As promised, here is a follow up to the postmortem on Swift to talk about what I’m doing differently now that my first game is done and over with. As previously mentioned, I learned a lot– enough to warrant a whole separate article on the subject.
Use the right tools
During my hiatus from game production, I was working on other things: writing up high concept design documents, catching up on some portfolio work, and doing lots of research on game frameworks. That last one turned out to be most important.
When making Swift, I hadn’t done enough research on what other engines and tools were available. Largely because I just wanted to MAKE something and not bother with sitting around reading. This time I took my sweet merry time researching game engines and frameworks that would best suit my next game project.
I poked around with HTML5, Game Maker, Marmalade, Cocos2d, and Unity… Each has its pros and cons, but I ultimately fell in love with Unity. Being able to switch between 2d and 3d on a whim is pretty cool, but I love it mostly because of the diversity of add-ons you can purchase through the Unity Asset Store. I found everything I needed to get my game off the ground without having to code anything myself. Thanks to the Unity add-ons, I was able to slap together a working tech demo for my game in a mere three weeks. I was sold.
Time vs money
I used to think that saving every penny possible was the best approach. I’m poor, why would I want to spend money on something I could build myself?
As it turns out, that is NOT the way to go. Poor or not, my time is actually more valuable. If I can shave off three months of development time by spending $20 on a Unity asset, then I’ll do it. Prices range depending on what the asset does, but the ones I’ve purchased range from $20 to $100. Overall, they’re well worth it. They save me many months of dev time to devote to other areas of the game like design, art, and sound arrangement. In other words, the FUN stuff.
Follow a passion
It’s easy to fall off course when you’re on a long journey. One little side step and you’re now walking down a completely different path. I had been focusing what I was familiar with, not necessarily what I was passionate about. So many voices out there are telling us devs about what’s popular, what’s profitable, what’s the next big trend, etc. Sometimes we lose track of things and forget why we started making games to begin with. Totally guilty of that one here.
Storytelling through games
First and foremost, I’ve always been a storyteller. My artwork was there to support my stories. I’ve been writing stories and illustrating them since grade school. I always thought that video games were the perfect medium for telling a good story. That’s what got me into games in the first place.
So the big question here is… why haven’t I been making story-driven games? Much of that has to do with my first job out of college making casual kids games. They didn’t have much for stories. I kept going in that route because I had been doing that for years.
No turning back
Being on my own now, there’s no reason NOT to start making games that I actually like– the kind of games I’d play for fun, not for market research. From now on, I’ll be making games I actually care about– not the games that other people say I should be making. I want to build Phanatix Interactive into the studio I’ve always dreamed of working for.
Prevent people problems
Humans… why must you be so much trouble for me…? Dealing with people one way or another is one of my biggest pitfalls, so I will be taking special care not to burn any bridges this time around.
Due to the personal subject matter of my next game, I’ve decided to work solo for now. I couldn’t find anyone else who was passionate about making this kind of a project (though I did find plenty of people who want to play it). This may change in the future once I’ve got more to show, but for now I’ll tinkering alone until a pre-alpha demo build is done.
A number of people think I’m crazy for making a game without a team. A few years ago, I would have agreed with that sentiment. But this is a game entirely based on my own personal experiences, and I want everything to be just right. It wouldn’t be fair to a team of volunteers to make a game that is based solely on my own creative vision– unless they think that vision is super cool and want to ensure that it gets completed sooner. But again, it’s too early to determine that kind of thing.
Go outside once in a while
I don’t want to make the same mistake that I made during the bulk of Swift’s development where I was completely cut off from the world and forgot how to talk to humans. Right now, that’s not a problem– if I want to survive, I need an external income while I’m toiling away on a game that isn’t making any money yet. Even in the event that my next game starts generating enough income to live on, I will be keeping a part time job the whole time I’m working on it… to keep my health and sanity.
Not all advice is good advice
Everyone wants to give me advice on how to run my business. All the time. From everywhere, it seems. Even while selling phones at my part time job, I run into fellow entrepreneurs who feel the need to lay down a map for how to run my company. They all mean well, and I wish it was as simple as they make it sound. But it isn’t.
While listening to others can serve as a guide, I can’t rely on the well meaning words of anyone. I must figure out how to make my studio successful by myself. Because in the end, I’m the only one who cares, and I’m the only one who will ultimately know what’s best.
Marketing… my arch nemesis. I’m not going to lie, I hate absolutely marketing and public relations crap. Pulling teeth might actually be more enjoyable. I understand the concepts of marketing in theory (I’ve read books on the stuff), but putting them into practice is such a huge pain in the butt. Mainly because conventional marketing tactics don’t work on me. If something aimed to make ME want to buy things completely fails, why would I want to repeat the same tactics on my audience? Yuck!
Coming up with a good marketing strategy for my next game is going to require some serious thought. Nobody will play the game if they don’t know it exists, but it needs to be presented in a way that’s actually fun for ME. Otherwise I’m not going to do any marketing, and I’ll run into the same problem I had with Swift. I’ve got some ideas in the works already, but I won’t be able to test them out until closer to launch time.
The takeaway here is that I’m barely into production on my next game, and I’m already planning for marketing schemes for a launch that won’t happen for a year or more from now. I’m not going to leave it until the last minute like I did with Swift.
As much as I just want to work on my next game ALL the time, that doesn’t work out too well. There are other chores that need to be done when running a game studio, and I’ve neglected these in the past. Bad idea.
Next game’s development
When making Swift, I noticed that a two-person team development schedule was different than a six-person team schedule. If you tried to manage a project for a smaller team like you would a larger one, things just wouldn’t work out. Likewise, a schedule for a single person is even more different.
If I were to repeat the mistakes of my time working solo on Swift, I would keel over from physical and mental exhaustion within a year like I did before. So things must be done in a way that is sustainable.
Switch it up
One of the ways I’m avoiding mental fatigue is to switch up what I’m working on. I get bored easily, so it doesn’t take much for my mind to start wandering to other interesting things I’d rather be doing. To stay focused, I switch gears every two weeks or so. For example, I do level design for two weeks, then switch to sprite art for two weeks, then move onto prototyping in Unity for two weeks, then REALLY switch it up for a week with some website maintenance, marketing, etc… Rinse and repeat.
Most humans have no problem being lazy, but a workaholic like me has a very tough time with the idea of taking breaks. That means taking breaks to do something NOT work related, not just taking a break to do other work. Yes, this is VERY difficult for me.
My break times consist of what you would expect: playing video games (that aren’t mine), watching anime, and reading manga. You could probably categorize these as market research, but let’s not go there. Eventually I’m going to throw studying Japanese onto that list, since I’m getting frustrated that I don’t remember enough of the language to watch anime and understand it without reading the subtitles. First world problems, I know.
I’ve gotten much better with updating Swift’s app versions over the past couple months. I set aside time JUST for maintenance, and I make sure I don’t blow it off in favor of working on the next game (which is what I’d much rather be doing). *Cough* I’d like to avoid any more nasty letters from a certain app store saying that my game isn’t compliant with recent code standards. That’s what I get for waiting too long to dish out an update… whoops.
This kind of goes along with the whole failing to do any marketing chores in the past. Remembering that I have websites to update is something that I tend to forget. I’m trying out a monthly update schedule for this blog, so we’ll see if I can actually keep up with it.
Then there’s the software that runs the websites… the dreaded WordPress. Oh boy, I found out the hard way what happens when you don’t keep that vicious beast up-to-date. You get hacked! Big time! Thankfully, Dreamhost worked with me to fix it, but that was a HUGE mess to clean up. I don’t ever want to go through that again, so I will most definitely keep the WordPress gods satisfied with regular updates.
Despite that the rest of my life sucks right now, I can confidently say that I’m happy with the direction I’m going in my next game. I’m trying to stay positive and just have fun… the way making games should be. The key is to work smarter (not harder) and stick to a sustainable development cycle. It will take a lot longer to finish, but at least I won’t drop dead from exhaustion.
By the way, I’ve dropped a few hints about my next game, and you’re probably scratching your head wondering what on earth it could be. Rest assured, I’ll be giving it a proper introduction once it’s ready for that.