General ramblings

Amusing myself

After a recent short exchange on Twitter with @DavidBFox about enjoying playing your own games, I felt like it was a good subject to waffle about myself.

David sent me a link to a short post of his own on Quora where he spoke about the how the initial elation and joy of seeing your game come to life can very soon be eclipsed by the onslaught of testing that inevitebly ensues.

Although I like to aggrandise myself with a load of marketing bluster, by trade I am essentially a web designer and developer. As such I am used to testing and launching apps, systems and websites on a variety of devices and all of the usability and compatibility headaches that they bring. I am, however, new to large and complex game development.

I have built a few web games in the past, mostly e-learning and simple puzzles (a couple of links below for anyone who’s interested), although I did dabble with building my own web-based point and click game engine last year which I used to build a couple of games Where’s my Cloak and Lockdown, and which has ultimately brought me to this point.

The majority of the bugs I am used to dealing with are sat at the very core of my game engines and programming, and a lot more tricky to diagnose and solve than narrative dead-ends and faulty logic. I am hoping that by adopting a professional game engine for Lucy Dreaming I am going to leave a lot of those bugs behind, and once I learn to compromise and workaround any native bugs in my chosen engine (Visionaire Studio) I will hopefully have more patience left in my tank to deal with the other bugs and issues like “Your story is rubbish and your characters are just shallow, unbelievable McGuffins.” – Time will tell.

For the past six months I have been working on a large system build for a charity, and this has had its fair share of bugs, tweaks, changes…and more bugs. It is now approaching launch and as such all of my time has been spent poring over the last little niggles, and Lucy Dreaming has been left to gather dust in the corner.

One night this week I spent a bit of time doing some artwork for Lucy Dreaming to try and disengage my work-brain, and unintentionally found myself playing it with fresh eyes.

I’ve mentioned before that my approach to the story and puzzles is very organic, after having a basic structure (apparently it should have a beginning, an end and some other crap in between) I basically just make it up as I go along. If I end up going down a dead-end I back-track, but usually there is a way to make it all look like it was what I intended to do all along (I mean I’m almost 80% sure that’s what it looks like…maybe 60%).

Because of this approach, a lot of the dialogue and even some of the puzzles are quite transient in my brain, I’ll think them up on the spot, draw the objects and elements I need, get them into the scenes and then write the dialogue and responses to bed them into the game, all in a matter of hours (or sometimes minutes if it’s only a small element).

This meant that when I came to play it earlier this week I was genuinely surprised by the dialogue and responses I was getting as I played the game, and at times I actually amused myself with my own jokes. I’m not sure what it says about me, apart from that I am clearly writing the jokes for my own amusement. At least that’s paying off to a degree if nothing else does.

I know that the testing stage is going to suck a lot of this initial fun out of it, but I value other people’s feedback, and I know it will make it a better game with (hopefully) wider appeal. I also know first-hand that a developer cannot and should not test their own creations. The burden of knowledge is a hurdle too massive to ignore.

I suppose that ultimately I want to be able to enjoy playing it in the future when I’ve forgotten enough of it to make it worthwhile, and I don’t want to lose sight of that.

I wonder how I’ll feel after testing.

Some of my earlier game efforts

Divisible – a simple puzzle game based on card game I used to play. In our family we called it “Jumps” but it has other names which I can’t remember.

Monster Patterns – I built this for my little boy as be loved repeating pattern puzzles. I wanted to make it work without any written instructions.

Magnificent Moss – This was created as a promotional game for the Devon Wildlife Trust.

I was even lucky enough to create an official Ghostbusters PacMan style maze game back in my ad agency days but sadly it’s in Flash so it will never see the light of day again.

I with I’d converted it to HTML5 with Swiffy when I had the chance!

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