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  • Reasons for Modest First Projects and Incremental Learning

    - Chris DeLeon
  • I asked another question to the community with @HobbyGameDev on Twitter recently. For the most part the responses were incredibly illuminating about what challenges new game developers were experiencing. I love these kinds of questions and responses since it helps keep me firmly connected to people's real needs.

    Although I was able to field a number of exchanges within @reply tweets, the most important one to address that couldn't fit in that space is perhaps this exchange:

    I want to be clear that I am in absolutely no way intending to draw any negative attention, attitudes, or ill-will toward our good friend in the world, Orange Rectangle (or O.R., for short). I asked my question with the specific purpose in gaining a better understanding of the challenges people were experiencing, and O.R. then offered an answer in good faith to help me. I attempted to offer some real details (those numbers are from Uncharted 2, by the way) in the sincere hope that this might help lead to a startling realization.

    It did not. Instead O.R. dug deeper into the trench, now on the defensive. Then O.R. lobbed a grenade, suggesting that the problem here must be that I just don't know what I'm talking about.

    If I thought O.R. was just trolling, I'd simply ignore or block them to prevent any further attention being stolen from the many people out there who are really interested in making videogames. However I've met and spoken with enough people face-to-face sharing a mindset similar to that of O.R. to believe this is worth addressing directly. That this is still a fairly common way of thinking for people getting started out seems to me a sign that it hasn't been suitably explained, or at least not yet in a place that's easily found by those who are looking.

    I offer the following to our friend O.R., and of course to others who may share his mindset:

    Dear O.R.,

    I'm not saying you can't or shouldn't. Maybe you'll pull it off. That'd be awesome. More power to you.

    I suspect many people doubted Notch when he started work on Minecraft. Although by that time he had already been programming for 25 years. People were probably skeptical of the team that made Angry Birds. That may have just been extrapolating from the 51 games that Rovio made before that project became a new standard for mobile gaming. The success of Super Meat Boy was not guaranteed. However Tommy Refenes had been making games for 18 years before that, and Edmund McMillen, Tommy's collaborator on the game, worked on 14 finished games before Super Meat Boy (including its free Flash precursor, Meat Boy).

    Even with their accumulated experience, these now famous developers still didn't make games with the look and feel of a modern Call of Duty or Uncharted. From a technical, team size, and content creation standpoint, Minecraft, Angry Birds, and Super Meat Boy are tremendously less complicated than either a Call of Duty or Uncharted sequel (let alone a brand new intellectual property).

    Many videogame developers at some point bite off more than they're ready to chew, for at least one project, and can sometimes take away from that experience some helpful concepts for later. For me that was Guinea Pig back in 2004 (screenshots here and here).

    A screenshot from Guinea Pig, for which my engine used skeletal animation (authored by a custom tool), clothing/skinning, blood/bullet decals, real-time fully destroyable terrain, dozens of weapons types, parallax scenes, dynamic fire systems, hi-res "mode 7″ semi-3D aircraft effects...

    So, with that in mind, why not just attempt the dream game first, and if it doesn't pan out, just learn some lessons in the process?

    Here are a few reasons that I think should at least be considered.


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