the final few.
I’d like to go on record as saying that anyone who made it this far has already won, regardless of what the judges rule over the next few weeks. Accomplishing a game is a hard task. It’s something a lot of us shoot for, and most of us fail to achieve. I almost gave up several times myself, but managed to stay the course.
Looking back over the year, I thought it was worth listing a few key learning points:
1) There is no time like the present.
If I had to name a number one point, this is it. I think most of us have been guilty at one time or another of putting off for tomorrow what we could be doing today. There’s always a good reason, of course – if only you could get a coder/artist to join you, or look at that cool engine update/new engine coming out “soon”(TM). Or whatever else we tell ourselves to validate ourselves.
The fact is, game making is hard work, and it’s work where you’re putting your ego on the line, and it’s work that there is no guarantee at all of a reward at the end. There’s a certain level of hubris required to say “Yes, this IS worth me putting a thousand hours of my life (or more!) into.” And so it’s a lot easier to daydream about making your game than to make it.
Stop daydreaming. Stop waiting for the next engine…or whatever. There is no time like the present.
2) Make the game your engine and skills can achieve.
Some engines are better at certain tasks than others. Look at what your engine or codebase does well, and then look at where you think you can go from there given the skills you have available. In my case, this meant working under some hefty constraints. I’m not a coder, was working solo, and was hoping that the Gryphon codebase would mature in time. It didn’t; as a result, I ended up pretty much starting from scratch this January using the Prairie Games Kit. I almost just dropped out at that point, but I’m glad I didn’t – it’s been an interesting experience.
The PG Kit has some impressive constraints itself. Essentially, it’s geared toward making an EQ clone – anything more than that requires a pretty substantial amount of work and experience with python. Instead of adding extra coded features, I’ve opted instead to go the route (which you know if you’ve been reading my blog!) of a gamemastered play experience, where GMs read the activities in the world and add new content as “chapters” of the ongoing story in a manner which will ideally be more like a tabletop RPG game than a traditional MMO.
3) Always store backups of EVERYTHING.
Lost a ton of my art early this winter to a hard drive fiasco. ALWAYS back up everything. Multiple places, ideally. ‘Nuff said.
4) Beware feature creep.
Not once, not twice, but at least four times I have caught myself allowing extra doodads to enter the design. Keep it Simple has been the mantra allowing me to stay on track. Get the core in – you can add extra features in later.
That won’t stop you from playing some other game and saying “oh, wouldn’t it be cool if…” 😉 But I’ve manage to resist the urge. I did a lot of blogging early on about “Simplest Game”, and it’s been an important concept.
I can’t stress how valuable a good design doc is, too. Having material all written down is a huge benefit. It operates like a lighthouse, and a quick re-read periodically of the entire document is a great tool for remembering the game you set out to make. Otherwise, it has a tendency to change over time. While some change is good, too much change can have you running in circles.
It’s been a long haul.
There’s only a very few of us left. I see some amazing games still in the competition, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to run with this pack for the last year. It’s been challenging – staying the course, refusing to quit when things went sour or got frustrating.
I’m under no illusions that my little alpha is some amazing new leap forward in online RPGs. 😉 But it’s a good start on what could be a fun game when it’s done. And – it’s mine.
The signups for the alpha should be up on the http://www.roleofthehero.com website shortly. Just a quick little form, and you’ll have an account set up for you there. I look forward to seeing some of you join me in celebrating the opening of the alpha for The Roleplayer’s World – Role of the Hero.