In 500 BC the ancient philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus was sitting around on some Aegean shore when he mused,
“No man steps in the same river twice.”
He elaborated on this later with the less obtuse “There is nothing permanent except change.” , a saying as true today as it was 2500 years ago. Our lives are constantly changing, in tiny ways and in grand, earth shattering ways. Changing from a cappucino to an espresso coffee will get your heart racing temporarily; changing your life and moving from New Zealand to New York will get your heart racing for a lot longer. Change can be terrifying and it can be exhilarating – the one thing it cannot be? Change can’t be stopped. But that’s okay! Though Tupac was kind of adverse to change, our old friend David Bowie knew what was up.
For the last nine years, I worked as a game designer for an agency here in Australia. My life was very comfortable and predictable. I got up, I went to work, I made some games and I came home. It was, in many respects, a bit of a dream job – at least in the early years. Increasingly I grew disenchanted with the work and felt I wasn’t really in control of my own destiny. The games I was building weren’t my best work, the culture wasn’t what it once was and my eyes were drifting to the horizon. At the end of last year, 2013, my career at that agency came to an end ( a tale for another day, dear friends! ) and I struck out out on my own and formed Whiskeybarrel Studios, an entirely independent games studio. I would make my own games and be my own master.
Change is scary. I’m not going to lie, after almost nine years of complete stability, this year has been an absolute rollercoaster. There’s been so much uncertainty. Starting a business is hard. Writing games on your own and being entirely accountable for their success and failure is hard ( and thrilling ) . Finding freelance and contract work to supplement your indie development is a constant grind but I’m doing alright. Right now I am my own boss. I decide the work I want to take. I can work here in Sydney; or I could go work in New Zealand, or London. I’ve even had job offers from Hamburg, Germany. The beauty of change is that you’re no longer held back by the safety net. You might fall but you can now fly.
In game development, change is something you’re constantly encountering. From the moment you dream up your game and write it down on a scrap of paper, your game is changing. It starts with a seedling of inspiration, “Defend an underground town against sea monsters” and grows organically from there. It changes all the time. You might realise your idea is totally derivative and you need to add a unique feature to it, or your idea is too complicated and it needs paring back.
In my own games, the things I find I change up the most tend to be control schemes. Sometimes there are too many buttons, or mouse control works better than keyboard. Sometimes you have too many options, or not enough. It’s one of those things that no matter how detailed you make your design document, you can’t foresee until you’ve got a working prototype of your game.
So we come of course, to Everyone Gets Treasure. Last week’s Dragon of Distraction has well and truly been vanquished and I’m more focused then ever. I’ve been working on the combat system and I really like it so far. However, I reached a point in the game a few days ago where I realised there was a design flaw I hadn’t foreseen. I had originally envisioned the game as a forced perspective ’90 degree’ flat game with a little depth ( objects get smaller in the distance ) and it was working great. The characters stood on the platforms, monsters appeared horizontally and vertically. However, when the time came for me to do a stress test of the game ( that is, to add the maximum amount of monsters to a level, and make these monsters huge.)
The problem here is the cyclopes monsters are far too hard to tap on. They overlap each other and take up way too much room. I sought out the helpful twitter community ( you should follow as many game developers as you can, they’re an awesome and invaluable resource!) and received lots of advice. The one thing people kept saying was, switch the perspective of the game. Instead of a straight up ‘cross’, make it a diagonal X. Now, I knew this was a bit of work – plotting in the points where the monsters stood, reorganising a bunch of code. It was a change. I mulled it over in my head overnight , backed up the code and then dove in headfirst. A few hours later, I’d come up with this:
The diagonal bridges allow for more gaps between monsters and just seem a lot more aesthetically pleasing. The UI can move to the middle of the screen now where it’s a lot more readable. It’s a change, and it works well. In the end it wasn’t even half as daunting a change as I thought it would be.
There’s going to be lots more changes in the game. Combat tweaks, items added and removed, even whole characters or monsters that may need to be scratched from the game because they may not fit. It’s all part of the gamedev process.
Anyway, so here’s where we are at in the game! This week we achieved:
- New diagonal perspective for battles
- Monsters now have their own AI. They can target heroes, help their fellow minions, swap to and from the frontlines etc
- The UI mostly works. You can select skills and target friends and enemies via tapping the screen or dragging; it still needs a bit of refining
- We have all six characters in the game now, though they’re not animated yet. Next week I’ll show them off with a large downloadable wallpaper. They look great, honestly I love them; my artist has done a wonderful job and without his efforts the game wouldn’t be getting even half the positive attention it has so far.
Don’t be afraid of changes in your game, no matter how minor. The short term pain of changing several hundred lines of code, redrawing art assests or cutting whole sections of your game, often has huge benefits in the future. If you don’t change it up, you’ll keep thinking about it – every time you see that character sprite that doesn’t quite look right, or notice that the level feels too ‘grindy’ , it will bother you. As soon as you notice something is up, make a note of it. If it’s still bothering you in a few days you know your first hunch was right. Change things up. (Remember to keep a backup of your work too!)
There is, of course, a caveat to this advice: If you’re thinking of switching your game from 2D to 3D, or from a real time shooter to an arcade platformer ; perhaps consider if it’s a different game you want to make. Put that code on hold, start an entirely new prototype of what you want to achieve and play around with it. It may just be a matter of “getting it out of your system” , it may be another game entirely, or your initial hunch may be right.
Change comes to us all, embrace it!
Cheers, Oliver Joyce