This article is a letter of encouragement, written to independent game developers who struggle with finishing their first game.
It’s easy to finish unfinished games. Many game developers have entire libraries of games that begun production and ended up deep in the closets of hard drive folders. Forgotten.
But it’s different now with Mirrorgate, a game that's my new current project. It's a Terraria-inspired world builder game with a story about high-school, crafting, dreams, and soulmates.
Background from an intro scene. Non-gameplay, concept art footage. The weather. A storm is coming. But there is always sunlight breaking through.
Instead of talking about what the game is about, I’d like to expand on what makes this "work in progress" project different… which lies in the lessons that I learned by working on countless prototypes and game ideas in the past.
I don't know... maybe by sharing my experience it could help someone? I am not saying that even Mirrorgate is anywhere near finished at this time.
Working on a game alone is a path not often taken to completion. Simply being excited about the game is easy. Carrying it out until the end is hard. Being a game developer and finishing a game can be compared to a painter who, technically, never really finishes his artwork. But there still is that place when you know that at one point, a game is ready.
The temptation of excitement to start making a new game is strong. But lack of character traits such as patience and courage hinder productivity. In a world where many game developers rely on their feelings alone rather than instinct, to finish a game... eventually things get out of order.
I am sure that many have been to that place. So many ideas. Much is done. But not much is completed. Back in February 2016, I started my indie game development community Tigris, which is now hosted on Discord. My goal was to create a place for game developers where they can encourage each other to finish and publish games.
Primarily, I love making games. Everything from programming to art and character animation. But surrounding myself with other creative game designers, I learned many things from just observing and interacting. My time wasn't spent working on my game, but absorbing raw reality of the independent game development scene. Because I know, sometimes we start to daydream, and work can become disassociated with what's real.
If, like many game developers you are struggling to finish your first game, my suggestion is to start setting smaller goals. If you’re working alone on all aspects of the game, reduce graphics complexity. Keeping graphics style simple but consistent throughout the entire game… is better than creating beautiful and complex graphics that don’t match from screen to screen. Of course, it doesn't have to be simple, like line art. But just choose what you feel comfortable with.
When I started developing Mirrorgate, I decided to use pixel art style. I wanted to make beautiful backgrounds for the intro sequence. And naturally ended up with pixel art in high resolution. Where you can barely see the pixels. Usually commonplace games aren't shy about showing large pixels. I kept the style, but the resolution I used made it a ground of its own to stand on.
Concept art from Mirrorgate intro scene. Repsi Cola. Repsberry flavor. Just one of the things you find in a high school hallway. I like to keep my art a little surreal.
Spending hours on art is too much overhead for one person, especially one who may also happen to be a programmer on the same project. Working alone, you have to develop a problem solving technique that makes you productive consistently. So choose a style and stick to it. Do not change it after you’ve committed to the project. Learn commitment. And push through to transcend difficult habits. Change is good, but your project has to have integrity and overall stylistic consistency.
Small beginnings and just a little courage can do wonders in the long run. Just keep at it every day. Small steps add up and set you on the right path. Whatever it may be. You can only find out in retrospect. So don’t worry about what tomorrow is going to be like. Enjoy your work but don’t get carried away being emotionally attached to it. That often leads to being disappointed... and that inflates reality out of proportion and gives false promise of unstable, exaggerated excitement.
Instead, apply the intellect that was given you with purpose. Set goals for entire day. And don’t be afraid if they sound small. Dedicate an entire day for a single purpose. For example, creating running animation for the main character. It’s just one building block of entire game, and finishing a game is like building a house. One brick at a time. Tomorrow, you can work on background environments or write a short, simple soundtrack.
Don’t let fear cloud reality of that which you have never done. One of the members in Tigris (The Independent Gamedeveloper group) has finished his first game and published it on Steam Greenlight. His game, Ultimate Solid, was Green Lit in about 3 weeks. And it’s now on hold for official release this Halloween. Which Toby used upgrade backgrounds and make his game look even better. It’s a simple but fun game made in Construct 2. You can, too, make a simple game... put it out there and have it noticed. It’s a small start, and a fun way to build audience.
I'm thankful for this experience and watching others succeed helped me stay motivated to work on Mirrorgate. If you work alone and haven't yet, I suggest trying to get in touch with game development groups on Discord. It really adds more encouragement to the process when you stay within community that shares a similar interest.
You can join our Game Development Discord channel to meet other indie developers.
That last class. You wait to get out so much, that even the rain outside looks like salvation. Another intro scene background from Mirrorgate.
I hope you enjoyed this article and if anything, I brought a few things to your attention that, in your creative process, you may like to focus on.