In my last post, I went over what went right and what went wrong with Chaintanks. Be sure to check that out first before reading on! With those things out of the way it’s time to move on to what I’m going to do differently for my next game.
Have a Plan!
Now that I’ve finished a game, I have a bit of a better sense of what’s involved in the entire process. That will allow me to plan out what exactly I want to accomplish in advance rather than just bumbling through the process and hoping a good game comes out the other end.
I mentioned in the last post that art and UI were big problems for Chaintanks. These are great examples of something I can do a better job of planning out. For the art, I want to create a static mockup of the game before committing time to creating assets. One or two full screen mockups of a good looking game will give me a much better direction for the art, and ensure the assets that I create work from a technical perspective – no more shrunken pixel art!
Planning out the UI is also something that would have helped. For Chaintanks I more or less just built it as I went around the features and the game’s code rather than focusing on the UI as an experience in itself. I may even want to spend some time reading up on UI/UX before starting my next game.
Game design is something else I’ll need to do a better job of planning out. With Chaintanks, I took the Ludum Dare version of the game, tweaked it to play much better than the original, and then slapped that gameplay into a weird mission system. In the end it wasn’t horrible, but I think planning out the entire game experience from the beginning and even prototyping that experience either in code or with physical objects will lead to a better game.
If I actually plan all this out, I should be able to create a set of milestones for the game to take it from start to finish. I won’t be able to plan everything out from the start, and plans will change as the design changes. Even so, having intermediate goals may help with motivation and even give me a chance to take some breaks in the middle of developing the game to stave off burnout.
What I won’t do is set dates for these milestones. I’ve tried to set timed goals for myself in the past, and those goals inevitably slip past their deadlines within a few weeks. Things go wrong, life gets in the way, and motivation lapses. Deadlines might seem like a nice idea in theory, but for me I haven’t found them to be effective for passion projects.
I mentioned that I started to feel burnt out towards the end of working on Chaintanks, and with Alpha Strike I felt it much more intensely to the point that I had to abandon the project. (Though burnout wasn’t the only reason there.) Burnout still feels like something of a nebulous problem to me… I’m not sure that there is any way to prevent it absolutely, but there is one common factor between Chaintanks and Alpha Strike that may lend a clue. Both games took over a year to run to their conclusion.
It seems that after about one year I start to lose motivation to work on projects. Therefore, my goal for my next game will be to finish within one year. I don’t know if I’ll actually be able to do that, but I’m going to try!
Another strategy I mentioned before will be to take breaks occasionally, preferably after major milestones. If I allow myself to have a week or two off if I finish a major goal, it may help motivate me to reach that goal more quickly. Before Chaintanks was finished, I decided that I was going to take several months off before starting my next game. Now I’m not just lazing about during this break (mostly!) but more on that later. I found that the prospect of finally having time to relax did motivate me to finish the game more quickly. Without that motivation I could honestly see the game’s release dragging on for as long as another month.
Get the Word Out
Another thing I’d like to do differently is marketing the game. For Chaintanks I had this blog (at the time of writing, not a lot of readers), Twitter, and a couple of other social media accounts that I barely use.
Newgrounds, Kongregate, and Itch.io all provide varying amounts of views, with Newgrounds giving the most at around 3900 so far, and Kongregate providing the least at about 250. Itch.io had around 550 at the time of writing, but those clicks come from a bunch of different sources. Many of them came from the various tag lists on itch. For my next game, I should apply the maximum of 10 tags to the game rather than stopping at 6 since they seem to provide a small number of views essentially for free.
The most interesting thing happened is that one website and one youtuber stumbled across my game. One of those websites, and that Youtube video are the largest sources of clicks in the past 30 days on itch.io. What I need to do next time is collect as large a list as possible of free game sites and youtubers who play free games and contact ALL of them about my next game once it’s released.
I should also look into how to leverage social media a little better, but honestly I haven’t found it to be very effective. I took a brief look at how many link clicks I got from my tweets… and it’s probably less than 10 overall. I got a few likes and retweets, but very few people actually click on stuff on Twitter. I may want to focus my efforts on a different site since most users just want to lazily scroll through Twitter… I think… I really don’t know! These are things I need to learn, and other platforms may be better suited to getting people to actually play my games.
I am sure though that most people aren’t really interested in following someone who hasn’t really done anything. I’ve released one mediocre free game and done a handful of game jams. It’s harsh, but fair to say that nobody really cares about that. If I focus a little more on creating gifs and good screenshots, however, I may actually get a larger following as those are things that will grab attention on a platform like Twitter. Improving the art for my next game will feed directly into this goal too since I’ll have something good looking to show!
Before I Get Started…
For my next game, I want to take a similar approach to game ideas that I’ve often used with Ludum Dare. When I do a game jam, I sit down and I write out as many ideas that fit the theme as I can before committing to one of them. I can apply a similar, though much longer process to my next game too. I’ve already started writing down a couple of ideas for my next game and whatever random thoughts I happen to have about them. I do this whenever I get an idea, even in the middle of my day job as long as I don’t take more than a few minutes.
During my break between games I’ll continue to do this until I have at least three solid ideas. Once I’m ready to begin working on a game, I’ll prototype one or two as quickly as possible before committing to one of them.
In the meantime, there’s more that I can do with my time between games than just playing video games. I’ve already started working on building skills to help make my next game better. Check back soon to read about what exactly I’m doing between projects to build skills and prepare myself as much as possible for my next game!