Why I’m Giving up on My First Game

For the past two years I’ve been working on a game with the goal of one day making a living as an indie developer. Today, I’ve decided to stop working on it.

I haven’t given up on becoming an indie developer, it’s just going to take longer than I thought.

Three years ago while working for Radical Entertainment, I was very frustrated by the restrictions the employment contract placed on me. Everything I worked on in my spare time belonged to them. The day after I was laid off I started working on my C++ game engine. Around a year later, after a lot of progress on the engine, but not much progress on making an actual game, I started a new game in the same engine called Alpha Strike. It was supposed to be a rogue-lite shmup with random enemies and weapons, as well as a generous selection of bosses.

Alpha Strike in its current state has randomized spawns, some item support, a rather generic pixel art style, and an editor that allows me to create and test enemies on the go, from small fodder ships all the way up the bosses that could be as large as the entire screen.

Alpha Strike Screenshot
Alpha Strike in its current state

While that might be interesting from a technical perspective, it’s pretty useless to a gamer unless I’m including the editor in the game. I can’t realistically do that since the game is already too large in scope. If I were to somehow find the time to finish it, I doubt it would rise above the competition already on Steam. It’s hard to say for sure, but the fact that I don’t know if this game would work and I can’t sell the idea means it’s almost certainly bound to be a failure.

Before I made this decision, I watched a talk by Rami Ismail which basically explained why my game has almost no chance of success. I fit the profile of the clueless indie he describes perfectly: my game has no pitch, no design, the art is crap, it doesn’t even have sound or music. It’s still in progress, but it’s been ‘in progress’ for two years now and barely qualifies as a tech demo.

Alpha Strike is dead, or at least in hibernation until I gain the skills I need to make it the awesome game I want it to be. It’ll probably have a better title too. It refers to a ‘massive attack‘, but most people will probably look at it the same way you’d look at a game called ‘Bravo Team’ or ‘Gamma Force’ because who actually knows what an alpha strike is?

There are a few things I can take away from this at least. The first is that writing a game engine from scratch is an absolutely terrible idea if you actually want to finish a game. It’s a great programming exercise and you’ll come out a far better programmer for it, but it’s a waste of time if you actually want to sell a game. It looks awesome on my resume though!

I think I’ve learned a thing or two about scope and planning, and that will be put to the test in the coming months. I’ve gained some artistic skills in the process as well. My pixel art is at least good enough for what I plan to do next, and can serve as a platform for improving my skills and branching out to new art styles.

I don’t regret working on Alpha Strike at all, though I do regret not stopping a little sooner though. For the past few months I’ve been losing the drive to work on it. It’s not fun to work on anymore, and I think that’s because I know it won’t be fun to play and it won’t be worth the massive amounts of time I’ve sunk into it.

Even though Alpha Strike is effectively dead, this is not the end! I have a plan, and this blog is a piece of that. At the very least, Alpha Strike proves I can stick with a project in the long run if there’s value in it. With better planning and foresight, I can still ship a game, even if it takes a lot longer than I thought it would.

Over the coming months and years, I’ll be writing about what I accomplish and learn, my successes and failures. And if I crash and burn, then at the very least I can be an example of how not to do game dev. Whatever ends up happening, stick around, it’s sure to be of use to you if you want to make games, or if you’re just interested in the process!

3 thoughts on “Why I’m Giving up on My First Game

  1. Thanks for writing this. I have also scrapped a project that was in the works for almost a year. It’s a tough decision, but sometimes the right one. I’m kind of in a regrouping phase right now, trying to figure out a better approach to indie dev.

    1. I think the most important thing is to just keep on going. I’d suggest starting a much smaller project and aiming to release it for free so you can practice shipping something and get feedback on it to improve your game design skills. I’ll continue to write on my own indie dev journey here, I hope it’s of some use to you!

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